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Jobless Americans face debt crunch without more federal aid as bills come due

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A new phase of the economic crisis is looming for the winner of Tuesday’s presidential election: potentially massive defaults by jobless Americans on consumer loans as the chances for more federal relief this year diminish.

Both President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden have called for robust new rescue packages for an economy still suffering from the pandemic, but Congress’s inability to agree on key issues such as the size of unemployment benefits has kept the talks at an impasse for months. Now, millions of Americans are running out of money and will face hard choices between food purchases and payments on rent, credit cards and student loans.

Generous unemployment benefits and stimulus checks given out earlier this year helped many people weather the early months of the crisis — with some even managing to increase their savings. But that support has faded and some of it will run dry by the end of the year. JPMorgan Chase Institute found that in August alone, typical unemployed families spent two-thirds of the additional rainy day funds that they’d built up over the previous four months.

“I fear jobless workers are going to have to make tough choices,” said Fiona Greig, director of consumer research at the institute.

The “Lost Wages Assistance” aid program that Trump ordered after the expiration of more generous federal benefits — including a $600-a-week boost in jobless payments that ended on July 31 — helped bolster some families in September. But by early this month, much of that small pot of money had already been depleted. As a result, the largest U.S. banks warned investors this month that they expect credit card delinquencies to start mounting early next year.

And with coronavirus cases spiking in places like the Midwest, pressure could increase on already struggling small businesses, pushing jobless numbers back up.In a Census Bureau survey this month, roughly a third of small businesses reported only having enough cash to get them through a month or less.

The Labor Department said Thursday that more than 22 million people were claiming benefits in all federal programs as of the week ending Oct. 10.

Other government data released at the same time showed that the economy in the third quarter regained roughly 60 percent of the economic activity it lost, as many businesses have reopened. But Greig said without additional government support, the results could still be severe for many families, particularly if there is not more improvement in the job market.

“The GDP growth recovery looks much better than the job market numbers” because people are buying goods, but there’s still a severe drought in using many services, which is where most people are employed, said Greig, whose think tank has access to proprietary data from Chase Bank.

The burdens of the pandemic are falling disproportionately on lower-income workers; people making less than $27,000 have seen a nearly 20 percent drop in employment since January, while the job market is almost fully recovered among workers making more than $60,000, according to private-sector data compiled by Opportunity Insights.

Some relief measures are still in place; there’s a nationwide ban on evictions until the end of the year, and many borrowers have had the chance to put off credit card, student loan and mortgage payments. Roughly 7 percent of households with mortgages and 41 percent with student loans were skipping or making reduced payments as of the beginning of October, according to Goldman Sachs researchers.

But those debts are still piling up in the background, which could leave consumers with a crushing burden once those protections expire without something to keep them afloat.

“There will be a massive balloon payment on what people are supposed to pay,” said Megan Greene, an economist at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. “Lots of people won’t be able to afford that.”

“It’s been surprising to me how long consumers have been able to hold on,” she added. “We’re tempting fate by waiting until next year to re-up some of the stimulus measures.”

Thanks to government aid, aggregate personal income is still up from before the coronavirus crisis, even though wages and salaries are still below pre-pandemic levels, according to economic data released by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Personal income decreased $540.6 billion in the third quarter, after rising $1.45 trillion in the second quarter, a drop the agency attributed to a decrease in pandemic-related relief programs.

Part of the danger is that complete information isn’t available, so some areas may be suffering more than we know.

“A lot of the work I do focuses on rural communities, and there’s just not a lot of good data there,” said Gbenga Ajilore, senior economist at the Center for American Progress. “There are canaries in the coal mine, but … we don’t see the areas that are getting hurt because we don’t measure those areas.”

Researchers at Columbia University found that the monthly poverty rate increased to 16.7 percent in September from 15 percent in February, with about 8 million people falling into poverty since May.

Life has gotten harder for the poorest Americans. “We find that at the peak of the crisis (April 2020), the CARES Act successfully blunted a rise in poverty; however, it was not able to stop an increase in deep poverty, defined as resources less than half the poverty line,” that report said.

Maurice Jones heads up the Local Initiatives Support Corp., one of the largest community development financial institutions in the country, and said this has been the biggest year ever for the nonprofit — both in terms of donations and in relief they’re paying out.

“We have something called financial opportunity centers, and the focus of them historically has been on getting people prepared to compete successfully for living wage jobs — thinking more long term, if you will,” he said. “We have had to really adjust and focus on immediate relief. … People are literally having to choose between paying rent and buying groceries.”

Jones said his firm gave out $225 million in grants or forgivable loans between March and the end of September. “We’ve never had a six-month period like that in our history with that kind of deployment of those kinds of dollars,” he said.

He said it could be “a decade’s work” to get poor people back to where they were before the pandemic.

Also, many people don’t have ready access to aid from institutions like Jones’s, which focus on underserved markets, and banks have been tightening lending standards as the financial picture darkens for many borrowers. That means low-income Americans will turn to high-cost payday loans and check cashers to pay their bills, which can mean getting caught in a cycle of debt.

“These are not folks who are in a position to absorb loans at this stage of the game,” Jones said. “We’re not talking about a small chunk of the population. We’re talking tens of millions of people.”

“We gotta get this election behind us and get back to the federal government’s next chapter in helping folks weather the storm.”

This blog originally appeared at Politico at October 29, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Victoria Guida is a financial services reporter covering banking regulations and monetary policy for POLITICO Pro. She covers the Federal Reserve, the FDIC and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, as well as Treasury, after four years on the international trade beat, most recently for Pro and previously for Inside U.S. Trade.


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Do Your Employment References Really “Have Your Back?” Better Not Assume That Your References Will Offer a Favorable or Neutral Reference

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We’ve all heard that our former employers, when contacted for a reference, will only confirm (per company policy) employment dates and title. Right?

Wrong.

There is no guarantee that all corporate employees are aware of, or will abide be, such guidelines. Consider these verbatim comments documented by Allison & Taylor in checking employment references on behalf of job seekers:

“He had issues with his co-workers and management and is not eligible for rehire.”

“Is there a rating less than inadequate?”

“She made a good effort but was simply not able to meet our expectations.”

“I’d rather not comment – you can take that any way you like.”

“She didn’t resign from our company – she was terminated.”

“I am not allowed to say anything about this person as they were fired.”

Clearly, any prospective employer receiving such feedback on a job seeker is highly unlikely to hire them. What, then, should be your course of action if you are concerned about potential commentary from your former employer?

The first step is to confirm if you do indeed have a problem with at least one of your references. Do an honest self-assessment of your references that are most likely to be called by prospective employers. Very possibly you already have a good idea of who may be making your employment search a challenging one. And while you might be able to keep some former associates off of a prospective employer’s radar, it is unlikely that a former supervisor or HR department will be overlooked. The HR department is a traditional venue for reference checks, and HR reps of your most recent employers are almost certain to get a call from potential employers. Your former supervisors will be high on an employer’s list as well, as they know you better than HR and may also be willing to offer a more revealing profile about you.

Then, consider having a reference check(s) conducted on those business associates from your past who might be problematic. Avoid the temptation to have a friend or associate call and pose as a prospective employer – this could backfire on you, also any unfavorable input obtained in this manner would be inadmissible for legal purposes. Instead, have a reputable third party (e.g., www.allisontaylor.com) conduct these reference interviews on your behalf to best ensure that any negative input obtained can be legally addressed and neutralized.

If negative input from a reference is uncovered, what steps can you take? Your options will depend on the nature of the negative input. Where your reference’s communication was inaccurate, malicious, or wrongful you may have the ability – through an attorney – to pursue legal recourse. When a reference’s negative input is not unlawful but is nonetheless restricting your ability to secure future employment, it can sometimes be addressed through a Cease-&-Desist letter which is typically issued by your attorney to the senior management of the company where the negative reference originated, alerting the management of the negative reference’s identity and actions. Typically the very act of offering a negative reference is against corporate guidelines, which normally state that only a former employee’s title/dates of employment can be confirmed. The negative reference is cautioned by management not to offer additional comments and – out of self-interest – will usually not offer negative commentary again.

How to Set and Increase Your Freelance Writing Rates

Whether through a Cease-&-Desist letter or stronger legal measures, the prospects for neutralizing further negative input from a reference are excellent. Also, the “peace of mind” a reference verification brings to an employment candidate unsure of what their references are really saying, cannot be underestimated. If concern about your references is causing you some sleepless nights, it’s never too soon to document – and address – what they are really saying about you.

For more information on reference checking, and what to do if a negative reference is impeding your chances for a new job, please visit www.AllisonTaylor.com.

“This blog originally appeared at Allison & Taylor on December 21, 2017. Reprinted with permission.” 


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Advocating for Your Rights Even in Your First Interview

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Going in for your first job interview can be a nerve-wracking experience, no matter what. Whether you’ve been out of the working world for a while, or you’re just looking for something new, it’s normal to be a bit nervous for interviews.

But, don’t let those nerves overshadow your own rights.

When you stand up for your rights in the first interview, you will have a better idea of everything from company culture to any signs of discrimination within the business. That can make it easier to determine if it’s the right place of employment for you.

So, how can you better advocate for your rights in an interview? What should you ask? What do you need to know about what your interviewer can and can’t ask?

What Can’t Interviewers Ask?

There are certain questions that may come up in an interview that should be considered red flags. Additionally, there are questions that interviewers simply aren’t allowed to ask you. Arming yourself with the knowledge of these questions can make it easier to determine if there might be some discriminatory behavior going on. Some questions an interviewer cannot ask you include:

  • What’s your religion?
  • Do you have a disability (unless it is obvious or noticeable)?
  • What is your race?
  • What is your family status?
  • What is your gender?

Employers also can’t ask you about your specific age. You aren’t required to put your date of birth (DOB) on your resume, and interviewers can’t force you to answer questions about it. Even though there are legal protections in place, age discrimination can be a big problem in the workplace, so leaving your DOB off of your resume and knowing you don’t have to answer questions about it can help you to feel empowered.

Interviewers can ask personal questions about things like what motivates you and what makes you unique. But, when it comes to any specific questions about your race, culture, religion, or gender, you don’t have to answer and give fuel to the discriminatory fire.

How to Learn More About the Company During an Interview

It’s important to know what kind of company culture you might be walking into. You might be going back to work for the first time after being a stay-at-home parent. Does the company you’re interviewing with encourage a healthy work-life balance? Do they offer extended time off or childcare services?

You should also develop a strong understanding of how the company feels about employee wellness. Workplace stress is a huge problem, with 25% of people stating that work is their number one source of stress. When an employer takes the health and wellness of their employees into consideration, it shows that they value them. Corporate wellness programs can include:

  • Meditation sessions
  • An on-site quiet room for rest
  • Encouraging physical activity
  • Making sure employees are using their vacation days

In addition to wellness, a positive workplace culture should also be inclusive to people of different ages, races, genders, and identities. Don’t be afraid to ask questions during the interview that are important to you. You’ll want to make sure you feel comfortable within the culture before accepting a job. Knowing your rights when it comes to questions you have to answer, and asking the right ones yourself can make a big difference advocating for your rights during your first interview.

About the Author: Luke Smith is a writer and researcher turned blogger. Since finishing college he is trying his hand at being a freelance writer. He enjoys writing on a variety of topics but business and technology topics are his favorite. When he isn’t writing you can find him traveling, hiking, or gaming.


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Young Workers Struggle to Find Jobs, Pay Student Debt

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Credit: Joe Kekeris
Credit: Joe Kekeris

“For Most Graduates, a Grueling Job Hunt Awaits,” The Wall Street Journalwrites today. Over the weekend, The New York Times sounded the alarmabout employers’ growing use of unpaid internships in fields that typically have never exploited free labor.

So, how bad is it for young workers? According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), over the past year

“the unemployment rate for young high school graduates averaged 31.5 percent and the underemployment rate averaged 54.7 percent. For college graduates, the unemployment rate averaged 9.4 percent over the last year, while the underemployment rate averaged 19.1 percent. Unemployment rates for young African American and Hispanic high school and college graduates were higher than overall rates.”

Between 2000 and 2011, the real wages of young high school graduates declined by 11.1 percent, and the real wages of young college graduates declined by 5.4 percent. Entering the labor market during a downturn can have long-term scarring effects on young workers, in the form of reduced earnings, greater earnings instability and more spells of non-employment over the next 10 to 15 years, according to a recent EPI briefing paper, “The Class of 2012: Labor Market for Young Graduates Remains Grim.”

Compounding their economic grief, young workers face huge student debt loads, a burden that only will increase if Congress doesn’t act ASAP.

(If you’re in Washington, D.C., join young workers on Capitol Hill to meet with key offiicals and tell them what young people are saying about student loans, unemployment, access to higher ed and affordable health care. Click here to hop on a bus to the Hill and to find out more.)

Economist Heidi Shierholz, one of the report’s authors, says the solution to the crisis for young workers is the same as that for all the more than 14 million jobless Americans:

“The policies that will most effectively help young workers right now are ones that generate strong job growth overall, like fiscal relief to states, substantial additional investment in infrastructure and direct job creation programs in communities particularly affected by unemployment.”

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO on May 7, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Tula Connell got her first union card while she worked her way through college as a banquet bartender for the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee they were represented by a hotel and restaurant local union (the names of the national unions were different then than they are now). With a background in journalism (covering bull roping in Texas and school boards in Virginia) she started working in the labor movement in 1991. Beginning as a writer for SEIU (and OPEIU member), she now blogs under the title of AFL-CIO managing editor.


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Jobs Crisis Forum: The Time for Excuses Is Over. Create Jobs Now

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Image: James ParksShonda Sneed of Yellow Springs, Ohio, was laid off in December 2009 and is about to run out of unemployment benefits. Because of state budget cuts, she also could soon lose the health care nurse who helps care for her mother who has dementia. At the last job she applied for, she was told 450 others had also applied for the same position.

Shonda Sneed talks with AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker at the AFL-CIO panel on the jobs crisis.
Shonda Sneed talks with AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker at the AFL-CIO panel on the jobs crisis.

Sneed and Bob Stein, a 60-year-old former salesman who has been out of work since May 2010, are two of the 14 million Americans who are unemployed—and their story is not being told in the midst of the debate over the deficit. Sneed and Stein, who are both members of Working America, spoke to a forum on “The Jobs Crisis—Moving to Action: A Dialogue Between Workers and Policymakers” at the AFL-CIO this morning.

As Sneed said:

All I want is a decent job. I want to work. I love to work. I’m scared. I don’t know what’s going to happen to my mother. I have a home to pay off.

The forum, moderated by Bob Herbert, distinguished fellow at D?mos and an award-winning journalist, drew a sharp contrast between the policies that got our country in this economic crisis and are currently being advocated to get it out, and what is needed in order to spark a real economic recovery.

Stein says it’s frustrating to try and find a job in an economy that generated only 18,000 jobs last month. “I was set to lose unemployment as of the second or third week of December, and [politicians] were fighting back and forth and it was predicated on the Bush tax cuts. I was caught right in the middle of that,” he said.

The thing that was so upsetting is when you heard about the number of people about to lose their unemployment check. I thought, “OK, I understand that you’re adamant about this Bush tax cut thing, but you’re holding us all hostage. You’re playing politics with people lives. People use their unemployment. This will stimulate and help the economy.”

The panel also included AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) and Heather Boushey, a senior economist at the Center for American Progress.

Panelists noted that many in Washington continue to push deregulation and tax cuts as the way out of the economic hole the country is in, without acknowledging the role that those policies played in creating the current economic conditions. The strategy to encourage corporations to spend their billions of dollars in profits is doomed when politicians don’t first acknowledge the truth that working people drive the economy as consumers. Without good jobs or shared prosperity, corporations won’t spend and our economy can’t prosper.

Trumka said working people are frustrated with both political parties.

The time for excuses is over. People don’t care about why it [creating jobs] isn’t getting done. They just want to get it done. We can create jobs if we want to. It’s a matter of political will.

More and more economists are coming around to the idea that the economy is faltering because of a lack of demand, said Boushey. The best ways to increase demand, she said, is to invest in things that generate demand, like infrastructure aid to the states, education and long-term unemployment benefits.

Levin said the nation’s trade policies must be a part of any jobs policy. It’s important, he said, for trade agreements to include enforceable labor standards to develop a strong middle class in the nations we trade with who can then buy U.S. products. It also is important to ensure that American workers don’t compete with workers who are oppressed, he said.

Noting that the middle class is the engine of our economy, Franken said retaining tax breaks and loopholes for the rich, as Republicans have proposed, won’t increase demand. Rich people can only buy so much stuff, Franken said, then they save their money.

The idea that those at the top who are richer than anyone has ever been in history—why they can’t pay a higher percentage in taxes is crazy.

This Blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO Now on July 11, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: James Parks’ first encounter with unions was at Gannett’s newspaper in Cincinnati when his colleagues in the newsroom tried to organize a unit of The Newspaper Guild. He saw firsthand how companies pull out all the stops to prevent workers from forming a union. He is a journalist by trade, and worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. He also has been a seminary student, drug counselor, community organizer, event planner, adjunct college professor and county bureaucrat. His proudest career moment, though, was when he served, along with other union members and staff, as an official observer for South Africa’s first multiracial elections.


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Story of an Unemployed Executive – With a Hidden Message for Survival

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Don  StraitsJust read a story on AOL about a CEO of a small construction company. (Actually two stories…the original and her update).  Link at the end of the post.

Even though she doesn’t acknowledge it….or maybe even recognize it, within her stories there is a message for how to survive and find the next job.

Simply stated:  write, write write.  As a result of getting her story published on AOL she has gotten ten opportunities to apply for positions.  She is in that process right now.  But she got those opportunities because she took the time to write.  Now there is no guarantee you will get on AOL, but I can guarantee there are many other places that will publish your writings on your expertise, vision and leadership

So begin writing.

1.  Start Blogging:    It is easy and you can do it for very few dollars….even free.  If you want help, there are services like ours that can make it even easier.  But start getting your message out there.  Write about your expertise in your industry.  Address emerging trends, industry challenges, industry opportunities, government and regulation issues, technology applications and on and on and on.  Apply SEO and SEM to your blog.  If you don’t know how….learn!!  Send a link to your blog to everyone you know.  Include a link with every job application.  Put a link on your Linkedin and Facebook page.  Join Linkedin industry groups and provide them with a link to your blog.  All of this is free and it can produce great results.

2.  Write on Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter and many others.   Communicate your message  through social networks.  Write about your situation, your leadership and vision, your expertise.   Show your expertise by answering questions regarding your industry or areas of skill….as posted by other members of Lindedin.  When answering several questions, the algorithms of Linkedin will recognize you as an expert.

3.  Write Articles.  These are not just blog articles or posts, but rather articles for publication in online trade journals.  There are also many online article publication websites that will publish every article you write….for free.  Their sites success is predicated on a huge volume of content on many topics.  They want your articles.  The articles will be picked up by search engines and you will gain extraordinary credibility across the Net.

Guaranteed, getting your message out to the marketplace through your writing can be the catalyst to drive success in your search.  And once you achieve a new position, don’t make the mistake of stopping your writing.  Our economy will be unstable for many years to come.  But consistently putting your message out across the Net, will pay dividends for years to come.  You will secure your future. You will be sought out, rather than having to seek a position.

Here is a link to Mollee’s article.  Be certain to read her update as well.

Be a dedicated and committed writer and you will succeed as well.

This article was originally posted on Corporate Warriors.

About The Author: Don Straits founded Corporate Warriors more than 18 years ago, and has dedicated his career to helping people develop strategies to support their careers. If you would like to contact Don for coaching or seminar work, please do so at don@corporatewarriors.com. You can also find his website here.


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“We Can’t Hire You. You’re Overqualified!”

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Don  StraitsOne of my favorite cartoon characters is The Wizard of Id.  A few years ago I read one of the Wizard’s cartoon strips and it made such a profound impression I cut it out and saved it.  Darn!  I have misplaced it over the years.  However, I can remember the script almost word for word verbatim.

After completing an interview for a job, the Wizard is standing in front of the HR manager.  The HR manager says:  “We can’t hire you.  You’re over qualified.” The Wizard, looking very perplexed, responds:  “Just give me the job and I promise to act as stupid as all the rest of you.”

WOW.  The wisdom from the Wizard is awesome.  Let’s dig a little deeper into this issue.  Almost everyone can relate to the story.   After having an interview, time after time, the candidate is told he/she is overqualified.

When you start to think about this carefully, there is absolutely no intelligence behind the decision to only hire “qualified” people.  Why shouldn’t every corporation hire talent that is extraordinarily qualified for a position?  And in fact, the candidate may possess qualifications way beyond what are necessary.

The usual boilerplate excuses are:

  • “They will only work for us for a short period of time until they find something better.”
  • “They will not be satisfied at the compensation level we are willing to pay them.”
  • “We cannot pay them more than we have budgeted.”
  • “They will not work well within our corporate culture, probably making the other employees feel uncomfortable.”
  • “They will be difficult to manage since they will be working at a level far below their capabilities.”
  • “They will not be happy in the job since it will not be challenging for them.”

I have done extensive research on this subject, having conducted thousands of salary negotiations on behalf of my clients over the past 18 years.  I have also interviewed countless HR managers, department supervisors and senior executives on this subject.

I have come to the conclusion that the overwhelming real reason is direct supervisors feel intimidated by having staff that may be superior in their talent then that supervisor.  The supervisors feel threatened by talented, overqualified, staff persons.  They think that the talented persons may make the supervisors look bad, or, may, in fact, cause the supervisors to be fired and take over their jobs.  A frightening thought for the supervisors.

Therefore, corporations have policies that, perhaps unconsciously, weed out exceptional talent, hiring only the “qualified” person.

Progressive organizations, and I might add, the most successful organizations, hire the best talent possible.  They recognize that the “overqualified” person can probably bring motivation, ideas, efficiencies, wisdom, maturity and competence that is priceless.  It is a value proposition that an organization should embrace.

Let’s look at some of the “objections” to hiring overqualified people, as shallow as those objections may be.

  • If a person is overqualified, perhaps, because of the economy, they are willing to work at a lower compensation or job level then they have been accustomed to.  Maybe they will only stay for three to six months.  But in that period of time they will probably bring more value to the company than the qualified person would bring in three to six years.   I would personally take that overqualified person in a heart beat.
  • Or perhaps the overqualified person has had a great career and has reached a decision that they want to “slow down” a little bit.  Maybe they don’t want to travel as much and would welcome the opportunity to have regular hours…even spend evenings and weekends with the kids….or grandkids.
  • Maybe a young college graduate would be perfect for a bank teller job.  In today’s tough economy, they haven’t been able to find another job.  Yep, he/she is overqualified for the bank teller position.  But that person would probably bring an energy, enthusiasm, and intelligence to the job that would be assets to the bank.  And that person could potentially be the future leadership for that bank.
  • Another example might be the senior executive who cannot find another high level opportunity because of the lack of top positions.  So they apply for a job as a regional manager or department head.  Time after time they are turned down because they are overqualified.  In my humble opinion, they should be hired immediately.  The value proposition they could bring to the company in terms of innovation, efficiencies, expertise and maturity might be worth hundreds of thousands (or millions) of dollars in new revenue, productivity, or cost savings.

Further, I just read a post on a blog by Steven Burningham, a financial services leader.  He presents another outstanding perspective on hiring overqualified people.

So what about that intimidated supervisor?

The answer is simple, but the solution can be somewhat more difficult to achieve.  A visionary organization should implement training programs to teach supervisors how to manage talented and overqualified executives.  They should focus on how to leverage that talent as best as they possibly can.  Even if the talent leaves after several months, the company should do everything possible to benefit from their expertise.  Perhaps the talented people can be transferred to other positions at higher levels as opportunities present themselves.

Part of the training should help the supervisor understand that if they hire exceptionally talented people, then they make themselves look good.   They will be perceived as outstanding supervisors and leaders which will contribute to their own professional growth.  As the old saying goes:  “I don’t have to be smart, I just have to hire smart people.”

So I would like to challenge hiring executives to examine their hiring practices.  Do you want an organization that is filled with “Dilbert” clones, or are you willing to seek out exceptional talent that is probably overqualified, but that can invigorate an organization and drive accelerated growth?  The answer should be simple, but the majority will take the path of least resistance.

Seek out the best and the brightest.  Challenge conventional thinking.  Today’s tough economy requires that you do so.  Don’t let talent end up at the competitor’s doorstep.  Forward thinking, progressive organizations will be the winners.

This article was originally posted on Corporate Warriors.

About The Author: Don Straits founded Corporate Warriors more than 18 years ago, and has dedicated his career to helping people develop strategies to support their careers. If you would like to contact Don for coaching or seminar work, please do so at don@corporatewarriors.com. You can also find his website here.


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With A Third of Workers at Risk of Job Losses, Progressives Launch New Drive For More Aid (VIDEO)

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Image: Art LevineWith heavy defections from Blue Dog Democrats, the House of Representatives still narrowly passed Wednesday evening 217 to 212 a $154 billion jobs package. It included funds for states to retain front-line workers, aid to the unemployed and transportation projects.

But a jobs bill has yet to be voted on in the Senate, where it’s likely to be viewed more skeptically and reduced in scope in the absence of a major grass-roots campaign. Political activism becomes even more urgent, because a combination of continuing high unemployment and the transitioning of people in and out of jobs could mean that as many as a third of the workforce could be unemployed or undermployed in 2010, according to Lawrence Mishel, director of the Economic Policy Institute.

That’s why a potentially powerful 60-group liberal coalition, Jobs For America Now!, announced earlier Wednesday, becomes especially important. Its leaders are proposing a far more ambitious $400 billion proposal, based in part on plans put forward in the last several weeks by the AFL-CIO and other progressive and civil-rights organizations.

(The full story of the progressive drive for jobs creation can be read here at Truthout.org.)

There’s no doubt that they face an uphill battle to get ambitious jobs legislation through Congress. There was, after all, that close vote yesterday in the House, right-wing propaganda about the failings of the first $787 billion stimulus (it actually saved or created up to 1.6 million jobs), and the spread of an aggressive “deficit hawk” mentality to conservative Democrats.

Even so, Thea Lee, the deputy chief of staff of the AFL-CIO, outlined the themes unifying the organizations: “Across the country, working Americans are calling for urgent action on the jobs crisis, and this action must be on a scale to match the crisis. We must also focus on fundamentally transforming our economy so we never face this type of crisis again — reforming our labor laws, our trade policy, and our financial system to restore needed balance.”

During the debate over the jobs bill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) declared on the House floor, “This legislation brings jobs to Main Street by increasing credit for small businesses, rebuilding the infrastructure of America, and keeping police and fireman and teachers on the job. As we create jobs for Americans, we are doing so in a fiscally responsible way. These investments are fully paid for by redirecting TARP funds from Wall Street to Main Street.”

With every single Republican voting no, she defiantly pointed out how far the American economy had come under the Obama administration even as joblessness is still rampant. “There were 740,000 jobs lost in the first month of this year compared to 11,000 last month. We’re on the road to recovery…We’re creating jobs for Main Street, not just wealth for Wall Street,” she said. “This legislation creates jobs, helps meet the needs of those who are unemployed, and puts us America back on a path to prosperity.”

Action can’t come too soon, and our obstructionist legislators would do well to listen to the plight of the unemployed as powerfully described in James McMurtry’s song, “We Can’t Make It Here.” Even though it was written during the Bush era, it’s all too applicable now:

The groups and leaders featured in the press conference call Wednesday before the vote were almost a Who’s Who of American Liberalism. They included the Campaign for America ‘s Future; Anna Burger, the chair of Change to Win;, the veteran organizer Alan Charney of the grass-roots advocacy group,US Action, and the coalition’s interim director; Benjamin Todd Jealous, the NAACP President;and Wider Opportunities for Women. The importance of the coalition goes beyond the specifics of their proposals to their commitment to provide grass-roots muscle in all 50 states to push for jobs legislation in the tough struggle ahead, especially in the Senate. And that’s what’s been missing before on this issue: united activism around jobs which could, potentially, have more diverse grass-roots support in 2010 than health care reform did this year.

The importance of the new coalition was underscored by an aide to Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill), who co-chairs the bipartisan Jobs Now! Congerssional caucus. The aide told Truthout: “These are the A-List groups. If that coalition steps up to the plate, they’ll bring plenty of resource capacity: polling, lobbying, putting pressure on the usual suspects.” Right now, though, the staffer observed, “Clearly everyone’s focused on pushing health care across the finish line, and that’s not even done. After that, everyone will be talking about jobs, jobs, jobs — at least until November.”

So, despite the narrow vote on Wednesday, there’s some realistic hope that a combination of continuing unemployment, grass-roots organizing and political necessity could push through meaningful jobs legislation — and the Pelosi-backed bill is considered a very good start.

After Wednesday’s vote, union leader Anna Burger declared:

Our jobs crisis cannot be solved by one bill alone. But today the House demonstrated the bold and swift leadership the American people demand. It’s time to provide relief to the millions of workers who get up each morning and scour the help wanted ads in the hopes of finding a good job that can support a family. Congress today made an essential first step to invest in programs to immediately put people back to work…

But our work is far from over. Our leaders must continue to work non-stop to pass a comprehensive jobs agenda that puts millions of Americans back to work today and makes strategic investments to create the jobs that Americans will need in the future.

The biggest differences between the House-passed measure and the progressive-backed proposals are the sheer amount of spending and the absence in the current House bill of public sector job creation targeting hard-hit communities. As described by the coalition, this jobs-creation provision — which could create one million new jobs with $40 billion in federal funding, according to Rep. Keith Ellison (D–Minn.) — is a vital one. The group’s call to action describes its importance:

We can directly create jobs that put people to work helping communities meet pressing needs, including in distressed communities facing severe unemployment. These initiatives must be designed so they maintain existing wage and benefit standards and do not displace existing jobs or simply exchange one group of unemployed workers for another.

The urgent call to action is often at odds, though, with the pragmatic, even cynical, calculations of conservaDems who are worried that big deficit spending could be a potent Republican issue in their home states that trumps joblessness.

Compare the different perspectives. First, here’s what’s at stake for American workers, as described by the Jobs Now! coalition:

An Urgent Call for Action to Stem the U.S. Jobs Crisis

The U.S. unemployment rate exceeded 10% in October for the first time in a quarter century. Over 15 million Americans are able and willing to work but cannot find a job. More than one out of every three unemployed workers has been out of a job for more than six months. The situation facing African American and Latino workers is even bleaker, with unemployment at 15.6% and 12.7%, respectively.

These grim statistics don’t capture the full extent of the hardship. There are another 9 million people working part time because they cannot find full-time work. Millions of others have given up looking for a job, and so aren’t counted in the official unemployment figures. Altogether, over 17% of the labor force is underemployed–more than 26 million Americans–including one in four minority workers. Last, given individuals moving in and out of jobs, we can expect a third of the workforce, and 40% of workers of color, to be unemployed or underemployed at some point over the next year. (emphasis added.)

Despite an effective and bold recovery package we are still facing a prolonged period of high unemployment. Two years from now, absent further action, we are likely to have unemployment at 8% or more, a higher rate than that attained even at the worst point of the last two downturns.

Joblessness on this scale creates enormous social and economic problems–and denies millions of families the ability to meet even their most basic needs. .

Then take a look at the political machinations among Democrats who feel themselves to be vulnerable politically, along with some retiring members who feel they can vote their conscience on behalf of a jobs package. Here’s how The Hill reported their current thinking:

The close votes reflect the growing unease among centrist Democrats that the deficit spending that Congress has undertaken to right the economy is becoming a potent campaign issue.

“We’ve got to indicate we’re serious about the deficit,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), who voted “no” and represents a Republican-leaning district with low unemployment. “We didn’t cause the deficit, but we have to address it.”

Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.), who is retiring from Congress, changed his vote to put Democrats over the top. That signals a potent variable in vote counting next year — retirees who no longer need to respond to traditional political pressures…

Political analysts are closely watching for more centrist retirements. Those members will have no fear of losing committee assignments and can’t be won over with promises of campaign help or other inducements…

But Democrats facing tough re-election fights found themselves trying to determine if voters are angrier about 10 percent unemployment or trillions in deficits.

“My staff is looking at it,” said a newly elected Democratic member from a conservative district as the clock ticked down. “If I can’t make a good case that a lot of money is coming back to my district, I can’t support it. I wish we had more time.”

He voted “no.”

Compare that political calculation with the fear and anxiety gripping America’s unemployed, with half of them reporting depression, panic and heavy borrowing from friends. The New York Times reported this week:

Poll Reveals Trauma of Joblessness in U.S.

More than half of the nation’s unemployed workers have borrowed money from friends or relatives since losing their jobs. An equal number have cut back on doctor visits or medical treatments because they are out of work.

Almost half have suffered from depression or anxiety. About 4 in 10 parents have noticed behavioral changes in their children that they attribute to their difficulties in finding work.

It doesn’t seem that many members of Congress fully understand yet the havoc that’s been let loose in the land because of widespread unemployment. Meanwhile, posturing over ideology continues. They all might benefit if they could listen with open hearts to the plight of those without work in their districts and states, as aptly depicted in the song, “We Can’t Make It Here,” written by James McMurty during the Bush era, even before the meltdown, and unfortunately, it still applies today.

Who is listening to them now?

*This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post on December 17, 2009. Reprinted with permission from the author.

About the Author Art Levine is a contributing editor of The Washington Monthly, and a former Fellow with the Progressive Policy Insititute. He has also written for Mother Jones, The American Prospect, The New Republic, The Atlantic, Slate, Salon and numerous other publications. He is the author of 2005’s PPI report, Parity-Plus: A Third Way Approach to Fix America’s Mental Health System, and is currently researching a book on mental health issues. Levine also posts commentary at Art Levine Confidential


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Hiring Managers are from Mars and Job Seekers are from Venus

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Image: Bob RosnerAccording to a survey of hiring managers, 44% reported that they were surprised that workers were different on the job than in an interview. Duh!

This intrepid blogger decided to dig deeper; to explore this disparity from both the point of the view of the hiring manager and from the job seeker to find out why they seem to exist on separate planets. Maybe Rodney King was wrong—that we all CAN just get along.

HIRING MANAGERS. Reading the latest literature (if you can call business books and magazines the “L” word) about how to conduct an interview, the interviewing game seems to be following the path of playing more sophisticated games with the interviewee…often at the price of relevance. Take the ever popular brain teaser questions (please!):  For example, “How many quarter coins do Yankee fans have in their pockets during a sold out baseball game?” (My response, I thought New Yorkers in general wouldn’t be caught dead with anything smaller than a ten dollar bill.) Who cares about this stuff, and how does it predict job performance?

If this is really the criteria that more and more organizations are using to hire talent, we’re getting to a point where the brainteaser expert Jeopardy millionaire is going to get every job. But every person I’ve ever met who is a whiz at quiz shows isn’t necessarily at his or her best when it comes to dealing with human beings. And the last time I checked, most organizations are still full of ‘em.

Maybe the reason that 44 percent of hiring managers said they were surprised at how the person changed when they were in the job is because the art of interviewing has become too technical — all fluff and no substance. More and more effort in an interview is focused on less and less of who the person actually is and what they’ve accomplished.

JOB SEEKERS. According to my e-mail, given all of the layoffs and turbulence in the job market today, job seekers are increasingly defensive about the gaps in their resumes — the layoff that they don’t know how to explain, or bosses who they are sure are giving them terrible references. Rather than accepting that the odds are pretty good that the person interviewing them has either experienced one of these things or knows someone who has. And with all the interviewing self-help books out there, they’ve become experts at covering up their own perceived shortcomings.

Sure it’s always been true that job seekers aren’t always as focused on telling the employer who they really are, but rather who they think the employer wants to see. But workers today are becoming as adept at spin as the average political candidate.

So with interviewers focusing more and more on the clever questions and job seekers spinning and spinning, is it any wonder that there are more and more surprises at work? Get out your soapbox and tell me what you think about this topic below.

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.


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Stimulus and Jobs: We Can Do Better

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Image: Dean BakerThe Obama administration came out with its first set of numbers on the jobs impact of its stimulus package. It’s pretty much along the lines of what was predicted. To date, the package has created close to one million jobs. That is good news, but in an economy with more than 15 million unemployed workers, it is not nearly good enough. We need to do more, much more.

Fortunately, there is an easy and quick way to begin to get these unemployed workers back to work. It involves paying workers to work shorter hours. The mechanism can take the form of a tax credit to employers. The government can give them a tax credit of up to $3,000 in order to shorten their workers’ hours while leaving their pay unchanged. The reduction in hours can take the form of paid sick days, paid family leave, shorter workweeks or longer vacations. The employer can choose the method that is best for her workers and the workplace.

A map showing Michigan, the west coast, the southwest and the southeast as hardest hit by unemployment. (Photo: austrini / flickr)
A map showing Michigan, the west coast, the southwest and the southeast as hardest hit by unemployment. (Photo: austrini / flickr)

If take-home pay is left unchanged as a result of the credit, then demand should be left unchanged. If workers are on average putting in fewer hours and demand is unchanged, then employers will need to hire more workers.

This logic is about as simple as it gets. The process is also quick and cheap. In principle, the government can go this route to save jobs at a cost of a bit more than $20,000 per job, far less than the estimates of the cost per job under the administration’s stimulus package.

We don’t even have to speculate about whether this sort of short-hours arrangement can work. Germany put a short-hours program in place at the start of its recession. Its unemployment rate today is 7.6 percent, about the same as the unemployment rate it had going into the recession. Imagine that workers in the United States, like workers in Germany, were dealing with the recession by putting in four-day weeks (while getting paid for five) or getting an extra two weeks a year of paid vacation. This sure beats being unemployed or being threatened with unemployment.

Seventeen states already have a “work-share” program in place that allows employers to use unemployment insurance money to cover a reduction in work hours, without a corresponding reduction in pay. More than 100,000 layoffs have been prevented as result of this program.

Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island has a bill that would increase funding for work-share programs and remove some of the bureaucracy that makes it difficult for employers to take full advantage of the programs that currently exist. The bill would also provide start-up money for the states that do not have work-share programs.

The Reed bill would be a big step towards following the Germany model, taking advantage of a program that is already in place. It could very quickly make a big dent in the unemployment rate, by preserving many of the jobs that are now being lost.

In this respect, it is important to clear up a common confusion about the economy. Every month, we get a figure from the Labor Department for the new jobs created or lost. However, this is a net figure. Approximately four million people leave their jobs every month, about half of these workers, or two million, lose their jobs involuntarily. If the economy creates more than four million new jobs, then we will have a positive jobs figure for the month. If the economy creates less than four million new jobs, then the Labor Department will report that the economy lost jobs in the month.

Suppose that this work-share program reduced the number of people who lose their jobs involuntarily by 20 percent, or 400,000 workers per month. This would have the same effect to our job count as adding 400,000 additional new jobs. If this rate could actually be maintained over a full year, then it would imply that the economy would generate nearly five million new jobs.

All the projections show that the unemployment rate is likely to continue to rising for the immediate future and remain high for years to come. The Congressional Budget Office projects that the unemployment rate will average 10.2 percent next year and even in 2011 it will average 9.1 percent. If this projection proves accurate, it would be a disastrous scenario for tens of millions of people.

There are quick and effective ways to increase employment, with shorter hours at the top of the list. Making tens of millions of people suffer for economic mismanagement and the greed of the bankers is not acceptable. We must do something.

This article originally appeared in Center for Economic Policy and Research on November  2, 2009. Reprinted with permission from the author.

About the Author: Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC.  He is frequently cited in economics reporting in major media outlets, including the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, CNBC, and National Public Radio.  He writes a weekly column for the Guardian Unlimited (UK), and his blog, Beat the Press, features commentary on economic reporting.  His analyses have appeared in many major publications, including the Atlantic Monthly, the Washington Post, the London Financial Times, and the New York Daily News. He received his Ph.D in economics from the University of Michigan.


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