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Underemployment Piles On Problems For Low-Wage Workers

By Pat Loeb

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - Regional and state unemployment figures are due out, this morning. The report will also have figures for the "underemployed." That includes part-time workers who can't get enough hours.

Nikisha was delighted when she went from a minimum wage job at the airport to one that paid $8.50 an hour, a raise of more than a dollar. But her dreams of more income were quickly dashed when she learned she'd be working no more than 30 hours a week.

"I thought this job was going to be better," she tells KYW Newsradio, "and it's not. I'm stuck at square one. I feel like I'm doing the same thing in this job that I was in the other job-- making ends meet."

Nikisha is the kind of worker the Bureau of Labor Statistics describes as "underemployed." The term includes workers who want to work full time but can only find part time work or those who want to work part-time but can't get enough hours. Labor advocates say it's a situation that compounds the struggles of minimum- and low-wage workers.

"There are workers that have to work two or three jobs just to pay the rent and put food on the table," says Daisy Cruz, the mid-Atlantic director for local 32 BJ which represents many part time workers.

The state Labor Department says there are about 276,000 Pennsylvanians in the category "working part time for economic reasons." They include 47,900 people who usually work full-time but are working part-time, and 228,000 people who usually work part-time but are working less than they normally would.

Nikisha's employer could not be reached for comment and requests for interviews with other part-time employers, such as Walmart and McDonald's, were turned down but John Dodds of the Philadelphia Unemployment Project says it's not hard to figure out why employers might keep workers part-time even if they want full-time hours.

"A whole lot of part timers are going to be cheaper than full-timers who get benefits."

Cruz says that's short-sighted.

"If these companies would just pay good wages and have consistent hours for people, they'll have good, solid, long-term workers."

For Nikisha, it makes life hard.

"I get to the next check to get to the next check, wait to get my daughter this, get her that, to pay for my mom's medicine to pay for this bill-- to move (forward)."

Nikisha hopes to find full time work soon.

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