(Washington Post) — Overshadowing the nation’s economic recovery is not only the number of Americans who have lost their jobs, but also those who have stopped looking for new ones. These workers are not counted in the Labor Department’s monthly unemployment rate, yet they say they are willing to work. Since the recession began, their numbers have grown by 30 percent, to more than 6.4 million, amounting to a hidden labor force that could stymie the turnaround. Adding these workers to February’s jobless rate pushes it up to 10.5 percent, well above the more commonly cited 8.9 percent rate. An even broader measure of unemployment, which includes people forced to work part time, stands at nearly 16 percent.
Economists say the longer these workers stay out of the job market, the harder it will be for them to find employment, creating a vicious circle that can spiral for months or longer. Meanwhile, their delayed entry into the job market means smaller paychecks in the future. And if these ranks remain high, economists worry that it will signal a much deeper and more troubling problem for the country: Workers’ skills don’t match the jobs available. “It can be a self-reinforcing problem, where it just gets worse over time,” said Burt Barnow, an economist and professor at George Washington University. Part of the reason these workers are not factored into the unemployment rate is a technical quirk: Workers are counted as unemployed only if they are actively job-hunting. Otherwise, they are considered outside of the labor force altogether.