We’ve all seen it before, and many of us have experience it firsthand. Eager, capable college kids graduate, brimming with optimism about their future –  “I got a valuable degree,” they think, “I’m ready to get my career started!” – only to find themselves scraping by as a part-time barista a few months later, living at home to save money on rent so they can afford their crushing student loan payments. While the post-college prospects for recent grads have been slowly improving over the last decade, underemployment is still a huge problem. So what is underemployment anyways?

Basically, underemployment means you’re working below your abilities.

Sometimes it means you’re working a job that doesn’t require a college degree, rendering you “overeducated” – even though we’ve been told that we needed that degree to be successful.

It could also mean that you get stuck in a part-time role. You’re unable to transition to a full-time role because the company hired two part-timers instead of one full-time person in an effort to avoid having to pay out benefits.

Or you could be relegated to the gig economy: driving for a ride-share company, doing odd jobs, or taking commissions. While it’s nice to have the option to hop in and out of the gig economy (hey, any money > no money!!), it comes with its own set of stresses. Most gig workers put in more than 40 hours a week and don’t get any benefits, so it’s risky. Catching the flu could put you out in the cold or force you to work through your illness.

The reality is that more than 42% of recent college graduates (age 22-27) are underemployed. Even worse: 34% of all college graduates, regardless of how long they’ve been out of school, are underemployed. This wide-spread underemployment means these Americans often take on multiple part-time jobs to make ends meet, with 74% of them wishing that they could just work one full-time job.

As of 2018, unemployment dropped under 4%. But it’s a deceiving statistic. A huge portion of Americans struggle to find a stable job that pays them enough to thrive.

The differences between fully employed workers and underemployed workers is staggering. Full-time employees get paid vacation days, retirement savings plans, health insurance, and they make $3 more per hour than underemployed people for the same work. Underemployed workers lack job security and are 5 times more likely to live below the poverty line than full-time employees.

So what can you do about it?

There’s nothing wrong with taking on part time work while you’re job hunting. In fact, it’s a good idea to avoid a gap on your resume. Volunteering is great to experience to put down, along with special projects that you can spin as experience. And if you had an internship while you were in school, be sure to include it! But you’ve got to remain persistent in your search for work. While it can feel like a daunting task, it is vitally important.  One of the best things you can do for your career is get into the workforce ASAP. That way, you can get that “required” 3-5 years’ experience for entry level jobs, add to your retirement funds, and start paying off those pesky student loans.

For a new (dare we say fun?) way to job search, check out JobFlare! Our goal is to help you get noticed by employers for your potential and help you reach that first stepping stone on the way to a promising career – kicking underemployment to the curb.