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Labor Day or Layoff Day?

     How’s the American worker doing on this Labor Day weekend?


     According to network news, he’s either about to get laid off or he’s just languishing at his current job.


     Recent coverage of work has leaned heavily toward the negative, whether it’s lamenting the failure of a minimum wage increase or scrutinizing workaholic technology use. And ABC News has warned that after Labor Day, “thousands of jobs are expected to be cut.”


     But the news is bad, according to ABC, even if you’re securely employed. You’re probably being overworked and raising your blood pressure, as ABC’s “Good Morning America” reported, or you need counseling for your technology addiction, as ABC’s “World News” asserted.  


     Of course, that’s not the end of work news. Unemployment is low, and many employers are actually searching for workers.



Layoffs Imminent


     “To some employment experts,” ABC’s Jake Tapper said, Labor Day “marks the beginning of the period of the year when workers become most vulnerable to getting fired.” Robin Roberts had already started the August 16 “Good Morning America” with, a warning: “But growth may not be enough to stem layoffs, especially post-Labor Day when thousands of jobs are expected to be cut.”


     Tapper waited until the end of his story to add that “unemployment is still a relatively low 4.8 percent, which means generally that those who have been laid off have been able to find new jobs.”


     ABC financial contributor Mellody Hobson added to that bit of context in the report that followed, explaining that the U.S. jobs picture wasn’t as grim as Tapper had portrayed it.


     “Well, what we’re seeing is we’re not losing jobs, but we’re certainly not gaining jobs either in this country,” said Hobson, president of Ariel Capital Management. “Now, the best way to look at this, the month of July, we had the lowest number of job cuts in this country in six years.”


     She also put unemployment in perspective: “We’re at 4.8 percent as Jake mentioned. But before anyone panics, just know, we normally in this country hover around 5.6 percent, so the numbers are pretty good.”


     Still, Roberts’ reply pressed on with the dire storyline: “And what sectors do you think will be hardest hit, Mellody?”



Where Are the Jobs?


     National unemployment is relatively low at 4.8 percent, but it’s much lower for those who have put time and effort toward education. In July, unemployment for college graduates and those with advanced degrees was just 2.1 percent. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, those without a high school diploma faced an unemployment rate of 7.1 percent.


     Those numbers were missing from the “Good Morning America” segment. Hobson told Roberts that hiring was slowing in the transportation and construction industries. But with its focus on job loss, the report neglected to mention the areas where workers are most needed – teaching, nursing and manufacturing, to name a few.


     “Two hundred thousand new instructors will be needed this year, two million over the next decade,” said John Seigenthaler on the August 19 “NBC Nightly News.” He said “the shortage is forcing many school administrators to come up with new ways to attract teachers.” Michelle Kosinski’s report listed “discounted apartments and gym memberships” as well as everything from extra days off to hunting privileges used as incentives.


     And the teacher shortage has had an impact on nursing, where Laura Marquez reported on ABCNews.com there is the worst shortage in 50 years. Her January 21 story attributed the shortage partly to a lack of nursing professors.


     While the teaching and nursing shortages have received a good amount of press over the past few years, there’s another industry that is looking to hire: manufacturing.


     The Los Angeles Times reported on August 14 about “what many American workers are missing: Manufacturing, long known for plant closings and layoffs, is now clamoring for workers to fill high-paying, skilled jobs.” Molly Hennessy-Fiske reported that “they are offering recruitment bonuses, relocation packages and other incentives more common to white-collar jobs.”


     And it’s not just a few factories – in fact, “about 90 percent of manufacturers say they are having trouble filling skilled jobs such as machinists and technicians, according to a survey released in December by the National Assn. of Manufacturers, the leading industry group representing 12,000 manufacturers.”


     The focal point of Hennessy-Fiske’s piece was 21-year-old Daniel McGee, who had chosen a job in metalworking while attending a technical program at a community college. “In addition to tuition and a $14-an-hour apprenticeship, the company is providing McGee with health insurance, a 401(k) and, once his training is complete, a salary of $58,240 a year,” the article said, adding, “That’s more than his college-educated brother earns at an advertising job that took him two years to find.”


     The lack of manufacturing workers may be due to perception of the industry, fed by media coverage of job losses. Though American auto manufacturers have struggled and laid off workers, the overall industry is actually expanding and employs the same number of workers it did in the early 1990s. A report from Cato’s Center for Trade Policy Studies included that fact and many others showing that foreign-based companies have brought jobs to thousands of American workers.


     The LA Times article said Frank Quijano, who trained workers for skilled jobs with Toyota, was seeing few people sign up for training. “When Quijano asked people at a job fair why they did not apply for the jobs, which will pay between $40,000 and $50,000, ‘they would all say it’s low-paying, dangerous and dirty,’ he said.”


     For those who prefer a white-collar track, Fast Company magazine noted that “a great job requires significant investment in education” and published its own list of “jobs that will be in high demand, offer excellent potential salaries, and typically require some level of higher education.”


     Yuval Rosenberg wrote that “prospects for skilled and educated workers should only improve, notes Dr. Kevin Stolarick, and assistant professor at the Information Systems Program at Carnegie Mellon University.”


     “As baby boomers enter retirement starting this year, for example, employers may be hard pressed to fill their positions; for every two people leaving the workforce, only one new person is entering, Stolarick says.”


     Fast Company’s list included financial services, sales, law, health professions, real estate and public relations.