The economy continues to fluctuate, and the latest labor report continues to show dismal numbers, placing increased financial burdens on millions of American families.
Last week, the Labor Department report showed the unemployment rate remained stagnant at 9.1 percent, leaving the number of unemployed at 14 million nationwide.
Not included in that unemployment rate are workers considered to be underemployed.
David Broad, a sociology professor at North Georgia College & State University, said both trends can cause workers to become discouraged with their financial status.
“I have noticed that there are a lot more people who are discouraged about their current terms of employment.” Broad said. “They unemployment figures don’t tell the whole story.”
As a result of difficult economic times, Broad said many jobs that were once in high demand and offered competitive wages now are unable to provide the same desirable salaries.
He gave the example of a friend who he says is highly skilled in several occupations that were once considered valuable skills and paid high salaries, but he now has been unable to find a job in those trades.
“He told me the other day that he had a lead on a job doing one of these high-skilled jobs and they offered him $9 an hour,” Broad said. “I just saw his countenance turn so sad.”
Many of those people out of work or underemployed have also become disappointed in the employment system, Broad said.
“They feel like the employers are doing fine,” he said. “They go for these interviews and they’re offered $9 an hour for a highly skilled kind of job and they feel ‘well there must be some profit being created by this.’”
Such situations can have an impact on a person’s mental health in many different ways. Broad said it can lead to people losing faith in their abilities and not believing there is work for them.
“I think people are questioning their own decisions,” he said. “They did everything right, they did all the things that society told them to do. They got good educations, many of them, they’re highly skilled.”
In fact, the Labor Department reported that 977,000 of those unemployed are discouraged and have given up trying to find a job.
However, while many Americans may be discouraged with their job situations, Broad said it is also understood that it’s not necessarily an individual failure but rather a societal failure.
“In sociology we have this idea that the times that are most difficult on people are times of upturn of overall expectations when people think they are individually failing,” Broad said.
Matthew Shepherd, senior vice president of member services for Delta Community Credit Union, agreed with Broad that people seem to realize the problem lies in the slumping economy and not necessarily personal failures.
“I think what we’re seeing is a more cautious, more concerned consumer just in terms of their finances, and so they’re certainly shopping their financial business more actively really looking for the best deal that they can get,” Shepherd said.
Shepherd said consumers are placing a higher emphasis on savings. He said last year, deposits at Delta Community Credit Union were up by about $394 million or 13 percent.
“That’s pretty significant growth in a single year,” he said. “We’re seeing that same trend this year, not quite as significant as the prior year, but we’re certainly seeing deposits continue to increase.”
The credit union has also had a decrease in loan demand and has seen a trend in consumers paying down debt more aggressively, Shepherd said.
“I think that’s the consumer being a little more cautious,” he said.
The high numbers of unemployment and underemployment, Broad said, are leading to more of a discrepancy between class structures in the U.S.
“I think that the middle class has shrunk dramatically,” he said. “Many of the means by which Americans in recent history have attained and maintained their middle class status have disappeared.”
Since the aftermath of Standard & Poor’s downgrade of the U.S. credit rating, the economy has experience growth, said Kenneth Heaghney, an economics professor at Georgia State University and the state’s fiscal economist.
“Since then the data hasn’t really picked up, but it’s still portraying an economy that’s growing slightly, kind of moving sideways,” he said.
Heaghney said jobs are being added, just not enough to decrease unemployment. Consumer spending has seen slight but not significant growth, which has resulted in a somewhat stagnant economy.
“Right now the risk of a recession is still relatively high, I would say, but the most likely scenario is we’re going to keep bubbling along on this very weak recovery, with no real signs of any policy action that’s really going to make a big difference,” Heaghney said.
Broad said it may be time to look at how the country’s economic and social systems are structured.
“People are starting to put two and two together, ‘hey there’s something systematically wrong, this is not just a cyclical downturn, there’s something structurally wrong that needs to be redressed,” Broad said.
Although Americans traditionally have been opposed to alternative social structures, Broad said that opposition could be changing due to the recent economic trend.
“The current ideology in our society is that the entrepreneur, the risk-taker ought to get the big payoff when things go well, but maybe some of that has played out now,” he said.