A dismal unemployment picture

John Dimsdale Jan 8, 2010
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A dismal unemployment picture

John Dimsdale Jan 8, 2010
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KAI RYSSDAL: The headline numbers go something like this: The economy had 85,000 fewer jobs at the end of December than it did at the beginning. The unemployment rate stayed steady at 10 percent.

But what you may not be aware of is that unemployment statistics come in a whole lotta different flavors. There are the regular unemployed. The marginally-attached worker — remember, this is government terminology we’re dealing with here. Also, there are discouraged workers as well. And when you add all of them together, today’s unemployment report tells a whole ‘nother story.

Our Washington bureau chief John Dimsdale has more.


John Dimsdale: As the Great Recession drags on, the number of unemployed workers who’ve given up looking for a job is rising. Throw in part-time workers who’d rather be full time and the underemployment rate in December was 17.3 percent. That’s just below the all-time record last October.

But Kate Bronfenbrenner, a labor professor at Cornell University, says an untold number of jobless people are never reached by the government’s telephone surveys.

Kate Bronfenbrenner: It’s especially true of immigrant families, urban communities where you have multiple adults with one phone number. What I think it tells us is we have a serious crisis in this country.

Clifford Varner is one of those long-term unemployed who doesn’t show up in the official statistics. He’s an information technology consultant in San Diego.

Clifford Varner: We’ve listened to these numbers and laughed because the numbers are sourced upon those individuals who get themselves on the books as being unemployed. Anyone who’s been self employed like myself, we don’t go down to the unemployment office to get on the books, because we don’t qualify anyways.

Varner’s consulting contracts began drying up soon after 9/11. He and his wife DeeDee have burned through a second mortgage and maxed out their credit cards trying to raise their three children with no job.

DeeDee Varner: He’s also applied for a custodial position. And he didn’t get that job!

The Economic Policy Institute estimates over 800,000 discouraged workers have dropped out of the labor force since the recession began. During that time, population growth should have added nearly three million new workers. It’ll take a strong economic recovery to absorb the uncounted pent-up demand for jobs.

In Washington, I’m John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

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