Despite what appears to be a steadily declining unemployment rate, the actual percentage of working-age Americans who have a job — or who are actively looking for one — continues to slump. This might sound counterintuitive: How can the unemployment rate drop if less and less people are working?
It works like this: As far as the government is concerned, the labor force is made up of people with jobs and those who are unemployed. But the government only classifies a person as unemployed if that person has actively searched for work within the last four weeks, which means the unemployment rate completely ignores everyone who quit looking for work more than a month ago — and apparently, many Americans fit into that category.
The labor force participation rate, which refers to the percentage of Americans ages 16 and older who are either working or actively searching for work, has been steadily declining for years now. As of this month, only 62.9 percent of Americans have jobs or are actively searching for one, which is pretty close to what the labor force participation rate was back in the 1970s, when only 43.3 percent of women participated in the workforce (nearly 60 percent of women had joined the workforce by 1998).
All of which means that many Americans have simply given up on finding work.
As for why so many people are dropping out of the workforce, one explanation might be the fact that, according to a recent study, 61 percent of “entry-level” jobs require three or more years of experience. Naturally, this makes landing a job incredibly difficult. How are people supposed to get three or more years of experience when the jobs meant to provide them with such experience in the first place also require three or more years of experience? We turned to Lisa Rangel, executive resume writer and owner of Chameleon Resumes, for advice on what qualifies as experience.
First, though, Rangel recommends taking a closer look at what “entry-level” actually means. “The term entry-level is relative,” Rangel explains. “It could refer to the legitimate bottom-level point of entry into the organization that still requires three years of related experience. […] The phrase can also be a genuine entry-level role, where three-plus years of doing digital marketing at school or for personal projects in school will suffice as digital marketing experience.”
Rangel also briefly mentions that the many meanings behind entry-level might warrant coming up with a new phrase for jobs that don’t require previous experience. “I suppose an argument can be made to get rid of it,” she suggests. However, she goes on to explain that the term might be appropriately used to imply that candidates should expect to be trained after being hired, whereas positions not listed as entry-level are meant to be filled by applicants who can get to work ASAP.
Since entry-level basically means whatever the employer decides they want it to, Rangel suggests taking the phrase with a grain of salt when job hunting. “Think of a request for prior experience loosely,” she says. “As a hiring manager and former recruiter, when candidates show me how their prior experience is related, it’s a sign of the candidate’s confidence and innate versatility.”
All of which means that experience doesn’t technically have to come from another legitimate job — Rangel specifically points to extracurricular activities, academic school work, part-time jobs, paid or unpaid internships and freelance jobs as potential experience-providers.
The author of the study mentioned above suggests the same approach. “One way to get past the job-searching Catch-22 is to play a different game. Instead of fighting with everyone else to get that first job, you can instead build up your work experience (and resume and portfolio) by doing freelance jobs on the side.”
Once you finally land one of those coveted “entry-level” jobs that require years of experience, make sure that you come prepared to negotiate your salary, something that can be particularly daunting when your past experience consists of underpaid internships and freelancing. “Research past salaries for that type of job through salary sites, such as Salary and Payscale, to get an idea of the pay range paid for the role at hand,” Rangel says. “Aim to land the higher end of the pay range by demonstrating your ability to learn quickly, operate independently and create results fast with minimal training using examples from past internships, different industry roles, school experiences, freelance jobs and nonprofit volunteer roles.”
Who knows? You may even find yourself with a higher salary than the guy who spent an entire year chasing after that “entry-level” job that was anything but.