Washington state’s unemployment rate is at a 7-year low in July, but the number of people working part time while desiring full-time work is still higher than before the recession.
Eskinder Said graduated from Washington State University in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in economics, a specialty in international economic development, and high hopes of getting a job within his field.
Four years and dozens of job applications later, he’s working part-time, driving a car for a town car and limo service.
“I’ve been struggling to find a job that I went to school for,” said Said, who lives in Seattle. “At this time, I don’t care what kind of job any more. I just need to work.”
Said is among a still-sizeable number of Washington state residents who are working part time even though they’d rather be working full time, despite an unemployment rate that’s been hitting seven-year lows.
The Great Recession swelled the ranks of those so-called “involuntary part-time employed,” who worked part-time jobs because they couldn’t find full-time employment or because their employers cut hours from their full-time jobs.
While 115,600 Washingtonians — or 3.4 percent of the labor force — were involuntarily working part time in 2007 before the start of the recession, by 2012 that number had more than doubled to about 242,100 — or 7 percent of the labor force, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Only in the past two years have those numbers started to fall significantly.
The number of people working part time but wanting full-time work dropped to 200,000 — or 5.8 percent — in 2013 and to 175,000 — or 5.1 percent — in 2014.
The state’s unemployment rate, meanwhile, reached 5.3 percent — the same as in June and a low not seen before then since 2008. The Seattle-Bellevue-Everett area fared even better, with a jobless rate of 3.7 percent in July — a low not seen since February 2008.
Still, the number of Washingtonians working part time while wanting full-time work is higher than before the recession.
Washington ranks eighth highest among the states in the rate of those working part time involuntarily.
“The decline has been moving a little faster over the last year,” said Paul Turek, state labor economist. “But the level is still considered to be high. It tells us that the economy is not totally there yet — there’s room for improvement.”
Said, 32, can attest to that.
A refugee from Kenya who resettled in Seattle in 2003, Said learned English, went to community college, then transferred to WSU.
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After graduating, he applied for entry-level jobs at nearly 40 companies, from investment firms to retailers. He got about a dozen interviews. But then — nothing.
“The problem was, at that time, the economy was very bad,” he said. “When I went to interview, a lot of people had five or 10 years’ experience and had been laid off from another job, or had master’s degrees. They were people applying for the same entry level jobs I was looking for.”
He’s worked part-time jobs ever since, mainly as a driver.
Said, who’s married and has no kids, still spends about eight hours a week looking for a full-time job.
It’s dispiriting sometimes, he says, leading him to think: “What is wrong with me?”
“My résumé is good. I have a lot of community-service activities,” he said, citing his tutoring of kids and seniors in the East African community and his leadership role as president of a soccer team in the community there.
“It’s hard, especially for those people who come from different countries and study English,” he said. “Finding a job is very hard.”
Patriece Rhett, 42, who moved to SeaTac from South Carolina in January, was also finding the search for a full-time job tougher than she had expected.
She’s been working on contract with a temp agency for three months. Even those gigs have been hard to come by.
After sending out about a hundred job applications, she decided to contact temp agencies — only two of which replied with opportunities.
With a bachelor’s degree in business administration and years of experience in everything from office management to medical billing, she often had agencies say to her that it wouldn’t be a problem to place her.
Yet, “I’ll get to a phone interview and hear nothing back,” said Rhett, who this week looked for more opportunities at a Bellevue job fair geared toward sales and marketing positions.
Also at the job fair was Ming Tan, 41, of Bothell, who moved here from the Bay Area about a year ago after she was laid off from her position as assistant manager of sales at a paper-trading company.
She started her own company and has one client now for whom she provides marketing-consulting services.
Tan would like to stay in the area and, with seven years of marketing experience, would like to find a marketing position.
“I didn’t expect it to be this hard,” said Tan, who suggested that one of the reasons for the difficulty is that high-tech companies in the area might not see her as a good fit with her background in traditional paper companies.
“People try to pigeonhole you,” she said. But “Marketing skills should be transferrable to all companies.”
“I know Seattle is booming — a lot of job opportunities,” she said. “Unfortunately, not for me yet.”
She’s continuing to search and to network, sending out applications as soon as she finds something that seems to be a good fit.
“My motto is: ‘Find as many as I can and apply for as many as I can.’ ”