Why is America unemployed?

Unemployment, or under-employment, is not fun. If you’ve ever experienced any, you’ll know what I mean. I have experienced both at different times of my worklife.

Being unemployed means just that – no work; that you are able and qualified to do the job, but cannot find one and, though you’re fiercely looking, have not being lucky to be hired. Being unemployed could be temporary, but many have experienced a somewhat perpetual unemployment. The long unemployment periods often lead many to seek other opportunities. This should be the resort. But several resort to work that is easily available and for which they are overly qualified for. This is termed under-employment.

Being under-employed means that you are:

  1. working menial jobs that you are over-qualified for
  2. earning just enough to feed yourself, and maybe family, put enough gas to drive to the job and back, practically can’t afford any extras, or
  3. just simply doing something to be seen as not being idle,
  4. tired of crying daily wondering why you couldn’t get the job after numerous interviews, etc., and or
  5. you are tired of watching your spouse or family’s faces on receiving one more letter that starts with “we received numerous qualified (sometimes, I think they meant, over-qualified) and are sorry to …. You stop reading because by now you know how the letter ends. You either tear the letter into pieces as if it passed through a shredder or simply toss it into a drawer as another memento.

The job market is full of under-employed graduates and many with post-grad or multiple degrees.

Which is better?

Neither unemployment nor under-employment do I prefer. I’m not talking about when folks choose to do a second, often menial, because they need the extra funds to pay down debts or save for a vacation. I’m talking about having a main job that you are over-qualified for.

I want to be fully employed in the job market, doing work that I love to wake up to everyday and being adequately compensated (maybe a post for another – how many are adequately compensated for the job they do?) for it.

Latest news

Recent news reports have stated that America has over 10 million job openings. As a former analyst, my first reaction is “where did the numbers come from?” But, ironically, I also know that the primary source is from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) which numerous government organizations and private companies depend on. So, it must be accurate.

One of those news I picked up was from the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), “The US has a record 10.9M job openings, but 8.4M Americans are still unemployed. Walmart and Target began offering college tuition perks earlier this summer, Uber and Lyft debuted huge bonuses to attract drivers, Chipotle and McDonald’s raised wages, and some big banks even offered employees free Pelotons. TBD if the perks will work.”

From the above WSJ excerpt, did you wonder like I did why the companies didn’t previously offer those perks? I thought every company offered them. I guess I must be living in fairyland.

Anyways, with the news, did you wonder also why with so many numerous job openings, yet tons are still unemployed? I was curious to know so I read further and this is what I found.

The Pandemic again

As bad as the pandemic was, and probably still is for a few, there were silver linings.

  1. The pandemic shifted people’s perspectives, options, and types of jobs they look for and do.
  2. The pandemic gave people the choices of virtual/remote work, and organizations that hitherto didn’t offer work-at-home options are now doing so.
  3. The pandemic also woke many up to realize that the office space might be unnecessary thus also giving organizations the opportunity to cut down on office space expenses.

According to the Wall Street Journal, “Millions of Americans say they can’t find a job. Millions of employers say they can’t find workers. A reason for this mismatch is that people are leaving cities or industries where businesses need them most.”

Mismatch?! What is that?

There you have it – the reason is a mismatch. The article stated a few things that: a mismatch is a disconnect between the jobs open and the people looking for work … Normally, as unemployment rises, job openings fall because employers have an abundance of workers from which to choose … What’s unusual now is that unemployment and job openings are both so elevated at the same time and have been for months.

It also mentioned there are two different types of mismatch.

  1. a “skills” mismatch is work experience that doesn’t line up with the needs of the marketplace
  2. geographic is when job openings and available workers are in different places
  3. a facet of geographic is the regional mismatch where “shortages are specific to certain parts of the country.

Makes sense when we think in terms of economics supply and demand. There is an inelasticity of available jobs and workers. WSJ gave several factors that contributed to this. They included

  • “workers migrating and aren’t where jobs are available
  • many have changed their preferences, for instance pursuing remote work, having discovered the benefits of life with no commute
  • the economy shifted, leading to jobs in industries such as warehousing that aren’t in places where workers live or suit the skills they have. For example, the leisure and hospitality industry say they are now looking for work in a different industry. So are Uber and Lyft drivers
  • extended unemployment benefits and relief checks, meantime, are giving workers time to be choosy in their search for the next job.”

One factor not included in the WSJ was that tons of people lost their jobs which snowballed into losing homes or being unable to pay their rents; thus, necessitating the move. People didn’t move just because they wanted to. They moved in with relatives, friends, and to lower cost-of-living areas to cut down their expenses and maximize the money they have since finding employment has been difficult.


What do you do when being unemployed is taking longer? Some prefer being under-employed. It’s an option, but should not be embraced for too long else complacency will set in and rob one of one’s best.

A much preferred option is to embrace the opportunity to become self-employed. The best option still is starting a business.

Self-employment and starting a business both have their benefits and downsides. Read more here.


2 thoughts on “Why is America unemployed?

  1. Hey Sean,
    Thanks for your comment and contribution. You made some interesting points.

    The employment options have always been interesting to me, as well, for various reasons. I’ve always believed that hiring is more than your qualifications. Most times, it’s simply connecting with the recruiter or hiring manager on any factor sometimes simply as a smile or a trait common between the two. Yes, it goes much more than that, but I believe that is the starting point.

    “Employment options during extreme economic events” are a different frustrating breed. I sincerely feel for recent grads and oldies being laid off.

    I love how you vowed that you’d never be unemployed again. You decreed it and it’s been established for you.

    It is equally interesting that the pandemic helped bring the future to now to wake us all up. By the time the future arrives, we’ll hopefully be economically ready and better off.

    I totally agree with you that the geographic and sectional mismatch has been an agricultural sector phenomenon. Australia is not alone in it. Though I don’t know the U.S.’s current data, I know there used to be a scarcity of agricultural/farm workers in California. I’d be surprised if the CA trend changed.

    I also love Australia’s “The Paid Escape.” I hope it is successful. It can help shift the economic dynamics in the long run where many could find a (work) love they never would have found had they not experienced it. We’ll see.

    I appreciate your contribution and love your leadership insights.


  2. I find this subject very interesting, or I should say, I have always found the employment options during an extreme event of great interest. This is because, way back in the early to mid 1980s, Australia, like much of the world, was going through a tough recession. Our level of unemployment was at an all time high. It took me two years to get a full time job during this time. When I did, I vowed to myself that I will never, ever, be unemployed again. And that has turned out to be the case.

    I decided to be self employed nine years ago and this has worked out well for me, including when the pandemic hit. Things went off the boil initially and then they stabilised and improved. I then found myself earlier this year contemplating on taking on two staff to deal with the demand. In the end I didn’t do this, preferring to continue the path of working jointly with other colleagues and businesses when required to deliver an outcome.

    The skills mismatch was examined at the Davos Agenda Conference earlier this year. The conclusion was that the pandemic has accelerated the expected change regarding required skills for jobs in the future to, more or less, right now. Employers need to gear up accordingly, and some have done this successfully. In terms of geographic and regional mismatch, this has been an issue for as long as I can remember in the agricultural sector here. Farmers have struggled to employ “locals” and so we have in place a visa system that allows migrant workers (“backpackers”) to come back each year at the peak times. Many I know have become extended members of the family and even married locals. However, the pandemic has put a stop to this. My home state has a bumper crop ready to go after record rains. Our State Government has undertaken a huge campaign to engage locals to fill the employment gap, calling it “The Paid Escape” – ditch your ordinary job and work at the cutting edge. The government will pay accommodation and relocation subsidies to make this happen. It will be interesting to see how this pans out.

    Liked by 2 people

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