Bureau of Labor Statistics count, 5.7 percent of U.S. workers
were unemployed in March. That sounds rather benign. But when translated
to 8.4 million people out of work, the number sounds scarier. Its
scarier still when you consider that 8.4 million is slightly more
than the population of New York Cityits more than double
the number of people who lived in the state of Missouri in 1950, and
its about a third of Iraqs population.
Granted, 8.4 million doesnt seem very imposing when put in context
with the U.S.s total civilian labor force, which the BLS says
is 146.7 million (138.3 million employed and 8.4 million unemployed).
But with a closer look at the BLS numbers and the agencys explanation
of them, the 8.4 million doesnt begin to represent the total
casualties of todays chilly economy. In March, another 4.7 million
people who wanted full-time jobs could only secure part-time work.
Although these 4.7 million people are working, most of them probably
dont get paid enough to pay their basic living expenses. Many
of them are probably struggling to pay their rent or mortgages. Others
have probably had to move in with relatives or friends. Many are probably
eating less these days.
Then, there were the 1.4 million souls who wanted to work and had
been looking for a job during the past year. BLS didnt count
them as unemployed because they hadnt actively looked for a
job during the four weeks preceding the BLS survey. There were also
514,000 people who got discouraged and simply stopped looking for
But the scariest number of all is the number of people who are working
every day but dont have what we would call a real job. Theyre
the temporary workers who often work in low-level service jobs. They
might be answering the phones at insurance companies or serving as
tellers at a local bank. They might be temporary secretaries and receptionists.
They work in your community, but they probably dont have the
funds to help support the community.
Many of them are likely shopping at Wal-Mart for items they can buy
for less than theyd have to pay at a more high-end supermarket.
They cant afford to support the high-end stores in the neighborhood,
the stores that pay better wages and offer more product choices. They
cant afford to donate to public radio and television, although
they may be listeners and might want to contribute. They cant
afford to each out much. When they do eat out it probably wont
be in one of the communitys upscale eateries.
Many of these marginally employed workers will be unable to pay credit
card bills. Some will leave their residences owing big utility bills
that will eventually be written off. When they get sick, they will
often rack up an emergency room bill that the hospital will eventually
have to write off.
Marginal workers often dont have medical benefits, and they
usually have no idea how long they will be working at a particular
company. They might have been out of a real job for more than a year.
So when theyre between temp jobs the unemployment check they
get might be less than $300 a week.
The government counts them as employed, but they are not employed
in the modern sense. They are simply working from one day to the next,
without benefits, without any commitment from their employers. They
are simply existing, often without a net.
And their misfortune affects the lives and livelihoods of others in
their communities. Yet it is unclear how many of them there are, how
long theyve been on the margins of the workforce. And members
of the current administration keep quoting the numbers that dont
include these people or others who might have permanent
jobs but are still severely underemployed.
Bottom line: If you add the marginal workers that BLS didnt
count to the unemployment figures, the 8.4 million unemployed in March
becomes about 15 million. Fifteen million people, thats enough
to populate five Jamaicas. Its slightly less than the total
population of California in 1960. Its nearly two-thirds of Iraqs
Deborah Young can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.