At minimum, 14 million Americans are unemployed. At least 26 million are un- or underemployed.We crunch the monthly unemployment reports until our brains are numb. Are we up or down? Losing or gaining? Is our nation moving forward at long last or falling farther behind?
Those are the “official” numbers. While these numbers are not precise, they do help quantify the misery, sadness and tragedy that defines our country today.
In August 2011, USAction asked our online members to share their stories of un- and underemployment.
More than a thousand responded. We learned much from their stories:
- Pervasive discrimination exists. The barriers to getting a job are much greater if you are old, if you don’t have a job, if you are a young college graduate, if you are “over-degreed,” or if you are unlucky enough to be in a profession disproportionately hit by today’s economy.
- Financial hardship and emotional duress overwhelm many of the un- and underemployed. We repeatedly heard stories of life savings exhausted, attempted suicide, and middle-aged adults moving in with their parents to make ends meet.
- Americans are fed up with, and despairing of, the conditions we face in today’s economy. What has happened? Many people’s jobs have been outsourced to other countries. And now, some Americans are outsourcing themselves to other countries in order to be able to work.
After sifting through 1,199 stories we received from our members, we carefully selected a collection of stories we feel best define the experience of unemployed and under-employed Americans.
These stories are not a statistical representation of unemployment in America, but rather offer an anecdotal glimpse of what life is like for people struggling in today’s economy.
What do these stories teach us?
They teach us of the vital importance of unemployment insurance as a lifeline. If millions lose unemployment benefits, it will only compound the human suffering that is sweeping through our cities, our suburbs, our rural areas and our exurbs as a result of the Great Recession.
They teach us of the vital importance of other lifelines – Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are even more important during hard times.
USAction Education Fund carries out powerful public education, outreach and advocacy efforts to achieve liberty and justice for all. We believe in our nation’s founding promise that every human being has equal dignity, equal worth, and an equal claim to pursue a meaningful and fulfilling life. We believe that strong communities create the conditions that allow for individual success.
We can create Good Jobs for America, and our sister 501(c)(4) organization, USAction, has a campaign to do it. There is more than enough vital work to be done in our country, and Americans stand ready and eager to work. Together, we can build an America of shared prosperity and opportunity for all.
We hope you will read the stories outlined in Hardly Working: Stories from Unemployed and Under-Employed Americans. We hope you will share this report with your friends, family members, clergy, and neighbors. And we hope you will share your own story with us at www.usaction.org/stories.