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Bad, and Bad Again
Well, folks, it’s official—the place where I live is once again snugly cushioned into Forbes.com’s armpit as one of the least likely places in the USA to find a job. That happens to be in a small town strategically situated between the majestic metropolises of Youngstown and Warren, Ohio, where those Forbes naysayers of negativity have placed us at number two. The number one worst place to work, in case you’re curious, is the Bradenton, Florida, area.
I would like to console myself that it’s just for this summer, based on the slide show that Forbes posted on June 13, but Ohio's Mahoning Valley has a propensity for landing on these kinds of lists. In 2002, in fact, Forbes named Youngstown as the second most economically disadvantaged city in the country—alas, I can no longer find the link. I do recall that Gary, Indiana, won the spot as the worst place. The memory stands out because at the place where I worked in 2002, which was actually in Youngstown, I had a coworker new to the city—and we all teased her because she had moved here from Gary. “At least you moved up in the world,” we said.
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And at least we’re consistent! In all the years from 2002 to 2011, we who live near Youngstown have not dropped down to first place. Dropping down to first place, of course, would actually be like moving up to last place, but let’s not confuse the issue. In fact, nobody can be as confused as the poor people of Bradenton, who are actually suffering negative employment: Job growth there is deader than Uncle Dave’s doornails. When you visit the unemployment office there, the doors bear signs emblazoned with the skull-and-crossbones and a warning that reads, “Not only no, but hell no.”
Of course, one of the reasons why this area of Ohio has remained so persistently branded as a pocket of joblessness is its failure to recover from the death of the steel industry and also because of automotive production lines outsourced to foreign lands. So how did we get into that predicament?
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The Man Who Predicted It All
Today’s young adults—people under 35, really—are too young to remember when 1992 presidential candidate Ross Perot warned us about passing NAFTA and modifying GATT. He said that “the giant sucking sound” we would hear would be American jobs going overseas. I was not a fan of his: The picture of him on the supermarket tabloid getting hugs from a Martian didn’t bother me so much, but he really lost his credibility when he claimed that George (“41”) Bush hired spies to ruin his daughter’s wedding. Looking back, I don’t think he would have been the best person to run the country, but perhaps we should have paid more attention to his charts, graphs, and projected statistics.
We’ve gone through a few presidents since then, and there is a lot of debate over exactly how we got into this predicament. No matter how we got here, I find little comfort in the maze of statistics strewn across our digital pages. The Bureau of Labor Statistics in its monthly labor reports discusses the long-term unemployed, the involuntary part-time workers, workers who are marginally attached to the labor force, and even—get this—discouraged workers! The more figures they throw at us, the less information we can glean from them. The figures read something like, “of 400,000 unemployed persons, 20% of them fall into this category, of which 10% can be classified as…” and so forth—so just how many is that?
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New Opportunities - the Quicker, the Better!
Is there hope for us with President Obama’s new Advanced Manufa cturing Partnership? The Washington Post reports his beliefs that “just as the government helped the private sector develop the microwave, the jet engine, and the Internet,” investments in research and development will create new production-line jobs. Will this business partnership succeed when only $500 million is earmarked for its undertaking? The total budget for the Department of Defense is $556 billion—with an increase this year of $22 billion! The Department of Labor budget, on the other hand, is $12.5 billion, a reduction of 5% from 2010. Can you get up off a few more bucks, Mr. Prez?
Will all this research, development and training come too late? Right now, the only new businesses opening in many small cities like Youngstown and Warren are check-cashing establishments and dollar stores.
In the meantime, it’s really difficult for human resource managers who hire for companies located in one of these still-depressed areas. The apparent options to recruit from a quality applicant pool just don’t fit the reality of poor pickings, because the good workers stay hunkered down in their jobs.
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When the Pickings Are Slim: Unique Problems for Recruiters
When vacancies do occur, the candidates available for hire fit into one of these categories:
- They are overqualified, and they will leave your company as soon as they find something that fits them exactly.
- They have just cross-trained or retrained, and despite years of solid work experience they just do not offer the best skills for the exact position you have.
- They already work part time for another company, or they attend school, and their work hours for your company must be scheduled around their other commitments.
HR managers are responding by instituting practices to cut costs and still hire the people they need:
- Salary raises are rarely above three percent these days.
- The practice of hiring part-time rather than full-time employees, in order to save on the costs of benefits, has become more widespread.
- Many companies look at reducing benefits—for example, increasing the employee’s portion of the health insurance premium or buying a cheaper plan with a higher deductible.
- Insurance costs are reduced by implementing wellness and safety programs throughout the company.
- Interns are recruited at all levels: medical records coders, bookkeepers, social workers, and LPN trainees are among the many types of available help free to you in exchange for some training. Employment offices can also let you know if subsidized job training programs are available in your area.
- Utilizing Internet recruitment sites makes a larger applicant pool available to you.
Still, a poll taken last year by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) indicates that most industries lost less than 20% of their regular staff to the recession, and 62% of those companies are hiring full-time people now.
And just in case you’re curious, the other cities on the list of worst places to work this summer, besides the Bradenton and Youngstown-Warren areas, include:
- Raleigh-Cary, North Carolina
- Las Vegas-Paradise, Nevada
- Santa Rosa-Petaluma, California
- Detroit-Warren-Livonia, Michigan
- Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Florida
- Lakeland-Winter Haven, Florida
- Bakersfield, California
- Tucson, Arizona
If you live in one of those places, you can go down to Checks R Us and claim the money you didn’t earn yet, then go to the dollar store and buy some suntan lotion—because it’s going to be a long, hot summer!
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The opinions expressed are entirely those of the writer.
Cover of Weekly World News, featuring Ross Perot, published on July 14, 1992