MODESTO -- If employment statistics are to be believed, Angela Brooks is one of the lucky ones.
The 40-year-old Ripon resident lost her job during the recession, a victim of downsizing and the down economy that swept the nation and the region in the late 2000s. But unlike tens of thousands of area residents, she did not remain among the unemployed.
Brooks found work, first a part-time position with Stanislaus County, and just recently an at-home job. But while she isn't among the unemployed whom economists and politicians fret over loudly and publicly, she falls into another, perhaps still larger group to emerge since the recession. She is among the vast number of underemployed in the Northern San Joaquin Valley.
The single mother went from working for five years at a full-time job at a design firm, making $24 an hour with full benefits,
to a part-time internship with the county, making $16 an hour without benefits, to an at-home, per-call customer service job answering phones for car dealerships, making an average of $5 an hour, again without benefits.
"The government puts out all these numbers about unemployment. But that doesn't take into account people like me," Brooks said. "Being barely employed is not all that different than being unemployed. Sometimes it's worse, because you don't get unemployment."
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, California's underemployment rate -- which includes the unemployed and the part-time or marginally employed -- was 20.3 percent for the second quarter of 2012. That is nearly double the state's straight unemployment rate, which held at 10.7 percent for July.
Those such as Brooks, who took jobs that pay less or require less education or skills than their pre-recession employment, find themselves struggling for simple necessities despite all their hard work.
Brooks went from making $55,000 a year to making maybe $12,000 this year despite working six days a week. To make ends meet, she gets some help from her parents and scrimps wherever she can. She cut out cable, drives only in town, shops at discount stores and receives food from a church.
While no statistics count the number of underemployed regionally for the Valley, many economists believe the problem is even more pronounced because of how hard the area was hit by the housing market crash and subsequent economic crisis.
Unemployment here remains much higher than the state and national rates, at 15.7 percent for Stanislaus County in July.
Amar Mann, a regional economist for the Bureau of Labor Statistics, said more than one in five Californians are underemployed. California is the second-worst state for underemployment, just behind Nevada. And that gets magnified in the Valley.
"If we focus our lens in on the Central Valley, we would expect that number to be even higher -- much higher, in fact," Mann said. "The underemployment rate gives a more complete picture of the labor force and I think a broader picture and to some extent a clearer picture of the struggles that many folks are experiencing."
That struggle includes dealing with a drop in earnings left in the recession's wake. According to the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey, the median family income in Modesto fell from $61,407 in 2008 to $53,603 in 2010.
Top pay just a memory
People including Modesto resident Cathy Hayes know that drop firsthand. Hayes worked for 19 years at the New United Motors Manufacturing Inc. plant in Fremont before it shut down in 2010. She went from making $80,000 a year as a team leader to making slightly more than $8 an hour as a retail clerk.