Underemployment in Florida is a big problem, and it isn’t getting better. (Photo by Bob Jagendorf.)

By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

As unemployment numbers drop across the country, little attention has been paid to another aspect of the country’s persistent economic woes: the high rate of underemployment in the United States.

Florida, of course, is a part of this trend. As I have mentioned before, Florida has been fighting unemployment by flooding the state with low-skilled jobs. This means that lawmakers can take credit for reducing unemployment number in the state, but this small improvement does not provide a complete picture of Florida’s economic state.

Low-skilled jobs mean employees tend to work fewer hours and earn less money. This also means that even though workers have jobs, it’s often not enough to make ends meet.

The Tampa Bay Times reported this week:

Even as Florida’s unemployment rate has slowly fallen from historic highs, underemployment remains a millstone hampering recovery. For the third quarter of this year, Florida’s unemployment rate averaged 8.9 percent, while the government’s broadest measure of underemployment stood at 16.4 percent.

Typically, in a healthy economy, the gap is much smaller. In 2006, for instance, when Florida’s unemployment rate was a rock bottom 3.2 percent, underemployment was 6.2 percent.

Those statistics understate the problem, said Heidi Shierholz, a labor economist with the Economic Policy Institute. The government’s broadest underemployment rate, called U6, includes unemployed job seekers, part-timers seeking full-time work and discouraged job seekers who are temporarily not actively looking.

“It captures underemployment in the hours worked; it doesn’t capture underemployment in skills and experience,” Shierholz said. “It doesn’t include (for example) the chemical engineering grad working as a barista.”

Unemployment numbers in Florida also don’t take into account the number of people who took significant pay cuts during the worst of the Great Recession.¬†According to the Times,¬†there are millions of people with part-time work who have been unable to find full-time jobs.