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Jobless Numbers Don't Tell The Whole Story

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Jobless Numbers Don't Tell The Whole Story


Jobless Numbers Don't Tell The Whole Story

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And the news of U.S. credit downgrade overtook another important economic story yesterday, the monthly jobless numbers. Only 117,000 jobs were created in July. That's barely enough to make a dent in the unemployment rate. Often overlooked in the monthly job figures are the longer-term employment trends in the United States. A number of people who are long-term unemployed remains unchanged, more than six million.

The same with the number of discouraged workers as they're called. Those are people not looking for work because they believe there are no jobs. NPR's Sonari Glinton reports.

SONARI GLINTON: To understand the unemployment rate, we need to understand the math behind the numbers.

LINDA BARRINGTON: I'm Linda Barrington, a labor economist with the Institute for Compensation Studies at Cornell University.

GLINTON: Professor Barrington is going to help us out. We'll start with fractions. The unemployment number is a fraction. The top number is the numerator, and in this case...

BARRINGTON: Is the number of people who are looking for a job and don't have one.

GLINTON: Then you take that number and divide by the denominator. The number on the bottom...

BARRINGTON: Is everybody who is working or wants to be working.

GLINTON: That's where we get the percentage of people who are unemployed, which in July was 9.1 percent - almost 14 million people. But that's not the whole picture. A lot of people get left out.

BARRINGTON: People who don't have any interest in working or the people who have given up because they've looked long enough and they don't expect they're going to get a job, so they just stop.


JAN WALSWORTH: I know in my gut that finding a full-time job with benefits, for me, the chances are slim to none.

GLINTON: Jan Walsworth turns 60 next week. She's about to become one of those six million people who are long-term unemployed. She spent 26 years as a homemaker and minister's wife. Now a divorced grandmother, she lives on a very small pension she got in the divorce. Walsworth was laid off in February from her job in customer service. If you called her up with a computer problem she could've helped you out.

WALSWORTH: The thing that maybe has made this all the harder is the fact that that job fulfilled everything that I liked to do. I was helping people, a lot of the people that called were older, more my age. I was extremely successful. They could tell by my voice I wasn't some 20-year-old with that impatience.

GLINTON: I met up with Walsworth at a restaurant near the Interstate in Jackson, Michigan. She says she hasn't had any serious responses to her job search and not having work has made her lonely and isolated.

WALSWORTH: I miss talking to people. I go days sometimes and don't talk to anybody. I want to work again, but I have no real hope of ever doing so in a meaningful - in a job that's meaningful to me.

GLINTON: Finding meaningful work or work that's comparable to what she used to have.

WALSWORTH: So is it hopeless?

GLINTON: That's a question labor economist Linda Barrington says the long-term unemployed have to be asking.

BARRINGTON: I think for some people, there is a ratcheting-down that's going to have to take place. That may mean taking a pay cut; it may mean going back to school, and these are really difficult decisions.

GLINTON: Barrington says it's not hopeless for the unemployed; they just have to hope for something different.

Sonari Glinton, NPR News.


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