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Young Workers May Have Something To Look Forward To

With Friday’s news the unemployment rate fell .4 percentage points, from 9.8 to 9.4 percent during the month of December, many commentators remarked the labor market is heating up. Paired with a slew of jobs reports that have come out in recent weeks indicating employers tacked on more workers to their payrolls and the number of people applying for unemployment benefits has fallen, there’s reason to be optimistic about 2011.

But even if a jobs recovery is on the horizon, not every unemployed worker can expect a call back from a hiring manager. As technology advances, expectations that workers have a working relationship with new devices and software increase.

“Look at packaging warehouses. Before the worker just walked around with a pencil and clipboard, or operated a forklift. Now he’s aware of RFID [Radio-frequency identification] technology, carrying hand-held computers,” says Brad Kemp of Beacon Economics.

While the unemployment rate fell across the board for all education levels, the number of workers grappling with long-term joblessness has increased, meaning employers worry chronic unemployment can devalue whatever skills the candidate previously acquired. Since the end of 2009, over 300,000 people joined the ranks of workers out of a job for 27 weeks or more. In total, over 40 percent of the current crop of job seekers fall into this category.

That’s good news for younger workers who grew up taking the computer age for granted, but for older workers who haven’t taken the time to ingratiate themselves with digital products, troubling times are ahead.

“Young people are affordable. If they have high tech skills, like the Y generation, their inexperience will be looked over,” explains Kemp, “but being in between experience and having an interaction with new technology,” hurts the job seekers’ chances of getting hired.  

It’s an important point he’s making. For the jobs not outsourced to countries with cheaper labor or to machines with better cost efficiencies, being a veteran of the work force isn’t enough. And while it’s true the unemployment rate for people over 55 is relatively low (6.9 percent), total labor force participation is below 2007 levels, something the Economic Policy Institute calls “stunning” since population growth should have added 4 million new workers in that time period. That means employers are still cautious, and looking for inexpensive hires—a boon to younger workers who’ve for now had a hard time joining the labor force.

Another upshot? 30 percent of working-age adults possess an undergraduate degree, and in the latest BLS figures, only 4.8 percent of workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher were unemployed. Granted, that percentage concerns people aged 25 or higher. But considering the recession began in 2007, and most college students graduate around the age of 22, students with newly minted degrees who entered the job market looking at a bleak future three years ago now fall into the category of the most employed group of people.

Going forward, keeping up with new technology is a sure way of staying relevant in the eyes of employers. And don’t feel too aggrieved over the fortune you owe lenders for your college education. In this economy, that debt buys you a job.

Mikhail Zinshteyn is a staff writer for Campus Progress. You can e-mail him at mzinshteyn@googlemail.com.

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