In college, English major Michael Greene planned to pursue a career in advertising. He built a portfolio and had several interviews. But when he graduated in 2008, the recession was in full swing.
Now, six years later, he's held a handful of jobs in various fields—telemarketing, office administration and now information technology—but not advertising. While his IT job pays the bills, the Californian still hopes to someday work in his field of choice.
He occasionally lands interviews and the interviewers always compliment his work, "but I'm never picked because there are so many people trying to get the job," Greene said. "There are just that many unemployed or underemployed people out there. ... You have to be the absolute best at something to even get a foot in the door."
Although many official measurements show the economy is recovering, millions of Americans like Greene still don't feel like they've recovered from the Great Recession. While official unemployment rates have declined and approximately 10 million private sector jobs have been added since June 2009, many say those numbers don't tell the full story.
As of August 2014, 3 million Americans had been unemployed for more than six months, and more than 2 million had been unemployed for more than a year, according to a new study from the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University. And even among those who are employed, like Greene, many are underemployed or simply holding placeholder jobs until they can find a more fulfilling (and, often, higher-paying) position.
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Beyond the official Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) estimates there are another 6.3 million "missing workers" who are not being counted as unemployed. "These are people who would either be working or looking for work, and thus counted in official labor market stats, if job opportunities were stronger," said Valerie Wilson, Ph.D., director of the EPI's Program on Race, Ethnicity and the Economy.
"Beyond employment, another other factor at play in the public's perception of how they are or are not experiencing the recovery is stagnant wage growth," she added. "The fact that there are so many unemployed and underemployed is one of the factors in why wages have not grown in this recovery. With so many still looking for work, there's little pressure on employers to bid up wages to get and keep the workers they need."
Long-term unemployment and underemployment has had lasting effects: Most of the long-term unemployed say they have less in savings and income than they did five years ago, have experienced stress in family relationships and close friendships during their time without a job, and believe they will need to retire later than planned because of the recession, according to the Heldrich study.
Nearly half of the long-term unemployed said it will take three to 10 years for their families to recover financially, while another 1 in 5 say it will take longer than that or that they will never recover.