On Underemployment

Underemployment in the U.S. is now at 17.3%, according to an article by George Will at Newsweek.com. What does this mean? Frighteningly, it means that in addition to the 10% unemployment statistic, 17.3% of employed Americans a.) are working part-time jobs when they desire full-time work and/or  b.) are overqualified in skills/education for their current job. Even more terrifying is that unemployment and underemployment numbers are probably conservative estimates. Unemployment does not capture (and never has included) those who have given up looking for work, and the underemployment statistic is bound to be similarly flawed.

I am underemployed, though I'm incredibly thankful to have a job at all. Working even 3-4 days a week provides me a sort of purpose -- some sense that I am valued and that I can contribute value to something. But I grow cynical and disillusioned at times. A co-worker, after learning my internship at NPR had ended, asked me how I was feeling about my job search. I answered him honestly. "I know I'm awesome, but my morale is low." He laughed... because I'm funny and it's true.

I continue to figuratively bang on the doors of friends or past colleagues who might be able to offer me a lead, advice, or otherwise. I'm lucky to have a few family members going to bat for me when they sniff out an opportunity. But it's still a tough game to play.

Sometimes, I see that I have a new email (you know that number in parentheses in the Gmail header in Firefox). I hold my breath and fantasize, if only briefly, that a former co-worker has emailed about a new job opening. "You'd be perfect for the position!" they tell me. It usually ends up being a mass newsletter from a DC concert venue -- the 9:30 Club or the Birchmere or Sixth & I -- crushing my dreams.

This is not a sob story. No need to feel sorry for me. But to those who are employed and love what they do, I say this: pay it forward. Answer that email from hopeful youth #1. To ignore it or even forget about it is to steal hope, and hope is what we --  the underemployed and unemployed -- really need during this recession.