Jobs Advertised But NO Jobs – What’s Up With That???

Have you ever applied for a job that you were perfectly qualified for, but got no response? That’s become the new normal – jobs advertised but no jobs. Not only is this a practical problem – that you need an income from the job – but it also hits on a personal level. If you send out enough resumes and complete enough applications, but don’t get so much as an acknowledgment, you can begin to believe that you’re the problem.

Is that really what’s happening? If you’re not qualified for the jobs that you’re applying for, that could be true. But there’s also something bigger that’s taking place. Jobs, even seemingly simple ones, now require a laundry list of skills. Very few individuals have the required skill set.

Jobs Advertised But NO Jobs – What’s Up With That???
Jobs Advertised But NO Jobs – What’s Up With That???

This helps to explain why employers think they can’t get good help. If the bar is set too high, that will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Jobs Advertised But NO Jobs – At Least None You Can Qualify For

An article in Reuters last spring disclosed that hiring has slowed, despite a record number of job openings:

”Job openings, a measure of labor demand, increased 259,000 to a seasonally adjusted 6.0 million in April, the highest since the government started tracking the series in 2000. The monthly increase was the largest in just over a year and pushed the jobs openings rate to 4.0 percent, the highest since last July, from 3.8 percent in March…Hiring, however, decreased by 253,000 jobs to 5.1 million.”

Earlier this month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that there are currently 6.2 million unfilled jobs. In a separate report, the BLS indicated that the total number of unemployed workers stands at 7.1 million. The same report shows 5.9 million people who want full-time work but hold part-time jobs.

The last category is the “under-employed”. My strong suspicion is that this group is several times larger than reported. I believe that under-employment is the real story of the current job market. This is a major reason why when you apply for a job you get no response. There are more people lining up for each job than official statistics indicate.

Part of this is attributed to a skills mismatch. The people who are unemployed simply lack the skills and qualifications to land the unfilled jobs. But it’s unlikely that a skills gap is the whole story. In job markets past, employers largely filled that gap by providing training. That no longer happens.

It’s likely that the same factors that have caused the lack of employer training are also contributing to poor job prospects and stagnant wages.

Why Isn’t the “Tight” Job Market Providing Jobs for All and Higher Wages Too?

In previous job markets, when the market was tight, wages increased. That doesn’t seem to be happening this time around.

Earlier this year, a Washington Post article reported that the typical 27-year-old man’s annual earnings in 2013 were 31 percent less than those of a typical 27-year-old man in 1969. The situation for women is better, but that’s only because women earned so much less in 1969. There’s also mounting evidence that wages for women have also stagnated in recent years.

There’s something that I noticed during the 1980s with layoffs that might be in place now with wages. Up until the late 1970s, employers typically laid off workers during recessions, and then hired them back as the economy improved.

That situation changed after the recession of the early 1980s. From that point forward, employers continued to lay off workers as they deemed necessary, regardless of the state of the economy. Layoffs became a business tool, and remain so today.

The Lingering Effects of the Financial Meltdown

I think the same situation is playing out today with wages. During the back-to-back recessions – the Dot.com Bust and the Financial Meltdown – workers learned the virtues of working on the cheap, just to keep a paycheck coming in. That was a boon for employers, as it became the rule for at least a decade.

But even as the Financial Meltdown began ease, employers continued to be stingy with wages. Just as was the case with layoffs in the recession of the early 1980s, the game had changed post-recession. Every economic decline leaves some sort of lasting mark on the economy and the job market. The Financial Meltdown took down wages, and continues to do so even now.

I’m also going to re-emphasize a point here that I’ve written about in the past. That’s that the job market – eight years after the last recession officially ended – remains much weaker than is generally acknowledged.

Stagnant wages prove the point.

It Looks Like the Job Market Has Peaked Out – The Big Picture

The optimists will say that better quality jobs at higher pay will surface as the economic and employment recoveries continue to move forward. But the government’s own statistics indicate that the job market has been mostly moving sideways for the past year.

Looking at the chart below, we see that the unemployment rate in August 2016 was 5.1%. This past August it was down to 4.4%. That’s not a large decline considering that the job market is being described as extremely strong right now. In addition, we see that the unemployment rate has barely budged since March, when it stood at 4.5%.

(Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, September 25, 2017.)

It’s not a stretch to say that the vast majority of the improvement in unemployment since 2009 is behind us. It’s unlikely that we’ll see any kind of significant decline in joblessness going forward.

We can conclude that if you don’t have a decent job now, you have probably been deemed unemployable or permanently under-employed. A more pleasant term might be structurally un-/under-employed. However we frame it, it’s not a good place to be.

We can also conclude that if your job or career field has not seen a significant increase in wages over the past two or three years, that you won’t see it going forward.

In recent years, the economy has become very selective. Certain career fields, like healthcare, have seen major increases in compensation. But in multiple other career fields, where most Americans work, wages have stagnated at best.

The current “recovery” is also very long in the tooth. It’s been running for more than eight years. It looks like what we already have is as good as it will get.

If You’re Not a Glove Fit You Won’t Get the Job

With the big picture backdrop in mind, it’s easy to see why wages are stagnant and why there’s a job advertised but no job. But it gets even more specific on an individual level.

To put it in the simplest terms possible, employer’s are looking for perfection. There are perfectly good job candidates out there, but they’ll never get past the screening process because they aren’t perfect. And since no human being is perfect, employers “can’t find good help”, and jobseekers can’t find good jobs.

It could happen, but it’s not being permitted.

Most jobs are now advertised through the Internet. You must submit your application on the employer’s website. Whether it’s completing an application or submitting a resume, your information will be subject to screening by algorithms. That’s why you MUST apply online. It’s got nothing to do with reducing paperwork.

The purpose of algorithms is to look for certain keywords and key phrases in your application or resume that the employer deems necessary for the position. If you don’t have all or most of the required keywords and phrases, your application will be rejected.

There will be no interview, no follow-up phone call, and usually not even a letter of acknowledgment. You will never know the reasons why your application was rejected.

But there’s a problem with the quasi-religious faith in algorithms. Algorithms can be biased. And because they’re strictly mechanical processes, they can screen out well-qualified candidates.

But even if you can get past the algorithms, there’s another big problem.

Background Checks

In order to find perfect candidates, employers use a wide assortment of screening methods. Not only do they check your credit history, but also your criminal background, your driving records, your legal history, previous addresses and previous employment. Many now even do a web search on your online activity.

For most people, somewhere in that haystack of personal data is a hand grenade or two. By that I mean there’s some piece of information that will disqualify you from consideration for a job. It might be a previous arrest or conviction, fair or poor credit, too much credit, or statements you have made in the social media that may be determined to be either controversial or politically incorrect.

What this all means is that even though there are good jobs out there, and even though you may be generally qualified, you won’t get them. That’s because unless you are perfectly qualified – and have no blemishes in your past – you won’t get hired.

But that’s “progress”, right? Better employment through science.

As reader Bev described it in a comment she wrote last week on the Equifax Breach post, it’s ”The Matrix”.

Exactly!

Making and End Run Around the Problem

If like everything else, getting a job is now subject to navigating The Matrix, it’s a game we can’t win. You can put as many pretty bows on the situation as you like, but it’s no longer a people friendly arrangement. Most employers no longer even feel a moral obligation to do a follow-up response with people who have bothered to go through the unnecessarily complicated application process.

Rest assured it won’t get better. Complex systems are set up for bots, not people. That’s the real problem.

So how do we survive in this cold new world?

I think we’re already seeing a trend toward people simply dropping out of the system. That doesn’t mean that they’re canceling their cell phone service and cutting their Internet cables, to go live in a cave and live off the land. But I think that millions are adopting a lower profile existence.

The well-documented decline in the labor participation rate confirms that millions of people are dropping out of the labor force.

Different theories have been proposed to explain this phenomenon. They include extended terms in college, early retirement, and people going on disability. The disability argument is a strong one. But staying in school longer only delays entry to the job market. And early retirement is very often followed by returning to work.

As well, early retirement could be part of an overall strategy of adopting a lower profile. Many early retirees don’t actually retire. Instead, the use retirement income as an additional source of revenue. They may continue to hold a job, part-time or full-time, or run a business. Either way, they’re lowering their profile.

What My Daughter Learned on a Trip to the Connecticut State Fair

Last week, my daughter went to the Connecticut State Fair. There were two things about the fair that really impressed her – the magnitude of the fair, and the number of vendors operating in it.

Much like her dad, my daughter has a very inquisitive nature. Not only did she browse and shop among the many vendors, but she also interviewed a large number of them. The vast majority are independent operators, who sell at the many fairs and events in different places – kind of like traveling peddlers – but also have either online stores or Etsy shops.

Since she grew up in the Atlanta metropolitan area, which is dominated by corporate employers, she was overwhelmed that so many people are self-employed, and in such basic capacities. She was impressed that so many created their own merchandise, and then either sold it at fairs or online.

Needless to say, it got her thinking about what she wants to do with her own life. Sometimes, all you need to do is see people succeeding at something unconventional to convince you that it’s a real alternative.

I think it’s important for all of us to realize that there are people out there who are earning a living outside of the conventional system. It’s not like going off the grid, but it does provide many of the same benefits. And they are adopting a lower profile. It’s likely that many of them don’t even show up in any employment statistics.

Adopting a Lower Profile Existence

Just because the powers that be have decided that The Matrix should rule the day, doesn’t mean we have to go along. In fact, our single strongest protest against it is to simply not cooperate with it. That’s called voting with your feet.

That doesn’t mean we have to go full-on radical, but we can both make a public statement and improve the quality of our lives, by not participating in the game.

It’s important to remember that, particularly in today’s construct, the job market empowers employers, and weakens both employees and job hunters. In a very real way, American culture has gone full circle – back to the plantation economy. Those who run the “plantation” are increasingly powerful, while those who want to work on it or for it are systematically disempowered.

We still have to survive, even if we drop out of the job market. The only way to do that is either to become independently wealthy, or to adopt some form of self-employment. Since relatively few will ever become independently wealthy, the self-employment route needs to be the preferred path.

Stop Thinking “Job” and Start Thinking Self-Employment

It’s unfortunate, but in today’s world the masses are conditioned to think “job”, not self-employment. The entire education system trains young people for jobs in government and corporate America. They don’t even know how to teach self-employment.

Officially, only about 6.5% of the US workforce are self-employed, which is one of the lowest rates in the industrialized world.

Once again, I think that understates the reality. There are millions of people who are self-employed and don’t show up on the radar. I’m sure many of the vendors my daughter saw at the state fair fall into this category. There are probably also retirees who have businesses that are least secondary income sources.

That raises a critical point: self-employment isn’t an either/or situation. Having your own business doesn’t have to be your primary occupation. You can have a side business, alongside a part-time or full-time job, or in conjunction with retirement income. You may not be fully self-employed, but you’re not completely dependent on the job market either.

Just having one foot outside the door opens up a lot of freedom and flexibility, and keeps you from being completely dependent on the job market.

Options in Self-Employment

There are different ways to be self-employed. Before I became a full-time freelance blog writer, I spent several years doing it in conjunction with contract work, mostly in public accounting. You can ease into self-employment – there’s no need to make a do-or-die plunge that will risk financial disaster.

Self-employment can even start with doing ”gig work”. This has become another new normal in the 21st century. Since employers don’t want to hire people on a full-time basis, they often sub-out work to independent providers. Start using your skills to do gig work for a few small businesses, and you’ll be self-employed.

By developing multiple skills and income sources, you could even become a mobile creative.

All of this can be even more important if you’re a new or recent college graduate. Young people may be forced to create their own careers. The current job recovery aside, employers have become reluctant to provide living wage jobs, in their relentless efforts to reduce costs. That situation is unlikely to change, and will accelerate in the next economic downturn.

I realize that a lot of this stuff is out-of-the-box. But reality is changing faster than we’re adjusting. Before we can adjust, we first need to change how we think. We don’t have to like what’s going on, but we have an obligation to ourselves and to those who depend on us to survive and thrive no matter what’s happening.

Do you see any of this in the job market? What strategies can you offer as a solution to anyone who might be unemployed, or on the chopping block?

( Photo by Samuel Mann )

17 Responses to Jobs Advertised But NO Jobs – What’s Up With That???

  1. Hi Kevin: Thank you for the reference in the article about “The Matrix.” In response to your question, I can only wholeheartedly agree with you. Both my husband and I (before we met) had two jobs. One full-time, corporate so to speak and the second a work-from-home job. When we met, I left my two-job status and went with him, because he was more successful than I was, plus I liked where he lived better than where I lived!! But the essence of the story is that we both had something to fall back on if the full-time job went south. Neither of ours did, we chose to leave those full-time jobs to focus on our own side-hustle. It’s always important, in this economy, to be as self-sufficient as possible. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work for someone else. I only mean that you need to look after yourself and your own family because no one else is going to do it for you. There used to be a time when companies looked after their employees (i.e., pensions, good benefits, etc.). Not any more. We’re all on our own out there. I liked your daughter’s story about the fair, because that’s exactly what’s happening. People are finding many creative ways to make money (legally! :)) and being successful at it, either because they enjoy what they do or out of necessity. And it’s only going to get worse. It worked for my nephew when he got laid off because of a buy-out. He had his own thing going from home, and he slid right into working for himself three years ago and still going strong. Don’t be too dependent on others for your lifestyle.

  2. Your situation sounds a lot like mine Bev. The side hustle turned into the main occupation. It’s so comforting to have that ability. I also agree, that self-reliance doesn’t exclude having a job. It’s just that we should never be entirely dependent on it. Keeping a job or getting a new one has become incredibly difficult. It used to be that getting a job was easier than starting a business, but I don’t think that’s true any more.

    Any time I run into someone who’s self-employed, especially if it’s a side business, I’m always interested in getting the details. They’re proof that we aren’t trapped in the system. I just wish more people would get on the bandwagon, instead of allowing themselves to be ruled by fear. We’d be a stronger society if we had more business owners. That’s more important than homeowners, because the business owner has more control over their destiny. The hardest part is getting started. After that, it becomes natural, and you wonder how you ever did the career thing.

  3. I think you said it beautifully, Kevin. “Keeping a job or getting a new one has become incredibly difficult.” It never used to be that way, at least as what I can remember. But things have changed. It wasn’t easy making ends meet when we went full-time self-employed. My husband, a single guy at the time, no kids, ate cereal and macaroni and cheese more times than he likes to remember. But he stuck with it. His house was covered in boxes and machinery when I came here. All that’s changed now, and we have our home back, but I think that’s also the problem, the stick-to-it part. It’s too easy to give up. No easy answers. Hopefully what we’re writing here will help others, whatever they decide is best for them.

  4. Yes, the stick-to-it phase, I remember it well. When I started out, that’s when we discovered the virtues of grocery shopping at ALDI and buying clothing at thrift stores. We also kept our beater cars a few years longer, and perfected the art of auto repair with backyard mechanics. I learned a lot about how to live on very little back then. All valuable lessons that I wouldn’t want to trade. Once you learn how little you can survive on it’s actually liberating. But I also get the point that persistence isn’t a cultural norm. Life is too convenient today, and people don’t want to rough it even if that will bring them to a better place in life. That’s probably what keeps more people exactly where they’re at now.

    Self-employment has also taught me that life really does need to be an adventure. Hanging back and playing it safe may seem right intellectually, but it’s like playing defense all your life. I’m over that. Like my uncle told me many decades ago, I’d rather work for myself and make $25,000 (the 1970s) than work for someone else and make $40,000. I’ve learned to appreciate that. But you do have to learn to swear off a few creature comforts. I.e., my wife and I haven’t bought a brand new car since 1999. And you know what? It doesn’t hurt us a bit.

  5. I have some friends who are in the recruiting business. I remember asking them this a long time ago. Here’s what they told me.
    Normally any job you see advertised in the paper are there just to appease any state laws that require or have fair hiring practices.

    90 percent of people hired for jobs are hiried because of connections within the company that you are applying for. I’m talking about any job that is worth it. Not entry level jobs or basic service sector jobs or seasonal help.
    They even bring you in for an interview but most times they already have the person they are going to hire waiting in the wings.

    This very thing happened to somebody I knew (Guy 1). A good friend of his ( Guy 2) was in a position to hire.
    He made ( Guy 1 ) apply just to appease the state laws. He interviewed 20 people. Guy 1 waited three months until he got hired.
    There were 862 people who applied. Guy 1 was no where near qualified but he had the connect.

    There is nothing on the up and up. It’s all inside. When you see a job in the paper it’s not worth bothering. Normally by the time it is in the paper their person has already been hired or waiting in the wings.

    This is a big reason I got out of that rat race and started my own company. I am not playing that game anymore. I know better.

    I hate writing this stuff but it’s the world we live in.

  6. We have to write about this stuff Tim because it’s real, and because the mainstream tries to pretend that it isn’t happening, and that the system is basically fair and well-functioning. Then a lot of people who are trapped by the system blame themselves, and that’s the part I don’t like. It used to be a lot easier to land a job, back in the 80s and 90s. I never even worried about it back then, even though I was seeing signs of change along the way. Today, it’s a real task to find a job. People know it, and that’s why there’s so much insecurity about jobs.

    I think the connection idea is right. Spend time making connections rather than looking for a job. The system has become resistant to new entrants. Computers have made that much easier to do. The problem is that SOME people do succeed in finding jobs the usual ways, but they’re becoming increasingly rare. Life really is easier outside the corporate maze. I think I’ll stay on the outside looking in.

  7. I was laid off the day I returned to my job of 13 years after one month medical leave. It was also my 60th birthday. I was officially unemployed for 13 months. I sent out hundreds of applications, networked at recruiting meetings on a weekly basis and did cold calls in person at various businesses. I had less than 10 interviews. No one hired me. To survive and pay my mortgage I freelanced graphic design from home, did catering, house sat, pet sat, taught art classes, held studio sales in my home and worked for a temp agency. I am now employed full time again (at about half the pay I was making), but I got the job because my neighbor down the street recommended me to the Executive Director of the charity I work at. I have a side hustle that I am growing, and work at it as much as I’m able. A friend of mine is in the telecommunications field, and has worked for 5 different companies in the last 18 months. They hire him, work him 50-60 hours a week, then say they have no work for him. They don’t officially lay him off, they just don’t assign him work after he’s worked 8-10 weeks. All of those companies hired him as a permanent, full time employee.
    Evidently this is common practice in the telecommunications industry. He has since become self employed as a contractor. Online Job Boards and recruiters are sounding the death knell for people looking for work. You are right to say that it is important to have more than one income stream because you can no longer depend on your full time job being there.

  8. Hi Catt – I think the main takeaway of your story is your freelance work, which I’m guessing is the foundation of your side hustle. Not to downplay the situation that led you up to this point, but it’s become a common story. It’s especially true if you’re over 50, but it’s also affecting younger workers. I think the employment regime that predominated after World War II has finally come to an end. There are still a few who are well-employed in high paying jobs with good benefits and some job security, but the pool is shrinking. The hire and fire at will routine has become all too common. But you responded positively by finding ways to make a living without a job. Hopefully, you’ll keep that going and grow it to the point where you don’t need a job.

    There’s one more point in your story that I think is often overlooked. You got let go at 60 – that’s a critical time leading up to retirement. When someone gets laid off at that stage of the game, their retirement is also threatened. Not only do you stop contributing to your retirement, but you may be forced to withdraw funds to survive. That’s another compelling reason to either be self-employed or have a side hustle. It may be your means of survival well into the retirement years.

    And then there’s health insurance. I wrote in a previous article that our family health insurance is now $1875 per month on the COBRA plan. We’re hoping to get on another employer plan before year-end, but it’s hurting our finances in the meantime.

    This has become a vicious world for all but the top 5% or 10% of households.

  9. I think by this point we both know their are two worlds. The one where as you say is basic and fair and the one that really exsists.

    It’s all rigged. The stock market, housing market, job market, health care , etc etc. Health care is a money making machine. It’s not about patients anymore. Same with the stock market. If your not inside your out. Throwing darts at a board. Maybe your lucky enough to make 100000 over a 40 or 50 year span but that’s it.
    Then half is taken by taxes when you want it. Plus the fact that if you are lucky enough to accumulate a decent amount. It’s worth 10 percent of what it is worth when you started.

    Housing market, LOL. I know block clubs who pay realtors kick backs under the table to only bring certian kinds of people into the neighborhood when a house comes on the market. Plus the fact that alot of houses in this city that are decent or worth living in never make it to the open market. They actually list the house but will not put a sign out front. It’s all designed to keep certain people from knowing or moving onto the street.

    Job market, As I described above.

    It is sad. Not the way things should be. They are though.

    People blame themselves or wonder why they can’t get ahead or make real progress.

    Really, this blog brings it out of me for some reason. It’s the topics. You ever feel you know too much and wish you didn’t.

  10. My younger self didn’t want to believe that the system is rigged, but if you live long enough it becomes undeniable. Don’t get me started on the stock market. The more I read about why it’s doing so well, the more it turns my stomach. Pure manipulation. It’s all about low interest rates, government action, Fed money printing and ETF flows (people pour money into ETFs without any concern for the integrity of the stocks they hold). Fundamentals have nothing to do with it. That’s why it could keep going up for years, suckering more people in. But it’s like a lot of other sides to the modern world. It’s not about substance, it’s about image and appearance.

  11. I feel for the guy above. He’s a classic example of what I was talking about.

    I know, sorry. We will save the stock market for another time.
    I never owned a stock and never will.
    A guy I grew up with son worked on wall street for five years. After things he told me I’m glad I never bought into that sham.

  12. I think Liar’s Poker should be required reading in high school and college. It talks about all the crap in the bond market from the actual front line. But my guess is that it doesn’t make too many reading lists, since it goes against the standard company line about the virtues of Wall Street.

  13. Hi Kevin. I agree with you and Tim about the stock market being rigged, but what is someone supposed to do when their 401k is attached to the market, so to speak. I’m not criticizing, I’m actually asking if anyone knows an answer. My daughter and her husband ask me if they should keep putting money into their 401k, and I tell them yes, but when, not if, the market tanks, they’re going to be very upset with me, as I’ll be with myself for my own plan. But it’s the only game in town. Just wondering on that. I wholly agree with both of you, the entire system (Matrix) seems rigged so as to prevent people from getting ahead, no matter how hard you work. And good grief, I’ve never heard of block clubs…is that like an HOA? This is scarier than I imagined.

  14. Hi Bev – I’m mixed on the stock market, so I’m not a good person to get advice from. On the one hand, the market is completely over-valued, and due for a serious decline. But on the other, I’m not sure over-valued means anything any more. You’re right, with interest rates so low, there’s no alternative to stocks. That’s part of what’s driving the market higher.

    But then there’s the ETF/401k phenomenon. It goes something like this…Dick and Jane contribute to their 401k accounts and invest all the money in index-based ETFs. Since ETFs are a play on markets, and not on stocks, Dick and Jane never concern themselves with whether or not the stocks that make up the indexes for the ETFs are good investments. And since both their 401k contributions and subsequent ETF investments are virtually automatic, they just keep feeding money into the market. They have no idea if the underlying investments are any good, nor do they care.

    Multiply Dick and Jane by millions of 401k/ETF investors, and you have the makings of a Ponzi scheme. No one cares if the individual stocks are sound or if they’re over-priced. No one ever tells them to sell and take profits, so they just keep feeding the beast. Rather than reacting on fundamentals, stocks rise in response to the inflows of money. In a real way, it’s feeding on itself. It goes up because it goes up, and it just keeps going.

    So, in a rational world, the market should collapse due to over-valuation. But with this perfect Ponzi scheme it never does. And then you have all these companies buying back their own stocks, pushing the price even higher by reducing the amount of stock on the market. So while my heart says it’s time to be out of the market, my head says this could go on for a very long time.

    I think your advice to your daughter and son-in-law is sound for the time being. The System has rigged the market to rise with almost mathematical precision, I think in part as a confirmation that “everything is great”. I don’t know how that stops, other than to point to history which shows that all bubbles pop. But while they’re inflating they can go on longer than anyone thinks.

    Not very good advice, but I told you at the outset that I’m not a good person to get advice from on this.

  15. Yes,
    An HOA is like a block club.

    It’s possible I shouldn’t write some of the things I have. I was in law enforcement for 25 years.
    I have seen way too much in life.

  16. No, Tim. You’re exactly the kind of person who should be writing what you do, and more of us need to listen, or at least be made aware of things, and then we can form our own opinions. But at least we’ve been made aware, like Kevin is doing in this wonderful blog. Giving people things to think about and have theirs eyes opened. My appreciation to all who contribute here.

  17. Bev & Tim – Either of you are welcome to write a full blog post on any topic you’d like. Just run the idea by my by email, and we’ll go from there. We’re always open to fresh content!

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