I have my alarm set to the radio, tuned into NPR specifically. Today I woke up to Marketplace Morning Report talking about unemployment. It was both slightly comforting and depressing at the same time. It was comforting because I was reminded that there are many people out there in my position: skilled, educated, experienced workers who can’t find work. It’s good to be reminded, because of all the people I know, only one or two are in a similar position to me. For various reasons, I had begun to question if it was just me, if it was my fault, if I was doing something wrong or if I was simply not that valuable.
With our culture so tied to money and work, it’s a real challenge to feel valued when you don’t have a job. “What do you do?” is perhaps the most common question when meeting someone new. However being placed on the spot can be embarrassing if you don’t have work. Beyond that, money is required for just about everything in life: food, shelter, clothing, transportation, communication, not to mention extras such as eating out, seeing a movie or going to the park. If you don’t have an income, you can be barred from these things and feel like you’re not seen as being worth having even the basic necessities of life. I know for me personally, being unemployed and having financial struggles has recently made it difficult for me to even see my friends.
Unfortunately the news for me and many others looks bad. How bad? There are an estimated fifteen million people unemployed1. Fifteen million! To give you a reference, that’s greater than the population of all but four states!2 But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Unemployment figures only include unemployed people actively looking for work. If we include “discouraged workers” like me—those who are unemployed but have currently given up on finding a job—the number could be as high as twenty-six million!3 That’s more than the population of Texas and every other state except for California!2 And these numbers don’t even include the many people who are significantly underemployed.
That’s not all: “The typical job hunt is now 35 weeks — that’s more than eight months. Again, a record [(significantly over the previous high of 21.8 months4)]. There are five job-seekers for every available job. Before the recession it was less than two-to-one.”5 “The economy isn’t creating nearly enough jobs at this point to absorb new entrants into the workforce, let alone re-employ the 7 million Americans who were laid off in the Great Recession.”4 “Even if employers started adding a few hundred-thousand jobs every month — and they’re nowhere near that right now [(only an estimated 41,000 jobs added in May6)]— it would take several year just to catch up to the number of jobs we had when the recession started.”7 “All this means that historically high unemployment — and persistently long-lasting unemployment — will likely hang on for years to come.”4
“Once you’re out of work in this recession, you’re almost out of luck… Employers have found ways to get things done without having to hire.”7 The news is bad for recent graduates: it may be years before they can get even an entry level job in their field, and according to Marketplace, they may never catch up.8 The news is bad for older workers: they may not find another comparable job to ones previously held.9 And both groups may find more difficultly in the future as employers may choose to hire the most recent graduates rather than those with experience or those who couldn’t find work out of college earlier.
3 Calculated based on figures of 15 million unemployed, a 9.7% unemployment rate and “total unemployment rate” of 16.6% http://marketplace.publicradio.org/projects/project_display.php?proj_identifier=2010/06/18/help-not-wanted-the-long-term-unemployed