Job Retraining And Long-Term Unemployment

Guests

Frank Langfitt, NPR's labor/workplace correspondent
Tom Juravich, professor of labor studies, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

More than 15 million people are out of work in the U.S. Many of their jobs, in manufacturing, textiles and the auto industries, are gone forever. The workers left behind now face the grueling task of reinventing and reeducating themselves, in the hopes of finding new jobs.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Many of the 15 million or so unemployed hoped to get their old jobs back when things pick up, or something very similar. Many others know their jobs are gone for good.

NPR's Frank Langfitt spent two years following a few of the thousands laid off in Lenoir, North Carolina, as furniture manufacturers there sent more and more jobs overseas. People who never imagined re-inventing their careers went to the local community college to retrain themselves for the new business in town -Google. Some made it, some didn't. If this is your story, let us know how retraining worked out for you? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our Web site, that's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the hour, Ombudsman Alicia Shepherd joins us. If you have questions about things you heard on NPR on journalism, usage, and policies, you can send us an email now. That address again is talk@npr.org.

But first, retraining. NPR labor and workplace correspondent Frank Langfitt joins us here in Studio 3A. Thanks for coming in.

FRANK LANGFITT: Thanks for having me, Neal.

CONAN: And Frank, a lot of listeners will remember the stories you did on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED earlier this month and many, of course, will have also missed them. Why did you go to Lenoir?

LANGFITT: Well, it's really interesting. You know, as journalists we often will go and will do a story about the factory that's closing down, the jobs are going to China. But very rarely do we actually follow those people and see, well, what actually happens to them? I mean, how does this labor market really work in the United States? It's a very dynamic labor market. We create and destroy jobs everyday. And so what I wanted to do was follow these furniture workers as they tried to make the leap from the manufacturing economy, which is continuing to decline in the United States, and make the leap to the knowledge economy. In this case, try to get jobs as data technicians at a new Google data center in this town in western North Carolina.

So, that was the attraction, to kind of see, how does this really work?

CONAN: And indeed, Google was moving there because of the electrical surplus created when all of the factories closed down.

LANGFITT: That was - one of the attractions was you had all this very strong electrical grid that had run all these factories for many years. And once Google looked around the country, obviously those server firms, as they're called, they consume a lot of electricity. So they need to go to places that can provide it.

CONAN: And so, you followed a few workers who made the leap and said, I'm going to go to community college, I'm going to learn computers and I.T. and see if I can get the job at Google.

LANGFITT: I did. And it was really admirable because these are people who had worked in the furniture business their entire lives. They had left at the end of high school, had gone into furniture work and now suddenly, and in a very short period of time, seen that their world was turned upside down. One of the things that was so striking in Lenoir, and this really speaks to the speed of the global economy today, is how fast those jobs disappeared. As you just mentioned, it was a matter of five or six years and thousands of jobs in this small county, more than two-thirds of the furniture jobs there, which really was the mainstay of the economy.

So, it was a real shock. They went back for two and three years of information technology training. They had to learn to do homework again, write papers again, learn all kinds of terminology, and I really admired the efforts that they put in. In the end they were not able to get what they wanted. They did not get hired by Google. One of them was able to get an information-related job at the community college. But really, to me it spoke to how difficult it is. In middle age, when you're an older worker, you're competing against younger workers, new ideas, to make that leap.

CONAN: Well, one of the people you talked about was - did get a job at Google but was 23 years old.

LANGFITT: Exactly, and that was kind of - that was the other lesson, one of he big lessons I learned from this piece and that was the generational change. The people who lose the jobs who are in their 30s, 40s and 50s, they're often not the ones who get the new jobs. And this was the son of a furniture factory worker. So, in his life, you had this generational change from the old economy to this sort of new slightly growing nascent new economy.

CONAN: And what happens to those people, the 40- and 50-year-olds who can make the transition?

LANGFITT: Well, in a place like Caldwell County in western North Carolina, there are not a lot of jobs in general. And so, many of them have really struggled. There are on unemployment. They have gone back to get GEDs. Many had actually left in eighth or ninth grade. So, they're not that competitive to begin with in terms of getting a job. And then, as you mentioned, Bill Curtis I think was a great example. He worked really hard, a really bright wonderful guy.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

LANGFITT: People enjoyed him very much at the college. But in the end he couldn't get that job at Google and he ended up having to work at the local correctional institution, at Wal-Mart, seven days a week. So, in order to make ends meet he had to work a lot harder at jobs that I think he - you know, he's happy to have them. He is very grateful for them but they weren't exactly what he had in mind.

CONAN: And the irony of working at Wal-Mart. The jobs that are sent overseas go to China, which is where they manufacture furniture to be sold by Wal-Mart.

LANGFITT: Yeah, I mean, I think that it was lost on no one that Wal-Mart had played this role. I think that Bill is very happy to be at Wal-Mart. At the same time, he recognizes exactly what you just said. And people do mention it to him as well. A curious twist, I mean, the story ended up being full of twists because I followed these folks for a while, is that Wal-Mart actually became a safety net for laid-off furniture workers. There were - at one Wal-Mart I went to in Granite Falls, which is just south of Lenoir, employed 30 laid-off furniture workers. And to give you a sense of how competitive things are in Caldwell County, in that area right now, when there's a job opening at Wal-Mart there are 300 applications for every job.

CONAN: So, Wal-Mart is extremely important to the economy there?

LANGFITT: It was, definitely.

CONAN: All right. Let's see we get some callers in on the conversation. We're talking with labor workplace correspondent here at NPR, Frank Langfitt about his series of stories on furniture workers in North Carolina, and what they have done to try to retrain themselves for the new economy. If you have done that - whether it was the automobile business in Ohio or in Michigan, something else, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us talk@npr.org. Tell us how it worked out for you. Tim(ph) is on the line calling from Hickory, North Carolina.

TIM (Caller): Hey, how you're doing?

CONAN: I'm - good, Tim.

TIM: I got laid off and my job was connected to the furniture industry. And I live in Hickory. So, we finished fabric at the place I worked at. And - the government letting everything going overseas plus greed - after working 22 years, also getting injured on the job which put me in a situation where I had limitations, I went back to school at Caldwell Community College, which is a good school. And I'm ADD, so I struggled in school and I just had to give it up.

CONAN: And...

TIM: So, when I gave it up I lost my unemployment. So, since the summer till now, I mean, I'm working at my church one day a week with the daycare and I do whatever I can to make some money. But it is tough in these two counties here and surrounding counties in North Carolina.

CONAN: And might I ask how old you are, Tim?

TIM: I'm 46.

CONAN: And what does the future look like for you?

(Soundbite of laughter)

TIM: Oh, gosh, that one's funny. It don't - I want to be optimistic but I just don't see things looking up. They are - a company coming to Hickory called FileServe(ph). And they're a call center for the banking industry. And hopefully that's gonna bring like 400 jobs, if I'm not mistaken. And I would like to get on with them. But, you know, it's just like a Target distribution center came to Catawba County. And it was supposed to hire a whole lot more of people than what it did. You know, talk cheap. But we'll just have to see what happens.

CONAN: Well, Tim, we wish you the best of luck.

TIM: Thank you very much.

CONAN: And...

TIM: Good luck to all the other unemployed people.

CONAN: Okay, and - I hope your holidays are good too. And...

LANGFITT: That's - I mean, that - I've talked with so many people like Tim in that part of the country. And one of the things that he talks about there, which I think is really important, is the basic math at work here. When the manufacturing jobs - a lot of these plants, whether it's automotive, whether it's furniture, they employ a lot of people. Now he's talking about a call center with 400 people.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

LANGFITT: Google - employing a total of 200 people. The math simply doesn't work. There are not enough new jobs in certain areas to absorb all these laid off workers.

CONAN: Indeed, you talked to a professor at that community college, one of the people training these people, saying, look, I'm training all these people in I.T., but there - I don't think there's going to be the jobs there at Google.

LANGFITT: No, and there just - there aren't enough and it takes time. And unfortunately because it takes time to develop these jobs in certain places, there are people who fall by the wayside who just - they need a job now, just like Tim.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. This is Matt(ph), Matt with us from Tulsa.

MATT (Caller): Hi there.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

MATT: Your story was really making me think of something - a gentleman that I used to know. I used to work for WorldCom here in Tulsa, and I'm in information technology now, but there was a guy that I used to work with that was interesting. He used to work for Halliburton. He worked in the oil industry and this was, you know, no doubt a very successful and intelligent guy, but he lost his job.

So he went to a technical college nearby, you know, and got to start working in the communications industry there at WorldCom with me. But I noticed it was very difficult for him and a lot of those people that went directly, you know, from school into those jobs because they didn't really have a great deal of real-world experience and real-world training.

And of course, I'm in I.T. now and I kind of see the same thing. We see a lot of people that come out of - come right out of school. But, you know, to get these jobs at Google, you know, there's a Google location here close by us as well, you know, they really want people that have been in the business for quite some time and, you know, have some real strong experience.

CONAN: And understandably, and they have their pick because it's...

LANGFITT: Absolutely, and I think you're getting to another important issue here. And again, this is a real - this is sort of how it works in the real world in that these are very competitive job markets, and obviously when the corporations are picking and choosing, they're looking at resumes, they're looking at a lot of experience.

In the case of Lenoir, Linux is the operating system that Google uses. They wanted people with a lot of Linux experience. Some of the people who were coming into the college there didn't have a lot of hands-on experience with Linux before. Others did. Others had been working with Linux for two or three years. They'd studied it before and those were the people who ended up getting the jobs because just as you said, they had a lot of real-world experience. And, you know, when there's a job, there's always competition for it. So it really matters what you bring, you know, to the job interview and bring to the table.

CONAN: Matt, when did you make this transition?

MATT: I've been directly in I.T. for about three years, although like I said, I used to work for WorldCom. I worked more in the telecommunications side of things. So I've always been around technology, but you know - and I'm involved in hiring now and we see a lot of young people that have - they're either in a technical college, or they've had some kind of very academic view of this particular business that I'm in. And that's really nice, you know, there's a big difference between what you learn in school and what you actually go out and do for customers and things of that nature.

And same thing in those large businesses like Google and big enterprise-type situations is that, you know, the skill set that the people need to work amongst those server farms and things like that is just - you just can't learn that in school. So I know it's got to be difficult for those people that put out, you know, their hard-earned money and they spend a lot of time going to school. And they're hoping that they're going to, you know, land a job...

CONAN: It's the emotional investment, as much as anything else, isn't it?

LANGFITT: Oh, absolutely, and one of the things that I admired was people who, when they did go back to school, they put in, you know, days and nights of long hours. And they really got their hopes up, and in this case, it was pretty tough.

CONAN: If you lost your job and went through retraining, let us know how it worked out for you, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. We'll talk more with NPR labor and workplace correspondent Frank Langfitt in a moment. And up next, a closer look at who's being hit hardest and how effective these retraining programs really are. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. We know generally where the job are right now. Jobs in education are growing, according to the Labor Department. So are computer services positions and health care jobs, management and technical consulting. All those fields require specialized training.

We're talking about the growing numbers of workers whose jobs are gone forever and must now reinvent themselves professionally. If this is your story, let us know how retraining worked out for you. Our phone number is 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. And you can join the conversation at our Web site. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Frank Langfitt is with us, NPR labor and workplace correspondent. You can listen to the stories he covered over two years reporting on this issue. The link is at npr.org, and again just click on TALK OF THE NATION.

We're going to get another guest here in a minute, but I wanted to read this email question from Miller(ph), a Caldwell County native, who asks: how many of the Google jobs went to Caldwell County residents?

LANGFITT: Excellent question, and Google will not say. I can tell you that when I was in the Google data center, I did meet a few people from Caldwell County, I met many people from North Carolina, but I don't think it was a lot of people. I think that one of the challenges - and again, this speaks to something we've been talking about earlier in the program and that is competition.

Google can draw from all over the world. There were people in Europe who actually applied for these jobs. And that gives you an idea of how incredibly competitive it was for those jobs.

CONAN: Joining us now is Tom Juravich, professor of labor studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and he joins us from the studios at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation today, in Ottawa. Nice to have you with us.

Mr. TOM JURAVICH (Professor of Labor Studies, University of Massachusetts, Amherst): Great to be here, Neal.

CONAN: And is any of this retraining working or - are people finding jobs if they go study information technology or study for a job in the health care industry?

Mr. JURAVICH: Well, I think the real power of Frank's story is to remind us that - we sometimes in these economic times think that training is the whole answer, that the problem is we - there's a mismatch between people's skills and the work that's out there. And I think as Frank so beautifully said, in terms of - sometimes the math doesn't really add up, that the new jobs really aren't there. So we're training people to compete for a smaller number of jobs, or oftentimes there's a mismatch between the kinds of retraining we're doing and the kinds of jobs that are available.

CONAN: Give us an example of that.

Mr. JURAVICH: Well, in some cases we see people - oftentimes, blue collar workers are retrained for HVAC or truck driving or other kinds of blue collar skills and, actually, there isn't very much employment there.

So again, I think we've got - what we really have to do is look at where the real jobs are, the numbers of jobs, and really tailor that training towards those jobs.

CONAN: And in those cases, though, I assume in some cases, this works?

Mr. JURAVICH: In some cases it works beautifully, but again, the real issue here is not so much training as it is jobs. And we need to sometimes step back and say the issue is not just the skills of individuals, but what are the jobs that the economy is creating? And I think this is one of the issues in Washington right now: Are we going to be involved in some kind of a jobs creation program to really try to nibble at the still-very-high unemployment numbers?

CONAN: Well, one of the things you saw at times of great demand for workers, and you think back to, well, ship-building during the Second World War and other situations like that, well, you know, they will train workers if they need them badly enough.

Mr. JURAVICH: Absolutely, and I think you're so right, Neal, that in terms of when jobs are there, training oftentimes isn't the issue because there's also kinds - many forms of on-the-job training one can do and many kind of training that employers do. So this idea of simply having workers train prior to employment is only one way that it can be done.

CONAN: And there is, again, the psychological penalty that we're talking about. Americans derive an enormous amount of identity from what they do for a living. It's often the first question you ask of somebody you meet for the first time.

Mr. JURAVICH: Absolutely, and you know, there was a new New York Times poll out several months ago that talked about really the psychological impact of employment. And particularly for older workers, particularly for older men, as we saw here in the case of Bill Curtis(ph), a major impact on issues of self-esteem, self-worth, and these are very difficult to overcome, particularly in an isolated situation that oftentimes many workers feel in unemployment. So these are not just economic issues, they're psychological, as well.

CONAN: Frank?

LANGFITT: Tom makes a very good point here. I've been - you know, in recent months, I'll go up and spend some time in some of the work centers, the job centers in Maryland, just outside the District. And you'll meet people who have never lost a job in their lives, they've been good performers, and they're essentially people who got caught up in this downturn. And it's really devastating.

And you'll be talking to them, and they'll be very composed and very professional, and then they will just begin to cry and cry and cry. And they're terrified of what the future holds for them.

They might be in their late 40s, and they're afraid that even if they can find a job, it's going to pay a third or a half of what they were earning, and they don't know how they're going to - how they're going to be able to pay for their kids' education. And as you were saying, Neal, as Americans, we really, we are workers.

We do talk very much about what we do. We're so invested in that. That's such a part of our identity. And when this happens, I think you'll find people really kind of questioning how they've been spending their life and who they really are.

CONAN: Here's an email we have from Al(ph) in Oklahoma City. It's time we took a look at training for self-employment. I'm in the shoe repair industry, and my two shops have shown at least a 10 percent growth 18 of the past 20 years. We'll never be wealthy, but my wife and I earn a very good living. Being self-employed, we don't have to worry about a pink slip as long as we feel like working. There are a lot of industries like mine out there that may not be glamorous but will pay a good living wage. Not everyone can push buttons on a PC and earn triple-digit salaries.

And I wonder, Tom Juravich, does he have a point?

Mr. JURAVICH: He has a good point, but I think it's one we have to be a little careful about. It is true that self-employment is a big part of the employment picture but it can't be the solution here. Again, we have to look - if we look at the economy over the last two decades, we've lost some major employers that employed thousands, tens of thousands, industries that employed hundreds of thousands of workers. We simply can't replace all of those jobs with self-employed entrepreneurs.

CONAN: It would be a lot of shoe-repair shops, yeah.

Mr. JURAVICH: It sure would.

CONAN: Let's talk with Oscar(ph), Oscar with us from Sussex County in Delaware.

OSCAR (Caller): How are you doing?

CONAN: Very well.

OSCAR: Well, just to let you know, my name is Oscar. I am 41 years old. I used to live in south Florida, in Miami, Florida, until 2008. I used to work for a call center, a big call center for Bell South. And I used to work also for another call center for the newspaper, the Miami Herald. I quit the Miami Herald in 2006 because it was hard, you know, to sell subscriptions.

CONAN: Yes, and getting harder.

OSCAR: It was getting harder, but I quit. They didn't fire me, I quit. And they were paying nice in that time. And then in 2007, the owner took over Bell South AT&T. I wasn't fired. I couldn't make the - they made a retraining and I couldn't make. So they said - finally I resigned.

So in my case, I wasn't fired from any of the jobs. I just, I quit. Then I had a hard time because I was...

Unidentified Man: ...don't try that. Tis, of course, the season for gingerbread.

CONAN: I'm sorry, there's obviously a stray signal there somewhere. We apologize for that. Oscar, go ahead, please.

OSCAR: What I want to tell you guys is that I had a hard time, like seven, eight months looking for a job. I couldn't relocate in any job in Miami. And then one day, this guy from - there's a chicken processing plant and they show up in Miami. They were doing a job fair. And they said if you want to come to work up to Delaware, we will sponsor you. We will give you a relocation package. And we got jobs in Delaware, you can come here and work.

Never in my life work in a chicken plant, never in my life work in this industry, poultry. So I said, well, if you help me with this, I'll go. And I came here in September, 2008, and I've been working here in the plant for 16 months.

CONAN: And how much are you making there at the chicken - there's a lot of chicken processing plants on the Delmarva Peninsula. Frank Perdue is probably the best known.

OSCAR: I make $11.30 an hour.

Mr. JURAVICH: And what were you making when you worked for the Miami Herald selling subscriptions?

OSCAR: When I was in the Herald, I was making $10. When I left Bell South, I was making 16, $16.

CONAN: That's a big cut, but nevertheless, a job is better than no job.

OSCAR: But you know what the thing is that I was - the good thing is that the job here is from five to 1:30. So you have the day...

CONAN: The rest of the day.

OSCAR: The morning to have another job.

CONAN: But boy, that alarm clock goes off pretty early in the morning, Oscar.

OSCAR: You have time in the morning to do other things, to do another job, and I was working...

CONAN: Oh, five in the afternoon to one o'clock in the morning?

OSCAR: Five p.m. to 1:30. That's the hours.

CONAN: Wow, okay.

OSCAR: So the hours are convenient because you have the rest of the day for you. And these guys keep hiring and hiring and hiring, it's incredible, you know.

CONAN: Well Oscar, that's great. Good luck to you, appreciate the phone call. And you know, obviously the willingness to move, that's critical if you can find a place to go to.

Mr. JURAVICH: It is absolutely critical and Oscar's a good example of somebody who - you know, people used to go to the sunbelt to try to find work. Well, you can't do that in Florida because that was one of the epicenters of the housing crisis. And Oscar's a great example of if you move, maybe you can find work. He did take a salary cut. And so that's part of, you know, what you have to deal with.

One of the challenges - when we look at the upper Midwest, we look at the auto industry, we've lost tens of thousands of jobs in the last year or two. Many of those people, though, are underwater on their mortgages, and they cannot move. They can't get out. So I don't...

CONAN: Or they have ties to the community, they don't want to move.

Mr. JURAVICH: Absolutely, or they have - I mean, many have been there for a number of generations, and emotionally it's very hard for them to move. So it's, you know, Oscar was able to make a move and obviously benefited from it. But it's harder to do in some parts of the country.

CONAN: Now, Tom Juravich, do we have you back?

Prof. JURAVICH: You do, indeed.

CONAN: Okay. We're good. You're not doing commercials up there in Canada for us. Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. Let's go with Tara(ph). Tara with us from Tacoma in Washington.

TARA (Caller): Yes, sir. Thank you very much for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

TARA: I think my story touches on almost all of the issues that your very well-informed guests have been speaking of. I lived in Detroit. I loved my town. I felt like a rat living a sinking ship. I realized that I was going to have to start a new life, get work. I took everything I had, all my savings, sold everything, came to Washington, found an apartment. And I realized that I would have to go to school to get more in the current market, shall we say.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

TARA: I took - I spent my savings, about $6,000 in all, not counting the rent and everything with no income, to go to the school for a very accelerated court reporter jobs.

CONAN: See those advertised on TV all the time.

TARA: Yes, you do. However, I went to the school. Of course I was - I hadn't been to school in many years, but I went and realized that I was going to have to really show my best. Went on, got the valedictorian of the class, I was given the list of jobs that were open of that type. They loved me on the phone. But when they realized I was approaching 60, the grades didn't matter, the school didn't matter. My charm and good looks didn't matter.

(Soundbite of laughter)

TARA: And I ended up having spent everything without any chance of remuneration. I keep - or a job or any - even like a bail bondsman, having all this court information, the bails bondsman asked when you graduated from high school on the phone. And it never occurred to me what that meant.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Prof. JURAVICH: Yeah.

TARA: And even with all my experience and knowledge and so forth, they said, no.

CONAN: Yeah.

TARA: No.

CONAN: Tom...

TARA: Age and...

CONAN: Age plays such a critical factor, doesn't it, Tom? And there's supposed to be no age discrimination. But nevertheless...

TARA: And I was in my 50s.

CONAN: Yeah.

TARA: So I was hardly ready for the old geezer home.

CONAN: Now, let's hear from Tom.

Prof. JURAVICH: Absolutely. You know, this story is so much one that we hear so many times and really fits with what the statistics are telling us. If you actually look at people 45 and older, their unemployment rate is about 6.4 percent. Now, that doesn't sound high when you look at what youth employment is or even the overall unemployment rate. Yet, that's the highest rate in this country since 1948. Those are traditionally...

CONAN: For those over 45.

Prof. JURAVICH: That's right. Traditionally, those were people who are very much at very low unemployment rate.

CONAN: Prime earning years, as used to hear.

LANGFITT: Indeed.

Prof. JURAVICH: Absolutely. And now this is the population that's really struggling - highest rates since 1948 of unemployment among 45-plus workers in this country.

CONAN: Tara, thanks very much for the call and good luck.

TARA: Good luck. Thank you. Bye.

CONAN: All right. Bye-bye. We're talking about retraining and how it's going. Our guests are Frank Langfitt of NPR, our labor and workplace correspondent, and Tom Juravich who's a professor of labor studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's go to Don(ph). Don with us from Detroit.

DON (Caller): Yeah. My question is - I have a question and a story to go along with it. My question is, what is the next big thing that Americans should be training for? My niece trained in the mid-'80s, she trained to be an IT professional. She graduated, went through Pfizer Corporation here in Auburn Hills and got a great job. In the early 2000s, she actually had 80 people working under her.

But then she slowly realized that all these jobs are disappearing and shipping off to India. When she finally decided to quit two years ago, she had only 15 people working under her, the rest of the jobs were all shipped to India. She decided to go - to quit, go back to school and become an RN. And she just graduated and now she's an RN. She's just seen her first person die of H1N1. A great job shift and she got a cut in pay of about a half.

CONAN: Really?

DON: Yeah. So, what's the next big thing to go to? It's not IT, don't tell me that.

CONAN: All right. Tom Juravich, any ideas here?

Mr. JURAVICH: Well, Don, you've asked the $50,000 question here is: Where is that new area of expansion? And your niece is correct that health care is a place where there are some jobs. But what we're not seeing is that new industry, that new area where we're seeing large numbers of job creations. So, the question, I think, remains unknown and I think that's one of the real questions we have to post to our politicians in Washington is: What kind of policies are we going to enact that will help to grow some sector of the economy where we can create hundreds and thousands of new jobs?

LANGFITT: It's very interesting. That's a great question that we just heard. I've been asking that question for a number of years here in Washington and I have yet to hear what I would considered to be a reassuring answer. I also, when I talked to labor economists as well - there aren't a lot of answers. People will say it is a very dynamic economy.

CONAN: Isn't there some wizard in a garage somewhere inventing the next computer?

LANGFITT: Well, apparently - hopefully so, but they haven't told us yet. And what people will often say, labor economists will say, technology changes very rapidly. We can't anticipate what it's going to be. I mean, Google is 10 years old. Think about it: 10 years ago, who would've imagined and now Google is an enormously successful company that employs several tens of thousands of people. That said, I think for ordinary people, the folks who are calling in today, that's not very reassuring because people don't really know. And certainly, when you look - when you talk to politicians, we don't have, you know, a really grand job strategy in this country.

CONAN: Don, thanks very much for the call.

DON: Thank you.

CONAN: And we'll end with this email from Rebecca(ph) in Medfield, Massachusetts. I just wanted to share the story of my father. He's 65. And about 18 months ago, he was laid off from the survey job he'd been doing for more than 40 years. For him, as I'm sure for many others his age, it was difficult to, one, come to the recognition that he was not ever going back to that job - he hung on to that hope for a long time. And two, that he needed to figure out what other skills he did have. Having worked so long in one industry, he really had a tough time identifying new options. About two months ago, he began a job driving school buses, which he really loves and oddly, it's something of a family job since his father drove a bus for many years. I'm really proud of my dad for having the courage to make a try at something new, and we're all quite relieved that he has a paycheck again.

So there is at least one story that turned out pretty well. Tom Juravich, thanks for your time today.

Prof. JURAVICH: Thank you very much, Neal.

CONAN: Tom Juravich, a professor of labor studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, joined us from the CBC studios in Ottawa. And Frank Langfitt was with us here at Studio 3A. Thanks, Frank.

LANGFITT: Always welcome.

CONAN: Frank covers labor and workplace issues for NPR.

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