According to a survey conducted at Northeastern University, the employment rates between the highest- and lowest-income families have diverged more this year than ever before. For families earning less than $20,000 per year, the unemployment rate has risen to 21 percent, almost as high as the U.S. national average during the doldrums of the Great Depression. Households with income exceeding $150,000 per year have an unemployment rate of 3.2 percent.
Middle-income households are frequently being pushed into lower-income jobs, which are further displacing low-skilled, low-income workers. This process has led to increased unemployment or underemployment for families with the lowest incomes. The September jobs report already indicated that the number of Americans working or looking for work has sharply declined.
“This was no ‘equal opportunity’ recession or an ‘equal opportunity’ recovery,” said Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University. “One part of America is in depression, while another part is in full employment.”
Both the rise of unemployment and the number of low-wage jobs has greatly contributed to the record number of poverty-stricken people, rising to 46.2 million in 2011, about 15 percent of the population. Over 16 percent of adults over the age of 16 are considered “underutilized” in the job market, meaning they are unemployed, underemployed, or “hidden employed,” and not actively seeking work despite a desire to work immediately. The recent recession has been most dire to younger, less-educated workers as older adults take low-wage jobs, displacing teenagers and younger workers typically making up the majority of these roles.