BREINING: A growth industry in the jobless economy: Despair

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Washington doesn’t feel the human toll

First, there was the recession of 2007; then, the Wall Street financial collapse of 2008; then, the budget sequestration of 2013. For the unemployed, the hits just keep on coming.

For the millions of Americans who have suffered recurring layoffs and are again searching for work, these fiscal calamities have caused blunt-force traumas that other people can’t begin to comprehend.

For the lucky Americans who have enjoyed job security, the human side of this despair is invisible. Many are simply clueless about what it takes to find a job these days. Few understand the enormous emotional, physical and psychic toll these repeated blows have caused on a human level. It appears the White House and Congress is impervious to this pain.

Just how many Americans have experienced repeated downsizings and reductions in force unrelated to their performance is anybody’s guess. Nearly five years after the collapse of Wall Street, across-the-board staff cuts as a result of our ever-shrinking economy continue. The adage “last hired, first fired” applies when corporate budget cutters take up their ax.

The whole process of seeking a job these days causes a powerful erosion of self-confidence. Human resources managers report they sometimes have more than a hundred people apply for a single position. The application process is time-consuming and grueling, known among job-seekers as “the black hole.” It requires applicants to often spend hours completing online data forms and then receiving an impersonal automated response: “Your application has been received. After review, we will notify you if you are selected for an interview.”

Job seekers know the online application process as an exercise in futility. It is demoralizing, especially when applicants learn there was an internal candidate already in line for the position. The job was posted simply to comply with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission requirements.

If you do get invited for an interview, the request often comes with the caveat that you first take a test and submit a business plan (or marketing plan or fundraising plan — take your pick). Thus, the hiring entity gets the benefit of your best professional thinking even before you arrive at the door.

One job-hunter I know recently was asked to provide a five-page plan before an interview, which he spent many hours researching, writing, editing and sweating over. He also was asked to arrive for a 7 a.m. interview and, not uncommonly, faced seven interviewers at the same time.

Applicants are often asked to interview not only once, but two or three times, only to be told another applicant was chosen. The horror stories abound. With so many people out of work, it’s a buyer’s market, and hiring firms know it.

If you haven’t had to go through a job interview lately, know that it is a totally different experience than just 10 years ago, when the economy was expanding. The questions come out of left field and are designed to catch you off guard. I was once asked, “Why do people climb mountains?” A fellow job-hunter was asked, “If you were a shoe, what kind of shoe would you be?” I even know one applicant who was asked what his favorite color was.

Last but not least, for job-hunters over 50, the despair is even greater. Ageism is alive and well among hiring managers. Don’t they realize they can get senior talent and experience at a discounted price? I am over 50, and I am in my prime. I will match my mental acuity, physical conditioning, stamina, wisdom, subject-matter expertise, technology skills and interpersonal communication abilities against any 20- or 30-something. And I will arrive punctually, with a positive attitude and no tattoos.

In the 2009 movie “Up in the Air,” George Clooney plays a corporate hatchet man who flies hither and yon handing out pink slips. It is heartbreaking to see the reaction of the workers to whom he delivers the bad news. Their reactions range from disbelief, to horror, to anger and rage. Art does, indeed, imitate life.

Even for those who do have jobs, today’s misery index includes millions of middle-class families who are living on the edge financially. The number of Americans on food stamps has doubled in many states. Homelessness, suicide and poverty have spiked.

A recent Associated Press report stated, “Unemployment under President Barack Obama has remained high for the longest period since the Great Depression.” Nobody in a position of leadership in Washington — be it the White House or Congress — is acknowledging this pain. Our leaders appear to be deaf, blind and dumb.

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