Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Scraping the Bottom of the Barrel Is Just Scratching the Surface

A tip of the Toque to Gaius at Blue Crab Boulevard.

The WSJ has published an excellent OpEd piece by Mort Zuckerman on why the unemployment figures alone don't tell the whole sad story. I left a comment over at BCB, and I'm going to repost it here to share my personal perspective on what Zuckerman is saying, especially when he writes:

- The number of workers taking part-time jobs due to the slack economy, a kind
of stealth underemployment, has doubled in this recession to about nine million,
or 5.8% of the work force. Add those whose hours have been cut to those who
cannot find a full-time job and the total unemployed rises to 16.5%, putting the
number of involuntarily idle in the range of 25 million.

Count me among those underemployed who have accepted part-time work out of desperation. After taxes, I’ll be taking home almost exactly what I was drawing from UI each week, but there’s something psychologically lifting about earning it as opposed to “receiving” it.

One of the things I’ve noticed that I don’t hear being discussed is how this unemployment level is allowing the few employers who ARE hiring to be much, much pickier about whom they hire. On one end of that spectrum, I can recall at least 2 or 3 jobs where I was told that htey really really liked me, but that someone else had been JUST THIS MUCH more ideal for the job. On the other hand, one place where I interviewed later informed me they had decided to reject ALL their interviewees and re-post their ad, confident they’d get a new crop of applicants.

This means that less experienced workers, entry-level people (even people like me who have just recently finished training in a new career) have to compete with more seasoned workers for jobs that used to be our chance to get a “foot in the door”.

It also means that employers can, and do (often of necessity) offer lower per hour wages for jobs that used to pay much better.

So yeah, the official unemployment figures alone do NOT tell the complete story. And that story is even bleaker.