Friday, December 10, 2010

On extending unemployment

My favorite talk show host, Abdul Hakim-Shabazz, ran a little experiment, inspired by things callers said while debating the extension of unemployment benefits. Abdul tried his hand at job hunting, and managed to land an offer in just four working days, which he says is proof that there's plenty of jobs if you're willing to work look for them, and that if you're unemployed long term, that you're just not doing it right- he's going to have people on his show to give tips on resumes and interviewing.

I believe that his experience proved only that in this instance, a good looking young man with a related degree and related experience was able to get an entry-level job offer. Here is what I commented to his blog:

You said about your job hunting experiment that "This was about proving a point. The point was that there is work out there if you are willing to work to look for it." But your experience in finding a job was no more "proof" than the experience of friends and family who haven't found a job is proof- the plural of "anecdote" is not "data".

So what would be data? We can't use the announcements of new jobs created, because those announcements rarely state "On the other hand, 5,000 old jobs disappeared." We can't use unemployment statistics, because they're always changing the criteria on those- it's amazing how many circumstances can result in one not having any work, income, or benefits and still not be counted as "unemployed" for the sake of official statistics. (A more cynical person might suspect that politicians were fiddling the figures) But if we don't know how many people are unemployed, we DO know how many are employed. The Bureau of Labor Statistics keeps running totals on how many are employed- and these are unambiguous numbers; even a one-employee Mom & Pop shop must report that employee to the government. What do these numbers show?

In 2007, just before this recession began, there were 115,380,000 people employed in the private sector. As of September of this year, the most recent count, there were 108,068,000 employed. That's 7,312,000 fewer people employed. I don't care how willing to look one is, if there are 7 million fewer jobs extant today than three years ago, somebody is going to be unemployed. You think it's unfair to use the 2007 high point? There are 618,000 fewer people working today than there were in 1999, eleven years ago!

And who is it most likely to be unemployed? In 2007, there were 13,879,000 manufacturing jobs; today there are 11,672,000. In 2007, there were 7,630,000 construction jobs; today there are 5,672,000. Those two categories alone total more than 4 million jobs lost. And this is admittedly anecdotal, but in my experience the older employees, 45-60 years old, are the hardest hit. Would you care to estimate the chances a 55 year old construction worker has of getting that call-center job you got an offer for?

Let's suppose he did- we'll assume that when he was laid off two years ago, he went back to school, finished his degree, then went to an employment consultant to learn the new power words and gimmicks used in modern resumes and interviews, and he got the job. That doesn't mean that one more person is employed, it merely means that he took the job away from a 22 year old recent college grad who is now yet another over-educated waiter... and he took the job from an 18 year old high school grad- unemployment, like water, runs downhill. Which is why the under-25 crowd has, depending on city and demographics, a 40-70% unemployment rate. But it is far, far more likely that a younger, degreed person got that call center job, and the 55 year old is still unemployed.

No matter what kind of tips you and your guests are going to give us on snappy resumes and interview banter, if there are 7 million fewer jobs than there are workers, there will be 7 million unemployed people. And unless we can manage continual churning, such that each of those 7 million gains and loses a new job every two years in perfect balance, somebody is going to need those extended unemployment benefits until the economy recovers.

And lastly, the term is not "Unemployment Charity", it's "Unemployment INSURANCE". What is insurance supposed to do? Restore or rectify the situation- however long that takes. Putting a time limit on unemployment insurance when there are simply fewer jobs than there are people, and therefore no genuine solution, is like health insurance putting a time limit on insulin- if you've been a diabetic for 99 weeks, maybe the problem is you!



Chalicechick said...

Going on the self-satisfied tone of his blog post alone, I feel safe saying that this man would NOT be my favorite talk show host.

If I wanted a host with that level of delight in his own cleverness, I'd listen to NPR.

who is actually sort of creepily fangirl-ish about her local news-traffic-weather station

and also thinks he heard about the call center hiring BEFORE he decided when to schedule his experiment.

Amy said...

Oh, I dunno, Joel. There's plenty of work picking lettuce for anyone who wants it. Why let Mexicans without papers earn all the big bucks?