The May BLS jobs report was discouraging for millions still seeking a job in a weak jobs market. Only 54,000 jobs were created and the unemployment rate increased to 9.1%. About 125,000 jobs need to be created each month to absorb new entrants into the workforce. With that in mind, 71,000 more jobs needed to be created just to break even for the month. Recall that McDonald’s hired 62,000 in May . If not for McDonald’s hiring binge, would there have been a net job loss instead of a jobs gain in May?
The underemployment rate did improve slightly to 15.8% from 15.9%. Underemployment is when someone wants a full-time job but is working fewer than 34 hours a week.
Those seeking full-time work found the job market less friendly than those seeking part-time positions. The unemployment rate for those seeking full-time employment rose to 9.7%, while the unemployment rate for those seeking part-time positions fell to 6.3%. The quoted unemployment rate of 9.1% is a combination of those looking for full-time and part-time work. Working 34 or more hours a week is considered full-time employment.
Working part-time is often a struggle for those who want full-time work. ML from IL is an intelligent, B.A. educated professional researcher, paralegal, proofreader/copy editor and a national manager of customer relations. “I was unemployed for two years. I am now underemployed, working part time but continuing to look for full-time work, and earning 55% less than before. While I’m grateful to even be working, I struggle to financially survive every day. I wasn’t at all sure that I’d get to be at my daughter’s college graduation and wedding because I couldn’t afford the travel expenses without family help.”
ML’s financial struggles include keeping a roof over her head, “I’ve faced eviction twice during the past couple of years, but I am still able to pay rent, barely. It isn’t okay to live this way. I want to thrive, not just survive, but I need full-time, reliable work for that to happen.”
While the employment report was disappointing on many levels, it was particularly abysmal for the long-term unemployed. The number of workers unemployed for 99 weeks or more increased 14,000 to 1,934,000. Those out of work for more than 27 weeks increased by 361,000 to 6,200,000; 45.1% of all unemployed have been out of work 27 weeks or more, which is near a record level.
Navy veteran, software consultant, and licensed realtor Virgil Bierschwale of Harper, TX, has been working on and off for the past ten years. This isn’t because of a lack of effort, but because of various economic conditions ranging from the bursting of the tech bubble to the crash of the housing market. State and federal budget cuts suddenly ended some of Virgil’s software consultation projects. His search for full-time work wasn’t a lackadaisical effort, since he would “Apply for software jobs daily with no interviews.” Has he become discouraged about finding a job? “Yes, I’m ashamed to admit that I have, but I now realize I will no longer find work doing what I successfully did for so many years.
Virgil is the website designer and author of Keep America At Work where, in his spare time, he writes about the loss of American jobs and how to keep more jobs in America.
Virgil’s income has fallen from a high of more than $100,000 in 2003 to less than $20,000 today. His wants are simple; a full-time job and a place to call home, “I currently live in an old shack on one acre of land that I can buy for $70,000. This would be my first priority because it is way past time that I set down some roots and I’ve got everything that I need and want here which isn’t much these days.”
The participation rate — those employed or looking for work — remained at a historically low 64.2%, which signals a weak job market.
Another dubious record is that now it takes longer to find a job, 39.7 weeks, than at any time since data collection began in 1948.
“I have never stopped looking for a job through all my health issues, but I did slow the search down a bit after each surgery,” said Alexandra Jarrin who has been battling homelessness, long-term unemployment and health issues for more than two years. She has exhausted all available unemployment benefits and she constantly lives on the edge of being homeless.
Alexandra has been profiled previously about her work to bring 99er stories to Sen. Bernie Sanders. (99ers are the unemployed who have exhausted all unemployment benefits, which in some cases is up to 99 weeks.) Yet through all her hardships,Alexandra’s job search has remained constant, “I have continued my work search faithfully.”
As is the case with many long-term unemployed, Alexandra’s job search has encountered numerous obstacles. “A few places that seemed interested were no longer interested when they asked for my salary history.” She’s willing to work for substantially less than she has made in the past, but that presents its own challenges, “Once they see I have made a considerable amount of money in the past they are no longer interested. One company wouldn’t set up an interview until I gave them my past salaries and told them how much I wanted to earn. That puts you in a difficult position because you don’t know how they will perceive what you are asking for if it is so much less than you have earned previously. One person asked why I would be looking for a job in fast food when I held a substantial position in a corporation.”
Whether salary concessions, career changes or the need to update software skills, interacting with potential employers often seems hopeless to the long-term unemployed, including Alexandra,”There’s just no good way to appease them.”
What are Congress and the president doing to address a stagnant and possibly deteriorating jobs market? Nothing this year. The GOP controlled House has been directing their energies toward the debt ceiling debate, defunding Obamacare, eliminating Medicare for those 55 and younger, and abortion restrictions. President Obama touts the successes of corporate bailouts, the need to increase the debt ceiling and explaining the role of the US military in Libya.
Yet beyond the poor economy in general what are Americans most concerned about? Is it the deficit? No. Is it fuel prices? No. Is it taxes? No. Unemployment and jobs are the most important issue by an almost two-to-one margin.
The jobs issue has received limited attention in the House, but no legislative action that would help improve the plight of the long-term unemployed. The House Ways and Means Committee has conducted hearings on “How Business Tax Reform Can Encourage Job Creation”, “How Other Countries Have Used Tax Reform to Help Their Companies Compete in the Global Market and Create Jobs”, and the ill-fated H.R. 1745, “Jobs, Opportunity, Benefits, and Services Act of 2011”, which included the option for states to cut the duration of unemployment benefits. While these business tax hearings may have some long-term value, they won’t create a single job in the short term.
The economy has improved for some; American companies are reaping record profits, Wall Street players are snagging outsize bonuses and compensation, and government continues its bailout policies of failed institutions. The economic picture is not improving for the long-term jobless. Congress is again in recess, so any action on the jobs crises will have to wait.
Long-term unemployment will worsen and wreck the lives of millions more unless Congress, the president and the private sector take immediate steps that lead to the creation of good jobs. ML in IL stated, “It isn’t okay to live this way.” That also applies to Virgil in TX, to Alexandra in VT and to America as a whole.
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