Are you underemployed? Here's how you can improve your job prospects

Published: Monday, April 29 2013 11:55 a.m. MDT

Bob Ziroll, president of EarthSafe Batteries, tests and reconditions a forklift battery at Standard Restaurant Supply in Salt Lake City on Thursday, April 25, 2013.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY – Berit Ensweiler always wanted to work in aviation.

Almost four years after graduating in aviation management from Purdue University, Ensweiler, 26, was unable land a job as an air traffic controller. He is now a sales associate at a UPS Store in Salt Lake City.

Surrounded by carboard boxes and packing tape in the stock room, he said he still dreams of working in aviation.

“I realize that my potential is higher than this. It’s not necessarily a good feeling but it’s paying the bills for now.”

Ann Curtis, 58, estimates she has applied for 400 jobs since graduating in Public Relations from Brigham Young University in 2011. Curtis, 58, exudes the confidence that comes with experience and maturity, and has experience ranging from business owner to news writing, public relations, social media, event planning and design.

She has bounced from job to job and interview to interview, often being told that she is overqualified or facing potential employers who assume she does not understand technology or will only work for the company for a few years because of her age.

"The minute you walk into the door, it's like there's this big caption over your head, like, 'Oh, they're old,'" she said.

Ensweiler and Curtis are two of the 8.6 million who were underemployed and 11.8 million who were mal-employed in the United States in 2011, according to a study done by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University.

The underemployed are those who want to work full-time job but either work part time or not at all for economic reasons, according to Andrew Sum, Professor of Economics at Northeastern University. Those who are mal-employed are those who have college degrees but work in jobs that do not require a degree.

“Both these problems have very large levels. They swamp the unemployment problem,” Sum said. “There's a very, very, very large cost associated with this.”

In Utah, 5.4 percent of those in the labor force were underemployed in 2012. This is down from 6.3 percent in 2011, an improvement, but not enough to erase the changes for all sectors in the workforce.

The two populations that are most impacted are recent college graduates and those who are nearing retirement, according to Peter Philips, professor of economics at the University of Utah. Those who are fresh out of college and are under or mal-employed face financial and career consequences that could haunt them throughout their career, while near-retirees miss opportunities to improve their careers and save for retirement.

The economic costs are seen in the lack of tax revenue, financing food stamps and welfare for the underemployed and in the loss of income over the span of a career for the mal-employed, Sum said.

Those who are younger also miss out on training and carry the consequences throughout their careers, Philips said. Like knives that need to be sharpened, young people need the training, experience and networking that will make them more marketable and effective, he said.

"Today the young un-sharpened knives that are coming into the labor force, these new people who are coming in, aren’t getting sharpened up the way young workers did get trained and prepared and integrated a decade ago,” Philips said.

Because of this, they have a harder time progressing throughout their work life.

“They’re going to be not only underemployed today but less effectively employed tomorrow, so it’s a double whammy for young people.”