How high will unemployment go? 8.5% breaks 26 year record

The fact that I’m old enough to remember watching my friends lose homes in the mid-eighties is scary enough.  But I wasn’t old enough then to understand global economic impact as I do now.  There are currently about 25 million Americans out of work and looking for work.  That is almost the population of Canada and equivalent to most of California pounding the pavement looking for crumbs.  If you’ve talked to your working friends lately, you’ll have discovered that being laid off no longer holds the stigma it once did.  The question is no longer, “How’s work?”  It is “Do you think you’ll be able to keep your job?”  or “How long have you been laid off?”

I’m bursting with emotion and thoughts today, so better grab your home-brewed cup of coffee (sorry Starbucks, but you’ve been off my list of daily expenditure for about a year now!) or caffeine-free tea before reading on.  It’s a long one.

The March unemployment rate was just released.  8.5%.  And April is predicted to be higher.  Because unemployment is the end result of an economic downturn (not the precursor), the fallout isn’t even close to settling.

To put this all in a microcosmic perspective,  as many of you know, I’m a small business owner after a 20 year corporate executive career.  In addition to business consulting, I own a pet care company, Pooch Buddies.  And even with slower economic times, I have to add in one person to my team — because those who do have jobs are worker harder and longer to keep their jobs.  The job I’m looking to fill is part time, with entry level pay, and when I’ve looked for hires in the past, my free ad on Craig’s List brings me about 15 good candidates over a few days. 

I placed an ad yesterday morning, and by the end of the day, had over 70 applications.  70 applications for one tiny, part time position.  If you were a small business owner,  imagine that your company has just placed an ad for onefull time (with benefits) opening.  How many resumes do you expect you’d receive?  I’ll tell you.  Likely up to one thousand.  For one position.

As a jobseeker, how would you stand out? 

Let me go back to my microcosm again.  Out of the 70 applications (so far), about 10 of them did not fill in all of the info I’d asked for on my feedback form.  They are disqualified right away.  About 3 gave far too much information.  They are out.  About 10 applicants live too far away.  They are out.  So out of 70, I’m now down to 47. 

Those 47 are all pretty similar.  They all answered my questions with care and interest.  All live in the geography that I service.  About 20 of the 47 give a very similar answer.  Almost word for word.  Nothing to make them stand out. 

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So that takes me down to 27 interesting applicants (because I want the best I can get.)  Out of the 27 a few have a few time conflicts.  Some prefer only daytime work, some only evenings and weekends.  Means more work for me.  Out.  So now I’m down to 20.  Out of those 20, I’ll choose the 10 that appeal to me most.  Once I call them, I’ll interview the 7 best and choose 2 to background  and reference check.  If I don’t like either of those 2, then I’ll go back to my bigger pool and review the candidates I put aside from the “good” pool.

But for a minute, let’s look at the 4 candidates that stood out.  They emailed or called me directly in addition to submitting an application.  One is a definite no.  She was so concerned with her own needs and was so rude that there is no way I’d ever want to have her on my team.  (Knowing what not to do is just as important as knowing what TO do.)

Two were very genuine in their approach with backgrounds in animal care and a true love of animals (well, at least on the phone). 

And one called and emailed me before I’d ever put in an ad.  She found my site, called me twice, has a background with animals and coincidentally got in touch just a few days before I was planning on sending out the job posting. 

Now consider the job search efforts of 25 million.  Each job they apply to likely has close to 1000 applicants.  That is like throwing an online resume into an electronic puddle.  How the heck is a candidate going to stand out?  Especially when most jobs are filled through knowing someone who knows someone, who knows someone.  And most of  the someones you know are unemployed, about to be unemployed or work for companies that aren’t hiring.

It is critical to remember that even though so many are unemployed, there are still a lot of people employed.  There are not an excess of companies hiring…but there are SOME companies hiring.  This means any jobseeker must become a job detective or employment investigator.  Which brings me to an interesting concept put out in a book I just read, called “The Hourglass Solution: A Boomer’s Guide to the Rest of Your Life,”  by, Jeff Johnson and Paula Forman, both PhD’s.   Imagine our lives pictured as an hourglass.  Our midlife is the “waist” of the hourglass.  The concept is that at this pass-through point, we can get stuck.  The sand cannot pass through from the top of the hourglass to the bottom of the hourglass.  This especially rings true in this current job crisis.  Everyone desires and needs to work.  We’re all lumped together and now, effectively clogged up to get through this mid-point.  And unfortunately, the solution is NOT going to come from outside.  Especially for the Boomer and 50 Plusser, the solution is going to have to come from incredible creativity and ingenuity generated from a lifetime of accumulated experience, in order to find a job opening, get a job, or start a small business.  One of my guest writers, Corinne Copnick, read and reviewed the book for Gen Plus.  You’ll enjoy her viewpoint.  I think the concept is correct and certainly familiar. 

Bottom line is that we aren’t at the bottom line yet.  Unemployment will climb even higher.  New job generation will not be there for some time to come.  Even though there are some glimmerings of activity and hopefulness in the economy, the situation is still pretty bad.  My tax accountant did not ask me this year what I was putting away in my IRA.  He asked me if I was holding onto my house.  Same question he was asking all his clients this year.

 The reality is that we all have friends who are one week away from homelessness.  Some of you may be one week away from homelessness.  They…you…are all talented, incredible assets to a company that can hire them.   

These times of GREAT stress, call for GREAT ingenuity.  GREAT community and GREAT communal thinking and energy.  Remember the old adage: “United we stand, divided we fall.”  Our families and friends have moved across countries and continents over the past decades.  That era is ending.  Families are living together, again.  Sharing homes, sharing income, sharing creativity and business models.  OK.  So we’re at 8.5%.  We’ll go to 10% or even higher.  But maybe…just maybe…we’ll rediscover our internal resources rather than counting on external influences to keep us strong.

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