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Raw Jobs Numbers Mask The Pain Of Joblessness

People might be shaken to wake to the news today of the nation's downgraded credit rating. But yesterday's unemployment report reflects a much more personal impact for many Americans. Not having a job in the United States can feel like getting punched in your stomach every morning. It can literally ache and take your breath away.

There are lots of people who may disappear in the monthly unemployment numbers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies 8.4 million Americans as "involuntary part-time workers."

These are men and women who may have worked a little over the past year — a few weeks in a store just before Christmas or in a restaurant during the spring travel season — but nothing since because those stores and restaurants aren't hiring full-time staff.

Involuntary part-time workers have probably run out of the money they earned. They may have no health care coverage, and may have to live with infirmities and pains they can't afford to fix. They fear their children might get sick. Or worse, they may have a child who is sick and have to figure out what to do without — what meals they can skip, what shoes they can make last — to pay for them to be treated.

They need and want full-time work. They make phone calls, send resumes and go to interviews. But lots of people are looking for work today.

When Caterpillar opened hiring this summer in Winston-Salem, N.C., 4,000 people applied for 329 jobs. When the Plaza Hotel in Las Vegas opened 300 jobs this summer, 8,000 people applied. With odds like that, at least a few other applicants are usually a little more experienced. Or more embarrassing, there are others who apply who are less experienced, but younger, single and willing to work for less.

Then there are 2.8 million people the Bureau of Labor Statistics label "discouraged workers." They've looked for work over the past year, but not in the four weeks before the survey.

They haven't won the lottery. They've been told "no" so many times in a year or gotten no response to their phone calls, emails or visits that they just stop looking because it seems useless. Hearing no after no, day after day, isn't just discouraging; it's hurtful and humiliating.

After a year or two of being knocked around and doing without, how many of us who are blessed to have jobs would even get out of bed to be so downgraded?

Economists of all persuasions point out that everyone without a job is one more person who can't help fuel the economy to recover. America misses out not only on their money, but also on the energy, ambition and experience of millions of people when the country can use them most.

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Simon SaysSimon Says NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small