I just read this op-ed piece over on CNN's website, and I think that the writer, Heidi Shierholz, has the right of it.
It has always bothered me, as I've written about here before, that the unemployment rate is figured based on the number of people actively looking for work, not on the number of people who are actually out of work. It is not helpful, except for whichever administration is currently in power to cover their own butts on the issue of joblessness. They need to cut it out and own the fact that the economy is not all roses and sunshine, that there are a lot of people who want to work who are not able to get jobs, and that there are even more people out here who are working, but are in part-time jobs not commensurate with their abilities and qualifications, much less their needs.
I think it is especially important that she points out that most of the declines in the unemployment rate as reported since it peaked in late 2009 is not due to people getting jobs that they desperately need. Instead, most of those declines, which make it seem like more people are working, are due to the fact that people are getting discouraged and giving up on looking for work. Once they quit looking, they drop off the radar as far as the government is concerned and are no longer counted as being unemployed. Even though they are still unemployed.
Shierholz also argues that the excuse given by many in the corporate world for not filling jobs, that there are no qualified applicants for the jobs they have open, is not the truth. Instead, she says, lagging demand means that there is just not enough demand for products to justify hiring more people. She links this to the fact that wages - and thus buying power - have remained flat or have actually declined for most US workers since the year 2000. People who are working just don't have as much money to spend, which has meant declines in demand for the things that workers would buy if they made enough money to cover more than the necessities of food, rent, utilities, and other essentials.
This all makes sense to me as an individual who is currently unemployed. I'm not discouraged yet, even though I've been actively seeking work for over a year and a half with dismal results. Although I haven't quit looking for a job, I'm getting more and more frustrated, between employers who don't want to even consider me because I'm not young and people who seem to think that I don't want to work because I haven't found a job yet. I keep hearing people say, "Well, why don't you go out and get a job?" They don't seem to understand that you don't just walk into an office or. store or factory and demand that they put you to work. They seem to think that because it is "based on a true story", the movie "Erin Brockovich" represents how the real world works.
If you've seen that movie, you know that Erin, as portrayed by Julia Roberts, just walks into her attorney's office and starts working, refusing to leave when it is explained to her that she doesn't work there. You know what would happen if you tried that in real life? Best case scenario, you'd be escorted off the premises by armed security guards. Worst case scenario, you'd be hauled off to jail. Real life just does not work that way. If Erin Brockovich did indeed get work that way, she is probably the only person who has ever successfully used that tactic. Anyway, no one I know has ever gotten a job that way.
Anyway, if the current unemployment rate is something that concerns you - and it should, since even if you are employed now, you could find yourself out of work sometime in the future - click on the link and read Shierholz's article. She argues for some solutions that I think make real sense. I just wish official Washington would pay attention.