2012 April Jobless Statement
May 4, 2012
As people of faith, we continue to be concerned about our country's slow economic recovery. With this month's release of unemployment rates, we see yet another sign that while economists may say that the recession has ended, the reality of unemployment and under-employment remains true for millions of Americans-particularly those often left on the margins of the conversation about economic recovery.
The unemployment rate in the month of April decreased from last month to 8.1%. While the total jobless number is 12.5 million, 115,000 jobs were created in April. Still there remains a startling 5.1 million who are long term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) - 41.3% of the unemployed population. Among specific worker groups the unemployment for adult men was 7.5%, adult women 7.4%, whites 7.4%, blacks 13%, Hispanics 10.3%, and Asians 5.2%.
Much attention has been given to the unemployment rate in politics and the media. And while warranted, sometimes the unemployment numbers overshadow another large problem in the United States-the underemployment rate. Gallup, who has been tracking unemployment and underemployment since January 2010, defines underemployment as people who are, "either unemployed or are employed part time (fewer than 30 hours per week) and wish to be employed full time." Their definition of unemployment is similar to that of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics where people "don't have a job, and are actively looking for work and available to begin work."
According to Gallup, nationally 18.6% of Americans were underemployed in 2011. And as with most jobs numbers, there are seasonal variations throughout the year with 2011 underemployment reaching a low of 17.8% in October and a high of 19.9% in February, right after the holiday rush in part-time hiring.
When the recession hit, many companies were forced to scale back on labor in an effort to remain afloat. During that time they learned to become more efficient on less money. Now, when the so-called recovery is occurring, businesses, especially small businesses, are planning not to hire back as many full-time employees. A January 2011 Bloomberg.com articles stated, "While past rebounds were led by companies with fewer than 500 people adding full-time workers, some owners say they'll rely on part-time help and push their staffs to be more productive as they wait as much as a year for demand to improve."
While it is true for many people that a part-time job is better than no job at all underemployed workers are still struggling to make ends meet on both lower wages and oftentimes times reduced or nonexistent benefits like health insurance and paid sick days. Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research was quoted in the Bloomberg.com article as saying, "[Part-time workers are] in trouble in terms of paying the bills even though they are still going to work day to day. Underemployment is a big part of the picture if we want to get a full sense of whether we're fully utilizing our resources." The high underemployment rate will mean the recovery will continue to move at a slow pace and economic growth will be weakened. Without the guarantee of full-time employment, many underemployed workers will hold off on making major purchases and will continue to be conservative about their household budget, only further harming the growth of local economies.
As we consider these monthly reflections of our economy's health, we remind our elected officials that they must soon create and debate legislation that aims to create jobs and strengthen our economy without forgetting about those who are at greatest risk of impoverishment and hardship, including those workers who are underemployed. As scripture tells us, "One who withholds what is due to the poor affronts the Creator; one who cares for the needy honors God." (Proverbs 14:31)
You can find DHN's Jobs Statement of Principles at http://domestichumanneeds.org/uploads/DHN-Jobs-Statement-of-Principles.pdf.
American Friends Service Committee
Bread for the World
Church of the Brethren
Disciples Justice Action Network
The Episcopal Church
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Interfaith Worker Justice
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
Mennonite Central Committee U.S., Washington Office
National Advocacy Center Sisters of the Good Shepherd
National Council of Churches
National Council of Jewish Women
NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
Office of Social Justice and Hunger; Christian Reformed Church in North America
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness
Sisters of Mercy Institute Justice Team
Union for Reform Judaism
Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
The United Methodist Church-General Board of Church and Society