What We Know About Employment (and Unemployment) Right Now

  • Share
  • Read Later

In honor of Labor Day, here are a bunch of observations, stats, and survey revelations about the state of work (or lack thereof) in the U.S. and around the globe.
The worst summer ever for young people wanting jobs just ended. In August, just 47.6% of Americans ages 16 to 24 were employed, which is the lowest level ever recorded by the Department of Labor, per USA Today.

The slight rise in unemployment is actually a good sign. In a certain way, according to the Curious Capitalist, the recent rise in the unemployment rate from 9.5% to 9.6% shows that lots and lots of people have begun actively seeking employment because they believe that the economy is doing well—and that now is a great time to get into the job hunt.

Underemployment is at least as big a problem as unemployment. Why? The huge numbers of people who can’t find good-paying full-time employment are making due on lower, inconsistent wages, and they’re not simply not able to be the good, buy-happy consumers the economy so desperately needs. (More than two-thirds of the nation’s economic activity comes from consumer spending.) Per stats rounded up in an LA Times story, half of college-educated employees who entered the workforce this year found themselves with jobs that didn’t require a college education, such as tending bar, or waiting tables, or working in retail. Not long ago, only about one-quarter of these college-educated folks were working these kind of jobs.

Job growth is expected only at the two far ends of the employment spectrum. The two categories of employees who will have the best chances of landing jobs in the near future are either 1) highly skilled professionals (lawyers, software engineers), or 2) low-skill, low-paying, easily replaceable workers (health care aides, store clerks). As for more traditionally middle-class jobs with middle-class pay, in fields such as automobiles, home building, and financial services? Unfortunately, an LA Times piece is among the many resources pointing to the likelihood that the return of hiring in these kinds of jobs will occur extremely slowly, if it occurs at all.

But even the tech sector is slow to hire nowadays. The NY Times reports that even as high-tech companies grow and expand, actual hiring at these companies has crawled along, and in some cases decreased. One reason this is so is that high-tech firms are increasingly using automation—i.e. computers—to do computer-related work. That and the fact that all sorts of jobs have been outsourced to overseas workers who will do the job at a fraction of the price of an American worker.

One solution is to outsource yourself (i.e. move overseas). A You’re So Money post shows that not every country has an employment (or unemployment) situation as grim as that of the U.S. The unemployment rate in Singapore, for instance, is 2.3%. And yes, they’re hiring there.

Another solution: Become a day laborer. The work can be exhausting and inconsistent, though, and the competition is tougher than ever, according to a WSJ story that found crowds of aspiring day workers have doubled outside Home Depots. OK, I didn’t say this was actually a good, or remotely long-term solution. But people are doing it.

If you were struggling before the recession, you’re doing even worse now. Accoring to an LA Times editorial, ” The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for all black workers was about 16%, compared with 12% for Latinos and 8.7% for whites,” and “Workers without a high school diploma are three times as likely to be unemployed as those with college degrees.”

The richest 1% of citizens account for 24% of the nation’s wealth. Well that doesn’t seem fair, now does it?
Workers with health benefits are paying more for their coverage. A lot more. On average, according to a new Kaiser Family Foundation study, a worker is paying 14% more ($482 per year) than he or she did last year. Over the last five years, wages increased 18% as inflation rose 12%, while the average overall cost of health insurance premiums increased 27%—and while workers’ contributions to their health coverage went up 47%. Still, this is better than paying the entire premium yourself, especially if you’re unemployed: By one study, the average COBRA premium eats up 84% of a person’s unemployment check.

The average federal worker earns double the average private sector worker. After you factor in hefty benefit packages—which must be counted when discussing compensation (see above)—the average federal worker is compensated to the tune of $123,049 annually, compared to $61,051 for a private worker, according to data cited by USA Today.

“Survivor workers” are happy to have jobs, but probably aren’t happy. Even if you haven’t been laid off during the economic crisis, you were probably affected by it directly in the workplace: So-called “survivor workers,” who have kept their salaries while watching colleagues and friends lose their jobs, are overworked, stressed out, and fearful that they could be let go next. Per a survey mentioned in a Dallas Morning News story, 59% of employees feel that nowadays more is demanded of them by their employers. At the same time, employees have had to accept wage freezes and/or salary deductions.

The work-life balance is out of whack for big chunk of employees. A survey cited by Kiplinger reveals that one-third of Americans with jobs say their work-life balance is off—most likely meaning that they’re spending too much time at work and not enough time with their families—and that 38% say their work-life problems have gotten worse since the onset of the recession.

One way to be more productive at work is to take a nap. A 20- or 30-minute snooze in the middle of the day can do wonders for employee and employer alike. A nap probably recalibrates some of that work-life balance too.

All you really need to be happy is $75K. That’s the break-even point, according to a new Princeton University study. If you make less than that, it’s increasingly likely that you’re unhappy, and if you make more than that, you’re not necessarily any happier. One pressing problem, however, is that a middle/upper-middle-class job paying $75K a year is increasingly hard to come by in today’s economy (see above).

All of this thinking about work-work-work makes me want to take a nap. And why not? It’d help me work better, after all.

Labor Day Lament: How Come Everybody Works 12-Hour Days Now?