April 20, 2011

White Collar Unemployment Blues

Newsweek has a piece this week that discusses the plight of the unemployed white collared white males called Dead Suit Walking. Focusing on the fact that over 594,000 white males were unemployed in the first quarter of 2011 and that many of those over 50 will probably end up as temp workers, they discuss how the men lose confidence and blame themselves for their plight (as do their "coaches").

Many of these guys may be great on the back nine but totally lack the skill set to get them through anything like this, says Judith Gerberg, a Manhattan-based executive career coach. “If you went to the college of your choice, married the woman of your choice, and bought the house of your choice, you’ve never dealt with rejection. You’ve never had to develop fortitude.” She gives her clients a chart with all the hours of the day, because corporate types are used to having other people color-code their life. If not quite the Great Depression, it is certainly the Great Humbling.

But the problem facing these white collar workers isn't new and isn't only a problem for the guys. Just go back and read Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bait and Switch from 2006 where she lays out what it feels like to be an unemployed white collar worker in the 21st Century USA.

[I]n Bait and Switch, she enters another hidden realm of the economy: the shadowy world of the white-collar unemployed. Armed with a plausible résumé of a professional “in transition,” she attempts to land a middle-class job -- undergoing career coaching and personality testing, then trawling a series of EST-like boot camps, job fairs, networking events, and evangelical job-search ministries. She gets an image makeover, works to project a winning attitude, yet is proselytized, scammed, lectured, and -- again and again -- rejected.

Bait and Switch highlights the people who’ve done everything right -- gotten college degrees, developed marketable skills, and built up impressive résumés -- yet have become repeatedly vulnerable to financial disaster, and not simply due to the vagaries of the business cycle. Today’s ultra-lean corporations take pride in shedding their “surplus” employees -- plunging them, for months or years at a stretch, into the twilight zone of white-collar unemployment, where job searching becomes a full-time job in itself. As Ehrenreich discovers, there are few social supports for these newly disposable workers -- and little security even for those who have jobs.

The Newsweek piece describes the networking sessions, the boot camps and the career coaches. And it describes how the men they talk to believe that some how it is their fault that they haven't found a job.

Perhaps we should do more to build up our social supports instead of blaming the victims again. Or maybe even put some focus on jobs.

Posted by Mary at April 20, 2011 09:55 PM | Economy | Technorati links |
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