Are You Underemployed? Here’s How to Fix It

underemployed workers

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics just did its job and released its monthly data about our jobs. Among the findings: Turns out, a lot of Americans are underemployed — which might be a more telling statistic than the more often-reported unemployment figures.

The Bureau’s report touches on a lot of facets of employment in the U.S., including unemployment (which is down), and what they call “persons at work part time,” which has been holding steady since this time last year. “Part-time” is defined as working 34 hours per week or less — including just one hour per week. Anyone who is “part-time” by definition is removed from the ranks of the unemployed.

And while unemployment gets the lion’s share of the attention following this kind of report, it’s underemployment that can have a truly difficult economic impact on individuals and families.

“Part-time” workers are subdivided by the BLS by why they’re working part-time, i.e., whether it’s due to the still-lagging job market , or if it’s for working “non-economic reasons,” like child care issues and family obligations. Of course, balancing child care and family obligations is very much an economic consideration for many families, but that’s another subject.

About equal numbers of Americans reported working part-time because they either couldn’t find full-time work, or because of the aforementioned “non-economic” reasons. Which means a whole lot of folks just aren’t working enough hours to make ends meet.

So what do we do? With so many of us reporting underemployment, it’s a good time to think about opportunities that would push us over the threshold into full-time work, while also helping out the folks whose unpredictable or unconventional schedules prevent them from taking a standard 40-hour-a-week gig.

We must, it seems, employ ourselves, a little bit at a time.

The rise of the self-employed, gig economy is premised on the new reality that we can no longer turn to an employer for an on-going multi-decade commitment — something those of us living among the ranks of the underemployed can certainly attest to that. It’s also, though, a sign that many of us don’t want to.

So we turn to the gig economy, which opens up a wealth of opportunities that gives us the flexibility we can’t find in most institutions. For folks with competing priorities (like other jobs, children, and families) self-employment through contracted work closes gaps in our income and complements our lifestyle.

The trick, of course, to making it work is taking yourself — as your own employer and your own brand — seriously.

That means developing your skills, charging for labor, building your brand awareness, and holding yourself accountable when your sales dip. And it means doing it on your time, without dropping a ton of money you don’t have on new job skills.

The gig and self-employment are also re-jiggering how we look at education. Instead of going into debt to pay for degrees that don’t guarantee work, we’re working to polish our skills, balance your budget, and learn to price our work for profit from experts who have been there before.

The main tool against underemployment isn’t more applications, or trying to figure out how to make a 9-to-5 fit your life: it’s arming yourself with education.

We look forward to seeing you in the full-time self-employed figures this summer.

Rachel Gregg FOLLOW >

Rachel is the content marketing lead for the CreativeLive Craft Channel. Her side hustle is floral design and her day job is awesome. @ms_gregarious.