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December 21, 2012 10:37 AM The Jobs of the Future Are Buried under Mass Unemployment

By Ryan Cooper

US News, in its long, sad decline from once-relevant journalism enterprise to assembler of gimmicky clickbait slideshows, has a listicle about the “100 best jobs of 2013.” It’s interesting not for the content exactly—with 100 jobs, it includes pretty much every common job, including cashier, janitor, construction worker, and telemarketer. Like all their lists, it’s shot through with dubious assumptions, but this one particularly misses the forest for the trees.

The overwhelming fact about the US labor market is the continued unemployment crisis, only slightly alleviated by the grindingly slow recovery. Take a look at the unemployment rate for prime working-age adults (courtesy of Paul Krugman):


For the average person, the continuing presence of mass unemployment is by far the most important factor determining whether or not they get a job. Interestingly, the introduction to the listicle even nods to this fact:

But when assessing job creation versus employment over a lengthier span, it’s troubling to note that this country is still stumbling to offer jobs that workers are qualified to fill. “Employment in the United States is only about 2 percent higher than it was in January of 2000. In that period of time, our work-eligible population has grown by 15 percent. When you look at it that way, there’s something awry,” says Patrick O’Keefe, the director of economic research at the firm Cohn-Reznick and the former deputy assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Labor.

The “stumbling to offer jobs that workers are qualified to fill” line is a silly nod to the structural unemployment theory, which continues to be wrong, but it gets the basic situation correct. Lots of people looking for jobs, not enough to go around. But the very next graf fails to grasp the implication of that fact:

In other words, it will take both careful research and preparation to enter any job worth having these days. This is why every year U.S. News gathers a list of the Best Jobs, so that you can assess which occupation could be a good fit, then plan properly to make sure you’re qualified to enter it.

The unfortunate truth is that there is no way that any individual person can plan themselves out of the implications of mass unemployment. Next year, what kind of jobs will be available, and far more importantly, how many, depend on the policy actions taken by first the Federal Reserve and second by Congress. The Fed has been actually quite aggressive about job creation lately, but Congress not so much. Will our government deliberately kneecap the recovery for no reason? Hard to say for sure, but US News isn’t mentioning that possibility.

I’m not saying that their list is totally useless. It does include a lot of probably safe-bet occupations, like dentistry and nursing. But it would be nice to see this kind of list make it clear that the broad mass of job seekers are at the mercy of policymakers.

@ryanlcooper

Ryan Cooper is a National Correspondent at The Week, and a former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @ryanlcooper

Comments

  • Gandalf on December 21, 2012 11:58 AM:

    Sometimes there are some obvious answers to questions like these. For four years the republicans in the house and the senate heve done everything that they possibly could to keep Obama from successfully implementing anything that would make the economy better. The fact that it has gotten better in spite of their worst efforts is a testament to Obama's perseverence. Now don't get me wrong. I don't agree with and condone everything he's done but you'd have to be living in a hole in the middle of the Sahara desert to not see the republican sabotage that's taken place.

  • Peter C on December 21, 2012 12:03 PM:

    We used to call this rag, "Usless News and World Distort".

  • dalloway on December 21, 2012 12:05 PM:

    "...job seekers are at the mercy of policy makers."

    And those policy makers are owned and operated by corporate interests that want to reduce the cost of labor to third world levels. For them, unemployment is a feature, not a bug. That's why their "policy" is to keep it as high as possible in order to drive down wages.

  • jaded on December 21, 2012 12:06 PM:

    "But when assessing job creation versus employment over a lengthier span, itís troubling to note that this country is still stumbling to offer jobs that workers are qualified to fill".

    What a big bunch of canard. It should read more like this: Employers are still stumbling to offer jobs that pay a living wage and consider qualified older workers who've been unemployed longer than 6 months.

  • jaded on December 21, 2012 12:10 PM:

    "But when assessing job creation versus employment over a lengthier span, itís troubling to note that this country is still stumbling to offer jobs that workers are qualified to fill".

    What a big bunch of canard. It should read more like this: Employers are still stumbling to offer jobs that pay a living wage and consider qualified older workers who've been unemployed longer than 6 months.


  • c u n d gulag on December 21, 2012 12:14 PM:

    Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there were things called businesses and companies, who took it upon themselves to search for people with certain aptitudes, trained them, and then employed them, giving them liveable wages, benefits, and pensions to augment SS income.

    The incentive was there for the company to pick the right person and keep them, because it was expensive to find replacements and train them to replace existing workers.

    This system worked so well, that rich people, who wanted to have as close to everything that was obtainable, sought to destroy it.

    And they succeeded.

    And now, people more than willing to work, are unemployed, and businesses and companies want workers who already have the skills, and want to pay them the lowest salaries possible, with the least benefits that will entice and keep them - and that's if any are offered at all.
    And retirement is left to the workers, and if they can't find some way to supplement their meager SS monthly payments, well then, they are SOL, and should have thought about that a long, long, time ago - in a galaxy where working people were precient about how their lives, and their countries and planets economies, would proceed - and thus, avoid any and all pitfalls.

    Oh, wait!
    That was neither a long time, nor in a galaxy even next to us.
    It was here, in the USA, before the backlash of the rich decided that destroying the middle class was the ultimate prize for their Trophy Rooms.

    And now, we have companies who can justify outsourcing and insourcing, because they don't want to pay to train and give the American workers here living wages, because there will be a virtually endless supply of workers to demand even lower wages and less benefits than the people currently employed by those companies - making those people take pay and benefit cuts, just to keep their sh*tty jobs.

    And the rich may not realize it, but when ordinary people can't buy their sh*t, any supply of their shit, having no demand for that sh*t, because people can't afford to buy their sh*t, is worthless sh*t - because when ordinary people can't buy their sh*t...

    And this folks, is knows as "An Economic Death Spiral."

    "Let the people eat cake," will eventually result in the hungry working people answering back, "Let the rich eat their green-backs and gold coins."
    And eventually, we'll all decide to "Eat the rich."

    Make sure your rich person meat is fairly well-done. Those rich parasites are bound to be full of lesser parasites.

  • T2 on December 21, 2012 12:42 PM:

    The Dow Jones is taking a tumble today as Conservatives do everything they can to keep the nation in economic turmoil. Thanks, TeaBaggers.

  • boatboy_srq on December 21, 2012 4:21 PM:

    @dalloway: Part of the problem is that, in the communities surrounding Washington, the unemployment rate is so low - and hiring so simple in comparison to the rest of the country - that the GOTea mantra of "only the unmotivated and unqualied (read: undeserving) cannot find a decent job" is remarkably true. If one stays within the Beltway, and never ventures out into the hinterlands, it's very easy to believe that, since there are jobs (not "plenty of jobs," but numerous vacancies) a relatively small pool of available labor, and good compensation to be had - and seeing this it's difficult to comprehend how badly the rest of the country has been hit without actually seeing it. If there is an "entitlement society" in the US, this is where it lives: among the many professionals who are accustomed to climbing the ladder easily, steadily, and with improved salary and benefits (and goodies like bonuses and industry-specific price breaks for goods/services) at each next step, who come to believe they "deserve" all these things and that others who don't have them simply didn't take the right offers and settled for less.

    One only has to go as far as Philadelphia, Wilmington or Richmond to get disabused of this illusion, but it's a distance few on the Inside seem willing to cross.


    @jaded: or, (adding to that line) "But when assessing job creation versus employment over a lengthier span, itís troubling to note that this country is still stumbling to offer jobs that workers are qualified to fill" at compensation levels that are liveable and commensurate with the work performed (and not the bare minimum employers can be persuaded to part with).

    ---------------------------------------------------------

    It's really annoying (as a former nearly-99er) that the MSM can spout this drivel, right alongside discussions about how difficult it is for businesses to locate "talent" and how that should demand that we revisit immigration laws to allow in more labor (skilled or unskilled). Doesn't anyone remember the "jobless recovery" of 2001-3? Unemployment rose nearly 2% (according to DoL measures, which aren't exactly accurate in describing actual unemployment) - but the MSM treated that as the "new normal" and went about their business - without one single mention of how labor at every level was getting scr#wed by the assumption that there was somehow a "lack" of people for whatever vacancies were available. All this talk is little more than "normalizing" the new unemployment levels, and all the while demonizing the long-term unemployed because their careers are in the tank and the jobs that might address that are nowhere to be found.