Solutions for Underemployment

Christine Whelan | Posted on 03/29/10

A new Gallup poll finds that those without a high-school diploma are 50% more likely to be underemployed than those with more education.Among those without a high-school 36% are unemployed or working part-time but wanting full-time work, compared with about 20% of all Americans.

A focus on education, the Gallup folks conclude, is the answer:

The existence of such a large pool of less-educated workers who are underemployed presents the U.S. with both a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge is to find a way to re-create job opportunities more rapidly than now projected so the nation doesn't create a permanent underclass of willing, but less-educated workers who can't find a job. The opportunity is for government and industry to find a way to use this lack of job options to help Americans become better educated now -- when the opportunity cost is low -- so better-educated workers are available when the economy needs them going forward. Perhaps the best jobs program would be an educational opportunity program.

In a general sense, I agree-education (especially early childhood educational opportunities) is the solution to so many problems. But we're also looking at diverging demographics of Americans-some of whom are future-oriented and others who are not.

Being future-oriented means being willing to sacrifice a bit now for a larger gain later. It isn't a personally trait as much as it's a product of social class and upbringing. Schools that help students set achievable smaller goals-offering rewards along the way-will have a higher success rate getting student to college and into full-time employment. Indeed, researchers find that when students value a future goal (like getting into college, or achieving a particular life purpose) and are able to set up subgoals to help them get there (like getting good grades and volunteering at a workplace to learn more about a career path) they are more likely to succeed.

Being future-oriented is about taking steps to discover our life purpose. If we can instill that in our children and young-adults as we educate them, when the job market expands once more, we'll have a very well-prepared and eager workforce.

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