More people are underemployed, or "involuntary part-time workers," a factor that started before the current recession in December 2007, according to recent figures from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Hooray. I (and 7.3 million other people working part-time for economic reasons) have a term to describe their unemployed status that is technically not unemployed. "Underemployed" workers are people seeking full-time jobs but can't find them. So they work 35 hours or less a week in part-time jobs.
I have a handful of part-time gigs, from freelance work that is very sporadic, to writing for WalletPop at least once a day, depending on my job hunt schedule. So I know what "underemployed" is all about. In November 2008, 7.3 million people were employed part-time for economic reasons, up by 3.4 million from a recent low of 3.9 million in April 2006.
There are also the underemployed who have full-time jobs, but have had their work hours cut due to slack work, or what the government calls a reduction in hours in response to unfavorable business conditions. In other words, your boss is cutting your hours back because business is falling off.
The interesting thing is that by watching these figures fall and rise, you can get some foresight into when the recession is turning around. For now, things still look bleak, according to the numbers in the Bureau of Labor Statistics report.
"The number of workers on part-time schedules due to slack work often increases prior to a downturn in the business cycle," the report states. "Similarly, a rise in economic part-time employment due to slack work frequently occurs before a rise in unemployment, mainly because many employers tend to reduce workers' hours before implementing layoffs when faced with a decline in demand for their goods and services. Conversely, during a recovery, some employers increase the hours of their workers before hiring new workers."
In other words, business drops, hours are cut, jobs are cut and the recession is on. Signs of a recovery are when those part-time workers start seeing their hours increased, and then new workers are hired. It's probably a basic tenet of supply and demand that Adam Smith wrote about long ago, and must be in many economics textbooks, but it's a good lesson to relearn when looking for hope -- the hope of a job offer.
Aaron Crowe is an unemployed journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read about his job hunt at www.talesofanunemployeddad.blogspot.com