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As US job market strengthens, many don’t feel it

Published: Thursday, July 31, 2014 10:25 a.m. CST

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. unemployment rate has plunged since the start of last year to a five-year low of 6.1 percent. And the July jobs report being released Friday will likely show a sixth straight month of healthy 200,000-plus gains.

Yet for Douglas Hunter and millions like him, happy days aren’t quite here again.

Hunter earned $14 an hour cleaning oil drums before the Great Recession seized the economy and his job was axed. At 53, Hunter now works three days a week for $9.25 an hour, mopping floors and fixing fryers at two McDonald’s restaurants in Chicago.

“If the economy is getting better, I’m not sure for whom,” he said. “It certainly hasn’t trickled down to me.”

The Gallup Organization has found that consumers’ view of the economy is the glummest it’s been in seven months.

As the economic recovery enters its sixth year, a number of factors help explain why many Americans don’t feel better off: Income hasn’t rebounded. Millions are working part time even though they want full-time jobs. It’s taking longer to find work. People are still struggling with mortgage debt. Some feel down about the economy because of their political views. And most people don’t feel free to spend as much as they used to.

A closer look at the factors:

LAGGING INCOME

Most people are still earning less, adjusted for inflation, than before the recession struck at the end of 2007. Even many who kept their jobs through the recession — or easily found work after being let go — are no better off. The typical family income in current dollars is $52,959, according to Sentier Research. Factoring in inflation, that’s $3,303 less than before the recession — a nearly six percent drop.

FEWER FULL-TIME JOBS

Finding a steady full-time job has become harder. There are 27.4 million part-time jobs, representing 18.8 percent of jobs in the U.S. economy, according to the Labor Department. Before the recession, 16.5 percent of all jobs were part time.

EMPLOYERS SLOW TO HIRE

The “Help Wanted” signs are out: There were 4.6 million available jobs in May, according to government data, the most in seven years and 20 percent more than a year ago. Yet not enough of those jobs are being filled.

BEHIND ON MORTGAGES

Nearly 37 percent of mortgage holders were “effectively underwater” through the first three months of 2014, according to the real estate firm Zillow. That means they either owe more than their homes are worth or a sale wouldn’t generate enough money to cover the closing costs and down payment for a new home.

POLITICALLY SHAPED VIEWS

How people feel about President Barack Obama appears to influence their views of the economy. Republicans are overwhelmingly pessimistic, Democrats optimistic, according to Gallup.

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