From the WSJ:
For Richard Crane, the “new normal” in the labor market began when he was laid off from a New Jersey battery plant in the summer of 2006.
Mr. Crane had been earning more than $100,000 a year operating heavy machinery at Delco, a former unit of General Motors. He worked there for 23 years, since graduating from high school. But when he lost his job he was thrust into a netherworld of part-time gigs: working the registers at Taco Bell, organizing orders at McDonald’s, whatever he could find.
“I thought it would be temporary,” says Mr. Crane, 49 years old. Three years later, he is selling outdoor furniture by day and pumping gas by night, while worrying about his skills atrophying and spending scant time with his teenage son. He makes about a third of his former pay.
Mr. Crane is part of a growing group of underemployed — people in part-time jobs who want full-time work or people in jobs that don’t employ their skills. Since the recession began two years ago, the number of people involuntarily working part-time jobs has more than doubled to 9.3 million, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, the highest number on record.
State labor officials and economists generally label the underemployed as those who are working part-time when they would prefer full-time work, as well as people who are working beneath their skill level.
Federal figures on the underemployed, however, don’t count that second group — those who are overqualified for their jobs. Still, the government’s broadest measure of labor underutilization — known as the U6 — has more than doubled in the two years since the recession began to 17.5%, and it is up from 12% just a year ago, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This means that nearly one in five people are either unemployed, involuntarily working part-time or “marginally attached” — they want jobs but haven’t searched in at least a month. It also counts “discouraged workers” who have stopped searching.
“The number would be much higher if we included the mechanical engineers working at 7-Eleven,” says Heidi Shierholz, who studies underemployment at the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning Washington think tank.