Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Underemployment woes fly under the radar

By TRENTON JOHNSON
Capital News Service

LANSING— As the economy continues to struggle, underemployment remains a serious issue.

It occurs everywhere in Michigan, experts say.

What exactly is underemployment?

Michelle Socha, business liaison for Northwest Michigan Works! which covers Benzie, Leelanau and Grand Traverse counties, said, “Underemployment is when workers take jobs that don’t utilize their full potential. Workers don’t take advantage of the degrees they get from college.”

An example is a person with a bachelor’s degree in education who works as a custodian and earns less than their expected based on his or her credentials.

Socha said workers who are underemployed often work fewer hours a week and have a lower job title than their credentials suggest.

Underemployment includes those who are part-time and wish to work full-time but can’t find full-time jobs.

It also includes workers who can’t get jobs because of such barriers as lack of child care or transportation, as well as discouraged workers who have stopped looking because they believe the type of job they seek is unavailable.

Some people have little or no choice and take any job they can find to put money in their pocket.

Sharon Parks, president of the Michigan League for Human Services, said, “Older and younger workers are having a hard time getting a job and may have to settle for what’s available. For the people in their 50s and 60s, they aren’t ready to be retired, physically or financially.”

The league is a nonprofit, nonpartisan statewide policy and advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring that Michigan’s low-income residents achieve economic security.

Parks said the high concentration of poverty in Michigan may be one reason for workers taking jobs that are below their skill level.

Parks said the use of furlough days by companies exasperates the problem. Workers classified as underemployed may not want unpaid days off and need to provide for themselves and their families, so they take whatever job they can get.

Underemployment rates are only available only on a statewide basis because the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not collect that information for individual counties.

Bruce Weaver, economic analyst for the Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth, said, “Michigan has had the highest underemployment rate in the country for five years.”

Weaver said there are several ways to measure underemployment.

Straight unemployment figures understate the hardship because they don’t take into account people with full-time low-wage jobs, Weaver said.

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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Filed under: Economy

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