Congress is debating whether to once again extend unemployment benefits. Meanwhile, thousands of businesses are debating whether to extend job offers to a populace that all too often seems uninterested in working.
There used to be a common saying among the working population – you go where the work is. Too often today the saying seems to be, you go to work only under ideal circumstances.
When I lost my job with the old Press Gazette in 1991 – a situation I have described before as mostly my own doing – I wasn’t really interested in leaving Hillsboro. But a job offer came from Marion, Ohio.
So I packed up and moved to Marion. Then I moved to Portsmouth. Then Columbus. Then Charleston, West Virginia. Then Washington D.C. for a couple of months. Then Dayton, Ohio. Then, back to Hillsboro, where, before this job, I spent about two years commuting an hour each way to Cincinnati to work.
I’ve done so many different things, I still joke with people that I’m trying to decide what I’m going to be when I grow up. In politics alone, I was a deputy district director, communications director, executive director, fundraiser, campaign consultant, presidential inaugural staffer, commission assistant and congressional field staffer.
Granted, in my case, I was a divorced father, and even though I didn’t want to move away from where my kids lived, I was able to move to places more readily than a father who was not divorced and would have to uproot his whole family every time he moved somewhere.
I turned down many jobs that would have taken me so far away that I couldn’t be with my kids every week, or at least every other week, and attend as many of their events as possible, which is why I ended up staying in this general geographic region. But I grant you that the head of a household will be understandably reluctant to move kids from one school district to another in different communities or different states over and over while he or she chases jobs.
Still, I could have said from the beginning, when offered a job outside of journalism or communications, nah, I’m a communications specialist, that’s what I do, so that’s the job I’m holding out for. But I would have been much more frequently unemployed.
Many of you can tell similar stories. You go where the work is, you adapt to what the job is.
That’s not true for everyone, and I can say that with confidence. Over the years, I’ve been in a position to hire (or try to hire) people for various jobs, both in politics and newspapers.
It didn’t take long to find out that a lot of people – including young, single people - are willing to go where the work is, as long as the work is right next door, for the amount of money they want to make, in the job they specifically want to do, during the hours they specifically want to work. Otherwise, unemployment is apparently just fine, thank you very much.
I think I told this one before, but I’ll never forget working in U.S. Sen. George Voinovich’s office in 2009 or 2010 when Congress was debating an extension of jobless benefits. A guy called in every day wanting to know the status of the talks, because his unemployment was about to run out.
I finally asked him what he did for a living. He said he was a union electrician. Not just an electrician. A union electrician.
He said he had been out of work for over a year, because there were no union electrician jobs. I asked him if he ever thought of going into business for himself, since there was always work for an electrician. He said no, there was too much paperwork for that. I asked him if he had ever considered taking a job in a different line of work. No. He was a union electrician.
I have run into that all the time when trying to offer people jobs. The job is too far away – this excuse comes even after they sent in a job application for the specific job in question, mind you – or it is not exactly in the line of work they have done before, or it would require working hours during the day when they would prefer not to be working.
It’s wonderful if you love the community in which you live and are able to stay and work there your whole life in the exact job that you want, if that’s what you want to do. But when jobs get scarce, mobility and flexibility can be essential to sustained employment.
Naturally, we want people to stay and work in Highland County. But people need to be willing to take jobs that they may not consider ideal. You can talk to employers across this county who will tell you how difficult it is to find people willing to work, or to stay with it for long. I have known people in Hillsboro who turned down a job in Greenfield, because it was too far away.
PBS recently reported that President Obama said, in arguing in favor of extending jobless benefits, “The long-term unemployed are not lazy. They’re not lacking in motivation. They’re coping with the aftermath of the worst economic crisis in generations.”
I tend to agree with the president, to a degree. The long-term unemployed are not lazy or lacking in motivation. But many of them are picky. They want a job just like the job they lost, in the community where they lost it. That sometimes tends not to happen.
We had a terrible crisis here in 2009 when DHL closed its doors. Thousands of people, full and part-time, suddenly lost their jobs. Almost all of us knew people who worked at DHL. I had a neighbor in Hillsboro who was a victim of the DHL closing and who held out for as long as he could, but eventually he sold his house and moved his family to a different community, because that’s where the work was.
Our unemployment compensation program is a good thing. It is intended to be a safety net for people caught between jobs, until they can find a new job.
The trouble is, some people are locked into a mindset that what they have always done for a living, and where they have always done it, is the only option they are willing to entertain. And that is when people join the ranks of the long-term unemployed.
Gary Abernathy can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.