Overqualified and underemployed

March 12, 2009 8:30:52 AM PDT
As a janitor making $12 an hour, Mark Cooper considers himself lucky. After losing his high-profile $70,000 a year job at a Fortune 500 company last June, the Arizona native is thankful for the limited dollars his new job brings to the household. "The pay isn't anything outstanding, but it helps meet our bills and has benefits for us," Cooper said.

RELATED: Tell Action News what kind of job the recession has forced you to take.

Like so many others whose jobs have become a recession recesssion casualty, Cooper had to take a job for which he was overqualified just to stay employed.

But even the extra dollars don't totally mask his frustration at his sudden reversal of fortune. A full-time job for Cooper meant full-time health care for his wife, Maggie Cooper, who is battling cancer.

"It's a daily struggle. You're fighting discouragement, despair and, on top of that depression," Cooper said.

Experts point to examples like Cooper as evidence that the economy is in far worse shape than officially reported. The jobs report, which will be released Friday, is expected to reveal the largest drop in the work force in nearly 40 years, with 5 million Americans already unemployed.

Job losses have climbed and reached a new high with an estimated 650,000 jobs erased in the last month alone.

Those statistics have forced many to take emergency jobs for which they are overqualified.

"Going from a salary of $70,000 a year to a position that pays a fraction of that has pretty severe consequences, not just to individual and family, but to their community and economy as a whole," said "GMA" workplace contributor Tory Johnson.

In January, 1.7 million people worked part-time because they couldn't find full-time work.

It's a 40 percent spike since the recession began 15 months ago with large, low-wage service companies noticing a spike in applicants.

It's had an unintended consequence.

"One bittersweet blessing of overqualified candidates is potentially better customer service," Johnson said.

But better service doesn't compensate for the loss of savings millions of Americans, like the Coopers, are experiencing

"We had savings. And in our mind, we were thinking it would only be for a short time, and now there are no savings," Maggie Cooper said.

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