Faces of the underemployed

    In this recession, the unemployment rate, bad as it is, doesn’t account for the struggles of many Americans. A statistic called the under-employment rate provides a fuller picture.

    Caption: Genevieve Lodal
    In this recession, the unemployment rate, bad as it is, doesn’t account for the struggles of many Americans. A statistic called the under-employment rate provides a fuller picture. It includes not just the jobless, but also people who are working a little, but not as many hours as they’d like.

    The most recent data shows Pennsylvania underemployment in the third quarter of 2009 clocked in at 14.2% — under the national rate of 16.4%.

    Here are some of the faces behind the numbers.

    Listen:
    [audio: 100112lfemployweb.mp3]

    Shoppers at the Fair Food Stand at the Reading Terminal Market probably don’t know it but the young cashier who just made change on that locally-grown apple has a master’s degree. When Genevieve Lodal decided to become a city planner, 25-year-old didn’t expect to end up hawking fruit.

    Lodal: I was really into the city part of city planning. I wanted to work in the city or for the city at the very least. That’s not what happened.

    With the economy stumbling, Lodal couldn’t find her dream job when she graduated from the University of Delaware in 2008. She found some planning work in King of Prussia, but the commute wore her out.

    Lodal: They always said in school like well people are getting ready to retire, so the next generation of planners needs to come in and take over. But I don’t think people were quite ready to retire either because of their pensions or they saw the economy wasn’t going to be doing well.

    For now, Lodal has plenty of company in the ranks of the underemployed; plenty of people with long experience and a string of degrees find themselves working part-time, out of their chosen field.

    Tom Yannes in his newly-rehabbed kitchen
    Tom Yannes in his newly-rehabbed kitchen

    Mark Price is a labor economist at the Keystone Research Center, a think tank in Harrisburg.

    Price: For the nation the underemployment rate is as high as it’s been since the Great Depression. And a big reason for that is the biggest surge in this group has been those people reporting part-time employment, but can’t find – because of the economy – full time work.

    A new career model may be emerging from the wreckage.

    Tschirgi: My name is Judy Tschirgi and I’m a retired executive. I guess I’m a portfolio careerist is one good way you could identify me.”

    Tschirgi says the notion of a portfolio career – a collection of part-time gigs – is becoming popular in this tight job market.

    Tschirgi: Instead of having one single employer- you might have multiple small projects with multiple employers – so sort of the consulting model.

    Tschirgi says the model of a person working decades for a single company has been waning for a long time. These days, fewer people even aspire to it.

    Tom Yannes' house
    Tom Yannes' house

    Tschirgi: Artists, musicians – they’ve always had portfolio careers, and probably consultants in the sense that they patch together jobs and skills in the sorts of high risk careers. But I think what’s interesting in the current economy is that you have both young people, executives, and those who are returning to the workforce – particularly women – finding that it’s very very difficult to get hired. And they’re have to be very creative about finding employment.

    For some job seekers, it’s less a matter of being creative and more one of taking whatever you can get.

    Anam Hasan works as a manager at an Upper Darby Dunkin Donuts. Before Hassan moved here in October 2008 from Bangladesh, he worked as an analyst at an oil refinery.

    Hassan says he’s glad he’s single:

    Hassan: If I had a family in the United States it is not possible to maintain them working in Dunkin Donuts.

    Tom Yannes' son and the family's dog
    Tom Yannes' son and the family's dog

    Being underemployed isn’t as stressful for Tom Yannes.

    It’s a weekday just before noon and Yannes is at his Edgewater Park home in Burlington County, New Jersey. The family’s tea cup Maltese, Bailey, skips around the kitchen.

    The daytime domestic setting is quite a change from the life Yannes used to lead.

    Yannes: Right now I would have been on a plane or in another city or talking to a client, or having a staff meeting.

    The former executive was laid off about a year ago after more than 25 years of experience. Yannes says his first two or three months of job searching were fruitless.

    Yannes: It was real clear right from the beginning that the companies that were not in contraction mode were holding onto their cash and weren’t expanding weren’t looking to add people at that point. I decided in early 2009 to just stop looking for a while and to do some other things.

    Tom Yannes' daughter
    Tom Yannes' daughter

    Yannes has been teaching economics at Burlington County College and rehabbing his kitchen, while his wife works as a nurse. The family’s getting by on about a third of what it did before.

    Yannes: It’s been stressful at times but we’ve been fortunate – We’ve been able to save money that was earmarked for college tuition, for weddings.  we never planned that we would be liquidating that to in order to keep our household going. But compared to others in the country we’re lucky that we have that safety cushion. So we’ve been spending down our savings until I can find another position.

    Hear more from our interview with the Yannes family

    There are hopeful signs. Yannes recently ramped up his job search, and says he’s getting some responses that give him hope.

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