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It’s a mean economy

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By John Barnhart

    We are experiencing a really mean economy, the worst I’ve ever seen. In fact, I believe that there are probably few people still living who can remember it being worse. Nationally, the unemployment rate is 9 percent and job growth has been sluggish. Two years after the recession’s end we’ve only made up for perhaps about a fourth of the jobs that were destroyed in the downturn. In the meantime, more new graduates have entered the job market.

    An article in the Wall Street Journal on Nov. 7 had a headline that stated “Americans 25 and under face one of the toughest job markets in modern history.” New graduates always face the challenge of proving to prospective employers that they know what they are doing. Everybody seems to want experience, and people newly entering the job market have to find ways to make sure that their resumes make it past Catbert, The Evil Human Resources Director. It’s worse now that there are fewer jobs to be had.
    The most recent figures I saw stated that the unemployment rate for college graduates is just a little below 5 percent. A new graduate always faces the possibility of ending up without a chair when the music stops, and a tight job market leaves a lot more people standing. Of course, what you majored in has an impact, too. According to the Wall Street Journal’s Web site, clinical psychology majors have the highest unemployment rate at 19.5 percent. At the other end, there are a few with a zero percent unemployment rate. One of these is astronomy and astrophysics, possibly because there are few people who are smart enough to complete this major. Another is actuarial science, possible because few of us even know what this is.
    One new wrinkle that the current economy adds to this picture is that recent college grads are faring better than folks who graduated in 2008 and 2009, got jobs and then got laid off. Employers seem to be passing them over for the new crop.
    Geezers like me have the usual problem, again made worse by the shortage of jobs. A guy in his 50s has the challenge of proving that he is not a dinosaur. Sometimes, as is the case with the new graduate, it’s a matter of finding a way to tailor a resume and cover letter so that it gets past Catbert.
    In some cases, however, the 50-something is indeed a dinosaur. Picture a fellow in his mid-50s who has worked all his life in a furniture factory. The company closes the factory and the guy has trouble finding another job. He is highly skilled working with his hands in the context of his previous job, but he never developed computer skills because his job didn’t require them. Unlike today’s 20-somethings who grew up with computers, a computer with less power than a modern smart phone filled a room and required a special air conditioning system when he was in high school. Now he has a problem as most jobs, even jobs that aren’t particularly good jobs, require computer skills.
    The government isn’t going to provide the answer as the fun-loving folks in Washington are more concerned with playing politics than making an honest effort to find a solution. President Obama, the grinch who almost stole the Christmas tree, has nothing to offer except more of what hasn’t worked in the past two years. Meanwhile, “Democrats” in the Senate refuse to take action on any jobs bills that originate in the House.
    It’s really up to the individual. High school students need to be sober and think seriously about what they are going to do. Those headed for post high school education will be well served if they can avoid student loan debt, or at least keep it to a minimum. And, all of us are going to have to be more resourceful and flexible than we have in the past.