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On the 10th month of her job search, Lori DeSousa, who had been applying for marketing jobs, walked into her local Walgreens to ask about a part-time job as a cashier.
It was January and her unemployment benefits had just been canceled after Congress failed to extend them at the end of last year. “I needed to get a job or we would have lost our home,” said DeSousa, 43, who was going through her second bout of long-term joblessness in four years.
Studies show that once a person is out of the job market for longer than six months, they face a slimmer chance of finding stable work. Only 11% of the long-term unemployed find permanent, full-time work a year later, according to a research paper by Alan Krueger and other economists from Princeton University. It’s more likely that those job seekers will find unsteady work, with 14% of job hunters finding part-time work and 11% landing temporary work more than a year after losing their jobs. ( Study: Are the Long-Term Unemployed on the Margins of the Labor Market? )
Some seven million people who are working part time would prefer to take on full-time work. That number is coming down — 8 million people were in that position at this time last year, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics — but economists say it’s still stubbornly high for the current unemployment rate. During a speech in Chicago this week, Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen called that figure “a sign that labor conditions are worse than indicated by the unemployment rate.”
For some job seekers, the decision to take on part-time work is spurred on by necessity — say, the threat of an eviction notice. Other workers think that by getting some kind of job experience they’ll have a leg up over the other job seekers they’re competing with. But it isn’t clear that those people who choose to take on any work over no work are better off than they would’ve been if they had continued on with their job search. People who had high-paying, mid-to-high level career jobs with benefits may face a bigger setback to their careers and their paychecks if they switch to part-time work, says Gary Burtless, a labor economist with the Brookings Institution. “It’s a very tricky problem,” he says. “It may pay you better to keep looking for a job than to take a job that is below your qualifications.”
WSJ Chief Economics Correspondent Jon Hilsenrath discusses the Federal Reserve's move to alter its guidance on the likely path of interest rates, putting less weight on the unemployment rate as a sign for when rate increases will start. Photo: Getty.
That’s because the long-term unemployed often take a pay cut when they do land their next full-time job, and earning some income in between may not help the cause, especially if the work they take on is outside of the field they want to work in, says Steven Rothberg, president of CollegeRecruiter.com , a job board for students and recent graduates. Because employers tend to base salary off what a person was making in their previous position, workers who hypothetically used to make $20 an hour and then move to a part-time role where they make $10, may find that their next full time job pays $15 an hour, he says.
Some may have more leverage when it comes to negotiating pay for their next full-time role if they use their spare time to intern or volunteer with a company in the industry they want to work in, says Rothberg. “You can talk about how ‘yes I worked part time as a barista where I was making $10 an hour but that allowed me to work 20 hours a week for an accountant,’” says Rothberg.
To be sure, sometimes getting back to work, even if it isn’t steady work, can be a good call, says J.T. O’Donnell, founder of Careerealism.com , a career-advice and job-search site. Those job seekers may benefit from the added income and if the work isn’t relevant to the kind of job they want to get, some people can try to get paid freelance work. “Pitch yourself for projects as a way for you to stay working in the field,” says O’Donnell. Some people may also want to take online classes to keep their skills current.
DeSousa, who ultimately decided against going to work for the pharmacy chain because she felt it would require her and her husband to pay an additional $1,000 a month for after-school care for their two children, started working as an account manager for College Recruiter in February. She landed the full-time job after spending up to six hours a day on her computer reaching out to contacts on LinkedIn LNKD-6.29% and FacebookFB-4.61% and searching for openings on job boards.
“It just wore me down sometimes,” DeSousa says of her extended job search and the rejections she encountered. “I’m so fortunate to have gotten this position. I’m doing something I’m excited to do.”
Jonnelle Marte covers health care and taxes for MarketWatch in New York. Follow her on Twitter @Jonnelle.