The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Business

November 4, 2012

BILL FINDLEY | Permanent job losses continue to be issue

— Amid all the talk recently about the need to create more jobs and put people back to  work, we must not overlook the increasing number of unemployed workers whose jobs were lost during the recession and are not coming back.

Their share of the total jobless number presently exceeds most other categories of unemployed workers in this labor market, confirming that the shift from temporary layoffs to permanent job loss has been especially pronounced in the local labor market.

Nationally, the share of the unemployed who lost their jobs permanently is at its highest level since at least 1967, the first year for which the Labor Department has these numbers available. These permanent layoffs are defined as reductions in force where there is no expectation that employees will be called back to work.

While an exact number is not available locally, we do know that permanent job-losers represent a higher share of the unemployed this time around. In the absence of specific numbers, some insight may be gleaned from the growing number of  the long-term unemployed measured by workers who have continued to exhaust their jobless benefits throughout this recessionary period.

This  increase in the duration of unemployment for those on layoff may be viewed as a decreased likelihood of recall, which could eventually necessitate a job change. Locally, this total has averaged an estimated 125 workers each month throughout the post-recessionary period.

The continuing rise in permanent separations throughout this period has been attributed to a number of factors.

They include the duration of the recession, industrial restructuring and employers trying to reduce costs in a slumping economy – just to name a few.

Whatever the underlying cause, the result is disconcerting. Compared with previous recessions, many more of the employment gains in this recovery will have to come from new jobs.

In what has been termed by some as “the worse hiring slump since the Great Depression,” that is much easier said than done. Workers whose entire occupations – not just the previous payroll positions they held – have disappeared and they will need to start over and find a new career path. What’s more, in addition to obtaining new degrees or training, some workers may need to move to new places in order to start a different career.

Such was the case with Joe Bistransky, who lost his job permanently and is now attending the Greater Johnstown Career and Technology Center learning to be a machinist.

“I’m doing the best thing that I can to make myself more employable,” he explained. “I want to be prepared to move into the job market where it is an advantage to be already trained.”

Many of these skilled trade positions fall into the “middle-skills” job category, or jobs that do not require a four-year degree, yet do require some education or training beyond high school. Many of these occupations fall within the manufacturing and construction industry, where demand will continue to improve.

Tricia Rummel, supervisor of adult education, said that enrollment in training has been on the increase at the Career and Technology Center. In addition to increasing demand for training, she attributes the center’s comprehensive training and success rate as a key in attracting students as well as employers. She said, “Investment in education will lead to moving into a job more quickly at a good wage. We work closely with employers to better understand their needs while continuing  to build their confidence in our students.”

Dennis O’Leary, Cambria County CareerLink administrator, also said, “Training is key. Workers often need skill upgrades and could benefit from additional training to hone their skills.”

However, some workers who have lost their jobs permanently have given up on trying to find a job. They become discouraged and stop looking because they don’t think that there is anything out there for them.

Other reasons such as lack of schooling or training, limited job offerings and personal issues such as  health or family priorities may also come into play.

The number of workers who fall into this category is generally on the increase during economic hard times.   

With a comparatively weak economy that has been accompanied by persistent above-average unemployment, don’t look for this problem to go away anytime soon. Often in our assessment of the post-recession economy, we tend to focus on specific industry-related developments and what the local economy may look like when it comes back.

While these developments are important, we can’t lose sight of  the increasing numbers of long-term unemployed and others who lost their jobs permanently, became discouraged and have stopped looking for work. It is also vital that we continue making training and related employment and support services available.   

For 40 years, Bill Findley was employed by the state Department of Labor and Industry Center for Workforce Information and Analysis as a workforce information specialist, monitoring and reporting on labor market developments in this area and across the region. He is a graduate of Pitt with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

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