Don't Let Disturbing Employment Data Defeat You
It's easy for job hunters to become discouraged by the daily drumbeat of economic data. This past week, initial applications for jobless benefits rose to 573,000, their highest level in over two decades.
Just days earlier, on December 5th, the Employment Situation report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) revealed a loss of 533,000 non-farm payroll jobs in the U.S. during November. It was the biggest monthly job loss in the U.S. in over 30 years.
The December 5th report also revealed higher job losses for the prior two months than originally reported by the BLS. It turns out employment in the U.S. declined by 403,000 and 320,000 jobs respectively in September and October of this year.
Despite these disturbing statistics, the U.S. stock market rose nearly 300 points by the end of the December 5th trading day. Why did the stock market rally in spite of November's near-record job loss number?
Some believe the magnitude of the November job losses increased the likelihood of Congress passing a large economic stimulus package early in 2009 and providing support to struggling U.S. automakers --- the former to boost the economy in 2009, the latter to prevent more huge job losses for an already weakened economy.
Whatever the reason for the December 5th rally, can job hunters be encouraged by the stock market's resilience in the face of so much bad economic news?
"At a minimum, job hunters need to remember that this is a cycle. It won't last forever," said Diane Swonk, chief economist for Mesirow Financial and author of The Passionate Economist: Finding the Power and Humanity Behind the Numbers.
Although Swonk believes "things will probably get worse before they get better," she is optimistic about recovery in 2010.
"It's going to be rough in 2009," said Swonk, "but in light of all that's being done by the Fed, the Treasury and by Congress, there's a chance we'll come out of this more robustly than many expect."
In the meantime, Swonk said remaining flexible and persistent are keys to surviving this downturn and being positioned to thrive when the recovery comes.
"Investing in yourself is also key," said Swonk. "This is a knowledge-based economy."
Noting that the unemployment rate for degreed adults age 25+ in the U.S. is far lower than the overall unemployment rate, Swonk urges people to invest in education during this recession. "One of the most productive things about recessions is that people go back to school to complete degrees, add skills, retool and prepare for new careers," she said. "It's one way we increase our intellectual capital."
Swonk admitted student loans are currently hard to come by but believes that will soon be remedied. In the meantime, job hunters can take advantage of low-cost and free resources to add marketable skills.
One free resource is available through temporary staffing firms. Many such firms provide their temporary employees free access to online training programs.
"Our programs are available online 24/7 so our employees can log on at their convenience," said Manpower Inc. spokesperson Paul Holley.
Of course, immediate earnings and current work references are among the other benefits temporary assignments provide.
"A key to positioning yourself for the economic recovery is remaining in the labor market," said Swonk. "Accepting temporary assignments is one way to do that. Even if the pay scale or work involved isn't exactly what you think you deserve, part of accepting the current reality is being flexible. Besides, you never know what opportunities can come from these assignments. You can acquire experience in new industries. When the recovery arrives, you may also be the first person considered --- and hired -- for a job that opens up in the company where you're temping."
Being flexible can also mean changing careers. "If your previous career is no longer viable, consider a career in health care," suggested Swonk. "Demographics are expected to keep jobs for home health aides, technicians, and nurses on the rise. Plus since those jobs are hands on,' they can't be outsourced." During the past twelve months, while the U.S. lost two million jobs in several industries, health care employment in the U.S. increased by 341,000 jobs.
Above all, Swonk urges job hunters to remain persistent. "It's easy to give up and drop out," she said, "but if you remain flexible and persist in communicating your strengths to employers, you can both survive this downturn and position yourself to benefit from the recovery."