The article copied from this morning’s Washington Post encapsulates anecdotes that are all too chronic and typical across America: the long term unemployment of well educated and/or highly skilled folks in middle age, and the difficulty they have locating work.
Before simply turning this discussion over to the article, the covers hiding a few basic and quite ugly truths about today’s economy need to be pulled back.
One is that age discrimination is active and virulent, and all for good business reasons.
Fifty thousand a year is much more inspiring to the more impressionable 25-30 year old than it is to the wizened 50 year old with kids in college, to the 50 year old who had been making upwards of $60,000 and $75,000, and had structured his or her life around that sum. The $50,000 to the younger worker sees their income on an upward trajectory, the older employee forced to accept the lower sum as discouraging. Managers know that, and they also know the odds are they’ll receive greater, more enthusiastic productivity from the more youthful worker as a consequence of the disparity of perceptions.
For employers offering health insurance benefits, the older employee comes with a higher health insurance premium; much higher. Hiring managers must calculate whether the higher employment costs are adequately offset by whatever experience the older worker brings to the table. Much too often the truth is they are not. Brain study after brain study after brain study demonstrate conclusively the older worker just does not learn new skills involving thorough digestion of complex, abstract technical concepts as rapidly as younger employees.
So where does this leave us, as a country? What are we to do with older workers who find themselves out of work?
When it comes to displaced younger employees, folks with a few or more prospective decades ahead, retraining to the new realities makes considerable sense. There’s the five or so years’ learning curve involving textbook study and hands on experience that lead to eventual proficiency. The years of apprenticeship at a lower paying job can be accepted because they will likely eventuate in that higher paying position. At least that’s the hope filled perception.
Take the 55 year old North Carolina furniture finisher or plant manager who lost his position when the factory up and left for greener pastures overseas. Married or divorced and single, he had adjusted his living to what he had been earning. He may have been helping his mom and dad, or kids with their college, instead of shoveling scarce money away for that rainy day. All along the route he was deciding which of his felt moral obligations demanded higher priority, and happenstance proved he decided wrong. But now, what is he to do? How many years will it take to obtain a new, marketable skill, and build a résumé that will get him back to where he was, and how old will he be when he gets there; 60? 65? What will the required capital outlay be for him to take those courses? Where will that money come from? Finally, if he opts to trudge on in pursuit of those new skills, what are the honest odds those years of training and expenditures of cash or accumulation of educational debt will truly be worth it? Will some 30-something HR manager somewhere simply make a solid business decision and decide the younger applicant is a better bet for the company?
Retraining, as the pundits and politicians like to propound, simply is an illusionary fantasy. For those more youthful today the question “What are we to do?” matters also. So long as one suspects he or she will live to age 55 or longer the question and the social circumstance has moment, or certainly should have.
— Ed Tubbs
Highly Skilled And Out Of Work
Long-Term Joblessness Spreads in Middle ClassBy Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 21, 2008; A01
An unusually large share of workers have been out a job for more than six months even as overall unemployment has remained low, a little-noted weakness in the labor market that analysts said threatens to intensify the impact of the unfolding economic downturn.
In November, nearly 1.4 million people -- almost one in five of those unemployed -- had been jobless for at least 27 weeks, the juncture when unemployment insurance benefits end for most recipients. That is about twice the level of long-term unemployment before the 2001 economic downturn.
The problem is ensnaring a broader swath of workers than before. Once concentrated among manufacturing workers and those with little work history, education or skills, long-term unemployment is growing most rapidly among white-collar and college-educated workers with long work experience, studies have found, making the problem difficult for policymakers to address even as it grows more urgent.
"What has happened is a polarization of the labor market. It was very strong at the very top and very strong until recently at the bottom," said Lawrence F. Katz, a labor economist at Harvard University. "But in the recent weak recovery, and now recession, demand has been very weak" for jobs in the middle.
Caroline Dixon never contemplated any of that when she resigned in April after nine months as a program officer with the Spina Bifida Association. She left because the job was "a bad fit," and she said she was confident that the economy was strong and she would soon find work. For a long time, she never stopped in the unemployment office on Naylor Road near her Southeast Washington home.