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Tales from the “new normal”

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“In my area a company will not hire you if you’ve been unemployed for too long.” –Need to Know viewer

Although the unemployment rate hovers near a five-year low, it is still at a painful level. Critics say that the official numbers masks the true problem by not counting those who have just plain given up looking for work or are not working enough to support themselves. The U.S. government itself will admit to some 20 million un and underemployed Americans. Indeed, some economists, labor statisticians and management experts are warning that the eventual outcome of our recent economic troubles might well be a “jobless recovery”. It’s called “the new normal” — an economy where we never get near full employment again and where the traditional strategies used to land a job — more education, working your connections, rapidly sending resumes to every listing — won’t do the trick. And, then there’s the bias against the long-term unemployed. After a spate of complaints about discrimination against the currently jobless, several states have passed laws which prohibit any employer holding a candidate’s employment status against them. Will it help? What will? Read some of the stories we’ve received over the past year and add your own.

Then head over to PBS NewsHour’s Business Desk and “Ask the Headhunter” column for advice on negotiating the new normal.

Tales from the new normal

“Can’t you see that 1 in 5 American workers is unemployed or dramatically under-employed because we are in a Depression?? My Grandmother passed away at age 100 years this month. She said this time reminded her exactly of the times she had in the 30s except that now, thanks to unemployment insurance you didn’t have to see people on the streets begging as much. Some people may take handouts and let their skills drop. Most simply don’t know what to do to find a job when folks like you won’t hire over your own dead body. How about investing in your community and expanding your business, mind and heart a bit?”

“Single mom, worked for my company for 13 years while all the geniuses on wall street and the government turned a blind eye for decades and created the mess we are in.  They get bailed out with fat cash and at 49 you want me to work at minimum wage or for the yahoo’s who got us into this mess!!!!”

“I also went back to school to get an undergraduate degree in history at 51 years of age.  I wanted to go back to work and earn a living wage.  I thought the best way to accomplish that goal was to get a college degree.  I am very close to graduation and now Texas is not hiring teachers.  Who would have ever thought that a teacher with a passion to teach would be unable to get a job.  Now everyone tells me switch programs from teaching and go into nursing.  What the heck is a person to do?  I would like to go back to work before I turn 60!”

“Went back to School at 49 Graduated tech school At 50 with a 4.0 as a Pharmacy tech Passed the Fed certification Cant find a job ether they want more experience or they want more Schooling i am very frustrated at this point!”

“I’m a 99′er.  Two engineering degrees and a double MBA.  The market is tough out there even for the very skilled.”

I don’t have a clue what the employer wants!

“As unemployed I have sent out many an application and resume. Often or not I wouldn’t really have a clue what the employer wants and it is a gambling proposition, often because they give the job searcher a brief description of what they want. So Many employers do this and I have to guess if my resume meets their need. Neither party addresses that just maybe the employer doesn’t really know what they want under the economic stress, so they don’t spell out what they want from an employee.” (Check out Need to Know’s interview with Peter Cappelli, author of Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs.)

Unemployment bias

“Turning away job applicants solely on the grounds of
their employment status is unfair, discriminatory, bad for the economy, and
must be prohibited under federal, state, and municipal law. It is also generally considered a poor human
resources practice to exclude a job candidate for a personal reason or if a
bona fide qualification of current employment for a position is absent.”

“So big deal, they can’t list “unemployed need not apply” in their ads/postings but they can still not hire anyone that is unemployed and that is what needs to stop. If an unemployed person is qualified for the job then the company better have a damn good reason why they weren’t hired. And that reason should be taken to the labor board and checked to see if it is legitimate or just and excuse. These employers have to stop the bs. The reason they don’t hire the unemployed is because they are qualified for the job and the company doesn’t want to pay them the money they are worth.”

The education situation

“Disturbingly, advanced levels of education are not insulating workers from long-term unemployment. A worker with a doctorate is as likely to be long-term unemployed as a worker with a high-school diploma.”

“That is what America needs today. We do not need any expensive high-sounding University Degree or Executive Diploma from Ivy League Schools. It is time to close down all the colleges and universities in this country and open up many public schools that give Public High-school Diploma. Wouldn’t that be better if all the people with high school diploma got jobs? Instead of giving $100 for 10 people, give $10 for 100 people. Every household in this country will have jobs.”

The skills gap?

“Let us look at our school curriculum and see how we can improve and produce more qualified candidates and move them into workforce.”


A note to employers

“It might help to take a little course on human psychology before you choose who to hire. Often, the person who seems angry and bitter to a layman, is actually nervous and afraid of failing to get another job because they need it so much. The person who’s calm as a cucumber, could be the one who just doesn’t have it in them to care so much, and wouldn’t care to do the job so well either– but knows that once they’re in, you won’t want to go through the hiring process all over again. Consumers have all met that sort of employee before, and they hurt your company’s business and reputation.”

  • thumb
    Main Street: Findlay, Ohio
    Need to Know travels to Ohio to assess how workers are faring after the loss of millions of manufacturing jobs over the past 35 years.
  • thumb
    Following the money: Tax breaks
    New CBO report echoes the findings of Need to Know's "A tale or four tax returns."
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      Certifiably employable
    Rick Karr recently visited Seattle to look at a program designed to give the unemployed the skills they need to find jobs in one of the country’s fastest-growing industries.


  • Karen

    To the 51 year old person majoring in teaching. Switching to nursing is a good idea because there has been a nursing shortage for years & there will continue to be a nursing shortage because the baby boomer nurses are either getting ready to retire or are retiring. Even with obamacare, Americans will still have private insurance even in the exchanges, doctors, nurses will still work for private hospitals & private medical practices

  • Fifty’er

    I went back to school in my 30′s to get a more marketable career. Graduated in 1996 and was employed quickly, because I look younger than I am. Got laid-off due to a plant closing, and now I get lots of responses with my resume, but at 54 I don’t look like a 30-something (I dye my hair and stay slim so its more like 45-something), so when i show up for the interview…Thanks, Well let you know. But I get plenty of calls so I may still get lucky, and get hired by a near-sighted interviewer.

  • Jay Breeze Woods

    If you don’t have apprentice shops to learn the skills of the trade how is one ever gonna learn? I just turned 27 in January and Before all of this recession ever took place i worked a little considering the small town in fact which has the highest in unemployment but then i was troubled after getting layed off and couldn’t find a job there after and i have currently been without work for a remarkable 8 years.
    Its been a very depressing time for me…..i have an accurate resume but i keep getting turned down for a job……Employers are too heartless and sometimes i do sit back and wonder how they got these positions as employers …Think its time they stepped down and give the unemployed a break because there’s too much stereotyping and dominance in the workforce. email me at this email address #I AM FEED UP!!!!

  • TEE

    I have been one of the long term unemployed and discrimination is a way of life. I have been a member of an online support group since 2010 & everyone faces depression, rejection, scams, insults and ageism. Prior to 2008 I was a “hot commodity” and now I am as popular as spoiled milk. What happened? Over 50, long term unemployed are not a good combination, but I place most of the blame at the feet of companies who are only interested in a fatter bottom line for themselves and to heck with everyone else. If there is such a thing as a skills gaps THEN INVEST IN YOUR EMPLOYEES AND TRAIN THEM!

  • hillndale

    At the beginning of the recession I had been working for many years at a company that then began to outsource their work to another country! (No, it wasn’t Bain Capital!) My take home pay was cut in half, and the company eventually went bankrupt due to improving technology and issues with poor client service, at least partly due to their own outsourcing.

    I have been re-employed once since then in my old career, however, my employer seemed unwilling to take time to orient me to their organization, and began to hold me accountable for things I had never been shown or told. I also had good reason to file a workplace harassment suit against them. Previously, I had been doing the same job for 20+ years, so I was not new at the work itself; just the place.

    I did quit that job and did not file suit for harassment because I was not desperate for a job (my husband can support us just fine as long as we are careful), and did not want the hassle of going through years of legal proceedings against a large employer, legitimate as this might have been. I have been unemployed since.

    I do not intend to look for another job here in the U.S; the better option for me would be to move to another country and retire permanently, before I am bled dry by the costs of the U.S. health care system, as, at age 58, I am not old enough for MediCare yet.

  • Mike Mathwig

    I lost all chance of work as a construction plumber because the smart ones moved the economy to super growth. It has lasted for 4 years. I worked for cash doing large tree removal and the occasional plumbing repair. cashed out my small 401k, sold my car and kept my rough old truck for work, rented from friends, sold the 12×60 mobile home I owned at a big loss, worked harder at tree work than construction ever was, for less, and now I’m deemed unfit for work because I haven’t had a payroll job for years. When the economy comes back I will enjoy hearing how the same h and r people who look down on us now will change thier tune then! From now on whenever I have a chance to point to this, I will!

  • Mike Mathwig

    If people could AFFORD all this schooling you suggest they wouldn’t need to WORK! Stop and think for a small bit!

  • unkerjay

    I’m 58 years old working part time as tech support for a medium sized non-profit for a little over twenty one dollars an hour. That works out to be a little over $ 22k / yr with decent medical / dental benefits, sick leave and vacation.

    That works out to be about $ 1900 / month about $ 430 / week.

    My wife makes about $ 40k / yr.

    Between the two of us we do well. But it takes the two of us to do well.

    At 58 years old, being type 2 diabetic, and coming from a technological understanding that predates facebook, twitter, social media, tablets and smart phones, I feel very much like the “other” hand in the world of employment.
    The employer mentality that says hire the young before older worker, hire
    the employed before the unemployed suggests that should I lose this job, my
    best best is early retirement. If I can only afford it.

    Almost everything I read and hear suggests that’s the case. That or yet another career change, another downgrade of income, making do with yet less and having to put up with more for the privilege.

    “Safety net” is an epithet these days.

    I have no idea what my health care costs would be if I lost my job or got a lower paying job with fewer / no benefits.

    All said, perhaps I did a poor job of reading the trajectory of the future 40 some odd years ago when I graduated high school.

    I’m not alone.

    Regardless of whether or not I did, is the country really better off having so many otherwise skilled / able bodied workers unemployed / underemployed where so much depends on us not being unemployed?

  • Upset with this

    At one point I had four “part-time” jobs. Which are really on call and not constant. Telling people they have to have a job to be hired is ridiculous. It seems to hurt me when looking for a real job that I can rely on. If your a woman who doesn’t want to be a secretary or a receptionist. It’s almost impossible for a high school graduate to find a reliable job in this market. Unless you sleeping with the boss or are related to someone it seems like you go nowhere. It is very discouraging.

  • invisible_man

    Peter Capelli hit the nail on the head. I’m astonished that for years all these pundits, researchers, commentators, the media have been so tunnel visioned over about this. All this long-winded blather about acquiring skills is a lot of phooey and a joke. If I’ve said this once I’ve said it a thousand times. SKILLS DON’T MEAN SQUAT TO ANYBODY. You can have all kinds of skills and aptitude dripping out of your eyes and ears but if you don’t have the experience, if you don’t have the background you won’t get anywhere. You can look, plan, get educated, do this and that and follow all the A-B-C, 1-2-3 steps for “finding a job” as much as you want but when one thing doesn’t lead into another, when your only networking contacts can’t or won’t help, when all other efforts fail finding a decent job is like looking for a ghost – like playing the lottery.

    I’ve spent 30 years “looking for a job”. I see all the time positions I really wish I could apply to. But when I see requirement such as a masters degree plus at least 10 years proven experience in a professional setting, five solid work related references and demonstrated knowledge of the company’s proprietary methodologies/protocols and litany of geeky sounding acronyms you’re written off as a rank, thick-skulled wannabe. The longer it goes on the harder it gets. If all you hear for 30 years, over and over and over again, your whole working life is “…sorry, not enough experience” you get nowhere and IF you’re lucky you may end up on the back of a lawn mower for six months or standing all day at a cash register. This is a first hand account here.

  • Joe L.

    According to some people, my warehousing experience is considered’ dime a dozen’. The fact is, most companies won’t hire me because I’m ‘rusry’,and, at 50,’dusty. As has already been said here, employers know they would have to pay me at the top offer based on MySpace experience, which they don’t want to do. Plus, because I’ve been unemployed for so long, they must think I’m not healthy enough. This country has gotten so dispicably backwards when it comes to taking care of our own.

  • Joe L.

    I forgot to ask: am I the only person getting unsolicited education phone calls? When I submit online applications, the first page is an offer from a college or university. I consistantly decline these offers but it doesn’t stop them from calling. I thought unsolicited calling was illegal?

  • Anonymous

    the unemployment info the govt gives the lame stream media is at least 1/3 the real unemployment today

    i hope the economic think tanks understand that you cant have a consumer based economy if the consumer cant afford to consume

  • highflyer

    I worked in research and contract administration, assisted a chairman of a major university on the East Coast, represented a manufacturer of special vacuum technology to DOE, provided high purity metals support services for a sales organization, assisted president of a physical oceanography R&D company and was 58 years old when our contract was frozen by the Navy — fallout from 9/11 budgeting. Had no idea my work experience, computer skills, my degree that I worked many years to complete and graduated with honors when a single parent, would leave me without any options but temp jobs. I learned about age discrimination and no reference or experience or appearance, etc. made any difference. And that is the real challenge for people over 55 — age discrimination. In 2002 we had a recession — the economy began to change and by 2008 I was struggling with a low paid retail job with no health benefits and a mortgage that I could not pay. I took equity to upgrade a 1926 home. A year later the value of the home fell. There was a banking crisis and no one could get a loan to buy a home. My idea was to move to a state with more job opportunities but I could not move. I have been aging in place where there are few choices, an increasing property tax burden (30 percent increase). I hope that I can use my talent as an artist and new classes using digital technology to be marketable in a market that today appears to be shrinking in my area. Perhaps it will not be so in Texas.