The American Worker: 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 gone?
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perhaps the 50 year-old former auto worker with an eleventh grade education or the 60 year-old dislocated engineer with outdated job skills and high blood pressure will actually start to believe it.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.
Virginia Bola operated a rehabilitation company for 20 years, developing innovative job search techniques for disabled workers, while serving as a respected Vocational Expert in Administrative, Civil and Workers' Compensation Courts. Author of an interactive and emotionally supportive workbook, The Wolf at the Door: An Unemployment Survival Manual, and a monthly ezine, The Worker's Edge, she can be reached at http://www.virginiabola.com
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