Underemployment in the U.S.: Here are the facts

Gallup, Inc.’s measures of U.S. employment show that one-fifth of the U.S. workforce was underemployed in January 2010.

To be clear here, Gallup defines “underemployed” as either employed part-time but wanting to work full-time or as unemployed. It’s an interesting statistic, though it does not quite match my own definition of “underemployment.” (To me, underemployment is a more qualitative status in which your job responsibilities and salary are below your work history or other reasonable expectations, but that’s another story.)

As may be expected, the underemployed lag the employed on many measures. They are less likely to have money to buy the things they need (56% for the underemployed versus 84% for the employed), to have visited a dentist in the past 12 months (57% versus 72%) or to have health insurance (59% versus 87%).

More findings:

  • Those with higher levels of education are least likely to be underemployed (only 10% of those with postgraduate work or degree and 12% of college grads).
  • Women are only slightly more likely than men to be underemployed (21% of women versus 19% of men).
  • Exactly the same percentages of those between the ages of 30 and 49 and between 50 and 65 are underemployed—17% in each of the two age groups. (I’m surprised—are you?)

  • Least hopeful they will get a job are those 50 to 65 years old (71%), those with college or postgraduate degree (65%), non-Hispanic whites (63%) and women (also 63%).
  • Underemployed individuals in the South (42%) and East (40%) are more optimistic about finding full-time employment compared to those in the West (38%) and Midwest (36%).
  • Based on other findings, Gallup suggests that attitudes on hopelessness are driven more by economic factors than by people’s general inclinations towards optimism.

Gallup is conducting thought-provoking research on Americans’ attitudes towards the economy and other important public issues. If these findings intrigue you, you’ll enjoy receiving additional insights through Gallup’s online alerts and social networking.


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