Sunday, September 14, 2008

What Can We Do About Unemployment? - Part 3

In my last two postings, I have tried to outline some of the many problems facing those who are unemployed. After all, it is difficult to address a problem unless we have an understanding of it.

So let’s start with some proposed solutions.

Quality outplacement help needs to be freely available to all. In today’s job market where
thousands can be laid off at a time and forced to find new employment, just giving someone a list of job postings is terribly inadequate to say the least! But many of the state employment agencies are bureaucracies that do little more than that.

Nowadays mounting an effective job search requires the learning of a number of skills like preparing a resume, written communication and interviewing skills, and most importantly networking to find the
many jobs that are not advertised. I am fortunate because I have the help of a volunteer organization like Priority Two which serves the Greater Pittsburgh area. A group like Priority Two provides an abundance of networking contacts along with skills sessions and workshops that are taught by those who themselves were formerly unemployed and really know the ropes. For others not so fortunate to have access to resources like this, courses like these should be available at community colleges or other educational facilities everywhere, especially in areas with particularly high unemployment.

An important part of quality outplacement help is to find an appropriate new career if necessary for a displaced worker to get back into the labor force. It’s easy to say that somebody should be ‘retrained’. What field to be retrained for in this age of outsourcing can be like chasing a moving target since today’s hot careers can become tomorrow’s dead-end jobs. When a government agency does employment surveys of a particular area, details should be gathered on what specific professional careers (along with their required qualifications) are experiencing the most and least amount of hiring along with info on which ones are suffering the most or least layoffs. This important information is very difficult for the individual jobseeker to obtain to make important career choices.

The burden of expensive health insurance should be taken off the backs of employers. Ideally in my view would be to have a single-payer system like Medicare for all of our citizens that would take the place of employer provided health insurance. But neither major presidential candidate favors this at the present time. But at least if a plan is successfully implemented that can get the cost of health insurance under control for businesses, there would be more incentive to hire new employees here in the US instead of outsourcing them from elsewhere to avoid health insurance costs.

Provide a tax incentive for businesses to hire the unemployed. Here’s an interesting idea to consider. The longer one is unemployed (involuntarily), the more the incentive awarded for hiring that person. This would help those who are hurting the most and the money used for incentives would be quickly returned in the way of taxes that the new employee would be paying after being hired.

Acknowledge age discrimination as a serious issue we need to do something about. With the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) who is charged with enforcing age and other kinds of discrimination badly undermanned and overworked, employers who choose to practice age discrimination know they have little to worry about. And while all employers recite the mantra about not discriminating against anybody, some of their employment practices have the effect of discrimination whether that is their intent or not. That is the principle behind
disparate impact which is already written into anti-discrimination laws. Now all we have to do is enforce them!

I and many others feel that telling someone that they are ‘overqualified’ is often little more than a means to get away with age discrimination. Logically, most of us want jobs that use as much of our abilities and pay as much as possible. Why would anybody want any less? Sometimes we need to do what we can to put food on the table. If there was a better job available, there wouldn’t be any need to ask for a lesser job. And for those of you in companies who are afraid of that person leaving for a better job, what’s stopping you from offering that better job if that person has performed well enough to deserve it?

There are many unemployed people out there who because of their great deal of prior experience in the workplace have well-developed interpersonal
soft skills and if given a chance can most certainly make a positive contribution to an organization with a little technical training to get up to speed. But employers need to give these people a chance for an interview instead of rejecting them based on insurmountable obstacles in the way of needlessly narrow job requirements.

Adjust H1-B immigration quotas for white-collar workers to reflect present employment conditions. We talk about wanting to turn out more engineers and scientists. But don’t we need to make sure the ones we already have can find work in their fields?

Create jobs by rebuilding the infrastructure. Back during the Great Depression of the 1930s when unemployment rates were far higher than those today, public works projects were used as part of the
New Deal instituted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to try and get people back on their feet. Mention the New Deal to hard-core conservatives and you will likely get a gnashing of teeth but many of the programs started then are still helping people today.

But make no mistake. Rebuilding the infrastructure is far from a make-work project to give people something to do. It is work that we desperately need to have done! For example, we need to convert to
renewable sources of energy to try and cure our addiction to fossil fuels. With the help of energy policies to encourage this conversion, we can ramp up our manufacturing capability to produce enough wind turbines and solar cells along with constructing the power grid to deliver these energy sources creating a tremendous number of jobs for US workers.

On the public works side, many of our roads, bridges, and levees are in need or repair and/or rebuilding. These projects also create jobs for those who do the design work and provide the construction materials in addition to the actual construction labor. China is a wonderful example of a nation that has dedicated itself to rebuilding its infrastructure. But then again, they haven’t had to finance an expensive war like the US has. Perhaps if we can finally extricate ourselves from Iraq, we can have more resources available for our own infrastructure needs.

I hope these proposed solutions will at least encourage further discussion along with ideas from others on doing something about the problem of unemployment!

No comments: