Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Got a job? Keep it, so I can get one too

Economic Policy Institute chart shows ratio of workers per available job

Here's an unreasonable request: If you've got a job, stay in it awhile so you're not competing with me for any available openings.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics today released its monthly JOLTS report, which shows some improvement in the number of workers vying for each job that is available. According to the Economic Policy Institute, which tracks JOLTS, the February ratio of unemployed workers to available job was 5.5 to 1, an improvement from the high in November of 6.2 job-seekers per opening.

JOLTS -- formally the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey -- lags the unemployment report by a month. So while on Friday the government said the U.S. employment picture brightened in March, up 162,000 jobs in nonfarm payroll, that wasn't the case in February. Then, the country still was losing jobs: down 14,000 for the month in a revised count.

Although the JOLTS numbers show that so-called separations -- layoff, firing, quitting and retirement -- are down from a year earlier, hiring has remained flat, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Says EPI: "The good news is that layoffs are down to where they were before the recession (started), and hiring is no longer declining. The bad news is that hiring is nowhere near the levels required to put this country’s 15 million jobless workers back to work."

Indeed, while the government reported the economy was adding jobs in March, it also said the so-called U-6 rate -- the measure of labor underutilization -- was up for the month: more people were taking part-time work who preferred full-time jobs, and the number of workers "marginally attached" (want a job but not actively looking) and "discouraged" (have given up looking) also rose.

Meantime, the government said Friday, the number of long-term unemployed workers -- jobless for six months or more -- rose by 414,000 in March to 6.5 million, or 44.1 percent of those without jobs.

So now you know the genesis of my plea for the employed to avoid job-hopping for the time being.

Sure, some of the jobs posted as available might look enticing, but don't you think those of us "involuntarily separated" from our previous jobs -- laid off -- might want first dibs?

After all, the March unemployment report showed that the industry category that includes newspapers (information/publishing industries except Internet) continues to lose jobs -- down 59,000 from a year ago and 2,100 just from February. (Here's the government's chart on nonfarm payroll by industry sector for March.)

Yes, I understand that a job opening will still exist if a worker at Company A applies for and lands a job advertised at Company B. But here's the thing: While I may be ideal for the Company B job, I might not be as neat a fit for the one at Company A.

Case in point: Several months ago, I applied for a job as a business columnist and blogger at a newspaper in Florida; more recently, I did the same for a job as business editor in Washington, D.C. In each case, I fit the job description to a T. (While I wasn't a local candidate, in neither case was that a job requirement.)

The first job went to a non-journalist (a banker); the second to someone who edited at a politics-focused niche paper. So while I was 110 percent qualified for the advertised jobs, I couldn't claim that for the posts the job-hoppers left -- especially the commercial lender.

The lesson here? It's already a tough job market without the gainfully employed entering the fray as competitors too. So, please, if you've got a job, hands off the newly available ones.

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