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When a person does not work full time or takes a job that does not reflect their actual training and financial needs

What is Underemployment?

Underemployment occurs when a person does not work full time or takes a job that does not reflect their actual training and financial needs. That is, their job doesn’t use all their skills and education. It is not the same an unemployment, which is a percentage of the population that is not currently employed.




Calculating Underemployment

The formula for calculating underemployment is:


Underemployment - Formula


Who is Considered Underemployed?

Underemployment is divided into three common categories, as follows:

  • Skilled workers in low-income jobs
  • Skilled workers in jobs that don’t fully utilize their skills
  • Part-time workers that would rather work full-time


Types of Underemployment

Two types of underemployment exist: visible and invisible.


1. Visible

Visible underemployment comprises employees who work fewer hours than what is considered normal in their field or industry. They possess the skills to work in a full-time position but are unable to find regular employment. They usually work part-time jobs to make ends meet.


2. Invisible

Invisible underemployment refers to people who work in jobs that don’t utilize all the skills. Such a type of underemployment is very difficult to measure and requires extensive research and surveys.


In addition, a third type of underemployment exists, which is called “marginally attached to the labor force.” It includes people who have looked for employment in the past year, who would like to, and are available for work. Within this group is a sub-group called “discouraged workers,” or those who have given up looking for employment altogether.

Underemployment also includes people with full-time employment but live below the poverty line. They are known as the “working poor.”


Causes of Underemployment

There are many factors that cause underemployment in an economy, those that force people to take up low-skilled, part-time jobs. A few reasons are listed below:


1. Business cycle

One of the main reasons for underemployment is the business cycle the economy currently operates in. If the economy is currently under recession or economic depression, it is unlikely that organizations will be hiring for full-time positions and will instead choose to terminate workers existing full-time jobs. Such employees would then need to take on part-time jobs to make ends meet.


2. Supply and demand

Underemployment also occurs when the supply of workers is greater than its demand. A few reasons can be an increase in population growth or a decrease in the demand for a product. When certain industries no longer need workers, people with the skills that match the industry will be forced to find low-income jobs that don’t fully utilize their skills.


3. Technological changes

In such situations, technology takes the job of a worker who would have previously been employed for that position. For example, vending machines have taken the jobs of some cafeteria workers and cashiers, and ATMs have replaced bank tellers.


technological changes


Effects of Underemployment

Underemployment is a social problem that affects job growth, business growth, poverty levels and the emotional and psychological health of the underemployed.


1. Poverty levels

When a person is forced to take up jobs that do not match their skills, they will also receive an income that is below their pay grade. With inadequate income, families will not consume as many goods and services as before. The reduction in demand will lead to slow business growth. It will push the economy towards a recession or depression due to low Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and little to no job growth.


2. Structural unemployment

With underemployment, workers who no longer work in their field lack the ability to update their skills with on-the-job training. They cannot return to their former jobs with no training. Some people acquire skills in different industries while others view their unemployment as long-term. The phenomenon is commonly known as structural unemployment.


3. Psychological problems

Underemployment can cause poor mental health. The stress and anxiety are a result of not being able to make ends meet, which creates a sense of inadequacy. Relationships with a partner can also suffer as a result of underemployment. It is partly the reason for the inability to earn an adequate income. Underemployment can affect an individual’s mental and emotional health.



Youthful workers in the labor force tend to experience more underemployment as a result of switching jobs and moving into and out of the labor force. Many public policies can also discourage the creation of employment such as a high minimum wage, high unemployment benefits, and a low opportunity cost associated with terminating workers.

Employment is the primary source of income for a person and hence, it the source of economic growth. It is considered a lagging indicator and can provide information about the state of the economy, especially in certain sectors. High underemployment suggests a low GDP and low demand for labor. High underemployment indicates an increase in the supply of goods and services and an expanding economy.


Other Resources

CFI is the official provider of the Financial Modeling and Valuation Analyst (FMVA)™ certification program, designed to transform anyone into a world-class financial analyst.

To keep learning and developing your knowledge of financial analysis, we highly recommend the additional resources below:

  • Annual Income
  • Cyclical Unemployment
  • Full Time Equivalent (FTE)
  • New York Minimum Wage

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