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Why have so many people given up looking for work?

People look at pieces of paper with job openings.

Amid the not-so-good news coming from the jobs report out today, there was a theoretical ray of sunshine: there has been a small drop in the unemployment rate.

However, the rate came down for all the wrong reasons — not because more people are getting hired, but because fewer people are actively looking for jobs. In fact, according to today’s numbers, labor force participation is lower than it was even during the Great Recession.

"Missing workers" is what labor economist Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute, calls this phenomenon

“The group of workers who are not in the labor force but who would be in if job prospects were strong,” she explains. 

She calculates that number at around four million people right now. That’s more than the population of Oregon. 

Some of these workers decided to leave the workforce to, say, raise a child, and would be ready to come back if they were more confident they could actually get a job. 

Then there are those who lost their job and, after trying for months, have just stopped looking.

That’s what happened to Ross Anderson, a 58-year-old from Minnesota who had a career in the manufacturing industry.  A few years ago, he applied for five different jobs that he eventually found out were the same job, posted by different recruiters.  It was a rollercoaster.

“I thought, ‘Why am I doing this?’” he says.  “I've already been down this road and it hasn't lead to anything.”

Fearing his frustration was coming out in job interviews and hurting his prospects, Anderson took a break, and stopped applying for jobs altogether for four months.  He relied on his wife to support the family. 

It didn’t feel good. 

“I'm the kind of person that needs to work.  We find a lot of personal identity through work and without it we really get kind of lost,” Anderson remembers.

That response isn't uncommon, said Laura Labovich, president of The Career Strategy Group

"People who have been out of the work force for so long, often have this crisis of confidence,” Labovich says. "They believe it’s because of their value that they’re not employed."

For those moments of discouragement, Labovich has a few recommendations. One, don’t wait for job openings. Instead, try to tap in to what she calls "the hidden job market." She estimates that 85 percent of positions are never posted.

“They’re sourced through referrals, or through someone that comes through the door and has talked to a president or a VP and said ‘I can do something to help you,’" she said. "They talk over drinks and the position never gets posted and that person gets hired.”

Meanwhile, she says, competition gets that much stiffer for the 15 percent of job openings that still are actually posted, because most job searchers are applying for them.

Dreaded as the word is, networking is an undeniably important tactic when a job search doesn't seem to be going anywhere, says Labovich. "Just to start meeting people and make it not about a job but about making connections, making friends, and cultivating the relationships you have."

Finally, in the midst of the frustration of unemployment, don’t forget to do things you love.  It’ll make you feel better, and might help catapult you in to a job. 

Rather than feeding the doubts that a long job search can bring on, hobbies build confidence, “using the part of your brain that is actually doing what you love to do,” says Lubovich. “Whereas we don't love to job search.”

As for Ross Anderson, eventually he did find another job, through word of mouth. But he lost that one a few weeks ago, when the company downsized.  This time, he's determined not to get discouraged during the job hunt.  To stay busy and attract future employers, he just started a blog about his field.

“Right now I’m still trying very hard to get that next job.”

He has a job interview next Monday.

Ross Anderson, good luck!

About the author

Krissy Clark is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Wealth & Poverty Desk.
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Everytime- the news organizations report articles such as this and consistently communicate that the UNEMPLOYED have given up on searching for jobs: that provide liveable wages and meaningful salaries;
A huge disservice is done not only to the general overall public, but to the families, friends, neighbors, local and state government workers and officials in charge of public policy and budgetary decisions.
The U.S. LABOR Department after so many months and cycles give states permission to STOP counting the severely UNEMPLOYED, those in the groupings of EXTREME POVERTY, many, many multitudes of us, have NOT given up on EMPLOYMENT, but when our own federal government tells the state-local Workforce Development Centers, that they don't have to count the UNEMPLOYED any longer, because that / those particular statistics are not EMPLOYED- the signals become twisted and mixed-
All while the burden(s) of not being gainfully EMPLOYED, further deteriorates basic survival mechanisms that many of those trapped in EXTREME POVERTY endure with hardship, almost beyond the accuracy of language and -English skills to try and convey.
VETERANS across the nation, who have served our nation with love, courage, commitment- to provide sustainablity and security: as well as, evenmore private citizen civilians, as AMERICANS have been bred, trained and indoctrinated into the importance, goal and vision of "WORKING".
Because our culture has taught us, that EMPLOYMENT is a way of LIFE' then all the other topics, that would be lenghty to try and enumerate or recite: is rather cruel, harsh, heart-less and just totally "UN-TRUE". the EXTREME POVERTY / of Unemployed AMERICANS- have 'no' LOBBYIST firm in Washington, D.C. to go over to Capitol Hill and pass out folders for us.
Nobody on Wall Street or Madison or Fifth Avenues in New York City, or any state capitol city, are consciencely, aggressively SPEAKING UP, for those in EXTREME POVERTY, or out of work UNEMPLOYED Veterans.
The proof is, that instead the news medai reporting the aforementioned report about, 'Discouraged Workers' leaving the UNEMPLOYMENT LINES- after our own U.S. Department of LABOR instructs no more counting of those severely UNEMPLOYED: the more appropiate rallying from Washington, D.C. and public policy / public budgetary decision-makers would be announcing that a new 21st century W.P.A. ( WORKING PROGRESS ADMINSTRATION ) is being kicked-off and to being implemented through UNIVERSITY institutions.
Because whe the federal government issued the stimulus resources, those JOBS went to either subsidize existing entities, or hired people from other areas, that completely disregarded SECTION #3, which would have at least required hiring people from their very own communties.
and only because I am an eternal OPTIMIST, this attempted constructive criticism is being communicated, because, we still need to throw a LIFE-LINE out, just like the Roosevelt Administration did during the Great Depression Era for UNEMPLOYED Veterans and american citizens with live-able wages and meaningful salaries.
The aforementioned article didn't cover the college graduates who are also having difficulty securing EMPLOYMENT; and mostly this communication is INSPIRATION that CONGRESs and the news media will understand that we, too- "LOVE our country and anticipate the future with grEAT EXCITEMENT with confidence". We, too need, want and mut be stakeholders in our DreaMS for AMERICANA, we have no other homeland, or country to return, too- this is all that we have, the home country we've ever known and had. Thank you and hope this makes sense to those on the other side of the screen-
Marvin S. Robinson, II
Quindaro Ruins / Underground Railroad- Exercise 2013

is the fact that when you run out of unemployment benefits you become a persona non grata and you lose the right to stand in an unemployment line? if so, discouraged workers are forced out of the unemployment line. as far as taking time to hire, i think employers would rather wait to find the perfect candidate even if it means taking longer to hire for the position than it would take to train for the position. this way, there's no investment from the company's standpoint and it's easier to layoff someone you didn't have to invest to train. it's a cruel world out there exacerbated by the depression of 2008.

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