A fascinating new article from The Associated Press reveals that the one of the toughest challenges facing unemployed Americans isn’t a job market currently stagnated at 9.1 percent unemployment rate, or even that 14 million unemployed are competing with each other in a country that posted no new jobs in August; rather the AP says the most challenging thing the unemployed are currently contending with is the underemployed.
Underemployed workers, 8.8 million other people not counted as unemployed, but rather part-timers who want full-time work, will be first in line for more hours when the consumer spending picks up this holiday season, negating the need for most employers to add jobs—positions that so many jobless Americans are relying on to make it out of their own Great Recession. That means businesses can plan to expand without actually hiring, saving them money and keeping unemployment right where it is: high.
But the underemployed aren’t the only major challenge facing unemployment stats. According to the AP, those who have given up on looking for work, will mean even more competition for paltry numbers of jobs in the days, weeks and months to come:
“And the unemployed will face another source of competition once the economy improves: Roughly 2.6 million people who aren't counted as unemployed because they've stopped looking for work. Once they start looking again, they'll be classified as unemployed. And the unemployment rate could rise. Intensified competition for jobs means unemployment could exceed its historic norm of 5 percent to 6 percent for several more years. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office expects the rate to exceed 8 percent until 2014. The White House predicts it will average 9 percent next year, when President Barack Obama runs for re-election.”
So, just to recap, that means in addition to the 14 million people who are unemployed, the millions more who are underemployed and still searching for better paying or full-time jobs, and the more than a couple of million people who’ve stopped looking, and you have 16.2 percent of working-age citizens who are in financial dire straits.
The combination of these staggering unemployment and underemployment figures and the likely prospects for a lingering job crisis continuing during an upcoming election year, is prompting President Obama to schedule a major speech on Thursday night to, as the AP put it, posit new steps for getting Americans back to work, with Republican candidates likely to do the same during a debate the night before.
The words from both sides of the political spectrum may come as small comfort to the long-term unemployed. According to the AP, “No one expects every company to delay hiring until every part-timer is working full time. But economists expect job growth to stay weak for two or three more years in part because of how many frustrated part-timers want to work full time. And because employers are still reluctant to increase hours for part-timers, ‘hiring is really a long way off,’ says Christine Riordan, a policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project. In August, employees of private companies worked fewer hours than in July. Some groups are disproportionately represented among the broader category of unemployment that includes underemployed and discouraged workers. More than 26 percent of African Americans, for example, and nearly 22 percent of Hispanics are in this category. The figure for whites is less than 15 percent. Women are more likely than men to be in this group.”
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