Unemployed face tough competition: underemployed

By Paul Wiseman

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Sept. 4 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

Some weeks he's busy and making money. Other times he struggles. He's living at home, and sometimes he has to borrow $50 from his father to pay bills. He's applied for "a million jobs."

"You go to all these interviews for entry-level positions, and you lose out every time," he says.

Nationally, 4.5 unemployed people, on average, are competing for each job opening. In a healthy economy, the average is about two per opening.

Facing rejection, millions give up and stop looking for jobs.

Norman Spaulding, 54, quit his job as a truck driver two years ago because he needed work that would let him care for his disabled 13-year-old daughter.

But after repeated rejections, Spaulding concluded a few weeks ago that the cost of driving to visit potential employers wasn't worth the expense. He suspended his job hunt.

He and his family are getting by on his daughter's disability check from Social Security. They're living in a trailer park on Texas' Gulf Coast.

"It costs more to look than we have to spend," he says.

Eventually, lots of Americans like Spaulding will start looking for jobs again. If those work-force dropouts had been counted as unemployed, August's unemployment rate would have been 10.6 percent instead of 9.1 percent.

Emma Draper, 23, lost her public relations job this summer. To pay the rent on her Washington apartment, she's working part time at the retailer South Moon Under. She's selling $120 Ralph Lauren swimsuits and other trendy clothes.

Her search for full-time work has been discouraging. Employers don't call back for months, if ever.

"You're basically on their timeline," Draper says. "It's really hard to find a job unless you know somebody who can give you an inside edge."

Retailers, in particular, favor part-timers. They value the flexibility of being able to tap extra workers during peak sales times without being overstaffed during lulls. Some use software to precisely match their staffing levels with customer traffic. It holds down their expenses.

"They know up to the minute how many people they need," says Carrie Gleason of the Retail Action Project, which advocates better working conditions for retail workers. "It's almost created a contingent work force."

Draper appreciates her part-time retail job, and not just because it helps pay the bills. It takes her mind off the frustration of searching for full-time work.

"Right now, finding a job is my job," she says. "If that was the only thing I had to do, I'd be going insane. There is only so much time you can sit at your computer, sending out resumes."

Leonard reported from St. Louis. AP Business Writer Ellen Gibson in New York contributed to this report.

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