The marginally discouraged worker

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, I am on the verge of becoming a ‘discouraged worker’. It strikes me as a misleading term because I am not actually working, but the government moves in mysterious ways. This is how they define the discouraged worker on their website: ‘Persons not in the labor force who want and are available for a job and who have looked for work sometime in the past 12 months (or since the end of their last job if they held one within the past 12 months), but who are not currently looking.’

dead fish

Gulped his last breath. Kind of sums up how I feel about the job search these days.

Those not looking for a job are considered to be ‘marginally attached to the labor force’, according to the BLS. The website goes on to state that the marginally attached are further divided into those not looking because they believe the search is futile (me) or those not looking because of other reasons such as family, ill health or lack of transport.

I have not completely stopped looking for a job, but I am doing it with as much will as a fish mechanically gulping its last breath. For this reason I will call myself the ‘marginally discouraged worker’. I had three interviews last week. THREE. None has worked out. I thought two weren’t really for me anyway, but it’s still disappointing. It’s like being rejected in a relationship – there is a bit of a sting and a period of morose introspection. And even though recruiters tell you it was ‘a tough call’, you still inwardly take the decision as a personal attack on your abilities.

The BLS studied the unemployed and found that, in 2010, individuals were jobless for about 20 weeks before giving up the job search and leaving the labor force. In 2008 this figure was only 8.5 weeks. It surprises me that people spent so little time actively looking for a job in 2008 before giving up entirely.

How labor has changed over the years – men versus women

Here are some more facts taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which I thought makes for an interesting comparison of the workforce in different countries over 40 years ago and then again in 2010 (the latest available data):

Men participating in the labor force (percent)

  • In 1971: US, 79.1; UK, 83.1; Canada, 77.30; Australia, 83.8; Japan, 81.9; France, 75.5; Germany, 75.8; Italy, 71.0; Sweden, 78.0
  • In 2010: US, 71.2; UK, 69.9; Canada, 71.8; Australia, 73.2; Japan, 70.8; France, 61.9; Germany, 65.1; Italy, 59.1; Sweden, 69.1

Women participating in the labor force (percent)

  • In 1971: US, 43.4; UK, 44.6; Canada, 39.4; Australia, 41.0; Japan, 47.7; France, 40.2; Germany, 38.5; Italy, 26.3; Sweden, 50.9
  • In 2010: US, 58.6; UK, 56.8; Canada, 62.4; Australia, 59.8; Japan, 48.1; France, 51.7; Germany, 51.6; Italy, 38.3; Sweden, 60.4

You don’t need a degree in advanced mathematics to see that the percentage of men participating in the workforce has dropped for every single country observed since 1971; the opposite is true of women. The most dramatic difference is in the UK and France, where the percentage of men working fell by about 13%. For women, Canada has significantly added females to the workforce, by about 22%. Australia also recorded a significant rise.

It’s hard to draw decisive conclusions based on these numbers, but it’s certainly true that more women are working now than in 1971, which is not at all surprising; it’s an example of how women are no longer expected to be in the home after marriage or perhaps they can’t afford the luxury of a choice. The one country still lagging far behind is Italy – and that’s hardly astonishing considering how patriarchal and traditional it can be. The women of working age in this country only account for about 38% of the workforce today and that’s less than every single country in the study, even back in 1971.

Okay, so I don’t want to be a woman looking for a job in Italy. That’s pretty certain. Things are much better for women in the US and the UK – they are nearly on par with each other statistically. These numbers, however, don’t tell me how many women would like a job but can’t find one. Discouraged is definitely one word for it. Or how about draining?


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Filed under American life, Job search, Uncategorized

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