Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Underemployment Quantified

When Barbara Ehrenreich's Bait and Switch came out, the reviews said it was not quite as good as Nickeled & Dimed. So, I did not read it until I had nothing to read on a plane last night from Chicago. But for those of us interested in tracking the American dream, I found it quite useful.

I had tracked long-term unemployment in the last recession, and found that white-collar workers were disproportionately impacted by spells of jobless greater than six months. I always had wondered what had happened to these workers. In Bait & Switch, Ehrenreich changes her name and tries to find a white collar job in PR. She meets tons of jobseekers along the way, and in the end most end up taking a huge pay cut and working in a survival job in retail or another sector.

Courtesy of EPI's Jared Bernstein, she gives us a great new stat on underemployment among these workers. 17 percent of jobs that don't require a college degree are held by individuals with a college degree.

Her biggest finding is that in support group after support group, jobless professionals are told that the cause and solution to their problems is themselves. All they need to do to get back on the right track is to get a positive attitude and the job will come. Its just one way that the unemployed are consistently disempowered, even when the causes of job loss such as the consistent pattern of companies laying off experienced workers for younger and cheaper replacement are structural. The atomization of the unemployed also forecloses policy solutions like extended unemployment benefits and health care protections.

To her credit, Ehrenreich has started to start organizing this sector. Buy the book.


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