Unemployment Rate is Bunk. Despair is Strong.

Is the glass half empty, or half full?One thing that I didn’t understand during my job search was the unemployment rate. Seems like it was around 3% or 4% when I was looking (right now it’s at a record low 2.5ish% in Utah).

Politicians love this because it means they are doing their jobs wonderfully, and it’s great cause for celebration.

Employers hate it because they say they can’t find their talent (and you hear things like “war for talent” muttered more often).

I imagine recruiters love/hate it because it means more business opportunity for them since employers are more apt to bring them in, but it’s really, really hard to find the right person for the job.

I absolutely hate it because I think it misleads society — hey, if we are at 2.5% in Utah then things are great! We can sustain this forever, can’t we? The term “bubble burst comes to mind. Detroit is going through a huge employment bubble-burst right now.

I also hate it because it discourages those that are in the job search. If there are only 2.5 people out of 100 that can’t find a job, and I’m one of them, what’s wrong with me?

Why does someone talk about this great “job seeker’s market” and I can’t even get a real interview? It must be me, right? That’s what the government and economists are telling me 🙁

This unemployment rate is merely a metric devised by economists to help get a pulse on where we are at with jobs. But it’s just like any other metric – it has it’s problems and I choose to scoff at the rates. It suffers from garbage-in-garbage-out because people that don’t apply for unemployment, or otherwise report it, aren’t counted. It also neglects the huge difference between finding jobs at McDonalds vs. executive or professional positions.

It also neglects people that are unhappily employed, or looking for some other reason. I hear about a lot of people that are not in the “unemployment rate” numbers but are moving around. This is normal stuff, as far as I can see. But the numbers don’t reflect it at all.

Why am I on this subject? Yesterday should have been a really quiet day at JibberJobber. I was expecting record-low signups because of the holiday. But just the opposite happened. I got record-high signups, due to a newsletter that went out to a popular executive job board list. It’s uncommon to get more than 100 signups in one day, but it happened on the Fourth of July … all day long, from early morning and into the night. It was exciting because we continue to grow.

It was discouraging because I realized that there were hundreds of people who are extremely concerned about their careers, enough to take time to (a) read the newsletter, and (b) pick out the expert advice that says “use JibberJobber” and (c) signup for an account.

Maybe that’s a half-glass-empty observation. The flip side is that over 100 people understand long-term career management and are really interested in taking it to the next level.

Ya, maybe that’s it.

16 thoughts on “Unemployment Rate is Bunk. Despair is Strong.”

  1. When I’ve been unemployed, I have used the unemployment rate as an excuse why I couldn’t find a job. Don’t let that be and excuse for you. Jobs are to be had. Keep your spirits up, keep on connecting with other people, and by all means, pray. Check out the following link for more about eliminating excuses (I think I need to watch it again, myself): Overcoming excuses in a job search

  2. The two (unemployment rate vs people looking for jobs) are unrelated. Or, at least not related in the way you may think.

    A low unemployment rate means that you should be able to find a job (although, perhaps not in your area) if you have a skillset employers are looking for and/or are willing to do work that needs to be done. (By the way, the whole “McJobs” argument is a fallacy – every economic indicator today is above those of the dotcom era).

    Not getting a job for a while may mean that the skills that you’re offering (or the way that you’re presenting them) are not what is needed in the market. You either need to change your marketing (resume, etc.), emphasize different skills, or gain new skills.

    I talked not too long ago with an old COBOL programmer. I don’t care how low the unemployment rate gets, he ain’t getting a full-time, straight COBOL-programming job. His skills are out of date and he neglected to get any new ones in the last 20 years.

    The record high signup over July 4th is actually GREAT news. It means that there are a LOT of employed people who are starting to look at additional jobs now that the job market is good. The reason that they came on the 4th was that they were off work that day. If you had a record number of signups on July 9th, that would indicate a problem.


  3. The unemployment rate is deceiving, but I wouldn’t take such a negative view. Perhaps your new sign-ups just had some time yesterday to begin their subscriptions and the newsletter was just the push they needed.

    Additionally, the job market is so uncertain right now that it’s irresponsible not to think about career management. Companies don’t hire employees for the long term anymore, and employees could be cut loose even when they’re doing a fantastic job and love what they’re doing. And many people know that.

    So, don’t be discouraged because so many people are on the look-out for new jobs, be encouraged that they’re preparing themselves for a healthy career!

  4. Maybe we should factor in job happiness as “unemployed”..probably >75%….. as for job hunting, I often see a correlation of ownership. (or lack of) to their results. They describe their job search as a few alerts from Career Builder and Monster. They never heard of LinkedIn and/or think they are already a good networker. I have to really hold back from laughing when I hear them say they network at “breakfasts”. Everyone that I have shown JJ (I showed 100 people yesterday…) I coach them on one important thing, RATE your network based on how much you trust that person to help, NOT their ability to help. So what if you made your brother a one star…be honest with yourself and focus your efforts….be your own head hunter.

  5. Thanks for writing about this topic! Although it can be useful to have your “finger on the pulse” of what’s happening in hiring in your particular industry or job category, paying too much attention to the unemployment rate in general can be a big waste of time and worry, for the reasons you describe.

    Always I caution clients against believing that they are part of some negative statistic they’ve read and using that belief to sway their actions.

    The divorce rate is high, the failure rate of new small businesses are high, sometimes the unemployment rate is high, the chances of finding a spouse after age 50 are low (if you’re female), yet none of those facts should weigh more heavily than the individual facts about your individual situation!

    With the right people, commitment, actions, luck, attitude, etc. your marriage can succeed, your business can succeed, you can find the right job and you can find a wonderful spouse.

    But if you pay too much attention to media reports about how it’s not working for others, you lose critical power and momentum to pursue what you really want.

  6. While it is good to talk through “career management” and being concerned about it (as we all should be), I think that people (especially in the blogosphere) really underestimate how much churn happens in corporate reorganizations and how much that impacts one’s ability to focus on career.

    Many companies reorganize departments every six to ten months. What work you did — and perhaps enjoyed and was right on your career path — now changes and you work on something very different with some of the same skill sets. “Hurray,” will say those who champion career management, “you have the opportunity to expand your skills.”

    The truth of the matter is that at the individual job level, management will put people in a reorg where they need them, skills or not. You hope you have skills in the position, but often that is not the case. You’re a good employee and you’ve done well in the past and no one wanted to lay you off. But that’s not exactly furthering your career, is it?

    So, chalk this up to the “despair” side of the equation. Fighting for your career skills, landing a great job that matches up with what you want out of your career, then getting thrown into something you have no desire to do and that doesn’t match what you are trying to do.

    You can argue that you can leave and find a different job that does match your skills — but in many corporations, it means you get a new job every six months. Not exactly what we have in mind.

    One can’t give up, of course. But it’s a lot harder to stay focused on career when what you are doing for your career doesn’t match and then changes every six months.

    Of course one would sign up for JibberJobber! Anything to help networking and career management to understand where there is sanity in the corporate world of 2.5% unemployment and 75% annual churn in positions.

  7. Wow – I didn’t expect this post to create any responses. Shoot, I didn’t even ask one of my famous questions at the end of the post :p Perhaps it’s more of an issue than I thought. All I know is that the number is not useful for a common-Joe job seeker like me. And it certainly doesn’t help all the “old wives” … you know, the ones with their “tales,” who expect me to be able to get a job because the rate is so low.

    @Daniel J Jr. – that is really, really interesting… when I was looking I couldn’t use it as an excuse (so it had the opposite affect on me)… instead, it was a major discouraging factor (it was a “what’s wrong with me??” thing).

    @Daniel S – Good points (and you are more qualified in this area than I am)… you support the idea that what people think (or at least what I thought) the rate means doesn’t necessarily mean what it really means. Shoot, I got an A in economics but it doesn’t mean I understood much of it 🙂

    @Katie – Hm… I didn’t mean to come across with a “sky is falling” message. I don’t now why I feel strongly about this topic, but I do remember reading about how great the economy was, and hearing it on the radio… at a time when I couldn’t get one stinking interview. If it was so great why did I meet weekly with almost 100 different professionals that were in the same boat I was? I think that too many people think they know what this number represents but don’t really understand what it is. You are right on, though… career management… long-term, personal.

    @David – right on… and… wow, thanks for sharing JibberJobber with 100 people yesterday! that is way cool!

    @Heather – excellent advice… instead of looking at the rest and wondering what’s right with them, just figure out how to fix “my” situation. I like the attitude, and the message you send your clients.

    @Scot – this is a fascinating dynamic of corporate America. The last time I worked in a really, really big company I don’t remember those types of dynamics but I know it’s out there. That’s why I tell people that JibberJobber is not just a job search tool. If you are in transition (or will be), whether it’s changing companies or within the same company, you need to take career management seriously! BTW, Scot runs an awesome blog called CubeRules where he touches on this stuff a lot.

  8. Hi Jason, Don’t worry, I didn’t think it was a completely negative post. It’s just that what you’re talking about is a very familiar subject for those of us who are just leaving college now. For my generation, the workplace has completely fallen apart and we can’t expect long-term employment anymore. Over our working lives, my generation can expect that we will have 10-15 CAREERS, not just jobs.

    When I studied the changing workplace for my dissertation, it surprised me how much instability we can expect in the future. Today’s college graduates can’t count on their employer to reward them like my father’s generation did, and we can expect to be back on the job market frequently. It’s a really scary thought, because our entire lives we were brought up to expect that we would finish college, get a job and then be set for a long time.

    So, I know how you’re feeling. Luckily, many companies are hiring as well as firing… but the trick is to find them and make sure that we have the sort of skills that will easily transfer to new positions.

  9. I completely agree, but I believe you missed an important point in regard to the published unemployment rate; they do not count anyone who has used up their unemployment, but who has actively been seeking employment many months or years without success. Most of the added jobs are in places like McDonalds; so sure there are a lot of jobs that fail to pay a living wage! I am over 50, with a masters degree, and years of upward job experience in my field; yet, despite numerous interviews over the past three years, I have yet to receive any job offer that offered a living wage, and am in danger of losing my home, my health, and my ability to even be able to access the tools necessary to seek work. Age discrimination is most assuredly present, and employers would rather replace someone with genuine skills, experience, and workplace wisdom with someone younger who will work for a substandard wage. I also believe, after networking extensively, that the true national unemployment rate in the U.S. is currently around 15% or higher, if you count the people who are unemployed and actively seeking employment past the time when they were able to collect unemployment. Unfortunately, greeters at Wal-mart do not make a living wage, but over-50’s can certainly find that type of crappy job!

  10. I really enjoyed Scott’s coments about corporate America. Having been in large corporations for many years he is exactly right. In one job I had 8 different senior mgt bosses in less than 6 years.

    I am actively employed but know things can change tomorrow. That is life today. I saw a job posting last week and the employer put in the job description, “Long term commitment wanted.” I had to laugh. Will they give that person a long term job?

  11. Hi Jason:

    Thank you so much for covering this special topic. I work in Ontario Canada as an Employment Support Worker and we have the same problem up here. Our Federal Government is popping the champange corks because the economy produced a big 10 000 new jobs last month. However, if you read between the lines most of those jobs were in the service sectors (Tim Horton’s, Wal-Mart and Costco) which only pay between $9-$10 per hour. They kind of bury the fact that in the last two years we have lost over 289,000 manufacturing jobs in Ontario which pay adult salaries (at least $20.00/hr or more plus benefits). Like you and some other readers have stated they do not factor in those clients whose Employment Insurance Benefits have run out and have to go to Social Sevices or work under the table to make money to support themselves.

    Hopefully someday we can get some realistic numbers on both side of the border


  12. Jason,

    It is a job seekers market out there and that is good, however, a lot of companies haven’t figured it out yet. They continue doing the same thing, recruiting the same way, treating their most valuable assets badly, giving the usual 3% raises and wonder why burn out, churn and open positions are so prevalent.

    Glass half full, great time to look.

    If you are unemployed in this market, you need to look in the mirror, figure out what you need to change and get some professional help. There is a reason you have been on 6 interviews and haven’t got a job. Sorry but someone has to be honest with you.

    If you are employed but not inspired, start putting your ear to the ground but try not to get your head stomped on. In tough times, companies will promise the moon to get you on board and then, well you can figure it out. Be smart in your search and get good advice. Find your passion and go after your dreams.

    If you are both employed and inspired, build your network and your personal brand. Invest in yourself and finely hone your message. Not that you have to look over your shoulder but remember, you are only one day away from joining the ranks of the unemployed.

    JFK said it best, “The best time to fix the roof is when the sun is shining.”

  13. Wow I just got a new quote (to me at least) that I really love. Thanks Brad. I am going to print out in big letter JFK’s quote as a reminder to myself to always stay active in networking! If I got laid off tomorrow I would be so much better prepared than I was when I got laid off last year for the first time in 20+ years of employment. I was so unprepared and stocked. My network needed a lot of work. Not any more. Not me.

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