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Unemployment Is Down, But Good Jobs Are Scarce

Despite improving employment numbers, a return to pre-recession stability still seems elusive for the middle class.
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The Republican victory in Tuesday’s midterm elections had as much or more to do with the economy as it did about any other current issues, such as Ebola or ISIS. And for the economy, read jobs.

While the U.S. has been creating an average of 227,000 jobs a month this year, up from an average of 194,000 in 2013, it’s the quality of jobs that Americans are concerned about.

A return to pre-recession stability still seems elusive for the middle class. The problem is that many jobs being added have lower wages and fewer hours than the ones that vanished in the last recession, analysts say.

“Our unemployment rate is down, but there are other indicators that there’s a decent amount of weakness in the labor market,” said Claire McKenna, policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project,

According to the numbers, though, things are looking up. Payroll company ADP said private employers added 230,000 jobs last month, roughly on par with the 231,000 jobs economists surveyed by Reuters expect the Department of Labor to announce Friday in its monthly jobs report.

“There’s an underemployment issue that isn’t sufficiently captured by the data.”

The numbers don’t tell the whole story. “There’s an underemployment issue that isn’t sufficiently captured by the data,” said Mark Hamrick, an economic analyst at

Off the radar

Many people, especially the long-term unemployed, drop off the radar. New research from the Economic Policy Institute finds that the prime-age employment-to-population ratio — the percentage of people between the ages of 25 and 54 who have jobs — has fallen in all but two states between when the recession began and last quarter.

“A significant portion of the drop in unemployment is due to job-seekers giving up on the job search and dropping out of the labor force,” EPI economic analyst David Cooper wrote in a report accompanying the research. The group estimates there are 6.3 million of these labor-market dropouts who want to work but have given up.

And when people can find work, it isn’t likely to offer enough hours or pay to replace the job they lost.

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NELP has found that low-wage jobs continue to lead the recovery. From July 2013 to this July, 41 percent of job growth took place in low-wage industries. This growth in low-wage jobs comes at the expense of higher-wage industries, with the middle hit especially hard. Since the recovery began, NELP has found that only 26 percent of job recovery has taken place in the middle-wage range where workers earn between $13.73 and $20 an hour.

And although payrolls are growing, many of those jobs are part-time, Hamrick said. With today’s part-time jobs characterized by erratic hours and few benefits, this leaves workers with a shaky foundation on which to build financial security. “A part-time job does not replace a full-time job… millions of people are still working part-time who would like to be working full-time,” he said.