The New Unemployment: No More Permanent Employment

One of the ways we kid ourselves is calling our unemployment rate 10 percent. In government-speak that’s the “U-3” number, which counts just current job seekers. What it doesn’t count are “discouraged” workers, who have given up looking, and the “involuntarily part-time” or underemployed workers, who also can’t find full-time work.
That’s the “U-6” number, a more recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics metric. Today it’s more than 17 percent, which means real unemployment is approaching one in five Americans. And, yes, that’s a (post-Depression) record.
Growing evidence suggests that something far more fundamental than just another economic cycle may be going on. The modern office/factory-model job as we know it actually could be headed for extinction. Goodbye, permanent employment. Hello, contingent work, contractual employment and “composite” careers.
Many of us know people like my relative (by marriage) who’s a part-time associate pastor who also delivers newspapers, does home remodeling and sells Melaleuca. It’s a living — in fact, he’s been doing it for years by choice. We’re also seeing more and more six-month and one-year contract jobs with employers who don’t want to commit to workers beyond that. This may well be the shape of things to come.
William Bridges, the visionary executive development consultant and author who named this phenomenon “dejobbing,” foresaw this years ago: “What is disappearing is not just a certain number of jobs — or jobs in certain industries or jobs in some part of the country or even jobs in America as a whole. What is disappearing is the very thing itself, the job.”
Try this experiment: If you’ve worked long enough to have had multiple jobs, tally up that total number. Then subtract however many of those positions no longer exist. Unless you’re in health care, education or some other recession-resistant field, the number you have left may surprise you by its tininess.
In my own case, I’ve had (not counting freelance writing stints) six full-time jobs. Of those, only two still exist. And of the four that went bye-bye, three of those employers no longer exist (two newspapers and a public relations firm).