As labor markets tightened in the last half of the nineties, economic development and community leaders sought to identify more locally available workers than were indicated by published statistics. Using results from commissioned surveys, they pointed to large numbers of part-time workers who desired full-time work, and to full-time workers who were qualified for better jobs. These statistics were often used to negate low official unemployment rates that deterred firms, concerned by the ostensible shortage of workers, from locating in their counties. We have conducted a larger, statewide, survey of underemployment and linked it to the detailed demographic and labor force data from the 2000 Census. We used the results to identify variations in the number and type of underemployed persons around the state, with emphasis on the differences between urbanized and rural areas. Over a quarter of full-time workers reported underemployment, including a third of workers in exurban counties. However, forty to fifty percent of underemployment is reportedly by choice, with the highest rates in the small urban and exurban regions. Of those that are not underemployed by choice, over ninety percent of respondents in some regions cited lack of job opportunities. We find that between fourteen and forty percent of part-time workers prefer full-time work, with the highest rates in rural Appalachian counties. We provide some of the reasons underemployed people cite as constraints to better employment. Also, we used the survey results and the recent Census information to predict the number and type of underemployed persons in each county. The model can be used to update predictions as new local demographic and labor force estimates are released annually from the Census Bureau’s forthcoming American Community Surveys.

Document Type

Research Paper

Publication Date


Discussion Paper Number

DP 2003-08