When the unemployed stop looking for jobs

Pamphlets sit on a table during the Senior Job Fair at the Arcadia Community Center in Arcadia, Calif.

Sarah Gardner: It's just a monthly jobs number. It'll be revised. But the August unemployment report out today was highly anticipated -- especially by the presidential campaigns. So here goes. The unemployment rate fell to 8.1 percent from 8.3 percent, which sounds like good news, right? But the U.S. added just 96,000 jobs last month. Not a whole lot. And the reason the unemployment rate dropped despite that is more and more Americans are giving up on the job market.

From Washington, Marketplace's David Gura begins our coverage.


David Gura: Kathie Holbrook works at a Nevada JobConnect Career Center in Reno. She says that on a typical day, 200 out-of-work Nevadans come to her office for help. And here is how they can go from optimistic to discouraged. At first, they say they’ll “take anything.”

Kathie Holbrook: We have to kind of narrow it down. “Anything” isn’t a job title.

Gura: Are there people who come and see you week after week after week, looking for work? 

Holbrook: Absolutely. We call them “day campers.”

Many “day campers,” as she calls them, try to find jobs for months.

Holbrook: We see a lot of people who have been looking for work for a very long period of time, and you know, the longer they’re unemployed, the harder it is for them to become re-employed.

And then, Holbrook says, someone she has seen week after week just won’t come back. Heather Boushey doesn’t blame them. She is an economist at the Center for American Progress:

Heather Boushey: Well, I don’t know about you, but if I didn’t have a job and I had been out there, pounding the pavement for six months, eight months, a year, maybe even two years, I think it would be enormously frustrating.

When you add up all the Americans who are no longer participating in the labor market, and who are no longer looking for work, that’s more than 2.5 million people. Many of them are not white. They tend to be older. And there are more men than women.

Boushey: You know, the recession was incredibly hard on men in the first years of the recession, and men lost more jobs than women.

And they worked in sectors that were hard-hit. Rick McGahey teaches public policy at the New School. 

Rick McGahey: They tend to be concentrated somewhat in manufacturing. The manufacturing sector in the U.S., although it is coming back somewhat, is still a long way from fully providing the jobs that it did before we went into the recession.

And after Americans drop out of the labor market, McGahey says “they try and scrape by as best they can.” They might take Social Security early.

McGahey: They need cash right away.  If they’ve got retirement accounts -- a lot of them don’t, but if they do, they tend to cash those in.

And if they’re younger, they might move back home to live with their parents. 

In Washington, I’m David Gura for Marketplace.

About the author

David Gura is a senior reporter for Marketplace, based in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

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