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Who are the workers dropping out of job search?

SAN DIEGO CA - SEPTEMBER 06:  Current former military personnel stline while checking Opportunity Job Fair September 6 2012

SAN DIEGO, CA - SEPTEMBER 06: Current and former military personnel stand in line while checking in at the Opportunity Job Fair on September 6, 2012 at the old Naval Training Center in San Diego, California. Unemployment claims dropped lower than expected for the month of August. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)

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Updated: May 3, 2013 12:15PM

The numbers don’t sound so bad — and may even sound like they’re improving. A drop in the unemployment rate from 8.3 percent to 8.1 percent appears to be moving in the right direction.

But the decline in the headline unemployment rate came despite a paltry 96,000 new jobs being created last month. The rate fell because 368,000 more people dropped out of the work force, stopped looking for jobs.

The work force “participation rate,” which peaked at 67 percent in 2000, has now dropped to 63.5 percent. It seems like a small percentage decline, but that number represents millions of people who are unemployed, under-employed, or simply have given up finding work.

What do you do when you “give up” on finding work? That’s what I’d like to write about today.

The jobs story will be the crux of the political debates for the next 60 days. But for just a moment, aside from politics, let’s put the facts of this unemployment issue in perspective. Exactly who is bearing the brunt of this crisis? And if you are either unemployed, or underemployed, how should you be facing the future? And is there any hope for the future?

Who are the unemployed and discouraged?

Women of a ‘certain’ age. Women joined the work force in increasing numbers in the 1970s — and not just working “until they were married” as had been the case with their mothers. Most expected to work their entire lives — at least until they were ready to collect Social Security. The most shocking experience for a woman, especially a woman alone, is to find herself unemployed in her late 50s — years from being able to collect Medicare and Social Security benefits. Some were executives, many were executive assistants, and others worked in now-shuttered plants and factories. They bought homes or condos that have dropped in value, and are losing them to foreclosure as their paychecks disappear.

Solution? We need churches or civic groups to recognize this quiet, but devastating community issue. We can’t have a generation of bag ladies. Creativity will be the key — perhaps matching those who might lose their homes with potential “renters” of rooms in those homes. Many young mothers are looking for home child care, while older women are looking for a place to live and a way to contribute.

College grads, just starting out. By now it’s well understood that we have a generation that took on student loan debt to invest in their future job marketability. Now they have the debt — but no job openings. They’re forced to live at home — if their parents still have a home.

Solution? Do NOT go on to grad school and pile up more debt — even though the education is valuable. Volunteer. Get involved with the community — and business leaders might recognize an additional dimension to your worth.

Mid-career executives with experience and skills. So many of these unemployed or under-employed people had started on a great career track — and ran into a dead-end as they lost jobs, not because of poor performance, but simply for budget reasons. They are parents of small children, wondering how they will make the mortgage payments and put food on the table. They can’t afford anything — least of all to give up hope.

Solution? I’ve been hearing about “resume de-flation” — the act of re-writing your resume to eliminate mention of advanced degrees or previous management responsibility. Thus, if a job opening does appear, the potential employer will not “fear” that you’ll leave when the economy improves.

These are by no means the only groups that are unemployed. There are literally millions of heart-breaking stories in America today. Many are veterans returning from defending our country.

Sadly, more than 45 million Americans are collecting food stamps today. That’s 15 percent of our population — compared to less than 8 percent in the years between 1970 and 2000! That’s the real way to count the number of people who cannot earn enough to feed themselves and their families.

It has been estimated that roughly $6 billion will be spent on the presidential elections in 2012. Couldn’t some of that money be spent more wisely — on creative ideas to generate economic growth? For that’s what it will take to get people back to work — a spurt of economic growth and activity that will create the demand for products and service — and jobs for the people who provide them.

Right now, the only people with secure jobs seem to be the advertising agencies that create those outrageous commercials for both political parties. Money down the drain. And that’s the Savage Truth.

Terry Savage is the Chicago Sun-Times’ nationally syndicated financial columnist, and a registered investment adviser. Post personal finance questions on her blog at and

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