The New Unemployed

January 29, 2013 at 12:55 am | Posted in Economoney, Psychology, Technology | 4 Comments

While many are suggesting the economy is recovering, many formerly “safe” jobs still have a surplus of job-seekers. Formerly low unemployment white-collar jobs are seeing chronic unemployment, particularly in 2 areas: aging boomer’s and young people in the early part of their careers.

One of the big factors is technology change. Many roles have been replaced by technology. This Washington Post article (part of a series) discusses this.

“In the United States, half of the 7.5 million jobs lost during the Great Recession [recent] paid middle-class wages, and the numbers are even more grim in the 17 European countries that use the euro as their currency. A total of 7.6 million midpay jobs disappeared in those countries from January 2008 through last June.”

“That means millions of workers are caught in a competition they can’t win against machines that keep getting more powerful, cheaper and easier to use.”

“In the U.S., more than 1.1 million secretaries vanished from the job market between 2000 and 2010, their job security shattered by software that lets bosses field calls themselves and arrange their own meetings and trips. Over the same period, the number of telephone operators plunged by 64 percent, word processors and typists by 63 percent, travel agents by 46 percent and bookkeepers by 26 percent, according to Labor Department statistics.”

Technology also creates jobs but not at the rate it’s eliminating them. It also creates new skill requirements in existing jobs that not everyone can meet. A skilled draftsperson now has limited use unless they’re also skilled with AutoCAD or similar. And related skills like email, file sharing & transfer, and so forth.

This process can actually be expected to accelerate as I discussed in Changing Jobs.

Other contributing factors:
– Older workers are often seen as expensive (both in income and benefits) and less flexible.
– Young people are seen as inexperienced and less reliable as they lack a real track record.
– Technology is being used to pre-screen job applicants. If your resume doesn’t have the “magic words”, it will never be seen. The market now requires a unique resume (and thus good word processing and writing skills) for each application.
– The expense of a new hire increases due to the increasing screening requirements and interview time.
– Even with a recession, the longer you’re un- or underemployed, the further you get from “experienced”.
– If you work in a more basic role for a period of time, you end up being downgraded, not to mention loosing your former support network.
– The “improved” economy has left many cautious and reticent to hire more. Those working have  higher performance expectations and longer hours. Thus, we see more extremes and an erosion of job quality.
– Many formerly secure roles have been turned into contract positions that have no benefits. College teachers, for example. (On-line education will dramatically reduce even those contract roles) Those with entrepreneurial skills and temperament can do fine in such roles but this changes who can do them successfully. It changes some professions into essentially different jobs.
– Some roles are being contracted out overseas or outsourced, including highly skilled jobs.
– Specializations are changing at a faster pace, requiring ongoing skill development. Meanwhile, student loan programs have made it more difficult to obtain such training, potentially voiding a once successful career.
– Many students are graduating with massive debts. Some discover their training is already out of date.
– Schools teach students how to be good workers, not how to be entrepreneurs – that’s where the “employment” is expanding.

The consequences of this cannot be underestimated. At a time when millions of boomers will be retiring, will we also have permanently unemployed youth? And what of the many middle class families who have lost their standard of living, forcing changes in housing, relationships, and locale.

How does a person respond to chronic unemployment? With anger? Dropping out? Underground economy? Crime? Drugs & alcohol? Will that not create considerable social unrest, some of what we’re already seeing?

For those who find themselves stuck in such a situation, keep in mind this is not personal. It’s an economy in transition. Boomers went through some of this in the early ’80’s but it’s bigger this time. History is full of such events. The problem is NOT the technology, it’s our recognition of what is unfolding and adapting to these changes. You need to continue to find ways to take care of yourself. Spend time exploring what you love & what you’d like to contribute. Recognize the current situation is a temporary phase. Write that song or book you’ve always wanted to. Read or watch the films on your list. You’ll probably find things on your “bucket list” that need more time than money. And follow your bliss. That can lead you to a niche market that is not being served. Then you, or perhaps you with someone who complements your skills, can meet that need and become self-sufficient again.

Life is a journey. Keep moving.


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  1. An interesting article on TechCrunch on the subject, debating various visions of the change underway.


  2. And another piece discussing how technology is sweeping all job categories.


  3. […] ubiquitous, they’re having a disastrous effect on local economies, the environment, ethics, employment, and the long-term viability of social structures. Civilizations have not historically lasted when […]


  4. […] I write about trends in work and the economy. For example, The New Unemployed or Changing […]


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