Recession tales: We'll never be the same

Chances are you know someone who has lost their job since the recession started.

The number of unemployed people across America has almost doubled from 7.6 million to 15.1 million since the recession started in December 2007, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the unemployment rate has doubled in that time to 9.8%.

Think of it: About one of every 10 people you know is unemployed. And the numbers are only going to get worse, according to the White House.

The national unemployment expected to climb above 10% by the middle of next year, according to an economic adviser to the Obama administration, and small job growth is expected through next year.

From jobs to housing and finding new ways to pay for retirement, the recession -- creating the worst job market in 26 years -- is affecting everyday parts of everyone's lives. There are a few bonuses: People are saving more, being more frugal in their spending, finding a stronger sense of community and learning to enjoy less time at work.

The recession is fundamentally changing the way Americans live, for better and worse. In this week-long series called "Recession Tales," WalletPop looks at how the recession has changed us.

For starters, the economy and working America may never be the same. Or if employment does ever get back to what it was before the recession, it will be a changed workforce who will find joblessness a way of life for a long time.

Nine years to get lost jobs back

To get back to the same level of employment as when the recession began in December 2007, 9.4 million new jobs would have to be created, according to a September column by Bob Herbert of the New York Times.

The nation lost 216,000 jobs in August, so with a modest number of jobs created -- 100,000 or 150,000 per month -- it would take more than nine years of job growth to get back to where it was.

When I was laid off in June 2008, I had never heard of the term "underemployed." Now it's part of the lingo of the unemployed, and isn't part of the official statistics kept by the federal government and the 15.1 million unemployed people. There are also the "marginally attached," "discouraged workers" and long-term unemployed.

The 9.8% national unemployment rate looks a lot worse when other figures are included:
  • 10.4 million among the unemployed who completed temporary jobs or are out of work.
  • 5.4 million long-term unemployed, meaning they've been jobless for 27 weeks or longer. These make up 35.6% of the jobless.
  • 9.2 million of what the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls "involuntary part-time workers," also called underemployed. These people, myself among them, want full-time work but can only find part-time work.
  • 2.2 million "marginally attached to the labor force, meaning they wanted work but can't find it, and haven't looked for work in the past four weeks.
  • Among those marginally attached, 706,000 were "discouraged workers" who aren't looking for work because they don't believe any job are available for them, and 1.5 million hadn't searched for a month for such reasons as school attendance or family responsibilities.
While some in the federal government, such as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, say the recession is technically over, at least one economist says that isn't the best way to measure its effects.

"It's just a word," James K. Galbraith, an economist at the University of Texas as Austin, told Associated Press. "A recession technically lasts during negative quarters. But that doesn't mean you're back to prosperity once you have positive growth. You're back to prosperity when the unemployment rate is back around 4%."

That, he said, could take years.

Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area who can be reached at
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