The unemployed - they are absolutely not who you think

By Neil Patrick

The whole reason that I started this blog was vindicated for me this week in just one paragraph by my good friend, Twitter star and fellow blogger Andrew Ginsburg (Twitter @GinsburgJobs) within an email he sent me. Here’s an excerpt:

“I was recently at a birthday party and realized almost all of the men were unemployed. I am the youngest of all of them, but most are Harvard Law or Business School grads, even a friend who I grew up with who has been a very successful investment banker in New York for the last 30 years was laid off last year. He has the luxury of having tens of millions of dollars in the bank so he can seek out a different path. Most of us don’t have that. Even another friend, who went to Harvard undergrad and Business school said that many of his colleagues have been let go.”

This single paragraph would be unthinkable even a just a few years ago. People who have worked hard for decades and achieved professional success in their chosen careers are today facing unemployment in their hundreds of thousands. 

This situation isn’t because of the recession. It’s not going to suddenly get ‘better’ if and when our economies improve. Economists call this “structural unemployment”, and Wikipedia defines it thus:

“Structural unemployment is a form of unemployment where, at a given wage, the quantity of labor supplied exceeds the quantity of labor demanded, because there is a fundamental mismatch between the number of people who want to work and the number of jobs that are available.”

Most of us never think about types of unemployment. If you have a job, or work for yourself, you are considered to be employed. If you don’t, you are either retired, in education or unemployed. But today, structural unemployment is devastating the group that is popularly considered the most over-privileged in the world – white, middle-aged, middle class men.

I can almost hear the heckling of the young, working class and under-privileged now saying “Haha! Welcome to our world suckers! You created this mess, so now you can suffer with the rest of us”.

Such twisted triumphalism gets us nowhere. Those who’ve played by the rules they were given, worked hard and contributed the most to society (not to mention the government’s coffers) deserve neither condemnation nor vilification.

And letting them rot on the scrap heap is the worst thing we can let happen. If there is any long-term solution to reigniting economic growth in the US and Europe it won’t be based on low skill jobs and even lower wages. If there is economic salvation available, it will be because we are able to out-perform the rest of the world in our creativity, competitiveness, innovation, entrepreneurialism and critically, our ability to evolve and lead in what Jeremy Rifkin calls “The Third Industrial Revolution”.

Anarchy, revolution or class war won’t deliver any prospect of this. Neither will groupthink or any amount of youthful enthusiasm. But re-engaging the experience, maturity and brainpower of those greying guys on the scrapheap just might, if we ask them nicely (and provided they learn how to function in the digital age).