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by SixFigureStart | November 09, 2009


Whatever happened to the old-timers who sat around saying things like: "You think foreclosure is bad? Why, back in my day we didn't even have houses. You youngsters don't know you're living." While we're not sure where the aged practitioners of the art of downturn one-upmanship have all disappeared to, we can report one thing for sure: they ain't working in the media. Because where a seasoned one-upper would have met Friday's 10.2 percent unemployment news with a shrug that conveyed exactly how unimpressed they were—coupled with an anecdote about making soup from shoe leather—very few in the media have attempted to do anything but suggest that the times we're living in are just about the worst within living memory.

Take the AP, for example. A widely circulated article from the venerable news agency begins with the observation that "[i]t hurts more to be unemployed now than the last time the jobless rate hit 10 percent." Not exactly the spirit of "well, it could always be worse," to sustain you through tough times, is it? Worse, the article goes on to explain that "Americans have more than triple the debt they had in 1982, and less than half the savings. They spend 10 weeks longer off the job. And a bigger share of them have no health insurance, leaving them one medical emergency away from financial ruin."

The AP isn't alone in pointing out just how bad things are: the folks at MarketWatch suggest that, should you "[g]o behind the figures," it won't be long until "you'll find that 16.3% of the workforce, or one person in six, is either unemployed completely or working part-time. And the numbers of long-term unemployed are staggering: more than a third of unemployed Americans, 5.6 million people, have been out of a job for more than 27 weeks, according to the federal government. And that employment picture isn't expected to improve significantly until mid-2010."

The New York Times is no source of comfort either: their estimates state that the unemployed/underemployed figure is actually as high as 17.5 percent—the "highest level in decades." Not sure how bad that is? Try this: "If statistics went back so far, the [unemployed/underemployed] measure would almost certainly be at its highest level since the Great Depression."

Just what you want to hear, eh?

Leave it to The Economist to provide the only "glimmer" of late on the unemployment front—and even then it's mostly in their headline. The actual shreds of hope seem to stem from the fact that "the jobs report itself […] contains puzzling contradictions." Yippee! Contradictions! Still, there is a limited amount of decent--albeit qualified--news in there: "The number of people who were employed by temporary agencies rose by 33,700, or 2%, the third monthly gain. This is usually considered a precursor to more permanent recruitment, although Capital Economics notes this gave a false signal in 2002." Additionally, a recent "increase in GDP has not translated into jobs yet because of firms’ strong tendency to work each employee harder early in a recovery before hiring more of them."

So…some good news, of sorts, in among all the gloom. Companies aren't hiring permanently (yet), but they are beginning to explore the possibility of hiring again at least on a temporary basis. Coupled with the fact that existing employees are being worked harder, there's a strong suggestion that those still in jobs are becoming safer and less easily replaced by the day.

Is this what the bottom looks like? Hordes of overworked, stressed-out employees carrying what used to be the responsibilities of two or three people? Let's hope so, because that description is becoming more and more common by the day. Even that has a silver lining though: whatever else the next few years may bring, the future looks bright for the art of geezerly one-upmanship--only it'll be this generation of workers starring as the old-timers with the stories of woe to tell. Best start practicing now: "You think you're overworked and underpaid? Why I remember back during the Great Recession…"

AP Photo/Chuck Burton

--Posted by Phi Stott,