Bean’s predicament is not unlike that of many people who have a high school education or less. Not only were they hit especially hard by the recession but they have continued losing ground in the recovery that has followed.
By disproportionate numbers, these Americans have given up looking for work, making the nation’s recovery appear better than it is. If the unemployment rate counted the 2.8 million people who want jobs but have stopped looking, it would sit at 9.9 percent rather than its current 8.3 percent.
These would-be workers are falling behind as other people are gaining momentum, economists say. Employment prospects are modestly improving for college graduates, for instance, but dimming for those who have a high school diploma or less.
The number of Americans facing this predicament isn’t small. Nearly a third of the nation’s labor market has only a high school diploma. And more than one in 10 of these workers lost their jobs between late 2007 and early 2011, according to the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan think tank. About a third of those job losses occurred since the recovery began in mid-2009.
The news is worse for high school dropouts. One in five of them have lost their jobs since 2007, with about half of those losses occurring after the recession ended, the Urban Institute said. Overall, the unemployment rate for high school dropouts was 13.1 percent last month.
The recovery, economists say, has highlighted the consequences of not earning a college degree.
“There has been a considerable difference in who is getting those jobs,” said Pamela J. Loprest, director of the Urban Institute’s Income and Benefits Policy Center. She added that recent improvements in the jobless rate have not significantly lifted the burden on less-educated workers. “Lower-educated workers got hit harder. And the recovery has been uneven in that it has most benefited those with more skills.”
President Obama hailed the Labor Department’s most recent report that the nation’s unemployment rate had ticked down for the fifth consecutive month as evidence of an accelerating recovery.
Although the latest jobs report showed broad-based gains, the nation has a long way to go to make up for the positions lost during the recession — especially in some traditionally blue-collar occupations that were decimated by the recession.
Manufacturers, led by the auto industry, created 50,000 jobs in January and have added more than 300,000 positions in the past two years. But those gains pale in comparison with the 2 million manufacturing jobs that were lost during the recession. Similarly, construction jobs have grown in recent months, but not nearly enough to offset the 1.5 million that were lost in the recession.