Discouraged Workers: Ashamed, Invisible And An Enduring Statistic
Like many older, unemployed workers, Geoff Dutton would like to find a job. The former software-manual writer has been out of work for 18 months, and during that time businesses have increasingly shifted to Internet-based systems for storing data rather than having their own in-house servers.
"The companies that were in that area kept looking for people who had been in that area, and that wasn't me," he told NPR recently. After being out of work for so long, Dutton worries that his skills are slipping away and he thinks that has contributed to his inability to find work. "I wasn't up on the new version of everything anymore," he said.
Though he is 68, Dutton can't afford to retire, but he also fears he may never work again.
Dutton is among hundreds of thousands of Americans that the Labor Department calls "discouraged workers," those who want jobs, but have given up looking precisely because they believe there are no jobs out there for them. They aren't included in the nation's unemployment rate of 7.8 percent because the Labor Department includes in that tally only those who have actively sought work during the previous four weeks.
The number of discouraged workers peaked in December 2010, when more than 1.3 million people fell into the category. Since then, their ranks have slowly fallen each month to 802,000, recorded in September, according to data released Friday.
Still, that's roughly twice the number of discouraged workers there were in September 2008, just as the financial crisis was beginning to unfold.
Older workers have weathered previous downturns, such as the bursting of the dot-com bubble in the late 1990s, says Steve Miranda, managing director of Cornell University's school of industrial and labor relations. Back then, however, many job seekers still had hope of finding a job.
Today, there's a greater sense of urgency, precisely because so many discouraged workers have been out of work for so long -- and there are so many more of them. For many, Miranda told AOL Jobs, hope has evaporated.
"People are fundamentally questioning whether [they] will find work again," he says.
Once unemployed, workers age 55 and older are, on average, out of work longer than their younger counterparts, according to the AARP Public Policy Institute, which conducts research on older Americans. It notes that the duration of unemployment for this group has been close to or exceeded a year since March 2011.
Of course, it isn't only those who have been in the workforce for decades who are discouraged. Many recent high school and college graduates have also found it difficult if not impossible to find work.
Daniel McCune graduated three years ago with a bachelor's degree from Liberty University in Virginia, majoring in government service and history. As he told Reuters, the Ohio-native was optimistic that his good grades would earn him a job as an intelligence analyst with the federal government.
But the 26-year-old gave up his job search a year ago after going on only two interviews.
"There's nothing out there, and there probably won't be anything for a while," said McCune, who owes about $20,000 in college loans. He has moved back home to New Concord, Ohio, and lives with his parents, who are helping to pay off his debt.
The move hasn't done much for McCune's self-esteem. Without a job and no prospects for one, McCune says he feels like a high school dropout.
"I don't like it, it's embarrassing," he said. "I don't want to be a burden to my parents."
Still, experts say that there are ways to jump-start a job search, even if you're one of those discouraged workers. Here are five tips from About.com job-search expert Alison Doyle:
1. Don't beat yourself up.
It can be hard not to feel like a loser because you can't find a job -- even in a job market as challenging as this one. Keep plugging away. There's no shortage of online employment sites (including CareerBuilder, an AOL Jobs sponsor) that can help you find job listings fast.
2. Consider a makeover.
Discriminatory, or not, the younger you look, the better your chances of being considered for a job. Updating your look can help in your job search, and it needn't cost a fortune. Discount stores such as T.J. Maxx, Marshalls or Loehmann's, as well as mainstream retailers such as H&M and Target, all sell fashionable business wear. If you're really short on cash, programs such as Dress for Success provide interview attire for disadvantaged job seekers.
3. Revamp your resume.
Employers are wary of applicants with large gaps in their resumes. So if you've been unemployed long-term, fill in that time by volunteering, taking classes or doing some consulting -- activities that you can easily incorporate into your resume. If you've been working for decades, include just 10-15 years of recent experience to lessen the chances of age discrimination.
4. Get job search support.
Don't try to find a job on your own. Everyone can benefit from advice, contacts and just moral support. Colleges frequently extend career services to alumni regardless of when they graduated. Many libraries offer job search classes, job clubs and other programs for job seekers. Online, checkout Hiring for Hope, a nonprofit that works with job seekers to minimize the challenges in finding work. And be sure to tell everyone you know that you are looking for work.
5. Be open to alternatives.
If you're batting zero in your job search, it might be time to consider other options. Retailers are hiring now for both full-time and part-time holiday season workers and they are adding thousands of jobs -- now. Macy's and Target are two examples. Both retailers expect to hire about 80,000 workers each to fill seasonal jobs. United Parcel Service and other package delivery firms are also expected to hire this fall. What's more, you might find it easier to land a seasonal job because employers hiring for such jobs are less concerned about any gaps in your resume.
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David Schepp has spent more than a dozen years covering business news for the electronic and print media, including Dow Jones Newswires, BBC News, Gannett Co., and most recently at AOL's DailyFinance. Nearly 10 years ago, he started writing a weekly People@Work column, looking in depth at issues facing workers in today's workplace. The syndicated column appeared in newspapers and websites nationwide before it made its debut on DailyFinance in 2010. Schepp now continues that tradition at Aol Jobs, covering the jobs beat and providing readers insight and analysis into the nation's challenging employment scene.
Schepp holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from Metropolitan State College of Denver.
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