Worried About Jobless Numbers? Talk to the "Underemployed"

The new unemployment figures are scary, but those working less than they'd like are the real worry

By Damian Trujillo
|  Friday, Sep 18, 2009  |  Updated 4:32 PM PDT
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Worried About Jobless Numbers? Talk to the "Underemployed"

Unemployment is bad -- but underemployment could be the bigger problem as the economy struggles to recover.

Unemployment in California has set a new modern record -- but the latest numbers don't tell the real story.

The much-watched jobless rate climbed to 12.2 percent in August, up from 7.6 percent during the same month last year.

In construction, the numbers are even worse. Neil Struthers, CEO of the Building and Construction Trades Council for Santa Clara and San Benito Counties, said in his industry, unemployment is actually at 30 percent.

"It's bad," said Struthers.

But Struthers says the record unemployment numbers don't reflect the real depth of the problem. Many of his members, Struthers says, are only getting jobs that last a week or a month.

They're not technically unemployed. They're the underemployed. And their ranks are swelling.

"They're not at a point where they can apply for unemployment," says Struthers. "But they're not full-time employees either.

Frank Crispino is one of them.

The ironworker helped build the Great America amusement park, San Jose's Fairmont Hotel, and the city's convention center.

But he's been out of work since May.  Now, Crispino shows up to the union hall every morning, hoping his number gets called to report to a job site. But that number hasn't brought any luck to Crispino.

 "I come out here to the hall at 6:45 every morning," said Crispino.

Struthers says, in many cases, the underemployed are the ones losing their homes, leading to foreclosures which depress housing prices, which in turn drag down the economy which might provide them jobs.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is optimistic about a quick turnaround.

"There are good signs at the state level and at the national level that the economy has bottomed out," said the governor at a Los Angeles news conference.

Frank Crispino hopes the governer is right, so he can get back on the rafters.

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