The Perfect Storm (Employment Edition)

Last Friday, the Labor Department reported that the national unemployment rate had risen to 9.8 percent after holding steady at 9.6 percent for several months. The Dow Jones Industrials took the news in stride, remaining solidly above 11,000. A compromise on the Bush-era tax cuts has been reached that will allow of unemployment benefits to be extended for an additional 13 months.

Despite looming economic uncertainty, business is humming along—at least from a profit/loss standpoint. Having the tax future clarified for the next two years will propel the market forward in the weeks ahead. The unemployed will have their safety net in place for another year. And unemployment will continue to hover near 10 percent. What’s wrong with this picture?

In January of 2009, when the earnings reports for the fourth quarter of 2008 were being reported, most of the on-air talent was surprised to learn that most of the reporting companies turned a profit. CEOs have a fiduciary responsibility to their stockholders to return a profit. They have no such relationship to their employees. They’d cut overhead by putting people on the street. Corporations maintain profitability because the surviving employees, for obvious reasons, continue their somewhat forced productivity.

Last week, a pundit on a business show finally used the term “structural” to describe the convulsions the economy is experiencing. I couldn’t agree more. In last April’s blog, I predicted that unemployment rates were likely to fall to a “new normal” of between 6 and 7 percent. This is the definition of structural unemployment. Many of the jobs lost over the last two years will never return, bearing serious implications for the unemployed.

I’ve been unemployed, so I understand the situation. That weekly check can make you think twice about taking just any job. But those who have been drawing unemployment for a long time—the so-called “99ers”—should not rejoice at the thought of another 56 weeks of unemployment becoming available. It’s conceivable that we’re going to have “155ers” in thirteen months. These are folks who will have sat out the entire recession (maybe) looking for the right job at the right salary.

If you’re a 99er, grateful for the opportunity to become a 155er, here are some cautionary points you should keep in mind:

  • As a person remains unemployed, their knowledge, skills, and abilities become stale. In some cases, your industry will have moved past your knowledge level.   If you’ve been receiving unemployment for 99 weeks, you’ve put yourself into a bad situation, one that will only worsen over the next 13 months if you continue to receive support.
  • The longer a person remains unemployed, the more difficult it will be to get a job. You’ve been unemployed for 99 weeks while a competitor for the same job has been working two or three part-time jobs during the same time frame. Though otherwise equally qualified for the position, the other person is more likely to get the job. They showed initiative, something employers look for.
  • Employers are more interested in hiring people who are working than those who have been drawing unemployment. It’s harsh, but it’s also reality. If an employer has an opening in your field, they’re more likely to offer the position to someone who has been working in the field and is looking to step up. Those who did not get let go have been working hard, and many have shined. If the other person gets the position, you have the solace of knowing that their job will be posted. This leads to my next point.
  • Forget making as much money as you were making 99 weeks ago. Your skills are stale. Employers traditionally are more willing to hire people who already have jobs. Those who have been lucky enough to stay employed in your field have taken the opportunity to advance. What’s left for you? The answer to that is uncertain, but it isn’t likely to be at your previous salary level. Those jobs are either gone forever, or have been filled by others.

As you continue to receive unemployment past the two-year mark, this will only get worse. The longer you are without work, the harder it will be to get work. Your only real option is to go to work. Sound contradictory? It isn’t really. There are a tremendous number of jobs available. The employment section of the Sunday newspaper confirms this. At the height of the recession, my local paper was down to about a page and a half of job listings. This week’s paper had about two and a half pages of jobs. It’s not a gusher, but it is a steady stream.

You may not want to be a custodian, or a retail clerk, or a fast food employee. But if you’ve been unemployed for one or two years, you’re going to have to rehabilitate yourself as a worker. The only way to do this is to take one or two jobs that you don’t really want to do. They’re called bridge jobs—work we don’t want to do for pay we ordinarily wouldn’t accept to keep us going until the real work shows up. For the chronically unemployed, bridge jobs are a necessity.

You can find these jobs in the Sunday paper, although you can check the online version of your paper any time, day or night. Since we’re mostly talking about hourly work, try Plug in your zip code, and Snagajob will deliver to your desktop a comprehensive list of hourly jobs in your area. They range from fast food to retail to light manufacturing. Once you’ve created an account, you can apply online. Check out the temp agencies. They aren’t the same old temp agencies. Many of the agencies offer a range of positions in clerical and light industrial settings, and some offer professional work on a temporary to permanent basis. They offer weekly pay and benefits.

The bottom line is this: If you’ve been unemployed for 99 weeks, you need to rehabilitate your work history by taking one or two bridge jobs. Waiting is not going to make you a more attractive candidate. Holding out for the right job at the right salary could put you into a more traumatic position 155 weeks from now than you are in already.

Read our other blog articles to gain more ideas about finding a job in tough times. Also look for future articles that will address additional practical ways to kick start your 2011 job search.  Good Luck!

Please post your thoughts and comments. Also, if you want to publish this article or print to share, please keep this copyright permission statement with the article. These articles are joyfully shared to help others, but are not to be used for profit or sale to others. Copyright 2010 Bette Novak, LifePath Associates LLC.

Image by BaLLYoOo via Flickr

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