Friday, May 9, 2014

The Latest on Jobs, From Temporary Re-Employment to Racial Realism

Over the past three weeks, there have been several worthwhile work-related pieces in the news. 

First, there’s one from The Washington Post on April 18th, “Long-term unemployed struggle to find - and keep - jobs.”  The idea here is that once many with lengthy times without jobs finally get work, it is all too likely not to last.  A study the article quoted found that of a group of those jobless six months or longer, 23% found work within “a few months,” but a year from then, one-third were unemployed again.  That’s not surprising, since workers, as with professional team sports athletes, often start out with long stretches with one organization, and then reach what you might call the nomadic phase of their careers.  Mine was typical – 15 years with AT&T, 2 ½ years with Dictaphone, less than a year apiece with three others, new career the next.  Not totally the norm, but common, and a legitimate problem for those less well positioned than I was to find something different.

Second, from The New York Times, April 22nd, “Job Market for College Graduates Improves Slightly.”  Along with the general unemployment rate, that for people recently completing bachelor’s degrees has fallen.  It’s still nothing to be proud of – 10.9% for 2013 graduates – especially knowing not only that all those still slacking at home aren’t being counted, but that colleges and people in them have now had over four years, since the Great Recession ended, to adapt.  University attendance is still a good thing, but there’s nothing here to change my perception that the time for a majority of high school graduates going to regular college programs will end.

Third, also from the New York Times, was an April 30 editorial “The Dark Side of the Sharing Economy.”    Hey, their columnist Thomas Friedman was intoxicated about people being able to sell off their spare, and not so spare, resources to make ends meet, so what’s been going wrong with people renting out their rooms?  Apparently plenty, says the Times Editorial Board.  Businesses with multiple Airbnb listings in the city turned out to be the placers of, three-plus months ago, 30% of them.  The editorial, as you might suspect, did not take a stand against these amateur-or-is-it-professional pseudo hoteliers by defending the rights of those who put up with lots of requirements and regulation to offer rooms in real ones, but came out against those rentals on the grounds that they cut the housing supply.  True.  As I’ve said before, renting out rooms semi-legally is rather stinky employment, which is why we shouldn’t regret it’s being vastly less common, which appears will be the case within months.

Fourth, another Times editorial, on last month’s jobs numbers, published May 4th, “A Better Economy, Still Far from Good.”  I was surprised to see responses to the April employment statistics to turn out lukewarm, or even negative – as always, I wrote my AJSN blog post seeing only the Bureau of Labor Statistics information, and thought I’d see more America’s-going-back-to-work giddiness.  Instead, here we have a newspaper solidly on the Democratic side issuing opinions such as “Let’s keep this (data) in perspective:  wages remained flat, nearly 10 million unemployed people are looking for jobs, and millions more have become so disenchanted that they have given up on finding work altogether.”  Correct, but those are only rudimentary perceptions beyond the unemployment numbers, and it seems odd to mention them after what may have been the best set of monthly jobs statistics in four years.  On the piece went to mention how slow the “recovery” has been, even though the recovery is long over, and actually to chide Senate Republicans for blocking a bill to raise the minimum wage, amid all this joblessness, 39%, before ending by saying “everything is not right” for people damaged in 2008 and 2009.  That is also true, but there was no mention that we may be facing a permanent jobs crisis.  That possibility has been considered more often lately, but not enough.

Last was an op-ed New York Times piece, by sociology professor John D. Skrentny, “Only Minorities Need Apply,” published three days ago.  It was stunning to see this title in this newspaper, and the article brought up three excellent jobs-related concerns.  One was the clash of what he called “racial realism,” much the same as rational discrimination, in which business needs determine the optimal race or ethnicity of employees, with the overall anti-discrimination ethic.  Another was reverse racial discrimination as a result of racial realism.  A third was damage done to blacks and Hispanics by being assigned to the like of stores or territories heavy with people of their own ethnicity, where sales, and as a result their own personal earnings, are often lower.  All worth thinking about, and I can add a fourth – perhaps black nurses might just plain not want to work with high shares of black patients, even if their employers can point to studies showing better health outcomes when providers and patients share the same race.  There are no easy answers here, and I hope we hear more from Skrentny, and what he wrote about, in the future.   

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