Friday, January 10, 2014

Unemployment numbers, again...and the news isn't good...

According to several reports, including this one at, the US Labor Department is reporting that the unemployment rate dropped to 6.7 percent in December, from 7 percent. This is good news, right?

Well, not so much. That's because the drop isn't a result of more jobs being created. Labor reports that just 74,000 jobs were created during December, while 347,000 people quit looking for work. Certainly, a few of those 347,000 were people who retired, but the vast majority of them are people who have been out of work for awhile and have simply given up hope that they will get hired for a new job and stopped looking.

The thing is, that isn't "just an excuse" or an unfounded assumption. Another report shows that, here in the United States, people who have been out of work for a year or longer have just a 9 percent chance of getting hired for another job. Even those who have been out of work for 4 to 6 months only have a 16 percent chance of getting hired again. This is a real problem when you consider that the average unemployed job-seeker has been out of work for 37 weeks - that's just over 9 months.

The other part of the December jobs report that doesn't really make for comforting reading is that a huge number of the jobs created in December were temporary seasonal positions in the retail sector. Most of those people are likely either already unemployed again or will be soon. A substantial portion of the other jobs created last month were also temporary, within the service sector.

And that illustrates another big issue for job-seekers; employers in many sectors are only hiring temporary workers now, or they are hiring for permanent positions, but those positions are only part-time. Additionally, many of the positions only pay minimum wage. In most states, even a full-time position that pays minimum wage still leaves the employee making a wage that flirts with the poverty line.

No, really. The minimum wage in California is currently $8.00 per hour. If a person held a full-time job (40 hours per week) that paid this wage, and worked every one of those available hours during the year (no time off for vacations or sick days, since most minimum wage jobs do not provide paid time off for either vacation or when the employee is ill), their pay would amount to $16,640 for the year. But, remember, that's before taxes - after withholding for income taxes and social security, their take-home pay would be several thousand dollars less than that. Their take-home pay, in fact, would probably be right around the poverty level for a single person, which was in 2013 figured to be $11,490 for the year.

But I's subject isn't really pay once someone finds a job. The topic here is how difficult it is to find a job in the first place.

And I am here to tell you exactly how hard that is, and how easy it is to get discouraged when you read the statistics on how difficult it is to get hired when you've been out of work for a while. It's something I know first-hand, having been out for work for just over two years now.

Now, I'm still looking, but I don't really have much hope that anyone is going to hire me. And I'm stubborn enough that I'm actively working on getting alternative revenue streams going. As anyone who follows along here knows, I'm in the process of writing a book, although that isn't the sort of thing that pays as you go. I'm also lucky enough that I can do things like knit and counted cross-stitch, and I'm the process of accumulating an inventory of items to sell.

But, I have to say, it makes me angry that employers write off job applicants simply because they haven't worked in a certain number of weeks. Some employers won't even consider an application from someone who is not already employed. My question to them is, what are the rest of us supposed to do? We get labeled as "lazy" and "just wanting to live off the government dole" by certain segments of the political spectrum, yet we aren't given a chance to even compete for jobs. In my own case, that means that the education on my resume (I have a four-year degree, earned with honors) and my skills don't even get taken into consideration. All the people looking at my resume see is that my last job ended two years ago and they toss it - and me - in the reject file.

Oh, I've been doing volunteer work in the time since I've been out of a paid job, but that doesn't really count for anything, despite what many people - most of them looking for volunteer workers - will tell you. I ran into that problem years ago, when I was fresh out of a two-year paralegal education program and looking for work in the legal field. As part of that very vigorous program, I was required to do internships. Well, one was required, but I ended up doing the required internship plus a couple of other internships with local government agencies. During the main internship, I worked for about six months for a judge. I did substantive work, rather than just filing papers and hanging around. Yet, when I finished the program and started looking for work, no one would even consider my resume because unpaid work, it turns out, doesn't count as work.

This leads to another issue I've been finding as I look for work: there are places that want my labor, but only if I'm willing to give that labor and my time for free. I'm good enough for work, just not worthy enough to be paid for it. And, indeed, I've been reading recently (and I'm sorry, but I didn't save the links) that this is how some corporations have started staffing their offices. Instead of hiring people they have to pay, they take on student interns who work for free, not only relieving the corporations of having to offer benefits to employees but removing the obligation to even pay these workers.

It makes me wonder if that's the way this country is headed - toward a new sort of corporate serfdom, in which only the lucky few can actually get paying positions, while the rest of us are pushed into employment that isn't really employment while the government subsidizes the living expenses of these new serfs. If the trends represented by current bad news on employment continue, it could get that bad.

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