Hopelessly Devoted to Wanting a Job

People who want a job but aren’t actively looking are called “discouraged workers” by the Labor Dept. CNN is calling them the “hopelessly unemployed,” and there are a lot of them: “Five years ago, before the recession began, about 2.5 million people said they wanted a job but hadn’t searched for one in at least a year. Now, that number is around 3.25 million.”


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Sarah C.@twitter (#1,505)

Okay, I don’t understand this segment of the population at all, or how we measure it. How do we define “actively looking”? Is it measured in paper applications submitted, hours spent networking, strangers at alumni events you’ve begged for work, or Craigslist ads posted, or all/none of the above?

If you’re long-term unemployed and really wanting a job, I feel like you’d consistently do some of these things. Sometimes it becomes habit and it doesn’t even feel like you’re “actively” doing anything anymore, especially if nobody calls you. I know it’s incredibly discouraging, and it’s impossible to just sit and do applications all day err day when nobody gives a shit. But I feel like you’d at least call a temp agency, or visit some storefronts every now and then and just ask if they’re hiring.

If you are literally not doing anything at all to look for work, for a long time, despite really, really wanting a job, which is what these statistics make it sound like, I don’t really know how to react. I don’t want to judge or turn my nose up at any of my fellow unemployeds, but I have a hard time accepting that attitude.

TL;DR: How am I supposed to feel about this?

@Sarah C.@twitter This page has an explanation of what each category means, as well as state-by-state stats.

This information is collected by the Current Population Survey, a monthly survey of about 60,000 households conducted by the Census Bureau on behalf of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Lots more technical details can be found here.

A “discouraged worker” is someone who wants and is available for work, is not in the labor market (i.e. doesn’t have a job), has looked for work in the past 12 months, but had NOT looked in the past four weeks for the specific reason that they thought no jobs were available.

A “marginally attached” worker is someone in the same situation, but who had not looked for work in the past 4 weeks for any reason. For example, they may have been caring for a sick relative, or their car was broken and they had no transportation, etc. Or they lost a job but their spouse is still working, so they decide to stay home with the kids for the time being even though they are really only barely scraping by on one income.

Speaking (very) generally, discouraged workers are often older people who lack formal training / education or who have experience in a specific job (like operating a metal lathe on a factory floor) that is no longer in high demand. Many such workers live in rural or small town areas and may have limited transportation available. For instance, imagine someone who worked at an auto parts subcontractor in Ohio. The plant closes down and suddenly there are 10,000 people with their same skillset (who are used to making $25/hr) applying at every McDonalds and Walmart in town. Is some dentist’s office going to hire a 50-year-old ex auto worker with no computer skills as a receptionist? Especially now that 1/3 of her patients in town have lost their insurance?

Or consider someone who maybe grew up in a difficult home environment, flunked out of high school, and joined the Army. He got out and maybe has been working in day labor or construction jobs for 10 or 15 years, but now his back is starting to hurt and he can’t perform that kind of work very well any more, so with relatively high-paying construction jobs gone for the moment he’s been staying on his aunt’s couch. Clearly this person’s potential is being wasted (which is what “employment” measures, essentially — idle economic resources, in this case, people) so it is important to measure him, even if he is not included in the “official” unemployment numbers.

You seem to be imagining this pool of workers as “someone basically like me but too lazy to post their resume on Monster.com” which is not it at all.

TL;DR: Bad.

@Sarah C.@twitter Did my super-long comment get eated?

WaityKatie (#1,696)

@Sarah C.@twitter I think it’s meant to describe people who have given up on looking for a job and are instead doing something else (i.e., went back to school, being a housewife, etc.) People who are still actively seeking work I think stay in the actively seeking category.

@WaityKatie Almost certain that people in education are never counted as unemployed even if they would like to have a job.

Sarah C.@twitter (#1,505)

@stuffisthings Your comment was not eated, and was very helpful! I asked because I legitimately did not know what to make of that number, and now I have something to work with. Like most people my age (or in general), I’m definitely guilty of filtering the world through my experience. Thanks for the reality check.

@Sarah C.@twitter Thanks — I hope it didn’t sound mean, as I wasn’t trying to be!

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