Having Trouble Finding a Good Job? Keeping a Good Job?

You may be less at-fault than the govt.-trumpeted "unemployment rate" implies.

Posted Sep 04, 2016

AFL-CIO, CC 2.0
Source: AFL-CIO, CC 2.0

Do you know someone who struggles to find a good job? To keep one? Or has one but fears losing it because s/he's afraid she won't find another one?

If so, you're not alone. Indeed many of my clients, colleagues, and friends struggle and worry.

And many feel inferior. After all, every month, the media trumpets the federal government's press release it titles, "The Employment Situation." That title implies it provides a comprehensive picture of American employment. Not exactly.

Its format is always the same. Here is the first paragraph of the press release sent to the media yesterday.

Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 151,000 in August, and the unemployment rate remained at 4.9 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Employment continued to trend up in several service-providing industries.

Sounds objective, right? Can you see how it might make a job-seeker think, "With such a low unemployment rate, If I can't find and keep a decent job, I must be a loser."

The following may be reassuring:

  • The press release said 151,000 jobs were created. It doesn't say how many jobs need to be created to keep up with population growth. Answer: 141,000.  So if the press release framed the report more objectively, the job seeker would realize that it's essentially no easier to find a job.
  • The press release said, "Employment continues to trend up in several service-providing industries." It doesn't mention that with job growth barely keeping up with population growth, many service industries have had to decline. And it doesn't mention product industries---that's all of manufacturing.
  • And what's growing? The top three: Food services and drinking places. Lots of low-wage work there. Social assistance. That hints at what the job market is really like.: Professional and technical services. If you're no techie, that probably won't work.
  • All that wordsmithing is dwarfed by characterizing "The Employment Situation" in terms of "the unemployment rate." The government-reported unemployment rate includes only people who are actively looking for work. It does not include people who have stopped looking for work. The truer unemployment rate is provided by non-governmental watchdogs, for example, ShadowStats, which reports the true unemployment rate to be 23 percent, almost five times higher than the government-reported rate! (The blue line is the ShadowStat, the gray and red are two government-reported stats.)
    shadowStats, CC 2.0
    Source: shadowStats, CC 2.0
  • Another realistic statistic, buried in the fifth paragraph of the press release is the Labor Participation Rate: the percentage of able-bodied people age 18 to 64 that are working. That number, 68.8%, just above the lowest since 1978.
  • Also, the unemployment rate treats equally a person who was earning $100,000 a year who now makes $10 an hour part-time/temp.  A better indicator of the job market's health is how much people are earning. Well, the Social Security Administration, again without issuing a press release but buried in a table provided by its chief actuary, found that 51.44% of people earn under $30,000 a year.
shadowStats, CC 2.0
Source: shadowStats, CC 2.0

I was moved to unearth such statistics after reading the just-published 2017 edition of What Color is Your Parachute. TIME rated that book "one of the all-time 100 best non-fiction books." The Library of Congress listed it "among the 25 books that have shaped readers' lives." The first chapter of that 2017 edition lists statistics, mainly, from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, which also somehow didn't make it into a press release. For example:

"The length of the average job-hunt has increased dramatically....After 2008, 22 to 30 percent..are spending over a year."

"The length of time the average job lasts has decreased dramatically....Even at jobs that workers found between the time they were 40 and 48 years old, 32% lasted less than a year, 69% lasted less than five years. (The numbers were far worse for younger people.)

"Almost two-thirds of American households earn less money today than they did in 2002."

The takeaway

If you or someone you know is struggling to land or keep a good job, it isn't all their fault. The job market is dramatically weaker than the government would have us believe. Landing a good job requires a smarter, more concerted effort, for example, the many tactics offered in What Color is Your Parachute or the fewer I describe in this series of PsychologyToday.com articles. 

And here are some keys to staying well-employed:

  • Try to tweak your job description to accentuate your strengths and skirt your weaknesses.
  • Manage time well. Realize that procrastination is a career killer. You may have gotten away with it in college because you were paying them. But now that you want someone to pay you, most employers of good jobs won't tolerate serious procrastinators. Employers know that in most cases, they can get someone who isn't one.
  • Gain skills that are valued in your workplace. For example, is there a technology you'd be wise to get good at? How about learning how to run a meeting more effectively? Or improve your people management skills? Or public speaking? Or how to make yourself lower-maintenance?
  • Realize that, alas, office politics matter. Be sure you're on good terms with all stakeholders. For some, that means schmoozing them. For others, it's making their worklife easier. For others, it's making them look good with higher-ups.
  • Perhaps the best insurance against getting "laid off" is to put in a full work day, not just  butt-in-seat hours but being efficient. Don't know how? Ask for help.

Marty Nemko's bio is in Wikipedia. His newest book, his 8th, is The Best of Marty Nemko.