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Underemployment in the United States

Many students who graduated during the Great Recession and over the last few years were unable to find jobs for which they were trained. The so-called underemployed workers are employed in an occupation below their level of qualification. For example, a graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in economics who is waiting tables or working at a retail store is considered underemployed. Chmura calculates a proxy for underemployment by comparing educational attainment supply and demand in a given labor market at various skill levels.

Some metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) around the country have a higher percentage of underemployed than others.  MSAs in Massachusetts, the District of Columbia, and California top the list of regions that possess a surplus of high-skilled workers in the latest update to Chmura Economics & Analytics’ underemployment dataset.

Interactive FeatureUnderemployment is a useful supplement to other indicators of labor market health. The traditional measure of unemployment from the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not distinguish between workers who are employed in a position aligned with their skills and education. Workers who are underemployed and not necessarily contributing as much as they could to the labor market, represent potential lost productivity, wages, and tax revenue for the region.

High underemployment in a region may also be a positive measure, reflecting the desire of workers to live in a particular area (like the scenic Cape Cod waterfront of Barnstable Town, Massachusetts) and/or higher standards for occupations in certain regions (such as for computer occupations in San Francisco).

Chmura’s underemployment proxies for MSAs, along with more detailed methodology and definitions, are available on our website and at the county, MSA, and state levels within JobsEQ®.

Research assistance for this post was provided by Patrick Clapp.

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