Your Lying Eyes

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16 April 2013

The Chronically Unemployed

The plight of the chronically unemployed has been making the rounds these days, with all kinds of deep explanations. A recent study which sent out fake resumes shows that being out of work for 6 months or longer is worse than not having relevant industry experience as far as employers are concerned. When you're out of work, your skills erode, and you're no longer employable. So it's hopeless. Or so the narrative goes.

Of course that's silly. During recessions, it's just plain tough to get a job. Employers have their pick of the litter, and they're going to aggressively filter their piles of applicants. If you've been out of work for more than 6 months, that means others have already rejected you. That's an easy way to screen people out - you need to start somewhere.

When the economy recovers, that all changes. Interest in jobs suddenly wanes - no more piles of resumes, and the few who do apply aren't so qualified. Hmmm...this guy seems to have se experience - he's been out of work awhile...but times were tough, after all - let's give him a try!

Same thing happens with people who have criminal records. When times are tough, their applications are thrown right in the trash. But when the economy is booming...Hmmm, aggravated assault...ah, the bastard probably had it coming...let's give him a try!

And as far as skills eroding, that assumes that the average employ's abilities continuously improve. But that can't be the case, otherwise our productivity would be skyrocketing and average incomes would be rising much faster than inflation. Typically people rapidly reach their limitations on a given job.  Improvement, if noticeable, is very gradual. A few continue to develop, and are promoted or leave for greener pastures. "Skill erosion" is a handy excuse for the screening, but not an actual phenomenon.

The problem of the unemployed is cured by economic recovery. But of course that assumes that there is an actual recovery. What we have now is a continuation of a recession that happened to rebound from its lowest depths, not a real recovery. We are now in the fifth year of economic doldrums with little hope of sustaining winds to fill our sails. We can take steps to force the hiring of the chronically unemployed, but this will just displace those who would otherwise get those jobs.

As an aside, this fits the phenomenon of the rapidly shifting memes we find on the left. It reminds me of the performance gap, which is due to inequities in school wait, it's due to pre-school wait, it's parents not talking to their kids before age 3...

With the chronically unemployed, it's lack of aggregate wait, it's lack of skills (let's provide retraining) wait, it's just the fact of not working that makes their skills erode...


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