I recently wrote about “discouraged workers” — often older ones — who have lost jobs and sought new ones, but have given up hope of finding decent any. And I came across a corollary, and chilling, article in the New York Times. In it, Matthew C. Klein, a research associate at the Council on Foreign Relations, looks at the role that irate, agitated, out-of-work young people have played in toppling or destabilizing regimes in the Middle East.
He notes that they are a ticking time bomb elsewhere as well. In southern Europe, about one-fourth of college graduates under age 25 are unemployed and disgruntled. Although the rate is far lower in the United States, he writes, “it would be higher still if it accounted for all of those young graduates who have given up looking for full-time work, and are working part time for lack of any alternative.”
More alarmingly, Klein believes, “The millions of young people who cannot get jobs or who take work that does not require a college education are in danger of losing their faith in the future.”
In places like Michigan, Nevada, California, and Kentucky, where overall unemployment is high, you can bet that there are lots of not just discouraged workers — but desperate ones as well — at both ends of the age scale.
You’d be desperate, too, probably, if you had lost a job in which you had performed well, honorably, and perhaps for many years, only to find door after door shut in your face when you sought a comparable one.
You know what they say about desperate times — that they call for desperate measures. This can apply to desperate people as well.
In a related note, did you happen to catch Mary Burns Furr’s comment about my discouraged-worker blog that she posted on the Ted Landphair’s America Facebook page? It was thought-provoking:
My hope is that re-training, re-tooling will help, but that requires either government dollars or the willingness of corporations to train/re-train employees. America has always been the land of hope, the place that discouraged people flocked to. Where can discouraged Americans look for opportunity, a chance to start again if their old job is gone forever? Perhaps if the situation is desperate enough for American workers, they will accept lower wages, lower expectations in exchange to do work that 1) they have been willing to let immigrants do (lawn care, agricultural work), or 2) has been shipped overseas to lower-paid workforces.
My hope is that most will be able to receive the educational support they need to find well-paying employment. Otherwise, I fear the middle-class will shrink and we will become a two-tier society of the poor and very rich. Patronage (you must know someone to get a job) may become more of a factor, as well.
My thoughts, Mary:
• A lot of people are arguing that we’re already close to being a two-tier, rich-poor society. If this wealth gap takes firm hold, would we be “America” as we know it any more without a vibrant middle class? History has shown innumerable times that a wealth gap is a recipe for revolution or worse: invasion. When our nation steadily began making fewer things besides information, it was touted as staying ahead of history’s curve. But what if one day we wake up to discover that we have abandoned or outsourced what made us strong and unique in the world?
• I worry, too, about America as the world’s pre-eminent “land of hope and opportunity” since, for some, cynicism, political extremism, and economic hardships have taken the shine off the American dream for a lot of people. Witness the divisive, even caustic rhetoric on both sides about a “shutdown” of the government for many employees and contractors.
• Your retraining model might work, Mary, if, as you say, state and local governments — already strapped for cash — could afford to offer it, and if workers could afford to enroll. Also, “old dogs” who still need and want to work would wonder whether they can learn new tricks and whether anything short of the “patronage” you mentioned would convince employers to hire them. Of course they have no such patrons, or they would have approached them by now.
People still haul out the old “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” bromide. Have you ever put cowboy boots and tried to pull yourself up by them?
Ted's Wild Words
These are a few words from this posting that you may not know. Each time, I'll tell you a little about them and also place them into a cumulative archive of "Ted's Wild Words" in the right-hand column of the home page. Just click on it there, and if there's another word that you'd like me to explain, just ask!
Bromide. Chemically, combining the element bromine with another such as potassium or sodium, a bromide is a compound that was once widely used (and abused) as a tranquilizing sedative. The antacid product “Bromo-Seltzer,” later used to relieve upset stomachs and hangovers, was a powerful formulation of bromine and sodium until bromides were ordered removed from the U.S. market in 1975. All the while, the word “bromide” came to be used to describe everyday, soothing clichés. “All’s well that ends well” is a common bromide, for example.
Corollary. Something, based in mathematics, that one assumes to be true based on earlier, proven statements that have been proved. An inference or deduction. If it’s a given that the world is round, for instance, then we don’t have to worry about approaching and falling off the “edge of the earth.”