Sunday, June 06, 2010

Being Unemployed vs. Being Unemployable

Calculated Risk offers a graph that displays the duration of unemployment over time, from short-term (< 5 weeks) to long-term (27+ weeks). The past year has brought about improvement in the duration of unemployment in all categories except the longest-term unemployment.
In May 2010, there were a record 6.763 million people unemployed for 27 weeks or more, or a record 4.38% of the labor force. This is significantly higher than during earlier periods.

It does appear the number of long term unemployed is near a peak (the increases have slowed). But it is still very difficult for these people to find a job - and this is a very serious employment issue.
For all the talk, mostly from desk jockeys, of raising the retirement age, it's my impression that we're looking at a shift in the workforce - a consequence of modernization and globalization - that has created a significant population of workers whose skills are no longer needed and who, due to age and circumstance, aren't good candidates even for low wage or unskilled jobs in other fields. It's difficult to talk about "retraining", as a lot of the jobs for which people could retrain are in limited supply even in good economic times, and even where that's not the case it's often difficult for a worker who is twenty or more years older than her classmates to get hired into an entry level position.

I am concerned that a substantial percentage of the long-term unemployed are verging on unemployable, for conditions outside of their control. It's not enough to want a job or to have a long history of dedicated work if your skill set is no longer relevant to the workplace. Retraining will help only a subset of these workers find new jobs, mostly at a fraction of their prior earnings. This is also a population whose plight won't be much helped by stimulus spending. Even if the recession was responsible for the loss of their jobs, many or most of their jobs will be outsourced internationally or eliminated in the post-recession economy.


  1. I struggle with what to tell the kiddos. Before, if you did the "right" things--finish school, get training or college, you'd find a job. Maybe not your dream job, but a job. That isn't the case any more.
    I also wonder what is going to happen when people simply can't work any more but have no savings or retirement funds or health care.... :(

  2. Well, face it, even if your skill set IS relevant to the workplace, you're "unemployable" if your potential employers think that you're just "too old" to fit the youthful vibe *cough Google cough*, or assume that you can't possibly have a useful skill set because clearly nobody your age knows how to do X, or simply figures that a younger person will be more desperate and put up with worse working conditions for less money. (The computer-game industry runs on that, y'know.)

  3. That's a good point, and was one of the things I was trying to get at with "it's often difficult for a worker who is twenty or more years older than her classmates to get hired into an entry level position". Their technical qualifications may be equal on paper, and the older worker may have a solid resume of performance in his prior career, but the younger worker will very often (dare I say usually) have an advantage due to factors such as those you describe.