Saturday, April 06, 2013

Now, why would anyone get discouraged hunting for work?

I just happened on an interesting AP piece on unemployment on Yahoo! News. It talks about the "discouraged", those who have been unemployed for a considerable length of time. They get so frustrated with the situation as it is that they just give up looking and survive however they can. They depend on the social safety net. They move in with family or friends. They just can't bear one more rejection. And they fall off the government's radar regarding the unemployed.

The article points out that the unemployment rate in the US dropped from 7.7 percent in February to 7.6 percent in March. This sounds like good news, right? Except not so much. In the same period, the "participation rate", the number of adults in the labor force (those who are either working or looking for work) dropped to 63.3 percent, the lowest it has been since May 1979.

You see, the dirty little secret about the unemployment rate that no one wants to talk about is that if you stop looking for work because you've given up on finding something, anything, that will bring some money in, the government no longer considers you to be unemployed in the sense that you no longer count in the statistics on employment. So, the drop in the unemployment rate last month doesn't mean, necessarily, that more people are working. It can mean, and in this case probably does mean, that fewer people are looking.

That is why, when I talk about the local unemployment rate in the county where I live, I talk about the official rate and the unofficial rate. The official unemployment rate in my county was at 14.6 percent in January of this year, then jumped to 15.4 percent in February (if the local numbers for March are out yet, I haven't been able to find them). As far as any of us who are looking for jobs around here can figure, the real figure is closer to 20 percent, when you figure in people who have just given up looking.

The thing is, it's really easy to become discouraged looking for work these days, and it isn't just from being told "No" so much. It's the not hearing anything. Most companies take applications and resumes electronically now. At a lot of businesses, even fast food restaurants, you can't walk in and fill out an application, get interviewed by a manager, and get hired or not. Instead, if you walk into one of these places, they'll give you a card with an Internet address on it, which you are expected to go home (or to the library or wherever you can find Internet access), log on, and fill out an application there. Further up the employment ladder, most companies today require prospective employees to fill out an application online, submit their resumes online, and then sit and wait for a response.

It's a response that often never comes. A lot of them don't acknowledge that they've received your resume or application. Some of the have a message that comes up at the end of the process that more or less says, "Don't call us; we'll call you." If your resume or application does not get through their key-words filter, it gets binned and you never know if anyone has seen it or not. If you're lucky, you'll get a call a week or a month or several months later (hiring processes often seem to take a very long time) for a telephone interview. This is the second step in the weeding out process. If you don't say the right things during the phone interview, which after often as short as ten minutes or so, you'll never hear from them again.

If you're very lucky, and you do say the right things, you might be called for a second phone interview. You might even be called in for a face-to-face interview. Even then, even if you go in and talk to an actual interviewer or panel of interviewers, this does not guarantee you'll get a "thanks but no-thanks" call or letter or e-mail. It is apparently acceptable workplace etiquette in the twenty-first century to just ignore anyone you aren't hiring. Now, I'd call that rude, but I'm old-fashioned, apparently.

This is convenient for the Human Resources people, the ones who do the hiring, apparently. It's easier to just ignore people than to have to actually tell them you aren't going to hire them. But it leaves those of us who are looking for jobs just hanging, not sure what our status is in the hiring process. Yes, we usually get the message when we don't hear anything for an extended period of time. Still, in the short term it leaves the applicant in a limbo of "is there hope/is there no hope" of being hired for any particular job they've applied for/interviewed for.

I hear these stories all the time among my network of fellow job-seekers. They've send their applications, they've been interviewed, they feel good about how they've performed. And then...crickets. They hear nothing..

And people wonder why people looking for work in this economy get frustrated, get discouraged, just give up.

I fight that frustration and discouragement all the time. I get to the point where I can't see why I should even bother to look for work. It might be more difficult for me than some others, because my skill set is more limited than someone who is in sales or management, fields where the basic skill is applicable in a wider number of positions and industries. Still, it isn't easy for anyone looking for work, and the urge to just give it up is often strong. I hear it all the time from my friends who are also looking.

Personally, I'm looking more to entrepreneurship, making my own job. But there are drawbacks there, in self-employment, as well. Say you do get something off the ground. Or, you're actually working for a company, but they hire you on not as an employee but as a private contractor (which was my situation in my previous job). And, suddenly, your business isn't doing so well, or the company you're contracting to doesn't need your services any more. Not only are you looking for work again, but you aren't even eligible for unemployment compensation. Additionally, as I've noted here before, a lot of companies don't want to hire people who have been self-employed.

Still, if no one else is going to give me a job, I've got to either put something together for myself or end up hungry and on the street. I'm much fonder of the idea of making my own job, even with the potential drawbacks. And that, the idea that I might be able to put myself back to work rather than relying on corporate America to hire me, is the only thing that keeps me from giving up and becoming, well, not even a statistic, but one of those left out of the statistics - or at least the unemployment statistics - altogether.

No comments: