Underemployment Remains High -- And A Big Problem

underemploymentUnderemployment has been as much a frustrating feature of the recent job market as the nation's high unemployment rate.

What makes a worker underemployed? A number of a factors, including the inability to find full-time work in a chosen field.

According to Investopedia, someone with an engineering degree, say, working to deliver pizzas as a primary source of income is a prime example of underemployment.

High underemployment is as much a hindrance to the overall economy as it is for workers. In theory, such workers would provide more benefit to the economy -- and to themselves -- if they could find full-time work in their desired vocation.

In turn, less skilled workers would find that they have more jobs available to them. How big is the nation's underemployment problem? A recent survey by Gallup shows that the percentage of underemployed Americans was stuck at 18.5 percent at mid-September.

The rate mirrors that of August, and nearly matches the 18.6 percent recorded a year ago. (Gallup's measure of underemployment also includes those who are unemployed, which it calculated at 8.8 percent in mid-September.)

The problem of underemployment deserves more scrutiny by policymakers, writes Gallup Chief Economist Dennis Jacobe. Nearly one in five Americans remains underemployed this year, as was the case a year ago, and the figures are worse for certain groups, including younger workers without a college education (23.1 percent) and blacks (27.8 percent).

"More Americans are now being forced to take part-time jobs when they really want full-time work," Jacobe says. "Focusing merely on unemployment instead of underemployment tends to ignore the hardship facing the millions of Americans forced to work part time."

The problem isn't receiving enough attention despite its potential impact on U.S. society, he says. It may have more importance than any other topic currently being debated nationally.

Gallup also notes in its mid-month survey that the nation's unemployment rate ticked down 0.3 percentage points, to 8.8 percent, during the first half of September, from August's 9.1 percent rate.

Though that drop appears promising, the polling organization cautions that some of the decrease is likely associated with seasonal hiring, as businesses prepare for the holiday selling season, and may not indicate an improving job market.

Further, Gallup says, it expects September's overall rate to remain unchanged or even rise slightly to 9.2 percent, when the Labor Department next reports jobless data on Oct. 7.

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