Unemployment Blues: Downward Mobility
All the indicators show an improving economy and, finally, the
start of job growth. More than eight million unemployed workers
see hope around the corner and re-enter the nightmare of job
search with increased enthusiasm and the positive outlook they
lost six months ago when they virtually gave up on ever finding
a good position.
What do they find?
Service jobs: customer service, hospitality, tourism, food,
travel, entry-level healthcare, retail. What are these jobs
offering? 30%, 50%, 75% less income than the old manufacturing
jobs which have moved to foreign countries. Where are the
benefits, the insurance, the paid holidays, retirement plans?
Where have the stability, seniority system and regular raises
It is a new world, an evolving economy, a changed future.
Everything will work out, government forecasters confidently
predict. With tax reductions continuing, the economy will expand
and thousands of high-tech, highly compensated positions will be
created. Keep the faith, job seekers are advised -- this is the
United States where innovation and entrepreneurship always
prevail and life gets better and better.
Keep mouthing the platitudes and perhaps the 50 year-old former
auto worker with an eleventh grade education or the 60 year-old
dislocated engineer with outdated job skills and high blood
pressure will actually start to believe it. At least until they
return to active job search and encounter the real, not the
hypothetical/political, labor market. That is when the true
economic progression of twenty-first Century America emerges: an
increasing number of millionaires, an increasing number of
entry-level, low paid workers, and a great middle class vacuum.
The displaced worker is confronted with the choice of working at
a level far below his/her skills, education, and abilities
warrant, or staying unemployed. When the government reports that
in the near future "Every one who wants a job will get one," the
connotation of unemployment is that jobless workers do not WANT
to work. This political myth leads to increased depression,
diminished self-esteem, and the final conclusion by the legions
of the unemployed that their personal fears turned out to be
true: they are worthless, unwanted, redundant. The universal
anxiety about not being quite good enough, not measuring up, not
able to run with the big dogs has been validated and the mental
health of the unemployed deteriorates further.