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Unimaginable job market now reality

January 19, 2011
For people my age, those born just after World War II, the present employment situation is something we never saw coming. Our fathers and that generation, many of whom just returned from the war, were hard workers, creative, industrious and devoted to their places of employment and loyal to their bosses as long as those bosses were fair. Most expected to work for one company all of their life and retire from there, and many did.

And after the 1920s and '30s, when working conditions were horrible and pay for many jobs was less than a family could survive on, many unions were formed, pay increased, working conditions and job safety improved, productivity increased and there were plenty of jobs to go around. New companies and businesses were started, and they all needed workers. That demand for workers encouraged companies to compete with each other to get the needed employees. Besides better pay, companies inflated their benefit packages and offered workers pensions, health insurance and even bonuses when profits met or exceeded expectations. Everybody was happy. Everybody was making money.

The children of those World War II veterans — people like me — grew up with the knowledge that, in the United States, no matter the level of education you had, if you were willing to work hard, you could find a decent job and make a living. Millions of us toiled in factories, auto and machinery manufacturers, steel mills and textile plants.

But then, the appeal of low, third-world wages, non-existent pollution laws, tax loopholes and greed lured many companies overseas and to Mexico, leaving this country with more workers than it had jobs for. Wages grew stagnant and even decreased, pensions went away, except for politicians and government workers, and now, many people, even those with college degrees, are finding jobs scarce. And there are families all over this country that are in dire straights.

But news releases the last few weeks have painted an employment picture that's confusing, disheartening and disgusting at best. In a recent article in The Washington Post, and then picked up by several papers, it was revealed that American firms, during the last quarter, made more profits than they've ever made in history — or at least as long as the government has been keeping records. And they've been raking in those profits steadily for quite some time.

In another article a few weeks ago, it was revealed that American companies are sitting on billions and billions of dollars — not spending, not hiring workers, just hoarding it up. Google alone is sitting on more than $33 billion, with obviously no intention of hiring anyone.

And just last week, a story in The New York Times reported that many companies, instead of hiring employees for the long term, are using temporary workers to hold down costs and to increase profits. Of the 50,000 private sector jobs added in November, 80 percent were temporary jobs with few if any benefits, lower pay and zero job security.

A walk through Walmart, Kmart or other big box stores tell a story of what has happened to American jobs. Fewer and fewer American-made products sit on the shelves, fewer and fewer American-made vehicles are sitting in the parking lots, and fewer and fewer Americans have full-time jobs selling the products that are made in other countries. Most large retailers use mostly part-time help, except for a few supervisors or managers. The steel mills in Youngstown, Ohio, Pittsburgh and Fort Wayne are now idle as foreign steel is shipped in to build cars at factories owned by foreign companies. And just try to solve a problem with your Internet carrier or get a warranty question answered by an appliance maker, and you'll probably talk to someone with an accent, someone in a third-world country doing a job that Americans could do for pay that an American couldn't live on. The cost of living in this country makes it almost impossible to live on the minimum wage set by Congress, which is still considered too high by many corporations and politicians.

Yes, many of us never saw this coming. We assumed those good jobs would always be here. Now, one of the best work forces in the world is in trouble. And there's no plan in the works that looks promising, except maybe extending tax cuts for the rich. But wait a minute, that didn't work for the last 10 years, did it? We just kept losing jobs. And they won't work for the next two years that they've been extended. Except for those with foreign accents in third-world countries.

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