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Almost Half of American Workers Are Underemployed

Topics: Data & Research

For PayScale’s latest report, The Underemployed: The War on the American Worker, we surveyed 900,000 workers to determine how prevalent the problem is among workers in various demographics, and what that underemployment looks like.

Forty-six percent of respondents to PayScale’s survey characterized themselves as underemployed. Seventy-six percent of those respondents said they worked at jobs that didn’t use their education and training; 24 percent said that they worked part-time, but would prefer full-time work.


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What Is Underemployment?

For this edition of the report, we looked at two metrics: having part-time work but wanting to work full-time, or holding a job that doesn’t use one’s education or training.

In previous years, PayScale included a third measure of underemployment: feeling underpaid. Eighty percent of those who identified as underemployed in last year’s survey said it was because they weren’t paid what they should be. However, when we measured their salaries against the market, only 45 percent of those users actually were paid less than what was appropriate. Fifty-five percent were paid in line with their peers with similar experience and education.

In other words, being underemployed can be subjective, if we look at it from the perspective of how workers feel about their salaries. But underemployment as defined by involuntary part-time work or even working in jobs that don’t use one’s education is less easily dismissed as a matter of opinion.

Which Jobs Are Most Underemployed?

Whether it’s because of involuntary part-time employment, or a job that doesn’t use hard-earned skills and education, workers in some occupations are more likely to struggle than others. PayScale’s data show that the following jobs are the most relatively common among the underemployed:

  1. System Support Technician
  1. Front-End Supervisor
  1. Dog Groomer and Bather
  1. Assistant Warehouse Manager
  1. Yard Foreman

Who Is Underemployed?

  • Females (49 percent) were more likely to be underemployed than males (43 percent).
  • For the most part, workers with less education were more likely to be underemployed. Associate degree holders were more likely to be underemployed than those who held bachelor’s degrees and above, while MDs were least likely.
  • Workers with some college, but no degree, were more likely to be underemployed that those a high school diploma or GED.


It’s the Economy

The number of workers employed part-time for economic reasons – i.e. those who would prefer to work full-time, but can’t get the hours – skyrocketed during the recession, and remains much higher than pre-recession levels. Last month, over 6.4 million workers fit in this category, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, compared to 4.1 million workers 10 years prior, in May 2006.

Working part-time when workers would prefer to work full-time comes with a host of issues besides the obvious cash-flow problem. Part-time workers may find themselves ineligible for employer-sponsored benefits like health insurance, which might be available to full-time staff. They might also find themselves forced to take on multiple part-time jobs, eventually working more than 40 hours a week, but with less career momentum and worse work-life balance than someone with one full-time job.

“There’s no such thing as a Friday,” Erlinda Delacruz tells CNN Money. Delacruz has worked three part-time jobs after losing her full-time manufacturing job in 2009, but still lost her home to foreclosure last summer. “I live paycheck to paycheck.”

Underemployed workers are also in danger of losing the skills they’ve worked so hard to acquire, through working at jobs that don’t use their education and training, which makes it even harder to find work in their field.

Tell Us What You Think

Are you underemployed? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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