The Number of Underemployed is Growing

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Being underemployed may be the new way of doing business in America. It allows companies to hire workers for only the hours they're needed, and to pay them an hourly rate without providing benefits, while keeping people in the work force -- at least partially. It's better than being unemployed.

Before I was laid off two years ago, I had never heard of the term "underemployed." Being unemployed was a first for me, but it wasn't an unheard-of term. Now, with the recession continuing and the national unemployment rate at a 26-year high of 9.7 percent in August for nearly 15 million Americans, the underemployment rate is at 16.8 percent for 9 million more people.

The underemployed -- of which I'm still one -- are people who want full-time jobs but can't find them. They often work two or more jobs, and many still don't earn as much as they did in their previous job. Their standard of living is lower because they have less money to spend, which doesn't allow the economy to grow as fast because people don't have disposable income.

Debi Tracy, 44, had plenty of disposable income when she was a senior meeting planner and director of operations before being laid off after seven years. She had twice-monthly maid service in her New York City home, dropped off her laundry at the cleaners each week, traveled every few months, ate out three times a week, had cable TV, and her second car was a BMW with a sunroof, she told AOL Jobs in an e-mail.

That's all gone now. Tracy now works part-time as a freelance planner and a brand ambassador and childbirth educator, lives in her grandmother's house while paying her mom rent, does the house cleaning and laundry herself, hasn't traveled by plane for a vacation in years, eats out three times a month, uses a converter for TV and gets five channels, and sold her BMW.

The underemployed include not only people working part-time or at jobs that pay less than they were earning before, but also full-time workers who have seen their hours cut.

The number of involuntary part-timers is double the pre-recession level and the highest since record-keeping began in 1955, according to a Los Angeles Times story.

Many people who involuntarily work part-time have unpredictable schedules at work, which not only make it harder for workers to determine their incomes, they also make it hard to plan for child care and family life, according to researchers at the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago.


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