Archive for Thursday, July 31, 2003

Recovery’ bypasses many

July 31, 2003


If this is a recovery, I'd hate to see a recession.

For some reason, the stock market, the economists and the media all seem to agree that happy days are here again. They bandy about terms like "robust" and "optimistic." Then they add a teensy caveat: As wonderful as our economy is looking, this is a "jobless" recovery.

Hey, you can't have everything, right?

The problem is: A recovery that is jobless is not a recovery for the people without jobs. It is a disaster. And right now, the frustrated fraternity of job seekers is surging, especially in New York.

While the official numbers are not at a high -- 6.4 percent are unemployed now nationally and 8.1 percent in New York City -- they are nonetheless the worst in 20 years. What's more, these stats tell only half the story.

What they don't tell you are stories about people like the friend I'll call Shari. Shari lost a job she had for 13 years in strategic planning and has found, in its stead, a job that is only for two days a week.

Though she is making a fraction of her former salary, gets no vacation time, no retirement benefits and no health insurance, Shari does not count in the stats as "unemployed" because, by official standards, she is employed. Starving, maybe. But employed.

"The unemployment rate does not include people who are underemployed," explains Jared Bernstein, an economist with the Economic Policy Institute in Washington. If it did, the unemployment rate would be almost twice as high.

This explains why the times feel so much more desperate on the street than they look on paper: People might be getting jobs out there, but they aren't great ones. Or even fair.

Shannon Ennis, a 28-year-old marketing manager who has been job-hunting for five months, finally found work with a Fortune 500 company. However, the job comes with two snags: No benefits and no long-term prospects.

"I can only work a certain number of hours there. It's possible it could be up to a year," Ennis said. After that -- she's out. And because this is a limited-term gig, she is not considered a full-time employee, even though she will be putting in 40-hour weeks.

"Perma-lancing," is the new word for this type of existence: taking on jobs that will never blossom into full-time, old-fashioned employment. And the trend is growing. While full-time jobs declined 5 percent from 2000 to 2002, the number of people working part time rose 9 percent.

Even if you call it something more glamorous like "consulting" or "flex-time," what this really means is that employers get to treat their employees like day laborers.

Since his software engineering job evaporated a month after Sept. 11, Bill Blackmon has been looking for full-time work. What he has found are lots of long-term consulting projects and, in between, discouragement.

The most infuriating thing, Blackmon says, is the increasing prevalence of "internships" for professionals. "What's become very common is that people are expecting programmers to work for a month to quote, 'prove' themselves, without pay," he said. "It's very insulting." When one interviewer raised the possibility of such an internship, "I couldn't even be nice about it," Blackmon says. "I just said, 'I have to go to lunch.'" And he left the premises.

Fair treatment, medical benefits, job security? Ennis, the marketing manager who also happens to be a part-time comedian, chuckles at the thought of demanding these. "Right now it's gotten to the point where I just want a check," she says. "I just want to feel like a productive member of society. I'm a little sick of my cat and my apartment."

For my part, I'm sick of hearing about this so-called recovery. Looks to me more like a long, painful illness.

Lenore Skenazy is a columnist for the New York Daily News. Her e-mail address is

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