Not known for its hard-hitting reporting these days, 60 Minutes actually has quite a heartbreaking piece up about people who have been on unemployment for 99 weeks with benefits set to expire soon (aka "99ers"). It introduces us to the usual cast of Great Recession characters – the former six-figure management type reduced to trips to the soup kitchen, the comfortable middle class people foreclosed and living in cars, etc. – but takes the extra step of pointing out the amount of education and supposedly relevant skills possessed by some of these long-term unemployed. People who have Ph.Ds or Master's Degrees in high-tech fields are exactly the kind of people who aren't supposed to be unemployed. In fact, the less educated unemployed are lectured at length about how they would not be unemployed if only they had acquired in-demand skills in high-tech fields. Yet they're standing next to one another in the same unemployment line.

The jarring part about their shared story is the long, painful process of adjusting their expectations downward. People who are gainfully employed and/or highly educated, when laid off, are likely to feel as the interviewees do: "Six months, tops, and I'll have a new job." The idea that 99 weeks – two years – and five hundred applications could pass without a job offer is difficult for people to grasp when they have done All the Right Things for their entire professional life. They've worked hard, they've been flexible, they've continued to acquire training and education, and they've been some approximation of responsible with their financial decisions. Surely, given 99 weeks, something will come up.

Well, no. Something won't. More accurately, when something does come up there will be 500 applicants for every open position, causing the odds of even the highly qualified to approach zero. I empathize with their plight, although I am terribly fortunate to have gainful employment (temporarily) while I search for a job relevant to my education. If I could go back three years and tell myself I would be on the job market for three years – and hey, let's just assume there will be a fourth – without a job offer I wouldn't believe it. Not that I think I'm hot shit (on the contrary, I understand that I am ordinary, unheated shit) but the odds that something wouldn't come up in three years? Implausible. Yet here we are. Like the 99ers, I am faced with the mathematical reality that every position for which I apply is getting 200-300 other applicants, all reasonably to supremely qualified. At absolute random my odds would be about 0.3%, and given the fact that the process is not truly random – surely the Harvard and Stanford folks have better odds – my chances aren't even that good. What can one do in this situation except continue to apply and get used to the reality that we'll soon be working service industry jobs that barely require a GED? My "99" will be up soon enough when my current position expires next year. I'd like to think I won't be picking up groceries from a food bank or cleaning the bathroom at Target, but I bet the college graduates doing that all over the country these days felt the same way right up to the moment when reality won out.

I understand the urge to blame the unemployed for unemployment. It's easy, and in some cases it even makes a sliver of sense. What I don't understand is how we can continue limping along in a system that turns employment into a PowerBall-like crapshoot irrespective of how many whiz-bangs and postgraduate degrees our demoralized workforce manages to acquire. The longstanding goal of conservative politics and economics is to create an America in which the top 5% of the population has phenomenal wealth while everyone else makes $9/hr with no benefits. They've been waiting patiently for their utopia since the 1970s, so I don't suppose that making them wait an extra 99 weeks is a big deal.

71 thoughts on “WASTING CAPITAL”

  • I'm a "99er" myself after having been employed my entire adult life. My position was eliminated in July 2008; shortly thereafter it was recreated and filled by a 25-yr old at $10/hour. After the stock market crash my 401K was devastated. I have the additional handicap of being old (59). I have sent out hundreds of resumes, applied for countless openings and have had exactly one face-to-face interview. What are we supposed to do? I played by the rules my whole life. When I hear about Wall Street and banking execs making huge salaries and bonuses it makes me sick.

  • First off, I totally sympathize. I would like to tell you sometime about my eight months working in a warehouse after I completed my PhD.

    But if you look at the numbers rather than anecdotes, the folks with degrees have the lowest unemployment in the country. What the recession has done is bump the numbers up from something like one percent to around four percent.

    As recent PhDs, we're in a job market that's uniquely bad. Most of the laid off white collar folks are not in as horrible a position (most that I know have generally snapped back fairly quickly).

  • Karen, sorry, I was writing my post at almost the same time as you; I wasn't at all trying to discount your own experiences.

  • …Yep. I picked a 'practical' undergrad degree, worked my way through school in my field, and still spent 6 months job hunting after graduation before I found anything FT w/ benefits. And I know I was pretty lucky to find anything at all related to my degree, let alone a job that pays enough to put me over the poverty line.

    Not to mention the demoralizing effect the terrible job market has on people who do have jobs–we're scared to leave, scared to ask for more money, scared to complain when our bosses demand a little unpaid overtime or skip a safety measure or two. That's an effect that will linger after unemployment eventually settles down–without a labor movement to push for better pay and conditions when times are good, we're stuck in a cycle that alternates stagnation with active erosion of all the things (pay, benefits, professional respect, job security, etc) that are supposed to make paying for education or choosing a profession worthwhile.

    Ed, I'm sorry to hear you're still hunting for a permanent teaching job. Here's hoping somewhere some asshole with tenure will die soon, and you'll have their office by next fall.

  • The job market blows chunks! Don't worry folks, the GOP will be back on the rise starting next week! Are you excited about the tax cuts for the super wealthy? Nope? Who cares, fuck you! Can't live off one job? Take a second full-time job! How about a job for the weekend?!! Wanna retire? Wait till you're 77! Vote for the GOP! We will anally rape you again! Thanks for voting us back in suckers!!

  • I've come to the conclusion that I can't long-term live in the USA. I can't have children in a country that would put them out on the street before it cut one percent from the Pentagon to pay for food stamps. I can't pay into a pension system that expects you to supplement it with private investments that could disappear if a finance major drops his Omega on his keyboard. I can't commute to work in a nation that no longer believes in public investment for things that we all use every day. But most of all, I can't, as a songwriter once put it, "depend upon a state, that cares nothing for my happiness, welfare or fate".

    And that's why I'm glad I married an EU citizen.

  • Second Daniel. I've worked with unemployed people, and while I'm sympathetic, I never pass up an opportunity to quiz folks on their voting habits. When I uncover a Republican or similar free-market type, I'm pretty quick to point out that they did not act in their own best interest in the past, and they may want to do something about that in future. (I'm not employed by any government agency, so no one has much to say about my political commentary.)

    Ecclesiastes: "Who digs a hole shall fall into it."

  • Remember, Ed: If all else fails, you can always change your name, burn off your fingerprints, and become the motherfucker of all right-libertarian pundits, with sweet investments and nice condos in New York and DC. You know how easy it is.

  • If I become unemployed, I will be learning up on unions and how to organize white collar workers into one. That's a growth industry in the mid-term.

    View yourself as a canary in a coal mine, tell your story, and explicitly explain to people that they cannot individually bargain terms of employment that guarantee their own safety. Otherwise, much like the political landscape, their job too will be in the position of Beyond Thunderdome.

    Note: Despite doing my job very well and being able to make quantifiable and significant contributions to the company's bottom line, I work with enough data to know that tomorrow, my boss could trot me in, tell me that our entire department was let go. Ironically, my departments job would probably be capable and involved in the justification of such a change. As such, I continually bust my ass because I never know when that day will come. However, if someone offered the white collar workers at my job the ability to collectively bargain – I'd take it in a heart beat.

  • They've been working on repealing the New Deal since long before the 1970s. Read up on the robber barons of the late 1800s, where it was common practice to hire mercenaries to kill union organizers. Wage-slavery is back, my friend, and it's even better than actual slavery: they'll do anything while they're young, cute, and strong, and no need to take care of 'em when they get old and slow.

  • My (anonymous, for what it's worth) sympathies, Ed. If nothing else, someone with your wit and insight shouldn't be out of work if he wants it. This whole situation sucks and… I think it's going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better. If it gets better. "Better" might just end up being that recalibration of expectations you talked about.

  • Look back a couple of generations – or just look around the world and you'll see that most households haven't relied on a couple of cash-salaries to pay for everything. Kitchen gardens, the chickens, un-paid domestic work, work on the side – basically cobbling together the means to a household economy – that's the "normal" that we may be returning to. Our experiment in middle class wage prosperity doesn't look very sustainable at the moment, even if there was an interest in the political class in making an attempt to salvage it.

  • I was unemployed for 16 months about ten years ago, and it is the most horrible experience I have ever been through. Sending resume after resume, most of which are scanned by computers for keywords, being told that I have to be PROACTIVE and get out and NETWORK MORE. As time went on I kept applying for more and more basic jobs, only to be told: You're overqualified for this position and will leave as soon as a better opportunity comes up. Looking for a job is such a depressing and frustrating experience. So I'm happy to have my cube and my 2% annual raises and shitty health care. Because the other alternative is sacking groceries with an MBA…

  • Eh, they're not "unemployed". That's such a loaded, liberal term. When the Right-Thinkers take over again, it will be renamed to the more reasonable term "irresponsible". Then, since "irresponsible" people are by definition unworthy of help, all this wasteful "government assistance entitlement money" can be safely eliminated. After all, what have they done with their copious free time? A "responsible" person would have become a successful entrepeneur long before the 99 weeks ran out. On a side note, I wonder who's going to be the 'new Dickens', and (more importantly) who's going to publish his (or her) works for the deserving wealthy to tut-tut over in the evening?

  • I've been unemployed too…and while I sympathize with the plight of the unemployed, I have done myself what others fail to do…SACRIFICE. I've done this in order to retain employment, like applying for jobs not exactly in my field and across the country. I planned for the worst and managed to find work within months when I was fearing at least a year.

    How many unemployed have you heard say they are unwilling to relocate, for example? Not to 'effing Mars flipping McMartian burgers like I'm sure to get people hyperbolizing about, but literally people do not even want to move out of their comfortable living conditions of say owning a home instead of renting and familiar community/family in order to gain employment. This is just human nature. As well, I've heard too many say "They OWE me!"

    Plus, we've all swallowed the "American Dream" which has made us all supremely not-mobile when the housing market is in the tank in a society that requires mobility to be successful. If the housing market was strong no one would have qualms about moving across the country/state/county, whatever commute distance is beyond tolerance of the basic non-analytical Joe Schmoe when the need for job change arises. Unemployment can be looked at with a silver lining, you know…many people forced out of a job say it's the best thing that happened to them.

    No one owes anyone anything…not even a job. The so-called "right to work" philosophy escapes me, just as much as people think that the "rich create jobs". The moment the collective American consciousness pulls its head out of its ass and realises these things are crap thinking might be the dawn of intellect in this country.

  • Bugboy, what the fuck? You've just added a data point to show that cognitive dissonance doesn't actually exist.

    First, you bitch about the unemployed not being willing to relocate. Then, you give a structural reason why many of them can't (there are lots of others, too, not the least of which is that moving is fucking expensive and difficult to do without, you know, a job).

    This isn't about people being owed, ferchrissakes. Stop blaming the people who got screwed out of jobs for not being able to find another one. When there are at least 10x the number of applicants for every available job, it's not an individual fucking problem. It's a systemic problem. Moving to another place isn't going to help when the jobs just aren't there.

    I think you'd be happier with the folks at Reason.

  • Several of the above comments are very interesting to me… and comes on the heels this morning of some syndicated nitwit's op-ed in my local paper castigating public sector unions. Seems he denigrates AFSCME, for one, for contributing more PAC money than ANY corporate boogabear in this cycle… thereby establishing that the CU ruling was after all a necessary and good thang; and of course blaming those nasty unions for perpetuating their lazy, worthless gummint jobs… and increasing the size of gummint and gummint spending. And how the tea baggers will save us all. And all.

    This, in right to work for less Texas, where the incumbent Republican governor keeps proclaiming in his ads that 'Texas is open for bidness.' And where, apparently, even a number of the firefighters I work with are not aware of the issues Ed brings up here as they remain non-union… reward without the risk I guess… Of course we work without collective bargaining and civil service totally at the whim of fire and city admin which makes hearing the views of Radical Scientist, Doc and Ben all the more interesting and leaves me wondering about the thought processes of some of the guys I work with.

    I'd tell you – Ed – to come to Texas but that's merely a selfish suggestion so that you'd be close enough to enroll in one of your classes because while seldom feel I have anything cogent to add to the discussion, I certainly am going to school on G&T…and I thank you for that.

  • "The longstanding goal of conservative politics and economics is to create an America in which the top 5% of the population has phenomenal wealth while everyone else makes $9/hr with no benefits."

    Seldom have I seen this put so succinctly.

    That is why I walked away from my PhD program this fall. the risk/reward ratio was approximately FAIL.

  • displaced Capitalist says:

    I heard on NPR yesterday that there's a labor shortage for Apple Pickers in Washington State these days now that Illegal Immigrants can't take the jobs.

  • I'm Just a Bill says:

    An acct. prof. was just killed at AU – but that's not your field. (But relevant to the tenured guy dropping dead comment…)

  • The Man, The Myth says:

    For my two cents: I've been unemployed since I graduated with a Masters in Urban Planning December 2008. I will move anywhere (maybe only some of the Southeast) and have applied for every job I saw for at least a year. Some phone interviews, some face to face interviews. Its really horrible. As Ed and others have said the competition for an urban planning position is incredible – no – unbelievable. As an example: a certain county to the west of me in Northern Idaho received 90 applicants for a zoning counter job (basically, the job stinks). I haven't been rejected for that yet. The thing about it is the time involved. I know decision makers may feel inundated by applicants – but I just want to get on with it and know yes or no! It takes months to get a rejection letter. I've decided to continue on the failed path of education – I have no other choice! I'm learning GIS and hope to have a "certification" in GIS by next May. What will that gain me? Actually this shit is hard and it will get my resume to shine compared to folks with not GIS. Its generally crummy.

  • Ed:

    You're on the prayer list for a good professor job where the Wabash River flows. We have to get you and your better half out of Georgia and away from Southrons, in general. Oh happy day…


  • I heard the same story that displaced Capitalist mentioned. Wages are about $120/day, though fruit-picking must be an exhausting job. One unemployed woman interviewed said she wasn't "that desperate."

    A good post, Ed. It's a sad state, for sure.

  • @Jude:

    No one forced anyone to buy a house so they could be stuck with it when they lost their job during an economic downturn. What kind of reasoning does it take to figure out that if you can't sell your house so you can relocate since some jobs are not available in every market causing you have to relocate, then maybe you shouldn't buy a house.

    And if you choose a field that has scant chances for employment, maybe you fucked up and chose the wrong field. If you enjoy that field, YOU make the sacrifice in your marketability as an employee. You go on the market for a job, JUST BECAUSE YOU DON'T LAND AT THE TOP OF THE HEAP OF PROSPECTIVE CANDIDATES is YOUR problem.

    Maybe that's too much of a systematic problem for you to wrap your brain around since we've been at if for over a half a century. Life sucks but you can't blame others for your problems.

  • @Jude

    What field of employment is now booming and increasing wage offers in an attempt to find decent workers, and what area of the United States (or uk, or europe for that matter) is booming and is a land of opportunity if only the lazy proles could be bothered to move there?

  • displaced Capitalist says:

    I'd have to agree with Bugboy here. It's like "The Man, The Myth" said above about going into Urban Planning. I have always thought that that job was for people who are given political favors in their hometown. So you go to school to study urban planning, but then go back to your hometown where your uncle is the mayor. How many towns actually hire people who have no connection to that town?

    On the same token, I suppose many of the 99ers haven't felt "that desparate" enough yet to make a career switch yet. And of course I don't just mean switching from one white-collar job to another, but a white-collar job to a seasonal migrant job. Is this what America's come to? Is the post-war vision of America truly lost now?

  • @The Man, The Myth:

    Sorry you were late for the party over introducing GIS to the planning and zoning profession, but I don't see local governments doing anything but cutting back to essential services until assessments start climbing again…or politicians get some spine about raising taxes. Neither one looks like it's going to happen any time soon.

    I almost went into Biotech when I was in school since everyone was saying that was the Next Best Thing…and we're still waiting on those massive numbers of jobs over 25 years later. It's a good thing I was naturally good at entomology, since it's limited my competition and it's a reasonably high demand profession.

  • @Jack:

    This is the hyberbolizing I'm talking about…I'm not saying there is a boom..but there ARE jobs people are applying for, right? They just are not happy with the competition, is that not the case? Someone is getting a job, somewhere, just not the people griping about not getting the jobs.

  • @Bugboy

    Dude that's asinine. If 300 people apply for a position and candidate #231 is the most qualified, most experienced (but not too old), most personable and all around best for the job, candidate #231 will get the job. There are still 299 unemployed people, who apparently are just gripers.

    Now say we go back in time but one of them stops being a griper. Number #127 starts obessively reading "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People", networks like crazy, improves his qualifications, trades a rag and a hat for two apples which he then trades for a cat that he sells for a pair of boots and uses the straps to pull himself up, displays more pluck than a Horatio Alger character and absolutely dazzles the company at the interview. #127 gets the job instead of #231.

    There are still 299 unemployed people. The only difference is that #231 is now griping instead of #127.

    Or to put it in a different way: a ship is sinking, there is one flotation device and 300 passengers. Even if each and every passenger scraps ten times harder, only one is getting the flotation device. To say that the problem is lazy, entitled passengers who think the world owes them a living instead of focusing on the utter lack of flotation devices is beyond stupid.

  • I get the feeling that this comment from David Simon regarding the undereducated inner-city poor really doesn't just apply to the undereducated inner-city poor anymore.

    "The fact that these really are the excess people in America, we– our economy doesn't need them. We don't need ten or 15 percent of our population. And certainly the ones that are undereducated, that have been ill served by the inner city school system, that have been unprepared for the technocracy of the modern economy. We pretend to need them."

  • @Jack:

    So everyone should get a job? HURRAH FOR MAGICAL THINKING!

    This isn't a fucking sinking ship and jobs are not lifejackets. Why? for this simple reason: THERE ISN'T ONE FOR EVERY MAN, WOMAN AND CHILD! Who ever sold you such a fairy tale?

  • @BugBoy:

    I can see your point that no one is owed anything by society beyond opportunity and a fair shake. However, I do think the people who lived up to their end of the social contract with their employer and government deserve a little better than to be shat on like this.

    I concede that many of us could live more frugally and I'd go a step further and say we'd probably be better off for it emotionally, spiritually and socially.

    But I don't seem to recall anywhere in Ed's post a point where he feels sorry for the $200K/year "junior vice-president for wiping the senior vice presidents ass" who bought a $3 million dollar home for no money down and no interest for 3 years who is now facing forclosure, a hill of debt and a terrible credit score and can't afford his BMW 6 series payments.

    Nobody I know feels too sorry for him.

    But what about the two income, family making $75K a year when one spouse loses their $35K a year job with benefits because some Junior VP for WTSVPA decided it was more important to cut three people underneath him to keep his $200K per year job, demonstrate efficiency, take a $50K bonus and a 6% raise so he can still float his mortgage payment?

    So now this family should pack up and move, try to sell their house (which they could afford yesterday before the lay-off notice), find two new jobs and move the kids?

  • @Jack

    Nowhere have I said anyone was lazy. It's a fact of life when economic downturns occur, job competitiveness goes up. You site age discrimination,,,which as far as I know is ILLEGAL. That is the problem with hypotheticals like you outline. Comparing job competitiveness with struggling against age descriminatoin is apples and oranges.

    There ARE jobs being applied for, as proven by claims that unemployed have been applying for those jobs. Are ALL of those jobs awarded unfairly? Those jobs they failed to acquire, SOMEONE got those jobs. The fact is there are not enough jobs to go around, as you said. The solution to that is to be as competitive as you can in the job market.

    Do you have an alternative?

  • @BK:

    "But what about the two income, family making $75K a year when…"

    There is something to be said about living within one's means. That is, the two-income family is a setup for disaster by virtue of the scenario you outline…when the breadwinner is out of work, there is no backup. Used to be when the breadwinner was out of work, the homemaker wife would pick up the slack, and housing costs were within their means to do so.

    The finance industry conciously pushed the 2-income mortgage years ago, you used to be unable to have your wife co-sign on a mortgage. The result was that it pushed housing prices beyond what single income families could afford to take out for a mortgage, so EVERYONE had 2 income mortgages.

  • @bugboy

    "The fact is there are not enough jobs to go around, as you said. The solution to that is to be as competitive as you can in the job market. Do you have an alternative?"

    I think the point of a lot of this back and forth is that that is not really a "solution" to the problem.

  • @Andy Brown

    To Quote Ed McMahon: You are correct, Sir! Har har har!

    But that's assuming this is simply a SYSTEMATIC problem, and not an INDIVIDUAL one.

    There are components of both at play here. For the individual part, the one WE ALL have control over since we have little control over the systematic, is to be as competitive in the job market as you can. You don't wait until you are unemployed to do this, by the way…

  • @Bugboy

    Yeah age discrimination is illegal. It's also near impossible to prove and companies have massive incentives to do it.

    Pretty much everything you've said on this thread runs along the lines of 'if you're unemployed, it's your fault for buying a house/going into an uncompetitive industry (that was booming when you started out)/not being better than everyone else/not going for crappy jobs/not applying for jobs that have nothing to do with your field/not having psychic powers', so I'm going to take your claim that you don't believe the unemployed are lazy with a big fat pinch of pink himalayan salt.

    As for what can be done? Stimulus Mk II. It will reduce unemployment directly, taking lots of resume spammers out of the picture, and reduce it indirectly by letting these employed workers spend money on private businesses. That would help things, unlike masturbating about how the unemployed could get work if only they were more like John Galt.

  • Gruntled Proletariat says:


    You are a special kind of douche. You state that no one forced anyone to buy a house that they are now tied to and therefore not part of the mobile workforce. Well, I guess you are correct but let's look at the analogy; no one forced anyone to ingest that one cheeseburger that contained the exact amount of carbon carcinogen needed to trigger cancer. You should have prepared for that eventuality and purchased long term and short term disability insurance and saved seven years of your earnings as a hedge against a global plague so therefore you need to be forced from your home and forced to eat lichens until you die on the fucking street. It would appear that your vision of the ideal worker is something akin to Steinbeck

  • Does anyone have a real solution to this problem? I have seen nothing that would indicate that the economy will improve that much in the near future. Maybe we all need to be inventors!!

  • "The fact is there are not enough jobs to go around, as you said. The solution to that is to be as competitive as you can in the job market."

    That's not what a "solution" looks like.

  • displaced Capitalist says:

    Pretty much everything you've said on this thread runs along the lines of 'if you're unemployed, it's your fault for buying a house/going into an uncompetitive industry (that was booming when you started out)/not being better than everyone else/not going for crappy jobs/not applying for jobs that have nothing to do with your field/not having psychic powers', so I'm going to take your claim that you don't believe the unemployed are lazy with a big fat pinch of pink himalayan salt.

    I still don't get this sentiment. If you went into the thimble business because it was booming years ago, why are you griping that you can't get a job now because nobody sews anymore? There ARE jobs out there, and Massachusetts recently announced that it's experiencing growth recently.

    As for what can be done? Stimulus Mk II. It will reduce unemployment directly, taking lots of resume spammers out of the picture, and reduce it indirectly by letting these employed workers spend money on private businesses. That would help things, unlike masturbating about how the unemployed could get work if only they were more like John Galt.

    What is "Stimulus Mk II?" How does it reduce unemployment? Paying people to stay at home and not send resumes out? Massive government purchases of thimbles even though they're an obsolete technology? Isn't that how the soviet system eventually failed?

    When bugboy said "there isn't one for every man, woman and child" I'm pretty sure he meant that people aren't GIVEN jobs, they FIND jobs. Much like lifejackets. So your assertion that there are NO jobs out there is just misguided.

  • displaced Capitalist says:

    Oh wait wait wait, never mind. I became a fan of Ed because I'm a RINO and generally I agree, but I forgot that many of you are Marxists, so really we are arguing about Apples and Oranges of economic stability.

    Honestly I think there are many good things about capitalism as there are about communism. Likewise both have their downsides. Fact is our (America's) system, for better or worse is Capitalist. No, this doesn't mean that we should all Go Galt (I fuckin HATE Rand), but it does mean that we interact with others in our society using money and as such we need to PURSUE money (though we don't HAVE to be selfish with our money.)

    So when things get tough, we do need to move/change careers, re-evaluate our socio-economic status, work at McDonalds… whatever!

    I'm already on my third career since graduating from College. It's been a long bumpy road, but I don't regret any of it.

  • Thank you displaced Capitalist, that IS what I meant, that people aren't GIVEN jobs, they FIND them. THERE ARE JOBS OUT THERE.

    And Stimulus Mk II? You will find no argument from me that "Mk I" was inadequate but you are dreaming if you think a "Mk II" is going to happen. Obama had his chance and he fumbled. See Krugman's take on this topic.

    I'm trying not to take offence at anyone considering anything I've said as saying anyone is lazy.

  • @ bugboy–

    So, if only women would stay home and not draw an income, families would be more financially stable? Ok, look, there are two big problems there.

    One, it's not fair to women. There are some damn good reasons why, given the opportunity, women have increasingly chosen to have their own careers rather than be financially dependent on their husbands. I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt here and assume you know that, and were trying to compare 2-adult/1-income vs. 2-adult/2-income households as the American standard, regardless of which person is drawing what income. Which brings us to…

    Two, you're confusing cause and effect. Real wages were much higher a generation ago, so it was possible for an average family to be financially stable on a single income. That hasn't changed because women started working; real wages dropped for other reasons,* so now it takes two incomes to do achieve the stability that used to be available with one. Having both spouses work, and hopefully save a little all along is a much better strategy for financial stability than keeping one person out of the job market as a reserve. Surely a family is better off losing half their income than all of it? Surely it's easier for one partner to pick up the slack when they already have a job, rather than having been unemployed for years?

    *The slow demise of the US labor movement, and tax policies that favor a skewed wealth distribution being two major reasons, among many

  • On the theme of the difficulty of adjusting expectations downward: see the employment law decision in Wilson v. Monarch Paper, in which a jury awarded, and a federal court of appeals affirmed, a $3 million verdict for infliction of emotional distress for demoting a vice president to janitor: http://openjurist.org/939/f2d/1138/wilson-v-monarch-paper-company

    If the company would have just fired him, they'd owe him nothing. But giving a rich guy a housekeeping job is a $3 million offense.

  • One more general thought: I think a lot of the fundamental tension here comes from the disconnect between the best course of action for any individual, and the possible solutions to a systemic problem.

    For any one unemployed person, their best choice is to keep trying to outpace the competition–apply to everything in sight, potentially settle for a crappier job than they're qualified for, look into moving or changing careers, try to become more qualified somehow, etc. That's what I did when I was underemployed, and it eventually paid out, and that's the best advice I could give a friend in the same situation. What else can you do, really, as one person?

    But as Jack pointed out, there are some hard limits to that strategy at the macro level. If every unemployed person in America goes out and works harder at job hunting, we won't get full employment. There are just more unemployed people than vacant jobs, and job hunting doesn't create more (or better) jobs. Solutions to high unemployment at the macro level need to focus on creating more jobs, keeping people more stable within their jobs, and/or making un- and under-employment more tolerable in the meantime. There's no either/or choice between individuals trying hard to find work and making more work available. The two are not mutually exclusive, they're simultaneous strategies that work at different scales.

  • I've been working my whole life starting as an 8 year old in grandmas catering kitchen but at 49 I've been unemployed for 58 weeks now. Yes I have a college degree and 16 years experience in commercial construction…don't matter in this town at this time.

    After the first year and a half of futility I enrolled in a 10 month course to retrain as a low paid Physical therapy tech. It's been 2 weeks since I graduated and if I have to deal with much more tension and angst I think my head will explode…honestly my neck and shoulder muscles are so tight i can barely move my head and with no health insurance I can't afford to go see a Dr for help.

    BUT there may be a job on my horizon…a low paid (much less than half of what I used to make) but WITH medical benefits! And I'll be happy to have it as pathetic as the pay is. I just wish they'd call today so I could unclench my muscles LOL

  • @Bugboy:

    I agree with your sentiment regarding preparedness for "the worst". However, I only agree with it as a sentiment because it is literally impossible to prepare for the worst and because, as an ideology, of the implicit assumption that those who are not prepared for whatever comes up, have failed. While true in a Darwinian sense, it ignores the fact that people have some measure of control the rules of the game. If bad decisions are made and some people suffer, we don't have to say "that's the breaks"; we are able to compensate as a group, which is far more efficient than the alternative. Sure, we could all build bunkers with several years of water and food, and become insulated from the rest of the effects of society's effects, but it's inefficient. Just as planning for 99 weeks of unemployment is essentially inefficient – sure, it is sometimes the correct decision, but it usually isn't.

    This gets me to my second point: We have a systemic failure, which is by its nature, not a problem with individuals. This is a supply and demand problem, not something a self-help course will solve; it is market failure. Firms can not rectify market failure, let alone some out of work pipe fitter. Granted, this does not exonerate individuals from trying to make their life work out when the shit hits the fan, but this doesn't mean that telling them to try harder is going to change their situation. This is precisely the time when a society should step in to repair the damage, which is far more efficient than becoming protectionist. This isn't the Mad Max world.

    Again, I don't disagree with the sentiment and admire people who can pull themselves up by their bootstraps, but not everyone can do that (not with ~10% unemployment), and it does not mean that they are not wonderful contributors to society the rest of the time, if they can't. Planning at a societal level is going to tend to be more efficient than planning at an individual level for these rare events. Every system I've ever seen works this way. The alternative looks like clinging to some sort of rugged individualist ideal and ignoring the efficiency of economies of scale.

  • The reality of this tectonic shift is that jobs in certain fields are scarce. My belief is that the demand for filling jobs is there but that employers are holding off for several reasons, one being to lower the salaries and benefits for the future.

    For the last decade the cost of labor has been steadily rising as the positions became more difficult to fill. It is the typical boom and bust phenomenom. I am not advocating that wages go down I just know from being in business for the last 20 years what has happened. My own wages have not increased for my occupation for 15 years.

    Unfortunately the prices of goods and services were not rising at the same rate so the companies profit margins were declining. No company wants to be squeezed. I am the financial manager for a small electrical contractor in a small market. We are the second largest in our market. For years we could not recruit enough qualified electricians to fill the demand even with competitive wages. We still do not have the best qualified but have not had as hard of a time getting employees.

    The job market will be in flux for a while. Until there is an emerging industry that cannot be outsourced we will still be competing for the left over jobs in the market.

  • Yeah, there's nothing wrong with the by-your-bootstraps story for those innovative and resourceful and adaptive enough to pull it off. I'm as down with that as anybody, and have nothing but respect for those who succeed along the Horatio Alger route (well, HA without all the creepy pederastic undertones, but you know what I mean).

    On the other hand, there's nothing very impressive about condemning bad luck with the special wisdom of hindsight. "Invested in housing? Made ends meet with a dual income? Got a PhD in engineering? Ooh, bad move." Had the economy grown as advertised, the same people would have been fucking geniuses. In which case the exact opposite cheap advice would have followed.

    There's some logic to valuing riskier ventures higher than secure ones. (People would avoid taking risks otherwise.) But for god's sake, let's not confuse winning a bet with any special hard work or brains. There are a couple lottery winners every month too. They're not exactly the masters of the universe.

    Hoosier: let me know if you have a remedy for this commotion in my brain…

  • This is some high-quality moralizing.

    You're asking the wrong question. You're asking "How can I increase my odds of getting the parachute?" rather than "Why does a plane with 200 people on it have only one parachute?"

  • Actually, those two fat guys have been throwing parachutes out of the plane for the last half hour, screaming "These parachutes aren't fucking golden! Where are the fucking golden ones?".

    Sure, there's still more than two hundred left. But since that announcement from the pilot, demand has gone off the fucking charts. The fat guys are going to hold onto their rapidly appreciating assets for now. Their trending analysts predict that as long as the plane keeps going down, the price of parachutes will keep going up. WIN!

  • Ed Says: "Why does a plane with 200 people on it have only one parachute?"

    Because the finance industry sold us the "American Dream" a half a century ago, which was the engine that drove housing prices beyond the affordability of those that did not participate in the circus. They continue to entertain us today, because they should be the laughing stock of the world.

    Seriously, I am not moralising or advocating boot strap anything. I got to where I am through trial and error, mostly. And dumb luck. I am nearly 50 years old and have been through economic down turns/institutionalised downsizing before. I have lost plenty, but I have a family to support so I've had to do what I have to do.

    Someone mentioned networking…I'm sorry to play career counselor but the greatest insurance against unemployment is NETWORKING. You should be doing this your whole career. If you haven't figured this out by the time you are short timing it to retirement, I feel sorry for you.

  • Radical Scientist Says: "So, if only women would stay home and not draw an income…"

    Please do not mistake my illustration of the historical transition of 1 income mortgages to 2 income mortgages as any kind of statement against women. I was simply pointing to a historical trend that forced housing prices upwards out of the reach of single income households.

    There is also quite prevalent in society, the misconception that the more you do something, the greater your chances of accomplishing that goal. Call it the "Lottery Syndrome" and it is statistically described as believing your chances of winning increase the more you play, which they do not.

    Your odds of getting a job do not decrease with each application that is submitted/rejected, even though it's perfectly normal to think so.

  • I still don't get this sentiment. If you went into the thimble business because it was booming years ago, why are you griping that you can't get a job now because nobody sews anymore? There ARE jobs out there, and Massachusetts recently announced that it's experiencing growth recently.

    Where's the money?

    Say we take your picture to be true. There were a ton of people in dying industries, they have all lost their jobs, and they're just bitching because they're not willing to jump industries.

    So where are the booming industries? If there was a $100 billion drop in demand in the thimble industry, that $100 billion has to be spent somewhere. If people are using sewing machines now, all that thimble money will be going into sewing machines and related industries. As thimbleries are closing, sewing machine engineers will be working double shifts for triple pay while their bosses desperately try to recruit more. Sewing machine companies would be plastering gigantic signs and banners boasting about their huge rates of pay at every grad fair in the country. Even as the economist printed articles about dying industries and out of work thimblers, PR flacks would be slipping in articles about the booming sewing machine industry.

    So where are these industries? How much money is going into them? Why aren't they screaming at the top of their lungs that they can't find any decent workers even for gigantic salaries? What are immigrant families mercilessly browbeating their children into becoming?

    The other option is that demand for goods and services is decreasing because demand for money/bonds/safe assets has boomed. This is a problem that can be solved by, you guessed it, fiscal stimulus.

    What is "Stimulus Mk II?" How does it reduce unemployment? Paying people to stay at home and not send resumes out? Massive government purchases of thimbles even though they're an obsolete technology? Isn't that how the soviet system eventually failed?

    While you could just pay people to bury pots of money and pay other people to dig them back up, I understand that most states are having to brutally slash their budgets because of lost payroll taxes and that infrastructure isn't in great shape.

    Sooo, pay a bunch of firefighters, police officers and garbage collectors to fight fires, keep the peace and collect the garbage. At the same time, rebuild a load of roads, sewer systems and bridges. Private contractors and suppliers get money and stop falling to bits, they pay their suppliers, they become sounder investments for banks who are more willing to give them credit, their employees spend on private goods, the economy grows, inflation eventually starts to rise, interest rates rise with it, and then spending can be pared back as interest rates are cut.

    As Keynes said, the engine of capitalism hasn't broken, it's just got a flat battery and needs a jump start.

    When bugboy said "there isn't one for every man, woman and child" I'm pretty sure he meant that people aren't GIVEN jobs, they FIND jobs. Much like lifejackets. So your assertion that there are NO jobs out there is just misguided.

    Job hunting in a market like this is a negative sum game. The harder you work to get a job, the harder it is for everyone else to get a job and vice versa.

    As Kiefus said, it's silly moralizing and victim blaming, and if the housing market hadn't gone insane and then bottomed out all these people who invested in housing and got MBAs and PhDs would look like geniuses. It's like the bullshit rape victims get where whatever they did, it was wrong. Wear revealing clothes and act flirty? You led him on. Wear modest clothes and act demure? You looked weak and vunerable. Get attacked outside by a stranger? Going out alone for milk is too dangerous. Get attacked in your house by a friend? You were an idiot to trust him (and led him on also too).

    Bought a house with a down payment before getting laid off because your companies credit lines were cut at the exact time that private demand plummeted and public services had to make brutal cuts; now living in an underwater house and unable to find work? Your fault for not seeing a housing bubble, not investing solely in US treasuries and TIPS and not
    jumping into the numerous (but unnamed) industries that are booming; and if you don't jump at the thought of eating the shit sandwich that is sending out a hundred resumes for jobs well below your pay grade with several hundred applicants per place, then you're nothing but a griping looter.

  • @Jack:

    There are a whole lot of assumptions there. For my part I don't get what your point is with your convoluted hypotheticals. The more intricate you get the more removed from reality you get.

    It's not a zero sum because everyone isn't looking for the same job at the same time, and the number of jobs is a dymanic situation that is dependent on whether businesses feel inclined to invest in manpower to grow their business, nothing more. I remember the last recession recovery, businesses ended up spending so much in overtime to keep up with new business, they finally had an epiphany that maybe they should hire some full time staff as it would be cheaper than paying overtime. Pretty soon unemployment was heading downward again and businesses were back to full staff. All because those magical MBA's seem to forget the golden rule: "You have to spend money to make money" Right now they all seem to think the economy is going to grow itself, or someone else is going to do it for them, taking all the risks so they don't have to. Real heroes they are.

    There isn't some magical industry that is going to save us all, it's spread amongst the millions of entrepeneurs that are holding back for fear of going in the tank farther…as many have said the market is not a rational thing.

  • It's not a zero sum because everyone isn't looking for the same job at the same time, and the number of jobs is a dymanic situation that is dependent on whether businesses feel inclined to invest in manpower to grow their business, nothing more.

    Which would mean you're admitting the problem is systemic and therefore not entirely under the control of a person who "improves his skills", "moves to where the jobs are", "rents instead of owns", etc.

  • I mean, when you have somewhere between 10% and 20% unemployment, depending upon who you ask, I don't think it's possible to argue that the problem is that jobs are there, just people aren't taking them.

    Also, I'd argue that if MBAs need a kick in the pants before they realize it's time to hire rather than pay more overtime and time to purchase improvements to the company rather than get by on what they have, this is *exactly the time* for government to step in and facilitate that.

    Basically, I don't understand this throwing up of one's hands and saying "nothing to be done about it, that's the economy" while simultaneously moralizing at the lazy unemployed who won't move from Ohio to West Virginia to work in a mine.

  • As I read the comments of BugBoy and others that explain that there are jobs available to all assuming you aren't underwater in your house, have the requisite training and education, aren't over 40, and are willing to work from less that half of what you made only a few years ago, I shake my head at the lack of understanding that what we are facing in this crisis is a crushing lack of demand.

    The moment the housing financial bubble popped, employers shed 3 million jobs. This happened within a few months without taking into consideration just how serious the crisis was. Well, those 3 million people slashed their spending as did many million of others who saw more and more jobs being shed in virtually every industry. The cycle continued unabated. Banks refused to lend, consumers spent even less and fought mightily to pay off debt. Employers responded by cutting wages, health insurance, 401K matching, and any other nod to their employees wellbeing.

    And suddenly, business found themselves sitting on huge piles of cash. They had skeleton crews who were so desperate to hang onto their now seriously underpaid jobs that they decided to heap even more work on the few they still had in their employ. After all, with all of the talk of overtime in this comments section, it is almost completely dead in this country. Employers can essentially hire wage slaves. You have a job but the amount of hours you are required to put in in order to keep it has gone up, on average, about 50% all for no additional renumeration.

    We now have over 15 Million unemployed people in this country. Sure, we lost some jobs to outsoucing, some to automation, but the single largest loss of jobs goes to those who are now doing the work of 3 or more of their fallen former coworkers.

    There is more than enough room to employ Americans. The solution involves three rather fundamental shifts in our understanding of employment.

    1. Seal the exits – enact fair trade policies that will require equal trade with foreign nations i.e. you buy from us at an equal rate as we bu from you.

    2. Reduce the workweek – make the maximum work week 35 hours. Require overtime for everyone, no one is exempt except C-Level executives. Time and a half for up to 45 hours, double time to 55 hours and triple time above that.

    3. Raise the floor – Minimum wage should have a 3 year target of $15.00/hour. No one should live in poverty while working a full time job. Also, pass card check and give unions a chance to gain a foothold in every industry.

    The predatory super-capitalism we have in this country needs to be fundamentally changed. Our government should be looking out for its people instead of heaping tax breaks on large business and clearing the way for us to compete for jobs with every third world nation on the planet.

    Why we kick ourselves and blame others for not learning to network, not having some clairoyant view of the next bubble industry, or for having the audacity to want to set down roots and raise a family is deeply unsettling.

    Labor has lost its voice in this country. We blindly accept the power of our corporate masters without even considering the massive increases in efficiency that should have raised the standard of living in this country immensely instead of moving us closer to 1933 in terms of expectation.

    Yes, there will always be winners and losers in society but we are all learning just how easy it is to go from the former to the latter with a keystroke from the efficiency expert your former boss called in who decided you were no longer keeping employed.

    How prepared will you be when it's your turn?

  • Phuknay, Nunya, you winner, you.
    Your 3 points are on point.
    Unfortunately, we have a nation full of cattle tangled in the barbed wire of their diminutive attention spans, bleeding their human dignity all over the P&L sheets of the vampiric power elite as they stroke their pet media siren songbirds singing, a la Maynard, "Go back to sleep!"

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