Okay, so you've heard of unemployment. That's the percentage of the labor force that doesn't have a job. The labor force is the total number of people employed or seeking employment. Hence, if you have no job and you quit looking you've dropped out of the labor force and are not counted as unemployed.
What we hear less about is underemployment. Gallup, the polling firm, defines that as members of the labor force at least 18 years of age who are employed part-time but want to work full-time or who are unemployed.
Any guesses as to what the current underemployment rate is in the U.S. according to Gallup?
If you said 18.5% you were correct. Since the August 2011 U.S. labor force was 153.6 million people, 18.5% of that is 28.4 million people.
All of this is just to say this this is a very painful experience for lots of people. I know firsthand what it's like. We've all got to pull together and keep fighting. Part of that fight is for policies out of Washington that look at these 28.4 million people as if we were really human beings, instead of impediments to deficit reduction.
On a personal level we have to take all of the disappointment, fear, anger, and bitterness, and somehow feed off of it, become stronger, more compassionate, and more aware of what is truly important for having suffered through it. For me what's truly important is having food in my stomach (not eating out all the time), having a roof over my head (not necessarily owning that roof), having health care (thanks mom and dad!), being able to get to work (not having a fancy car), being able to make student loan payments, and having people around me that have my back and whose back I also have, for what it's worth. Finally, I value my ability to speak out and fight (in the abstract, intellectual sense of course) for a better world.
So if you're struggling to meet a basic need, I empathize. If you're sad just because your home equity is down, maybe it's time for a new perspective on things.