Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity
Posted at 1:50 PM ET, 01/28/2011

Too young not to work, too old to get a job, Part II

By Ezra Klein

From the inbox:

Some of my work is as a primary doctor at a VA primary care clinic in Southeast Michigan. We are totally overwhelmed right now with people who lost their insurance from auto-related layoffs and are using VA eligibility for the first time. It is totally awful. Think about the job prospects for a high-school educated 50-year-old with 32 years experience with one employer welding a single auto part near Detroit.

These are good people who lived and taught their kids with a perspective on life -- work hard and stay out of trouble to earn a middle class life -- that is now totally wrong. They're essentially unemployable here but sure aren't going to leave friends and family for a job at a Panera in Arizona. I suppose that's the nature of technology and change, but it's pretty brutal in this neighborhood.

By Ezra Klein  | January 28, 2011; 1:50 PM ET
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Lunch break
Next: Where to read about Egypt


Without in any way wishing to minimize the plight of laid-off workers in Michigan, I do think it's important to observe that at least those who are vets have an option. It's the people who are past 50 and who have no reasonable way of maintaining health care protection once their Cobra runs out (assuming they can afford to keep Cobra going at all) and who have no prospect of employment who are in real trouble.

But, hey, the bonuses are flowing on Wall Street and Goldman is flush, so all's good, right? Tax breaks for the rich will fix everything!

I am ashamed to be an American.

Posted by: jsf1 | January 28, 2011 2:08 PM | Report abuse

I'm not surprised that Republicans can hear stories like these and not care to help. They train themselves to believe such loss is all for the best (in the best of all possible worlds). What does surprise me is that Democrats are also heartless. In the SOTU Obama called for the sort of investments that would, among other good things, bring us toward full employment - years from now; but where are Congressional Democrats? They ought to be a chorus demanding more stimulus.

Posted by: Chris48 | January 28, 2011 2:25 PM | Report abuse

You mean all the money taken in taxes and union dues ended up amounting to squat? The union guy at the same welding station for thirty two years probably wasn't "allowed" to do another job, was he? That was the other union guy's job, and it would have been unfair to introduce efficiencies. And all the regulations and "standards" imposed on the employers weren't a factor, were they? It was the greedheads in the bourses around the world.

Yeah. Very sad.

Posted by: msoja | January 28, 2011 2:25 PM | Report abuse

I have a lot of sympathy for the situation in Michigan as described by that physician, but small-town America has been undergoing this transformation for several generations. And the traditional values you speak of - work hard, stay out of trouble, put your family first - have not panned out in those areas either. Instead, it is those who have taken risks and gone off to the hedonistic city that have done better. This flies in the face of everything they know in these small towns. And it isn't primarily about doing one job your whole life. It's about new versus old economy and finding out that your guiding principles may have been flawed. These are the "bitter" people Obama talked about so inelegantly in the campaign, but for whom I believe he at least understands and has tried to help. Even beyond getting the economy moving again, small-town America has to do some serious soul-searching and maybe even soul-switching in order to make it. What will happen to all of these little towns of 1,000-10,000 people that were once so proud and now routinely have double-digit unemployment?

Posted by: willows1 | January 28, 2011 3:06 PM | Report abuse

"They're essentially unemployable here but sure aren't going to leave friends and family for a job at a Panera in Arizona."

Why not? That smug attitude towards a job at Panera disgusts me. Liberals who pretend to be friends of the working class shouldn't denigrate working class jobs. The mobility of the labor force is key to readjustment, we should be working to drop home prices, streamline foreclosure and making it possible for people to move.

This country got a free pass for a really long time after the infrastructure of the rest of the world was destroyed post WW2. No one is going to pay our overpriced labor rates any more. We have to work harder, innovate faster, and build better products and services.

There is no such thing as a job for life, and defined benefit pensions are not a reliable future to depend on. I am sorry that the Unions and Management conspired against these people for their own short term benefit, but can we at least agree it is an awful approach and try something different next time.

Posted by: staticvars | January 28, 2011 3:06 PM | Report abuse

staticvars - But worker mobility is best supported by the very government programs that most conservatives hate - social security, unemployment benefits, guaranteed healthcare, etc.

msoja - It's pretty rich to blame this on the unions. The father of a good friend of mine growing up lost his union job working in an auto plant in PA. Part of the union contract gave him the option of enrolling in a local state college at a greatly reduced tuition cost. He went to school, got an education degree, became an elementary school teacher, and as far as I know is still teaching to this day. Often the union is the only thing keeping these people afloat.

Posted by: willows1 | January 28, 2011 3:20 PM | Report abuse

*There is no such thing as a job for life, and defined benefit pensions are not a reliable future to depend on.*

Why shouldn't it be, really? Not everyone is a "nimble entrepreneur." Those that are will never be happy with a "normal job" in the first place.

*The mobility of the labor force is key to readjustment,*

That doesn't sound like "supporting the family." People want to have a good job, stay out of trouble, and be near their family. It behooves the USA to promote policies that make that possible.

Posted by: constans | January 28, 2011 3:20 PM | Report abuse


What an awful existence to be such a nasty, selfish, mean spirited person.

Posted by: mrkleen | January 28, 2011 3:32 PM | Report abuse

mrkleen - In defense of staticvars, there's a certain ring of truth to what he/she says. After all, many of our forebears came here on pretty thin promises of a better life. Many came as strike-busters or outcasts of other societies. But if you want to increase worker mobility I think it takes a serious investment in a social safety net. A lot of these folks are going to need some kind of bridge to get their new lives going in the right direction. Otherwise, they will stay put. He/She is definitely correct that home prices are far too high. But maybe homeownership just isn't the holy grail we've been promised.

Posted by: willows1 | January 28, 2011 3:41 PM | Report abuse

staticvars, it wouldn't be economically sound to take a job at Panera in AZ if you're out of work in MI. The cost of moving would break the bank if you don't have a decent wage on the other end; this is especially true if you're living in Detroit, in a house you bought for $150,000 15 years ago and can now sell for a whopping $50,000 or less. In some areas, it's under $20k for a house. And if you don't own a house, then it's even rougher, because you can't get any cash at all from selling it to help finance a move to AZ.

Posted by: dkp01 | January 28, 2011 5:03 PM | Report abuse

--*It's pretty rich to blame this on the unions.*--

Well, I pointed to a combination of factors which included unions. But think about what unions and regulations and standards and taxes all do. They cripple the nimbleness and alacrity of the owners in changing direction, throwing out what doesn't work, pursuing other avenues on gut instinct. They stifle innovation and lock things in stasis. The unionized businesses are dying like the dinosaurs died, unable to adapt.

Posted by: msoja | January 28, 2011 8:42 PM | Report abuse

*The mobility of the labor force is key to readjustment,*

In other words, we need more Okies.

Posted by: davis_x_machina | January 28, 2011 9:17 PM | Report abuse

Consider dropping collision and/or comprehensive coverages on older cars. Search online for "Clearance Auto Insurance" If your car is worth less than 10 times the premium, purchasing the coverage may not be cost effective.

Posted by: staciclay | January 29, 2011 1:12 AM | Report abuse

I doubt if any auto workers have literally been welding the same part for 32 years. Cars have completely changed, for one thing. Plus, I've never heard of a manufacturing plant that would do that to their employees, but if they did torture them that way, it would explain the high salaries.

The doctor who said that was being more than a little insulting, in my opinion.

Posted by: julie18 | January 29, 2011 12:57 PM | Report abuse

May I respectfully submit that pointing fingers does not help. These people find themselves in a situation where some of them are desparate - or have even given up.

Here are "RecruiterGuy's Top 10 Tips for Finding a Job"

1. Take stock of your emotional state. If you were recently laid off or decided that you just had to leave a job, you are probably going through the steps of grief. While taking time to recover, list your best skills and attributes – both professionally and personally.
2. Understand that finding a job is a series of sales or marketing processes.
3. List what sets you apart from other candidates.
4. Create your “Here I Am!” speech or elevator speech.
5. Develop a resume that includes accomplishments and metrics that demonstrate your skills.
6. List at least 250 people that you can approach to begin networking.
7. Call those people and give them your “Here I Am!” speech. Instead of asking if they have a job opening, ask whom you should contact next?
8. Research both the company and the manager before you interview (Google their name).
9. Turn cell phone to airplane mode before you leave your car or other means of transportation.
10. After interview, take time to list your “Wish I would have said’s.” These will help you improve on your interviews for the future – and help in compensation negotiations.

Posted by: RecruiterGuy | January 29, 2011 1:02 PM | Report abuse

Post a Comment

We encourage users to analyze, comment on and even challenge's articles, blogs, reviews and multimedia features.

User reviews and comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions.

characters remaining

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2011 The Washington Post Company