The New Underclass

That’s what they are calling the long-term unemployed.  The new underclass.  If you still have a job, at one time or another you’ve probably thought (or submitted a comment ), “Just get a job!”  If you still have a job, you might think the economic recovery, weak though it is, means that everyone who lost their job should be able to find a new one by now.  It’s not happening.

There are over 4 MILLION people who are classified as long term unemployed (people who have been out of work for more than a year).  We make up 40 percent of the unemployed.  We could fill the 15 largest football stadiums in the US and more than 2.5 million people would be stuck in the parking lots.  That’s a lot of people.

Employers are adding jobs, it’s true.  But it’s a fact that employers are also actively discriminating against the unemployed.  As this article from USA Today says “some companies — including PMG Indiana, Sony Ericsson and retailers nationwide — have explicitly barred the unemployed or long-term unemployed from certain job openings, outright telling them in job ads that they need not apply.”  This discrimination has become so obvious and widespread that some areas (e.g., New Jersey, Chicago) are proposing to ban companies from rejecting prospective employees based on current employment status or bad credit.

This issue is getting more attention lately.  Both this artice in the Business Insider (The Truth About the Long Term Unemployed) and this recent 60 Minutes segment (A new jobs program for people trapped in unemployment) do a good job of showing some of the people behind the numbers.  As 60 Minutes says, “These folks have been out of work two years, three, even four. They’re college educated professionals in their 40’s or 50’s; people who thought their company would take them all the way to retirement.”

The people interviewed for these stories used to belong to the middle class.  They had college degrees, homes, cars, and have had gainful employment their entire working lives.  Then they lost their jobs and their lives imploded.  They have applied for hundreds, even thousands of jobs.  They’ve gone back to school and ‘reinvented’ themselves.  They’ve networked and pounded the pavement, and are willing to take any job.  They just can’t find one.  And, seriously folks, it’s NOT their fault.


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9 Responses to The New Underclass

  1. Becky R says:

    I was thinking maybe you can charge to have a blog roll. So if I want my blog in your blog roll I pay you $5 a month or a flat fee or something. I would like my blog on your blog roll and would pay to do so. So glad you have the donation button back up.

  2. chel says:

    I look at usajobs and there are hundreds all the time.

  3. Rain23 says:

    My husband did factory jobs and labor. He has not been able to find a job in 3 years. He is near 50 and when he goes to the interviews he is in a room with 18 to 30 year olds. The company knows those younger people will cost them less in insurance, or nothing, as often they offer them 36 hours or so to get out of having to give benefits. The job situation here is so bad the day labor closed because to get an employee all you do is drive to Home Depot or Lowe’s and roll down your window. No paperwork to check, no Worker’s Compensation, no responsibility beyond chucking the person a Big Mac and two 20’s at the end of the day. They don’t even have to pay minimum wage.

    The sad thing is the last job my husband had, he was late once when the bus didn’t come and he ended up walking 3 miles to work in the rain. He was 10 minutes late. When he got there most of the younger guys in his group were in the break room eating and getting coffee and hadn’t even started work yet. He’s a good hard worker, gives an honest day for his pay and has a good attitude about doing his job. That isn’t enough today, there are just too many workers and some of us are getting the message that we’ve been declared superfluous. They just haven’t figured out what to do with us yet, though I’m sure someone in Washington DC is rooting for H5N1.

    I am so glad to see your blog showing sympathy for people who have contributed all their lives and will continue to do so whenever they are given an opportunity. My husband is now a champion babysitter and yard worker to help get us by, and in his spare time he develops handheld games. We trade things off with other folks and help each other get by. If this goes on much longer there will be a whole subculture of families and singles where one person in a house or trailer has a job that pays the subsistence expenses, and the rest just contribute to daily living in any way they can. Though the mainstream might not believe it, it’s a decent honorable life.

    • boxcarkids says:

      I had to laugh at the H1N1 comment – we do get a touch of that black humor don’t we? Living on the edge with all these little jobs – babysitting, dog walking, making cat beds is tough. As soon as you make a little money you spend it – then without warning you get a return and need to issue a refund. I’m ready to move into a co-op with a communal garden!

  4. Ann says:

    Part of the problem with “just” getting a job is the number of restrictions people have on their ability to get a job. Getting a job *is* easy if you’re in good health, have no relatives to care for, and have basic skills. The problem is that most Americans who are unemployed don’t fit that mold.

    I honestly think it’s too late to fix unemployment for this generation. We’ve just got to hand out the unemployment checks and admit that we need to change things for the future generation.

    Here’s my solution:

    1.) Make good health a priority in our communities. Bring back recess and gym classes. Teach good nutrition and take the soda/candy machines out of schools. Bring back home economics and teach children how to cook simply, cost effective meals. Teach children how to clean properly and make them clean the school.

    2.) Bring back the 2 parent family. It worked for thousands of years for a reason. It’s simply too difficult to care for children and ill relatives without a partner. Encourage the goal of living on 1 income.

    3.) Get children thinking about responsible job expectations early. Help children acess their skills honestly and show them the difference between paychecks in the fields they are considering. Be honest with children, if math is a problem, then a career in accounting won’t be an option for them. Eliminate the “fun factor” in job selection (honestly why does every other kid want to be a marine bioligist?) and focus on job perks that might benefit them (like becoming a teacher if they want to raise a family so that they need less child care after school). Bring back public trade schools so that children can get a start in jobs like auto repair in high school. This would eliminate the need for expensive private trade school tution later.

    Honestly unless we seriously start making some changes in the US we can only expect more of the same in future years.

    • Lynn says:

      Umm, Ann? Do you really think people are single parents if there is a reasonable person who wants to parent with them? Almost half of marriages end in divorce, and some people are widowed, or never married in the first place. Have you actually priced home made meals with fresh ingredients versus “fast food”? (No question home made is better for you, but not cheaper.) Do you seriously think kids who are not good at math are going into accounting? Looked into the unemployment rate for teachers lately? (And by the way this blogger is qualified to teach at the junior college level, but there were no positions). Auto repair isn’t what you remember either. It’s a computer generated diagnostic code and snap in different parts, not near as many people required as before, and that’s why those “shop” classes are fading away. Kids clean the schools? With all the cutbacks in recent years, our kids’ school gets almost no janitorial hours, pretty much just trash can pick up.

      I think the blogger’s point is illustrated by your comments. People from another era imagine the situation is what it was when they last looked for a job, and it isn’t, in many many ways.

      You suggestion to “just hand out unemployment checks ” is a bit dated, too. Unemployment benefits have been extended a couple of times but they do run out after some period of time. So then what?

      If this problem could be solved by old solutions, it would have been, long before this. Keep thinking, though…

    • wondering says:

      2 parent families did NOT “work” for 1,000’s of years. Nuclear families as we know them are a construct of the post-industrial age West. Typically, families were multi-generational. In other words, the two adult per household model is relatively new; if you want to praise the agrarian model that carried over thousands of years you would be saying: “Bring back the grandparents and the old aunties and uncles that used to take over childcare and household work so that the physically able adults could work in the fields or at some other useful craft!”

      And really? You want to take the “fun factor” out of work? YES! YOU’RE RIGHT! Squash children’s dreams early. There’s no such thing as social mobility anymore, so please, let your race, gender, and class push you into the “practical” work that other people think is suitable for you. No more community activists turned president, I say! /sarcasm.

      (Really, you’re complaining about kids wanting to be marine biologists? Seriously? I would have thought that was a step up from the number of kids who want to make it big as musicians and movie stars.)

  5. Brandon says:

    I think the problem is that companies would rather hire new employees in their 20s or early 30s as there is a perception that such employees are “cheaper” even if they are not as “experienced”.

  6. Laura says:

    Anybody who says “Just get a job!” is a moron who has no idea what life is like today. I was lucky enough to secure another job before my old employer entered recession-driven bankruptcy and closed, leaving many jobless – but it was just that, luck. I do great work at my new job, but I had to fill out hundreds of applications and be willing to move across the country (a luxury many don’t have) in order to get a new job, and that was while being gainfully employed!

    I have watched my sister become one of the underclass, while my brother-in-law has gotten fired and re-hired from the same job three times in the last four years. It’s not easy for anyone.

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