The Economic Recovery Still A Mirage For American Workers

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The Heldrich Center's new report suggests there's never been a jobs recovery.

Throughout the 2012 election and into the economic confrontations of 2013, President Barack Obama has frequently referred to the country as being in a "recovery." But a new report released by the Heldrich Center for Workplace Development tells a different story, and challenges the idea that there's yet been any recovery for American workers.

Based out of Rutgers University in New Jersey, the Heldrich Center polled 1,090 Americans in January about their employment status, then compared the answers to a previous study it conducted in August 2010, when the recovery was supposed to have begun. And it found, at least for these survey participants, the labor market to be stagnant. Sixty percent of study participants said that they were employed in 2010, compared to 58 percent in January 2013. Similarly, the percentage of respondents who identified themselves as unemployed and looking for work was 6 percent in 2010 and 8 percent in 2013.


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The findings fly in the face of the official job numbers for the nation as provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In August 2010, the official unemployment rate stood at 9.5 percent, and this past January, the rate stood at 7.9 percent.

How could the study show a stagnant market while the official numbers show improvement? The inconsistency could be explained by more than just the survey's small sample sizes, the study's authors note. "There are just record numbers of people who have dropped out of the labor market, and who have exhausted unemployment insurance after giving up their search," said Carl Van Horn, the director of the Heldrich Center and a co-author of the report, in an interview with AOL Jobs. "These are people who are only living on food stamps, disability benefits -- or Social Security if they're old enough."

As analysts such as Van Horn have noted, the number of Americans who have given up looking for work and are not technically considered "unemployed," has risen over the past few years. The proportion of working-age Americans who are actually employed, also known as the labor force participation rate, has stood at 63.6 percent for four of the past five months, which represents the lowest figure since 1981, reports The Huffington Post.

The Heldrich report ("Diminished Lives and Futures: A Portrait of America in the Great-Recession Era") also indicates that the economic downturn has left few untouched. Its 2013 sample shows only 1 in 5 of its survey participants as either not having been laid off or not knowing someone close to them who has. And for those who have lost a job, but have been able to reenter the workforce, about half are in jobs that pay less than a previous one. (See the chart below.)

What do you think? Has there been a recovery for the American workers you know? Share your comments below.

Heldrich Center economic recovery chart



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