Unemployed vs. Underemployed – The Struggle

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Over the past five years the terms, “unemployed” and “underemployed” have unfortunately become common place. Even if unemployment hasn’t impacted you directly, chances are it has affected someone close to you. And the same can be said for underemployment. In 2011, Fox News reported on a Gallup study which found that nearly one in five working Americans describes themselves as “underemployed”. A year earlier, in 2010, Reuters reported a similar Gallup poll that revealed that 30 million Americans were underemployed.

Neither of these situations is pleasant to be in, and they both can have long-term effects on workers’ lives. A Fox News article from May of this year reported that the Center for American Progress estimated that young Americans who are currently either unemployed or underemployed will likely lose a combined $20 billion in earnings over the next decade. That’s a major loss. But, if it came down to it, which predicament would you choose?

Unemployed vs. Underemployed
No one wants to describe themselves as unemployed, and being without work is one of life’s biggest stressors. But, as the saying goes, every cloud has a silver lining, and this circumstance is no different. When you are unemployed, you have the flexibility and time for interviews and job searching, and you have time to learn a new skill or increase your knowledge. However, unemployment creates a gap in your work history and can have harmful psychological effects, including hopelessness or depression. Additionally, with unemployment comes the stress of missing income and benefits from an employer.

When you feel underutilized and underpaid, sometimes the idea of not working at all can seem appealing. But, just as there are two sides to every story, staying engaged in the workforce, even in an undesirable position, has its benefits, including psychological ones like having a sense of purpose. Additionally, you’ll be contributing to your work history and can possibly have access to some employer benefits. The concerns with underemployment include having less time to look for a better job, and the possibility of being overlooked for a better job because of the work you are doing.

The Better Option
Obviously, everyone hopes to find a fulfilling job they can enjoy and be successful at. However, when that’s not a possibility, our suggestion is to find a job and do it well even if it means being underemployed for awhile. Here’s why:

  1. Skill building – while they may not be the skills you wanted, you can always learn something new.
  2. Networking opportunities – being in the workforce can put you on the inside track for other jobs at that company and puts you in daily contact with people who may know someone that is hiring.
  3. Future job potential – Having a job, any job, can help with your job search, especially since long-term unemployment has been shown to make finding your next job even harder.

In an article on CampusProgress.org, Tory Johnson, an ABC News Workplace contributor and college advisor for Fairfield University, said, “Don’t wait for the market to magically get better, or for your dream job to come along. Enter the market with a field that is somewhat similar to your career interest, and align yourself with a company or industry that benefits your passion.” And, we couldn’t agree more.

But, you might disagree with us. Which do you think is better? What have been your own experiences with being either unemployed or underemployed? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

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