Saturday, August 20, 2011

If I Had A Hammer....

….I probably wouldn’t have a job. If I was a registered nurse or a software developer with JAVA/J2EE or .Net proficiency or a truck driver with a clean driving record; I would have my pick of jobs. And therein lays the problem with the “Jobs Problem” in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 3.1 million job openings in this country. Certainly not back to pre-recession levels of 4.5 million but much better than the 2.2-2.3 million we saw in 2009. So why aren’t we making more progress on reducing unemployment? There are 13.9 million reasons (the number of officially unemployed) plus probably another 10 million or so we don’t count. Every story and situation is personal and unique. I get that and we should not minimize that fact.

HOWEVER, I think we have to be honest with ourselves and if it means being politically incorrect or insensitive, so be it. I think there are 4 major factors driving unemployment. I think these factors are so embedded in our society that it is likely we will continue to see a large number of our fellow citizens out of work or, at best working in jobs that will not support a reasonable standard of living without some sort of government assistance.

Number 4 issue: Mobility. Many of the unemployed are not living where the jobs are. If we can’t sell our home or we can’t afford to move away from our spouse’s job; we’re going to be unemployed, or at best under-employed, for a long time.

Number 3 issue: Skills. The politicians talk about creating jobs. I’m not sure what that means (and obviously they don’t either.). But I do know this, if you cannot produce a product or a service that people are willing to pay for, you are not going to have a job (unless it’s a government job.) We have to start with the demand side of the jobs equation. What do we need done? Who’s going to pay for it? And, how do we motivate/assist people in developing the skills necessary to do that work?

Number 2 issue: Downsizing. 92 million baby-boomers are going from spenders to savers. In addition, their kids have developed different values and are actually more conservative when it comes to spending money. Smaller homes, smaller cars, smaller vacations, fewer clothes, fewer “toys”. Sure at the high end, we see some big spenders among baby-boomers and baby-boomer offspring. But for the most part, I think there is a fundamental shift away from the “shop ‘til you drop” mentality. This downsizing, de-leveraging, payoff the credit cards, live within your means is a good thing over the long-run. But, for now it means much slower job creation.

Number 1 issue: Demographics. And here’s where it gets so P.I. The “Have Not” population is growing much faster than the “Have” population. Certainly there are some “Have’s” who have become “Have Not’s” or “Have Less’s”. But the real growth in the “Have Not” population is coming the old-fashion way…they are having more babies. This is not just a racial issue, although the statistics would say that race is a major factor. It’s not just a regional issue, again even though statistics point to regional differences and those have racial overtones as well. I really believe it is an across the board issue that is more related to economic and educational factors.

The Best and the Brightest among us are barely reproducing enough to replace themselves. If your parents are among the “Best and Brightest”, odds are that you have a good chance of becoming one of the “Best and Brightest”. But if you’re one of five kids growing up in poverty in SE Oklahoma with an “I’m going back for my GED someday”- occasionally employed for minimum wage, chain-smoking, food stamp shopping, watching Married With Children reruns, single parent….if that’s your circumstance…the deck is stacked against you. And these folks, the “Have Not’s”, whether living in rural poverty or the inner cities, make up the majority of the next generation. These and the children of immigrants, some illegal.

The good news is that those “Have Nots” who do beat the odds often turn out to be the “Best of the Best and the Brightest of the Brightest”. They have to be in order to beat the odds. But, they cannot do it alone. Better public education, more relevant and more invested in developing citizens who can fully contribute and participate in our society; not just pass minimum standard tests; is the key. If we do nothing, a generation from now twice as many people will be unemployed. And, at some point, society starts to breakdown. When the people fail, nations fall. That’s just how it works.

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