Thousands suffering from underemployment

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May 12, 2010, 7:27 pm
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(NECN: Peter Howe, Mendon, Mass.) - While the recession is close to being technically over, unemployment remains at nearly 30-year highs in New England -- and thousands of New Englanders are suffering from "underemployment," settling for part-time work when they really want 40-hour-a-week jobs.

But some are stitching together multiple part-time jobs into enough of a living to keep their head above water during the recession. One of the best examples: Dan Fleury, a 51-year-old resident of this Worcester County town.

"If you need to support a family, you've got to do whatever you've got to do,'' Fleury said. With a son in college and three other kids, he's sure felt the pinch of the recession. "When you don't know what money's coming in from day to day, it's tricky.''

He's a volunteer firefighter on his hometown department. "The pay's not much, but it's part of giving back to the town,'' said Fleury, who's also an active Boy Scout leader in Mendon.

But get this: As part of his own strategy to weather the recession, volunteer Mendon firefighter is just one of five jobs Fleury does week in week out.

The main one is as a computer expert with Psyche Systems in Milford, a hospital and laboratory information technology company. That's a job that was full-time for Dan through last year but recently has become full-time.

But even as he's been able to get lots of work at Psyche, as an experienced carpenter who owns his own truck full of supplies, over the last year he's picked up numerous contractor fix-up jobs that pay a few hundred dollars each, "Probably
10 or 15 miscellaneous things, here, there, everywhere.''

He also fixes electronics at a flea market in Lancaster, Mass., several miles up Interstate 495, estimating he spends about 8 hours every Sunday helping people get devices repairs.

And his fifth job: As one of 350,000 online fix-it experts connected with website , where experts like Dan get paid a few dollars a pop answering repair questions 24/7 on over 1 million products, everything from computers to iPods to lawnmowers to appliances.

Making anywhere from typically $4 to $10 for answering questions there, Dan said, "I think I've accumulated 500 bucks in two years. So, it's clearly not gonna pay the bills. Maybe the beer bill.''

Howe: What Dan's put together is a solution -- admittedly, a very extreme solution -- to the "underemployment" problem facing thousands of New Englanders who are having to settle for a part-time job, or a few part-time jobs, but who want to find a solid 40-hour-a-week job with the kinds of benefits part-time positions normally don't offer.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates a percentage of people in each state who are either un- or under-employed, which includes the jobless, those able to work but discouraged from looking for a job, and those settling for fewer hours of work than they want. By state, during the four quarters between spring 2009 and winter 2010, the total "unemployed or underemployed" percentage by state was:

Connecticut: 15.0%

Maine: 15.0%

Massachusetts: 15.0%

New Hampshire: 12.9%

Rhode Island: 19.4%

Vermont: 12.6%

U.S. average: 16.7%

If you're someone who's having a hard time finding "a" job, maybe just maybe the man with five jobs could be an inspiration to start looking a little bit differently.

"There's so many people out of work right now, but there is work out there if you're willing to do it,'' Fleury said. "I might make a little here, a little bit there, and it all adds up, and it's OK.''

With videographer John Hammann

Tags: recession, Peter Howe, underemployed
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