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Hidden Unemployment: Discouraged Workers and Public Policy.

Hidden Unemployment: Discouraged Workers and Public Policy. By Terry F. Buss and F. Stevens Redburn. New York, Praeger Publishers, 1988. 143 pp., bibliography. $37.95.

The authors have written a comprehensive book on discouraged workers, a diverse group of people who want a job but do not look for work because they think they would not be able to find a job. It is a competent, thorough, and scholarly work. The book's message is that discouragement is a symptom of every social problem that leads to work disincentives. Determining exactly which of the problems can lead to discouragement is difficult, but some patterns emerge: there are groups of displaced discouraged, elderly discouraged, discouraged school dropouts, and discouraged welfare recipients. The authors, Terry F. Buss, professor and senior research associate at the Center for Welfare Studies, The University of Akron, and F. Stevens Redburn, an economist in the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, explore the nature and scope of discouragement and, perhaps most importantly, suggest possible approaches to lessen it.

Discouraged workers are often described or perceived as those who have given up after a long and unsuccessful job search. Yet, this generalization certainly exaggerates the extent of labor market attachment of many discouraged workers. This book fills in the gap left in such notions with a generally well presented analytical view, although in a few instances the discussion is loose or needs refinement. For example, in two of the nine case studies discussed in chapter 4, profiles of Ron and Fred, it is not clear why these individuals would be classified as discouraged. The authors fail to distinguish between all those who say they "want a job" and the subgroup who are discouraged.

In addition to the discouraged, Buss and Redburn investigate a group they term the "hidden unemployed." This is a broad group that includes persons who state they want a job but are not looking for one because they are currently performing activities which are incompatible with work, such as full-time school attendance or family care-giving. The authors implicitly assume, without explanation, that these persons are willing and able to work and would cease current activities, or make other arrangements, in order to do so. Although there are some questions about whether these people would actually seek work and accept jobs, perhaps only in the short run do these activities prevent them from working. After a few months or so, they could become employed. So, there are potential labor force participants among the hidden unemployed group who are not dissimilar from the discouraged.

The authors note that the stereotypical scenario-a worker loses his or her job, seeks work, cannot find any, and months later abandons the search despite still wanting a job-does not describe many of the discouraged. Some of the discouraged workers, in fact, have never worked or have not worked in more than 5 years. The authors use case histories from surveys taken in the Youngstown, OH, area to demonstrate the diversity of the discouraged. The cases are very powerful and convey people's real feelings, hopes, desires, and frustrations.

As part of the Youngstown area survey, respondents were asked a battery of questions to determine their emotional state. According to test scores, there were no noticeable differences in psychological profiles between discouraged persons who had worked recently and those who had not worked for several years. Further, discouraged workers were found to maintain their desires for employment over a long period. Buss and Redburn formulate an important conclusion from these findings-that opportunities for work would be perceived the same by the recently employed, the not so recently employed, and the never-employed discouraged workers. But, the discouraged are not as motivated to seek work as the unemployed, although they have about the same skill and educational levels. From this vantage point, the discouraged workers look like "turned off unemployed, an observation made by the authors but not fully explored.

In the final two chapters of the book, the findings of the previous chapters are brought to bear on how, if at all, the discouraged should be helped by society. This policy discussion is clouded somewhat by its definition of a discouraged worker. A group labeled "detached" (persons who do not intend to look for work within the next year, or when asked if they want a job, respond "maybe-it depends" or "no") are defined as discouraged, although some persons in this group did not want a job. Discouraged workers are generally limited to those who state they want a job but are currently not seeking work.

In the final chapter-the authors' major contribution- the "distance-to work" concept is introduced. This concept accounts for the preparation people need to seek work and become employed, including training, counseling, and motivation. Buss and Redburn use this concept to infer that a range of programs needs to be developed to employ those desiring work. The authors only suggest that discouraged workers, unless they are on the welfare rolls, will be difficult to locate and identify if they do not voluntarily seek out these employment programs. Voluntary participation is unlikely for some, especially those with low motivation.

Publications received

Economic and social statistics Cutler, Blayne, "Rock-a-Buy Baby," American Demographics, January 1990,pp.35-39.

Frumkin, Norman, Guide to Economic Indicators. Armonk, NY, M. E. Sharpe, Inc., 1990, 242 pp. $29.95.

Hughes, James W. and George Stemlieb, "Home Steep Home," American Demographics, January 1990, beginning on p. 40.

Katz, Lawrence F. and Lawrence H. Summers, Industry Rents: Evidence and Implications. Reprinted from Brookings Papers on Economic Activity: Microeconomics 1989, pp. 209-75. Cambridge, mA, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc., 1989. (NBER Reprint, 1261.) $2, paper.

Smith, Creston M., "The Social Security Administration's Continuous Work History Sample," Social Security Bulletin, October 1989, pp. 20-28.

Waldrop, Judith and Thomas Exter, "What the 1990 Census Will Show," American Demographics, January 1990, pp. 20-30.

Economic growth and development Drago, Robert and Richard Perlman, eds., Microeconomic Issues in Labour Economics: New Approaches. Hertfordshire, England, Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1989, 207 pp. $53.10. Distributed in the United States by Prentice Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, NJ.

Haveman, Robert, "Economics and Public Policy: On the Relevance of Conventional Economic Advice," The Quarterly Review of Economics and Business, Autumn 1989, pp. 6-20.

Klein, Philip A., ed., Analyzing Modern Business Cycles: Essays Honoring
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Author:Klein, Bruce W.
Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 1990
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