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Underemployment -- so sad!

This weekend I read an article that had me riveted. If you haven't read it, you absolutely should. The topic: underemployment. It made me think about whether having a job way beneath your qualifications is better or worse than not having a job at all.

The original article ran in the St. Petersburg Times. Just the introduction alone is compelling the whole story: " Don Gould clocked in at the Publix here in central Pasco County. The green computer font on the small black screen told him to BEGIN SHIFT.

Gould is 46, has been married 21 years and is the father of three boys. Three years ago, he was living in Indiana, managing a small design company and making a six-figure salary.

Now he's living in Wesley Chapel near Tampa making $8.25 an hour. Publix calls him a front service clerk.

"I used to be a big shot,'' he said one day last week. ``Now I'm just, `Hey, bag boy.' '' Gould is part of the large swath of the humbled underemployed -- people who during the recession have gone from highly educated and highly paid to paper or plastic. 

Gould explained why he's doing the same thing he did for pocket money when he was 17. His sons are 18, 16 and 12. ``I want to be a role model by showing by example that no job is undignified.''

Don gould

 I asked one of my friends what she though of the story. "I honestly didn't' know it was as bad as it was out there."

Ask someone who has endured unemployment in the last year and they will tell you it's bad out there. If you're a parent, it can be devastating day after day to have your kids see you search for a job with no results. I recently spoke to a recruiter who told me some companies won't even look at a job candidate who has been out of work for a year or more. Personally, I don't think that's indicative at all of a candidate's abilities. But the recruiter's statement did make me realize why people are grabbing any job they can get.

Sue Shellenbarger in the WSJ wrote about a trend toward mini-shifts. "Cast off by mainstream employers or unable to find the job flexibility they need in a corporate setting, millions of workers are taking multiple part-time or freelance jobs, jumping back and forth repeatedly between work, other pursuits and more work." In a way, that's a form of underemployment, too.

Can you really blame workers for piecing together whatever they can to earn a living, or taking jobs beneath their qualifications?

I agree with Gould that showing your child you have a work ethic makes you good role model, regardless of whether the job you take is a huge step backward. I believe that if you need to support your family, no job is beneath you. In my daily struggle for work life balance, I proud that my kids realize that earning a living is important to me --whether I'm a cashier at McDonald's or a newspaper writer. 

What do you think? Does taking a job, any job, making you a good role model for your kids or is it better to hold out for a job that pays well and fit your qualifications regardless of how long you are unemployed? Do you think underemployment is a dangerous route for the laid off workers to accept?