Job market’s icy reality is freezing out good workers

Lately, I’ve been keeping an eye on economic news.

My best take on things is that if what’s happening is a “recovery,” I really don’t want to see “hard times.”

Just now, I’m about a month away from filing for Social Security and I’m one of the lucky ones. My wife and I have managed to save a bit and, between those savings and a retirement income, we should be good.

Trust me, we won’t be rich (or anything approaching it), but we’ll keep a roof over our heads, food in the refrigerator, and the water running. Cable, however, may be a bit “iffy.”

What’s really “iffy” these days, though, is either finding or holding onto a job. My front row seat to this problem comes to me courtesy of my three grown kids who are scrambling to find ways to make it in the current market.

Then there was the recent article in this newspaper about an individual who’s about to file for his Social Security benefits. Not because he wants to, mind you, but because he has to. At 63, he’s not been able to find a job to replace the one he lost some time back.

On another front, I have a good friend who was pretty far up the food chain in a major company. About a year or so ago, he negotiated a very complicated contract that made a bucket-load of money for his company. It took all of his skill — learned over years in the job — to bring that one home. A couple of days later, he was told that his performance wasn’t all it should be and he was fired.

Horsepuckey was what that was. The reason he was let go was that the bean counters ran the numbers and found that a couple of recent graduates could be had for less money than he was making.

The story of jobs lost and businesses closing aren’t really news any more despite the fact that “downsizing,” “outplacement,” and “job migration” are still significant events. They might not raise the national eyebrow any longer, but they still have a personal effect — especially if those words apply to you.

It wasn’t always thus.

My dad made a living by driving a bus. He held that job from the 1930s until he retired in 1969. When World War II started, he enlisted and spent several years in the Navy. When he returned, he simply went back to the company and found his old boss. That individual told him his coffee had likely gone cold, but it was good to see him again and could he start that day?

When I finished college, I never worried about whether I’d be able to find a job. The worry I had mostly revolved around was whether I could find the one that really lit my fires.

These days, however, you can work for years at a company and, then, things go bad. Maybe the product is no longer in demand. Maybe someone decided that moving to Thailand or Mexico or Timbuktu would be a good thing to do. Maybe they’ve bought into the latest “sure-fire” business model. No matter because, whatever the cause, the bottom line is that a lot of good people are out of work.

Then, if you’re on the dark side of 50, there are other obstacles to overcome. Suddenly, you find that you’re “overqualified” or that your experience is such that you’d find the job “too boring.” All of which translate to, “Tough luck, buckaroo.”

Still, I don’t know that I can lay all of the blame on the companies. They’re trying to compete in a world that’s changing and they have to adapt. Unfortunately, adapting isn’t always economically pretty.

One thing’s sure, though. None of this has to do with productivity, skill or work ethic. Americans are as good as it gets in those departments. What’s happening is that with the emergence of China, India, and other such countries, we’re being undercut in the labor cost arena and jobs — especially in manufacturing — are migrating.

For sure, I don’t have the answer to all of this, but we’d better start finding leaders who do. Unfortunately, I don’t see them on the horizon just yet in either party.

Someone once said that the world is a cold place.

Lately, in the jobs arena, I believe the temperature has dropped another few degrees.

And that’s not a good thing.

Larry Simoneaux lives in Edmonds. Send comments to

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