Underemployed also count

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 18, 2002

The absence of an educated workforce is often used as to explain why rural communities suffer a comparative disadvantage in attracting business investments. But research shows, on the contrary, there is a plentiful supply of more educationally &uot;sophisticated&uot; workers ready to change their job.

A recent study by the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation focused on underemployment: A term describing those who have a job but are considering alternate employment because their current job doesn’t make use of all their skills.

27 percent of 712 work-eligible respondents randomly selected in the Albert Lea and Austin areas classified themselves as underemployed.

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70 percent of the self-designated underemployed individuals have post-high school education: 46 received some education in a college or technical school, 17 percent have a four-year college degree, and 7 percent have a graduate degree.

This data shows the educational background of the underemployed is distinct from that of the unemployed.

Data gathered from 20 southern Minnesota counties indicates that the number of unemployed with a post-high school education is limited to 60 percent. 10 percent dropped out a high school.

“These findings would change the whole picture of local labor market,” said April Sutor, the foundation’s Workforce Development Director. And she suggested that with an appropriate recruiting strategy a business could attract qualified workers.

Wage level is, of course, an important criterion. The study shows that, on average, underemployed hourly employees would be expecting at least an additional $3.40 per hour before changing jobs.

But the study also indicates, besides an increase in pay and benefits, underemployed individuals regard it as highly important for them to work for an employer who is utilizing their skills well.

A survey on commuting time shows that 53 percent of workers travel less than 10 minutes to work and fewer than 20 percent of workers are willing to commute more than 30 minutes, which may limit the underemployed from embracing some new opportunities, the study said.

Sutor emphasized that analyzing the underemployment population is important for the regional economy, which needs to compete with the adjacent region in Iowa for workers. Having the data about underemployment can help both new and existing employers to design or improve the working conditions they offer.