NEW Report: Hardly Working: Stories From Un- and Under-employed Americans

clee December 2, 2011 7

Cross-posted from USAction’s C3 sister organization  – USAction Education Fund.

For the full PDF of Hardly Working, click here.


At minimum, 14 million Americans are unemployed. At least 26 million are un- or underemployed.We crunch the monthly unemployment reports until our brains are numb. Are we up or down? Losing or gaining? Is our nation moving forward at long last or falling farther behind?

Those are the “official” numbers. While these numbers are not precise, they do help quantify the misery, sadness and tragedy that defines our country today.

In August 2011, USAction asked our online members to share their stories of un- and underemployment.

More than a thousand responded. We learned much from their stories:

  • Pervasive discrimination exists. The barriers to getting a job are much greater if you are old, if you don’t have a job, if you are a young college graduate, if you are “over-degreed,” or if you are unlucky enough to be in a profession disproportionately hit by today’s economy.
  • Financial hardship and emotional duress overwhelm many of the un- and underemployed. We repeatedly heard stories of life savings exhausted, attempted suicide, and middle-aged adults moving in with their parents to make ends meet.
  • Americans are fed up with, and despairing of, the conditions we face in today’s economy. What has happened? Many people’s jobs have been outsourced to other countries. And now, some Americans are outsourcing themselves to other countries in order to be able to work.

After sifting through 1,199 stories we received from our members, we carefully selected a collection of stories we feel best define the experience of unemployed and under-employed Americans.

These stories are not a statistical representation of unemployment in America, but rather offer an anecdotal glimpse of what life is like for people struggling in today’s economy.

What do these stories teach us?

They teach us of the vital importance of unemployment insurance as a lifeline. If millions lose unemployment benefits, it will only compound the human suffering that is sweeping through our cities, our suburbs, our rural areas and our exurbs as a result of the Great Recession.

They teach us of the vital importance of other lifelines – Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are even more important during hard times.

USAction Education Fund carries out powerful public education, outreach and advocacy efforts to achieve liberty and justice for all. We believe in our nation’s founding promise that every human being has equal dignity, equal worth, and an equal claim to pursue a meaningful and fulfilling life. We believe that strong communities create the conditions that allow for individual success.

We can create Good Jobs for America, and our sister 501(c)(4) organization, USAction, has a campaign to do it. There is more than enough vital work to be done in our country, and Americans stand ready and eager to work. Together, we can build an America of shared prosperity and opportunity for all.

We hope you will read the stories outlined in Hardly Working: Stories from Unemployed and Under-Employed Americans. We hope you will share this report with your friends, family members, clergy, and neighbors. And we hope you will share your own story with us at

For the full PDF of Hardly Working, click here.


  1. Diamond Dave December 5, 2011 at 1:22 pm - Reply

    Being under-employed is a subjective perception (much like when you price your home to sell). Americans need to get over their pride and get a job. ANY job pays more than unemployment. Why is that? Because people that don’t work for longer than 6 months do not compare well to candidates that worked jobs “beneath” them in order to stay productive. Given a choice between a candidate that hasn’t worked at all in 6mos+ and another candidate that has struggled working lower skilled jobs, I don’t know a Hiring Manager that would choose the unemployed candidate. It’s a work ethic indicator.

    Am I saying you need to flip burgers if you used to be a manager? Certainly not. Look at the publicly traded Staffing companies performance in 2011. Hmmm, they’ve all posted gains or exceeded their earnings expectations. Yet, if you call a staffing agency, they are desperately trying to fill positions for GOOD jobs that are here today.

    • Margolicious December 7, 2011 at 4:04 pm - Reply

      Ba Humbug, Scrooge. Corporations have sent jobs overseas and received enormous tax breaks. They are buying back their own stock and have tons of money. Small businesses cannot get loans to hire people. Corporations are continuing to hire “temps”. These temp agencies get outrageous commissions and the workers get a great deal less. You must own a temp agency to buy your diamonds. Wages of employees has shrunk while CEOs and the top 1 % have gotten obscenely rich. We must “Occupy” and take back America from the top 1% and tax Wall Street and break up the crooked big banks. All of Obama’s job bills have failed because the Republican Party, the party of the rich and greedy, refuses to pass bills because they do not want Obama to be elected. Too many people are suffering. There are people that have to work 2-3 jobs to make ends meet. Too many good paying jobs have disappeared. Ford Motor Company is hiring new workers at half of what they used to pay. Henry Ford used to pay his workers more so that they could buy goods. If people do not earn money they cannot buy good and services. We need to create a fair economy that provides a living wage and benefits to employees (nasty word to the rich and worthless). Capitalism is a failure because of greed.

  2. Jim December 7, 2011 at 8:01 pm - Reply

    Today’s right-wing Republican Party, the very opposite of the so-called “Party of Lincoln,” is a slave to the selfish and self-centered greed of the super-rich, and is destroying this nation’s economy and its morality.  The so-called Tea Party is funded by the super-rich, and is a betrayal to what they claim to represent, “the American Dream.”  They have created and still are creating the American Nightmare:  the destruction of a decent way of life for us 99% of Americans. If America is not to go down the same drain as the Roman Empire, it is imperative that Americans unite and rebel the threat of the mega-rich few, its corporations which are NOT voting persons, and not least, the national threat provoked by the right-wing Supreme Court that has repeatedly destroyed this nation by the very judicial activism they claim to be against.

  3. Richard Covington December 10, 2011 at 9:22 am - Reply

    I’m an age 51 longly unemployed ambitious college grad. Over the decades more has been done to decrease the marketability of employment than promote it. There are background checks, credit checks and rampant employment discrimination. These entities serve as autonomy destroyers, for they do nothing to promote employment. The mere existence of these entities is the result of poor leadership in Washington. Politicians need to get rid of any entity that could present a barrier to the employment of any American, including convicts. It’s a no brainer that convicts continue to be victims of recidivism when they try and rehabilitate into a society that is not conducive to their rehabilitation. You talk about double jeopardy well, a convict does his/her time and makes it out of prison but can’t rehabilitate back into society because he/she can’t pass a background check. It seems that the convict is punished again.

    The system is so counterproductive. We as Americans have let the Federal and state governments have too much control of our lives. Systems such as the DEAD BEAT FATHERS ACT should not exist. This CLINTONOMICS curse from hell system garnishes the wages, total tax refund checks of Americans living in poverty. Under this system one can’t even get a passport if he/she owes back child support “arrears”. This system even makes criminals out of parents and incarcerates them. The feds have gone too far. Child support is not the feds calling. When our wages are garnished our lives are controlled and our autonomy is diminished.

    Of course what’s mentioned above has been in effect way before this economic recession began. Now we have to deal with corporate and political greed. The rich republicans could give a rats azz about the unemployed. Companies will continue to outsource jobs to foreign countries so that they can increase profits. Can these freaking staffing companies with the low wage jobs. We got politicians in Washington who are living in luxury and don’t give a crap about creating jobs. They done forgot that they work for us. It’s a fact that the U.S. understands nothing but violence and death. The time has come for poverty living Americans to gather and march on Washington as happened when The Great Martin Luther King was alive. Living conditions will only get worst if we don’t!

  4. susyn February 4, 2012 at 6:29 pm - Reply

    I keep hearing claims to increase HB-1 visas to bring workers to the US for skills that can’t be found in the US workforce. What skills are they looking for and where can I get the training? All the biggest corporations are on this list …

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