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Landing a job like getting into Harvard

By Samuel Sherraden, Special to CNN
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Samuel Sherraden: The 650,000 jobs created or saved so far by stimulus a drop in the bucket
  • Sherraden: Even goal of 3.5 million jobs not enough for the tens of millions of unemployed
  • Adding up underemployed, discouraged and unemployed amounts to 30 million people
  • Says odds of landing one of the 2.4 million jobs available same as getting into Harvard

Editor's note: Samuel Sherraden is a policy analyst for the Economic Growth Program at the New America Foundation, a Washington-based think tank that promotes innovative thought across the ideological spectrum.

Washington, D.C. (CNN) -- The 650,000 jobs created or saved by the stimulus package so far make up only a small step toward correcting the gap between the tens of millions of unemployed people and the few openings that those people are fighting over.

Even the administration's goal of creating 3.5 million jobs is far below what the economy really needs. With an official unemployment rate of 10.2 percent, the gap between the number of full-time job openings and the number of people who are unemployed has widened.

Since the beginning of the recession in December 2007, job openings declined from 4.4 million to 2.4 million and the number of officially unemployed persons grew from 7.5 million to 15.7 million, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

If the 15.7 million officially unemployed workers were to apply for those 2.4 million jobs, the chance of any one of them finding a job are about 15 percent, or roughly the same odds as being accepted to the University of Pennsylvania.

The official figure only counts workers as unemployed if they have searched for a job within the past four weeks. But, does it make sense to exclude people who have not looked for work in the past month? Probably not, given that statistics show workers are trying harder than ever to find a job and only give up looking after prolonged periods of unemployment.

The average duration of official unemployment -- which, by definition, requires that people be actively searching for a job -- has increased to 26.9 weeks, or just over a half a year.

But after many months of unsuccessful job hunting, some people do give up hope. And after four weeks of not looking for a job, they are dropped from official unemployment. It is primarily for this reason that since May, the official labor force has shrunk by 1.1 million people.

The exclusion of these so-called "discouraged" workers from statistics means that the official number of unemployed severely understates the weakness in the labor market. If you include these workers, the unemployment rate would rise to 13 percent, or 21.3 million.

If these workers were to apply for the 2.4 million jobs available, the odds of securing a job would be 11.2 percent, or roughly the same as getting into the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

It gets worse. Another group excluded from the official unemployment report is the growing number of part-time workers who would prefer to have a full-time job. These workers are forced into part-time jobs or are forced to take part-time hours because no full-time work is available.

During the current recession, workers who are "part time for economic reasons" have grown from 4.6 million to 9.3million.

Adding part-time workers to the number of officially unemployed and the discouraged workers, as labor market expert Leo Hindery, Jr., has observed, results in a rise in the real unemployment rate to 19.2 percent, or 30.6 million people.

The odds of any one of these 30 million securing one of the 2.4 million full-time jobs available is 8 percent, the same as the admissions rate of the Ivy League gold standard, Harvard University.

The 3.5 million jobs the stimulus package aims to provide are insufficient. To get the job growth the country needs, the White House should push for sustained infrastructure investment, cutting corporate taxes, and increasing access to credit for small businesses. We still have thirty million workers in the United States who are unemployed, underemployed or discouraged and they face the same odds of finding a job as a high school senior applying to the world's most elite university.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Samuel Sherraden.