Tyler Cowen the other day remarked about the perhaps increasing irrelevance of unemployment figures, given the apparently rising phenomenon of "underemployment," where workers are counted as employed despite the fact that they work much fewer hours and earn much less money than they have in the past.
Perry Anderson, in a fascinating recap in the London Review of Books of Italy's history since the beginning of the Second Republic in 1992, gives a good example of underemployment-in-action:
Redeeming this desolation has, to all intents and purposes, been just one improvement, in job creation. Unemployment, which stood at 12 per cent in the mid-1990s has dropped to 6 per cent today. But most of this work – half of all the new posts in 2006 – involves short-term contracts, and much of it is precarious employment in the informal economy. No counteracting dynamism has resulted. In the formula of the Neapolitan sociologist Enrico Pugliese, Italy has gone from growth without jobs in the last years of the First Republic to jobs without growth under the Second, blocking productivity gains.
In case you're curious about Anderson's verdict on the so-called "reforms" of the Second Republic, here's the last paragraph:
Growth was not liberated, but asphyxiated. Export shares have fallen, and the public debt, the third largest in the world, has remained stubbornly above 100 per cent of GDP, mocking the provisions of Maastricht. When the Second Republic started, Italy still enjoyed the second highest GDP per capita of the big EU states, measured in purchasing power parity, after Germany – a standard of living in real terms above that of France or Britain. Today it has fallen below an EU average now weighed down by the relative poverty of the East European states, and is close to being overtaken by Greece.
Overtaken by Greece?! That's saying something...