Even as the unemployment rate hovers near its lowest level in more than two years, millions of Americans still remain jobless or stuck cobbling together part-time work in hopes of landing something full-time and permanent. While the economy is adding jobs at a fairly consistent rate, the jobs added each month aren't enough to bring unemployment down to a historically healthy level. But it's not just about numbers; often the discussion leaves out the real stories of the unemployed in America.
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A new report from USAction, a federation of 23 state-based organizations and affiliates, contains interviews from nearly 1,200 unemployed or underemployed Americans struggling to find work. The report, Hardly Working: Stories from Un- and Under-Employed Americans, highlights the issues many people face as they search for employment.
William McNary, president of USAction, said in a conference call on Friday: "We undertook this project for one reason: un- and under-employment is the number one problem in America. It affects 16 percent of American workers—that's one out of every six workers in the country. It's high time we get beyond the numbers and talk about the real people who are affected by this crisis. It's time their voices are heard loud and clear."
The report contains a range of stories, including those from older Americans who couldn't find work and felt they were being discriminated against, as well as younger people who recently graduated from college and felt they were underemployed in their current positions. Another discouraging pattern: A number of Americans who were unable to find work at home decided to move abroad to make ends meet. While it's hard to point to a larger trend from these stories, at least anecdotally, they shed light on some of the issues facing unemployed Americans.
After graduating from college, Gregory of New Jersey found himself working part-time as a restaurant manager. To find full-time work, Gregory says he chose to travel to South Korea to teach English. According to the report, he said: "It's the easiest way for me to put my education to use, get government-supported health care, a pension, and earn a living wage. And I'm not the only one. There are thousands of us here in Korea. And thousands more in Japan, China, Europe, the Middle East, and South America. All of us young, healthy, and well-educated. But for many of us, the best way to find a steady job or pay off a student loan is to leave America. People like me should be teaching English in America, helping Americans, and paying American taxes."
For similar reasons, Timothy of Palm Bay, Fla., who has been unemployed for 21 out of the last 24 months, took a position in China. He says employers in the United States view him as "overqualified," so he moved to China to teach English. "It grieves me to leave my home country, but employment is employment," he said. "If American jobs can go overseas, so can American people."
Others, like Paul of Eugene, Ore., recently found work across the border in Canada. After being unemployed for two-and-a-half years, Paul says he moved to Vancouver. "I have temporarily moved to the Vancouver, Canada, area, since I was born in Canada, but left when I was two years old," Paul says. "I got a job fairly quickly up here, but would like to go back to my home and family in Oregon."