According to recent reports on unemployment, the news is rosy – or so they would have us believe. Announcements were made the first of December that the unemployment rate actually fell to 7.7% but what most mainstream news agencies neglected to report was the decrease came on the shoulders of discouraged workers. There were 542,000 workers who had been counted in previous statistics that stopped looking for work, total discouragement as the cause. I call these workers the “silent majority.” If these workers were included in the actual statistics, the unemployment rate would be 9.7% and if you add in the over 8 million part-time workers (who can’t find full-time work) the rate would be 14.4%. These are U.S. statistics and the picture here in Canada isn’t any better.
The unemployment rate in Canada fell to 7.2% in November but most of the gains in employment were in service jobs, which we all know don’t pay much more than minimum wage. And manufacturing continues to be battered, especially here in the Niagara region, where an announcement was made today that half of a labour force will be reduced next month. This comes to a city that has lost almost all of their manufacturing jobs, a once thriving city.
I now have to ask, where do these discouraged and downtrodden workers turn? For people that qualify in the U.S., they can participate in the SNAP program, formerly Food Stamps. For anyone who has tried to survive on that program, it is a guarantee that your food runs out long before the month does. For people in Canada, there is no such program, so they only have food banks to turn to.
What do half a million people do when they’ve possibly been looking for work for a year or longer? They are no longer counted in the statistics because data for those statistics come from people drawing unemployment benefits (Employment Insurance here in Canada) and they’re not sure where to turn now.
There are also a lot of odds stacked against many of the people who are included in the silent majority of unemployment – age, over-qualification and lack of experience in the fields they have to apply. I know this from my own experience, both in the recent past and again, over the past six months. When the majority of jobs with openings are in the service industry – from hotel workers to retail sales and you have spent the last 30 years working either in a manufacturing job or an office job, you are told you need experience in that field, or worse, that you are overqualified. Many people with Master’s Degrees are turning to whatever job is available once their unemployment benefits are close to running out or have run out. Is there an answer to this dilemma? I would love to hear your suggestions or ideas.
I will close with a story I heard on NPR the other day, talking about a woman who lives in California and wrote President Obama a letter in response to one of his announcements that things were looking up. She had worked many years in the corporate world but her company downsized and she was in the group that was let go. She looked for work and got a lot of the same responses that I noted above, tried to start her own business and went through all her savings and retirement just trying to keep a roof over her head. In the end, she lost her house and everything with it and is now living in her car. The parking lot where she parks her car at night has a waiting list, if you can believe that, because it’s in a safer neighbourhood and is lit well.