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.
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%.
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.
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”.
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?