Uncounted Jobless: No Work, And Too Discouraged to Look
They were left out of the latest unemployment rate, as they are every month: millions of hidden casualties of the Great Recession who are not counted in the rate because they have stopped looking for work.
But that does not mean these discouraged Americans do not want to be employed.
As interviews with several of them demonstrate, many desperately long for a job, but their inability to find one has made them perhaps the ultimate embodiment of pessimism as this recession wears on.
Some have halted their job searches out of sheer frustration. Others have decided it makes more sense to become stay-at-home fathers or mothers, or to go back to school, until the job market improves.
Still others have chosen to retire for now and have begun collecting Social Security or disability benefits, for which claims have surged.
Rick Alexander, a master carpenter in Florida who has given up searching after months of effort, said the disappointment eventually became unbearable.
“When you were in high school and kept asking the head cheerleader out for a date and she kept saying no, at some point you stopped asking her,” he said. “It becomes a ‘why bother?’ scenario.”
The official jobless rate, which garners the bulk of attention from politicians and the public, was reported on Friday to have risen to 9.7 percent in August.
But to be included in that measure, which is calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics from a monthly nationwide survey, a worker must have actively looked for a job at some point in the preceding four weeks.
For an increasing number of people in this country who would prefer to be working, that is not the case.
It is difficult to assign an exact figure, because of limitations in the data collected by the bureau, but various measures that capture discouragement have swelled in this recession.
In the most direct measure of job market hopelessness, the bureau has a narrow definition of a group it classifies as “discouraged workers.” These are people who have looked for work at some point in the past year but have not looked in the last four weeks because they believe that no jobs are available or that they would not qualify, among other reasons.
In August, there were roughly 758,000 discouraged workers nationally, compared with 349,000 in November 2007, the month before the recession officially began.
The bureau also has a broader category of jobless it calls “marginally attached to the labor force,” which includes discouraged workers as well as those who have stopped looking because of other reasons, like school, family responsibilities or health issues.
But economists agree that many of these workers probably would have found a way to work in a good economy. There were roughly 2.3 million people in this group in August, up from 1.4 million in November 2007.
If the unemployment rate were expanded to include all marginally attached workers, it would have been 11 percent in August.
But even this figure is probably an undercount of the extent of the jobless problem in this country. There are about 1.4 million more people who are not in the labor force than when the recession began.
Some of these are retirees, stay-at-home parents, people on disability and students.
But it is also rather likely that many of these people have given up looking for work at least partly because of economic reasons as well.
Here are four people’s stories:
Rick Alexander: A Builder by Trade, With Too Much Time
In the worst case, Rick Alexander figured, he could scrounge up a job at Home Depot.
He was a master carpenter, after all. He had skills. He had run his own successful home-restoration business for 28 years.
In early 2008, however, he moved to Florida to take care of his ailing parents, leaving his business in Connecticut to his daughter.
After helping his parents into an assisted-living facility, he began applying for jobs. He devoted eight hours a day to the task, sometimes sending out three or four applications a day.
“It was a full-time job,” he said.
At first, he focused on jobs in construction, applying to be a site supervisor. He looked for anything within an hour’s commute of where he was living in Jensen Beach. But the real estate industry had fallen off precipitously, bringing building to a near standstill.
Mr. Alexander, 58, began branching out to suppliers, applying at lumberyards and other wholesalers. Eventually, he expanded his search to Home Depot, Lowe’s and mom-and-pop hardware stores.
Finally, he began applying for “everything under the sun,” even the overnight shift at convenience stores. By that summer, he had still received no callbacks for interviews.
He went back to Connecticut for several weeks to do a renovation for an old client to earn some cash.
When he returned to Florida in August 2008, he tried to start his own business, selling advertising on video displays mounted in coffee shops and other places.
He networked furiously with local businesses, but by then the economy had nose-dived. 0Mr. Alexander said he grossed a total of $150.
He sank into a funk and stopped looking.
“There are thousands of people applying for every job I’m looking at, and potential employers won’t even give me the courtesy of acknowledging I applied,” he said. “The entirety of that causes me not to bother. It’s a waste of my time and theirs.”
He has applied to just two jobs this year, both several months ago.
The unemployment rate in his area, Martin County, now exceeds 11 percent.
After prodding from his companion, Dona Olinger, he went down to Home Depot a little over a month ago to re-activate his application there.
His savings are gone. He lives with Ms. Olinger, who makes $10 an hour as a volunteer coordinator at a food pantry, Harvest Food and Outreach Center, where they also get groceries every week.
It is her salary that pays their rent. Mr. Alexander’s parents have since moved out of the assisted-living facility and back into their home, so he tends to them most days. He reads Robert Ludlum novels. He sleeps. To fill his time, he is looking into volunteer work.
The other day, he cut the grass on his small lawn using just a pair of clippers.
Feeling Counted Out With Years Still Left
Ray Rucker: Feeling Counted Out With Years Still Left
Ray Rucker came home from a job interview several months ago, sat down in his living room with his suit still on and wept.
The meeting with the interviewer had lasted 10 minutes. The man did not even open a folder in front of him to study Mr. Rucker’s résumé.
It was just “jibber jabber,” Mr. Rucker said later.
Mr. Rucker, who lives in Overland Park, Kan., had little doubt about what had happened.
He is 62 years old and, as he puts it, “I look 62.”
He lost his job as a facilities manager for Starbucks in Kansas City and Wichita, Kan., last November, when the company closed hundreds of stores across the country. He had done similar work for years for other national restaurant chains and retail outlets.
He landed his first interview within a month, with a retail chain. He was invited back to talk to the vice president of operations and to the director of operations.
He was also invited to meet with the company’s chief executive. But as Mr. Rucker was finishing with the director of operations, she asked him straight out whether he was retiring soon.