Friday, March 29, 2013 file photo shows a help
wanted sign at a barber shop in Richmond, Va.
U.S. employers added just 88,000 jobs in March,
the fewest in nine months and a sharp retreat
after a period of strong hiring. Many
discouraged Americans are giving up the job hunt
for school, retirement and disability.
— After a full year of fruitless job hunting,
Natasha Baebler just gave up.
already abandoned hope of getting work in her field,
working with the disabled. But she couldn't land
anything else, either — not even a job interview at
a telephone call center.
she feels confident enough to send out resumes again,
she'll get by on food stamps and disability checks
from Social Security and live with her parents in St.
not proud of it," says Baebler, who is in her
mid-30s and is blind. "The only way I'm able to
sustain any semblance of self-preservation is to rely
on government programs that I have no desire to be
frustrating experience has become all too common
nearly four years after the Great Recession ended:
Many Americans are still so discouraged that they've
given up on the job market.
Americans have retired early. Younger ones have
enrolled in school. Others have suspended their job
hunt until the employment landscape brightens. Some,
like Baebler, are collecting disability checks.
isn't supposed to be this way. After a recession, an
improving economy is supposed to bring people back
into the job market.
the number of Americans in the labor force — those
who have a job or are looking for one — fell by
nearly half a million people from February to March,
the government said Friday. And the percentage of
working-age adults in the labor force — what's
called the participation rate — fell to 63.3 percent
last month. It's the lowest such figure since May
falling participation rate tarnished the only apparent
good news in the jobs report the Labor Department
released Friday: The unemployment rate dropped to a
four-year low of 7.6 percent in March from 7.7 in
without a job who stop looking for one are no longer
counted as unemployed. That's why the U.S.
unemployment rate dropped in March despite weak
hiring. If the 496,000 who left the labor force last
month had still been looking for jobs, the
unemployment rate would have risen to 7.9 percent in
dropped for all the wrong reasons," says Craig
Alexander, chief economist with TD Bank Financial
Group. "It dropped because more workers stopped
looking for jobs. It signaled less confidence and
optimism that there are jobs out there."
participation rate peaked at 67.3 percent in 2000,
reflecting an influx of women into the work force.
It's been falling steadily ever since.
of the drop reflects the baby boom generation's
gradual move into retirement. But such demographics
aren't the whole answer.
Americans of prime working age — 25 to 54 years old
— are dropping out of the workforce. Their
participation rate fell to 81.1 percent last month,
tied with November for the lowest since December 1984.
the lack of job opportunities — the lack of demand
for workers — that is keeping these workers from
working or seeking work," says Heidi Shierholz,
an economist at the liberal Economic Policy Institute.
The Labor Department says there are still more than
three unemployed people for every job opening.
Marriott gave up her job search after an interview in
October for a position as a hotel concierge.
never said no," she says. "They just never
called me back."
husband hasn't worked full time since 2006. She cashed
out her 401(k) after being laid off from a job at a
Los Angeles entertainment publicity firm in 2009. The
couple owes thousands in taxes for that withdrawal.
They have no health insurance.
got the maximum 99 weeks' of unemployment benefits
then allowed in California and then moved to Atlanta.
she is looking to receive federal disability benefits
for a lung condition that she said leaves her weak and
unable to work a full day. The application is pending
a medical review.
feel like I have no choice," says Marriott, 47.
"It's just really sad and frightening"
the peak of her job search, Marriott was filling out
10 applications a day. She applied for jobs she felt
overqualified for, such as those at Home Depot and
Petco but never heard back. Eventually, the
disappointment and fatigue got to her.
just wanted a job," she says. "I couldn't
really go on anymore looking for a job."
people are leaving the job market, too. The
participation rate for Americans ages 20 to 24 hit a
41-year low 69.6 percent last year before bouncing
back a bit. Many young people have enrolled in
community colleges and universities. That's one reason
a record 63 percent of adults ages 25 to 29 have spent
at least some time in college, according to the Pew
Americans are returning to school, too. Doug Damato,
who lives in Asheville, N.C., lost his job as an
installer at a utility company in February 2012. He
stopped looking for work last fall, when he began
taking classes in mechanical engineering at
Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College.
week, Damato, 40, will accept an academic award for
earning top grades. But one obstacle has emerged:
Under a recent change in state law, his unemployment
benefits will now end July 1, six months earlier than
planning to work nights, if possible, to support
himself once the benefits run out. Dropping out of
school is "out of the question," he said,
given the time he has already put into the program.
don't want a handout," he says. "I'm trying
to better myself."
older Americans who lost their jobs are finding refuge
in Social Security's disability program. Nearly 8.9
million Americans are receiving disability checks, up
1.3 million from when the recession ended in June
Baebler's journey out of the labor force and onto the
disability rolls began when she lost her job serving
disabled students and staff members at Purdue
University in West Lafayette, Ind., in February 2012.
six months, she sought jobs in her field, brandishing
master's degrees in social education and counseling.
she just started looking for anything. Still, she had
chose to stop and take a step back for a while ...
After you've seen that amount of rejection," she
says, "you start thinking, 'What's going to make
this time any different?' "