This Week's Herman Trend Alert

Leadership in Normal 2.0

  The Herman Trend Alert

July 5, 2006

Unemployed by Choice

While there are certainly thousands, if not millions of unemployed people who are honestly seeking employment, there is a sizeable segment of the population that is unemployed by choice. We have wondered why the economists pegged the rate for “full employment” as between 4.5 and 5.0 percent unemployment? Now, we understand better.

What we have seen, albeit anecdotally, is that a segment of people who are unemployed are simply “not interested” in taking a new job right away. They recognize the importance of working and plan to return to work---eventually---“just “not now.”

These unemployed-by-choice workers fall into two distinct categories, but all the folks that we have encountered had been working long term (more than five years) for the same company and were “laid off” or “re-engineered out”.

The first group, and probably the largest, is the segment of very long-term employees (10 years+) whose jobs literally evaporated when their plant closed. (During April, 118,504 people were laid off.) These older employees often have only a sixth, seventh, or eight-grade education; they find themselves in a job market that demands computer skills and most don’t know how to turn on a computer, much less complete an application online.

Even the manufacturing jobs that are available require basic computer skills. The prospect of the retraining they now need seems overwhelming. Many of them are in shock. They will go back to work---eventually; but for now, they will subsist on food stamps and their unemployment checks, as they recover from this life-changing event.

The other group, more affluent, has been working in white-collar jobs. These are burned out controllers, administrators, etc, laid off with generous severance packages to assuage the guilt of the companies they served tirelessly for years. These dedicated employees, mostly 30- and 40-somethings, are ready for a break.

They are taking their layoffs as opportunities---chances to kick back, travel, fix up their homes, go back to school, or even have the elective surgery they put off for “another time”. These folks are living the mid-career sabbaticals we have forecasted with the end of traditional retirement.

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