Underemployment flies under the radar
01:00 AM EST on Sunday, December 21, 2008
WASHINGTON — Not long ago, Kim Toliver was making a nice living as a consultant. Today she is an administrative assistant, clocking in at a temp job and making 20 percent of her old salary.
“I guess you could say I’m also in the middle of a strategic job acquisition process,” said Toliver, 37, of Prince George’s County, Md. “I’m trying to do better.”
The nation’s unemployment report, released earlier this month, was even worse than many economists had feared. But some say it was also incomplete. Workers like Toliver, who are stuck in jobs for which they are overqualified, went largely unnoticed.
In one of the worst recessions since at least the early 1980s, economists say, the ranks of the country’s so-called underemployed workers are growing. They include not only skilled laborers who are working in unskilled jobs, but also workers who are seeking full-time employment yet have had to settle for part-time alternatives.
Their misfortune, experts warn, is the economy’s misfortune, too.
“It’s a huge disservice to the economy, in that it means there are highly productive, hard-working people who are not maximizing their potential,” said Heidi Shierholz, a labor market economist for the Economic Policy Institute. “They cut back on their consumption. That reduces demand. It’s a downward spiral. It’s a huge drain on the economy.”