Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Uneven Unemployment

In my post yesterday, I asked what had changed in the Waste Management company, as a result of  being featured in Undercover Boss, beyond making things better for the people who were chosen by the television show's producers to be in the show.  Larry O’Donnell, the Waste Management COO, directed that actions be taken to improve the situations of those people with whom he worked in the show.  What about other decent, hardworking, under-recognized employees who are struggling to keep their homes?  Are things going to improve for them?

There is a lot that chief officers and high level managers do not see in their companies.  In his column yesterday, in the New York Times, Bob Herbert points out that there is a lot that we all miss about the employment condition of people. Most of all he draws our attention to the fact that our current unemployment rate does not affect us all the same.

Where the annual household income is $150,000 and above, during the fourth quarter of 2009, the unemployment rate is 3.2%. "The Worst of the Pain," Bob Herbert's column title, fell to people with  household incomes below $12,500, where unemployment during the same period was 30.8%.  As Herbert says, this gap is dangerous to our society.

A plant where I was employed from 2005 to 2008 has reduced it's plant workforce from 130 to between 90 and 100 for most of the last year and those who have been fortunate enough to keep their jobs have been cut back to 32 hours per week during that entire time. Most of these workers who earn around $15,000 a year in good times, now earn around $12,000 a year.  Try to imagine supporting a family on $12,000 a year.

I will be writing about things that employers, working with their employees, can do to bring out the best in the workers.  But we need to recognize that the economy and the way our public policies respond to the economy play a huge role as well.  If we do not even see the staggering rate of unemployment in the lowest economic class, what hope is there of public policy that will address it, in the short or long term?  One of the keys to improving the effectiveness or organizations is seeing with new eyes, so that we can identify opportunities we have been missing. This applies to public policy as well.

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