What happens to workers when jobs leave for good?

WASHINGTON — Over the last year, out-of-work Americans, already down on their luck, have had to endure a barrage of unsympathetic, even mean-spirited, criticism from several of their elected representatives. Many Republicans, especially, have portrayed the jobless as either shiftless deadbeats too lazy to look for work or pompous failures too proud to take a job beneath their social standing.

Neither analysis is an accurate reflection of the desolate landscape in which many American workers find themselves. Surely those Republicans know that the unemployment rate has been stuck near ten percent for a year and a half; there are about five applicants for every job opening.

And, as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said recently on “60 Minutes,” we’re unlikely to see a flush economy for several more years. That’s because the recent recession, brought on by Wall Street excesses, isn’t the only culprit.

For decades now, globalization and technology have been grinding away at American jobs, a process which has gained speed of late. And most of those jobs are never coming back.

Take my southern Alabama hometown. Best known as the  setting for Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” it was never a prosperous place, but its textile mills and pulpwood plants used to provide a decent living for working-class residents.

The textile company now known as VF Corporation brought factories to Monroeville in the 1930s, providing paychecks to women (mostly) from the white working-class. By the 1970s, black women were also employed at its sewing machines, making Vanity Fair underwear sold in well-known department stores.

By the 1980s, Parsons & Whittemore Enterprises, one of the world’s largest producers of pulp for paper-making, was operating several mills in Monroe County. Its Alabama River Companies became the local standard for good wages. In 2000, Medline, a huge manufacturer and distributor of health care products and hospital scrubs, opened a small facility that seemed to promise a semblance of security.

But times have changed. The sewing mills have largely moved to low wage countries such as Vietnam and Bangladesh. Medline closed its Monroeville facility, though it has expanded its operations in Mexico and other locales.

For its part, the pulp business has been buffeted by such disparate technology-related trends as the decline of newspapers (a huge consumer of newsprint) and the rise of digital cameras (which circumvent the old print-snapshots-on paper habit). Plants have been shuttered and workers laid off. Some may eventually be re-hired, but many will not find work again that pays as well.

While the state of Alabama has an unemployment rate of 8.9 percent, lower than the national average, Monroe County has an unemployment rate of about 16 percent. Its jobless residents can knock on doors, submit applications and spend countless hours in re-training classes at the local community college, but most are unlikely to find work any time soon. If your job experience is limited to cutting and dying at a textile mill, you’ll find it difficult to remake yourself as a nurse or a computer technician.

The prospects for Monroeville’s jobless workers won’t be transformed by the deal that President Obama has struck with Republican leaders, who insisted on maintaining Bush-era tax cuts for the richest Americans. The owners of textile plants are unlikely to decide that southern Alabama has suddenly become better for business than Brazil. Nor will the hiring plans at Georgia Pacific, which bought Parsons & Whittemore’s Monroe County holdings, change because its executives keep more money in their pockets.

The best news for the unemployed all over the country is that Obama managed to wrest a year-long extension of unemployment benefits out of the deal. For those workers who have nothing else, that’s the difference between eating and going hungry, paying the heating bill and sitting in the cold.

Indeed, Congress — despite its deficit hawks and its compassion-less conservatives — needs to reconsider the old idea that unemployment benefits are a short-term lifeline that is dropped after a recession ends. This was no ordinary recession; it is an earthquake that is destroying the old economy and creating a new one in its wake.

The victims of those tectonic shifts — especially workers too old to learn a new skill or move to a new city – may need long-term, government-funded assistance. It’s not their fault that the ground suddenly shifted beneath their feet.

457 comments Add your comment

dougmo2

December 8th, 2010
8:08 am

first-horray

Call it like it is

December 8th, 2010
8:09 am

OMG, What a spin, Companies want open plants in poe-dunk Alabama because the Republicans wanted tax cuts. Really!! So with your logic if the tax cuts went away, plants would start opening back up in rural areas. Am I sorry for those without jobs? Yes. Can the country keep on paying enemployment forever? NO. There are jobs out there Tucker. May not be what they want, may not get the money they want, but sometimes you do have to start over and its a struggle.

are there no prisons; are there no workhouses?

December 8th, 2010
8:09 am

Enter your comments here

Class of '98

December 8th, 2010
8:12 am

If you subsidize something, you get more of it.

That’s the way it works, whether you like it or not, Cynthia.

Ragnar Danneskjöld

December 8th, 2010
8:13 am

Dear CT, Joseph Schumpeter answered your question decades ago. You should ask the displaced buggy-whip factory workers what they did. Hint: they did not go home and sit.

dean

December 8th, 2010
8:14 am

“…tax cuts for the richest Americans…”

I am not one of the richest Americans, but I have benefited because of the lower taxes.

Of course since I have worked-hard-for the last 44 years (definitely not rich) that probably makes me The Enemy.

Ragnar Danneskjöld

December 8th, 2010
8:15 am

And, contrary to the writing of our hostess, the best news for the unemployed is that the country is taking a diversion from Obamanomics. One step at a time, we can rebuild from the disastrous Congressional policies of the past four years.

Class of '98

December 8th, 2010
8:16 am

By the way, not one person in this country will see their taxes “cut” on January 1st due to the agreement yesterday.

The current tax rate will stay in place, there will be no cuts, not even for the “richest Americans”.

This is just another way the liberal media twists words to deceive.

dougmo2

December 8th, 2010
8:20 am

“That’s because the recent recession, brought on by Wall Street excesses”

Uh wrong, the recession was brought on by the housing market collapsing. This was caused by pressure being put on banks to give loans to people who had NO WAY to repay them. The main ones who underwrote thes loans, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, were under enormous political pressure to underwrite these loans. You can thank Barney Frank and Chris Dodd for this.

Fixed that for you CT, you’re welcome

Keep up the good fight!

December 8th, 2010
8:22 am

Speaking of spin, deception and foolishiness…extending the current tax cuts from the scheduled INCREASE that the Republicans put into effect is a tax cut which results in NO increase. A stupid idiotic plan but a Tax Cut nonetheless. But nice to blame the liberal media for telling the truth….I am sure Fox can lie to you some more.

Jimmy62

December 8th, 2010
8:23 am

It’s called creative destruction. The workers can move elsewhere where there are jobs, that’s how it’s worked for a long time in a dynamic economy. I guess in your world, cars are bad because they killed the cart business?

Also, tax cuts had nothing to do with our current economic troubles, or have you forgotten the mortgage mess? So raising taxes is unlikely to fix anything caused by something unrelated to taxes.

James

December 8th, 2010
8:24 am

CT- you are, as usual, completely wrong. (India) Asia has an almost hyper inflationary wage base that, coupled with American technology and know how, 4-6 weeks in shipping, 12 hour time differentials, is leading manufacturing back to the great old USA. Goods that were manufactured in Asia 4-6 years ago are now being manufactured in the South and Central America. We are currently breaking down a Costa Rican operation and bringing into the City of Atlanta. Guess what, contrary to what you would like to think, there are plenty of Americans ready and willing to work for 15-18/hour + benefits.

Quit hanging around the DC elite, quit writing insane blogs, roll up your sleeves, and be an enabler. To those who are given more, more is expected.

Bob Hayes

December 8th, 2010
8:24 am

Cynthia: You really have a bad time with conservatives. My question is this: Why must liberals get personal in their discussions of conservatives? Oh, yes. Now I remember. When you have no ideas of your own you must get personal when you mention the enemy. Now some facts, Cynthia, which liberals hate to see mentioned: If it were not for conservative charitable giving the homeless problem would be three times as great. If we depended on liberal charitable giving to help the homeless, the homeless problem would be three times as great. Thank God we have conservatives, some of whom go to church on Sunday and then give their hard earned money (that’s money you work for, even when the job is beneath your qualifications) to help those in need. Check out a well-documented survey of the 150 largest cities in America which attempted to determine the level of giving in each city. The one that ranked at the bottom was Austin, Texas, one of the most liberal cities in America. Kudos to all you loving, charitable, and delusional liberals. As Casey Stengel used to say, “You can look it up.”

James

December 8th, 2010
8:25 am

Keep Up the Good Fight- I have this picture of you playing the theme to Rocky while you air box Greta every night while sipping a martini- go do something productive dude.

Class of '98

December 8th, 2010
8:27 am

I haven’t watched Fox News in months. I think for myself. Try it sometime.

Keep up the good fight!

December 8th, 2010
8:32 am

Guess what, contrary to what you would like to think, there are plenty of Americans ready and willing to work for 15-18/hour + benefits

Yes, there are a lot of people willing to work for minimum wage, part time and would love benefits…because they are hard workers who want to pay their way and want more than a life on temporary unemployment. Too bad that there are no enough jobs for all of them or that for many of them that they may not be able to do more than survive long term on those wages.

Mr. Hayes…I dont know what world you live in but frankly I know a lot of liberals who give to charitable causes….Frankly I have seen too many opulent churches which do more to line the pockets of their church leaders than to help those in need.

Mystified

December 8th, 2010
8:32 am

The paper mill thing goes the way of the buggy whip. As a democrat,,,,I thought you’d be happy about that.. Aren’t we all about saving the trees? As for the factories..I view this two ways. When democrats raise the minimum wage to an unsustainable high, this is what happens. Entry level jobs were never meant to be a “living wage”. On the flip side of that same theory however, I fully support tariffs to level the playing field. The standard of living in other countries is far below what we, as Americans, are willing to accept…even for our “poor”. A company with an incentive to save on production costs is enticed to move their plants to these countries. Otherwise, they can’t compete with competition who has already made the move. I believe in free market competition but I also believe it is the responsibility of government to protect the jobs of American citizens. When it becomes more profitable to have a plant in Opp Alabama than in Bangladesh, companies will make the free market choice of moving back. The question is do people really want to work these manufacturing jobs anymore.

granny godzilla

December 8th, 2010
8:33 am

quod erat demonstrandum

December 8th, 2010
8:33 am

When my job “went away” so did I – I moved to where my new job was. I didn’t stay waiting for a job to reappear.

Keep up the good fight!

December 8th, 2010
8:35 am

Nice comeback Class-less….Too bad your post did not reflect intelligent thought in its deception.

James… really don’t dream of me. I am not that in to you. :-(

andygrdzki

December 8th, 2010
8:35 am

Ms. Tucker, it is not their fault that the ground has shifted, however, it is their fault that many have not kept current to improve their lot in life. Government funded assistance is not the fix all answer that you and many like you espouse too.
As a nation, we have become a “feel good” society. If it feels good do it, if it does not feel good don’t do it. We spend way too many hours in front of the TV, WII, game box, and other non-improvement programs. As a nation, the current PISA scores were released, and the US ranks 17th in reading, 27th in science and 31st in math. Instead of government assistance, how about we change our own behaviors.
Depending on who you talk to, or the requirements, I am considered a Senior Citizen. I don’t sit back and gaze at the TV, I don’t play the games on the computer… I learn, I expand my mind (not by drugs either) and I make the effort to learn.
All we do is continue to throw money at problems, and what has been our rate of return? Not very good!!! As a nation, we have become lazy and lack the drive of our forefathers. Compassionless conservatives…. So typical of you liberal people, don’t accept any type of personal responsibility.. let big brother take care of you…. I am very compassionate for those that help themselves…. Oh my what a novel idea, help yourself and show some gumption……
Tonight as I enjoy my wine and cheese before dinner and discuss with my wife the day’s events and our children and grandchildren, guess what, I will not feel bad and I will not let you try and lay a guilt trip on me…. I have taken care of those that help themselves… I have taught them something new….
So as I drink my wine, you can have your “whine”………..

Mystified

December 8th, 2010
8:36 am

Bob Hayes…

A republican and democrat are walking together through a park. The republican sees a homeless man; takes out his wallet and gives him a $20. The democrat likes this idea. When they see another homeless man, the democrat reaches over; takes the republican’s wallet out and hands out another 20 and feels real good about himself for being so charitable.

Joel Edge

December 8th, 2010
8:37 am

I’d say we’ll have what we have now. Been going on for the last 15 or so years. Where you been?

Joe the Plutocrat (the artist formerly known as plaeo-neo-Carlinist

December 8th, 2010
8:38 am

to paraphrase Patton; “patriotism is not dying for your country. patriotism is when you make the other SOB die for HIS country.” we need to think about “jobs” the same way. there is no Constitutional right to a job. the government does not “create jobs”. the government employees millions of Americans, but these “jobs” are also (finanicial). in the private sector (’the market”), an employer assumes the cost of hiring because he believes the employee will produce more goods/services than the costs (salary/benefits). when the government gets “under water” as an employer, it simply raises the debt ceiling or prints more money, but in the private sector, the employeer reduces costs, and “headcount” (lay offs) is usually the first (this includes outsourcing or off-shoring jobs). as my new name implies, the United States is, and most likely has always been a capitalist plutocracy. I think the Founding Fathers on the “Federalist” side knew this, and planned this. any plutocracy needs a healthy, employed (discrectionary income) “unwashed masses” to operate the machines, harvest the food, and do the accounting, but the economy is now global and the U.S. plutocracy is now competing in a global plutocracy, so the corporate ownership class has less use for the governing class, beyond legislation

Union

December 8th, 2010
8:41 am

when someone tells me they are going to do something and they dont do it.. I fault them.

president obama was elected because he had a “plan” just like healthcare reform.. the “plan” was never really disclosed. The dems have had control for several years and when obama came into office.. it was a clean sweep. while the economy was spinning down.. the dems focused on healthcare reform.. while americans were losing their jobs and companies were shutting down.. dems focused on healthcare.. now that the dam has burst and the hole is to big for a finger to plug.. instead of looking to the people that has been our leadership.. we chose to blame everyone but who was in control.

talk about faulty logic.. we are truly a blameless society..

Eddie

December 8th, 2010
8:45 am

I have an idea to help with the unemployment rate. We have the long term unemployed trained as immigration officers and bus drivers. Then we actually let them do their job, and the new bus drivers give them a ride home. This helps by creating jobs in bus driving and ICE, as well as manufacturing in buses.

cas

December 8th, 2010
8:45 am

I would like the names of those mean spirited republicans and their exact quotes referring to the actual unemployed as shiftless deadbeats.A rational person should believe those heartless conservatives may be more interested in which part of the budget we would shift the funds from so we may actually assist those sincerely needy Americans. Unlike my household where we have a finite amount each month and when one area requires more we must take from something else our democrat friends believe we simply make more or borrow more cash when needed. Unemployment funds are intended to bridge those while seeking employment and as Europe has discovered infinite unemployment is simply another form of welfare and that may or may not be open ended for some recipients. You can portray this issue as the warm caring democrats versus the cold heartless republicans if you want to fire up class conflict or you can be rationally productive and admit we have a need to fund extensions with the elimination of true pork barrel programs and possibly other programs that painfully must be deemed less valuable than extending services to our people in true need. But we must prioritize especially during difficult times. Economic triage. But of course that takes more work and less politics.

TnGelding

December 8th, 2010
8:46 am

Well, if they’re too old to learn a new skill (are you ever, really?), they should be old enough to retire and start drawing Social Security. Maybe we could dip into the SS “trust fund” and move the age up to 60 instead of moving it higher. Oh, I forgot, we’ve invested that in F-22s.

Cynthia, keeping the tax cuts for the wealthiest among us didn’t make any sense while running these huge deficits, but it won’t cause us to lose any jobs and it might even save a few. But why aren’t you willing to pitch in your “fair share?” I am, and I’m certain you are better off financially than we are.

Dave R.

December 8th, 2010
8:46 am

“What happens to workers when jobs leave for good?”

They become Democrats and hold their hand out. :)

shaggy

December 8th, 2010
8:47 am

CT,

Sorry, that is life. No guarantees.
Some could move to where there are more jobs or take whatever job they can find, go to school, and learn skills that would be applicable to the current workforce. Nobody says it would be easy.
Yes, it is certainly harder than taking the government hand out for the rest of your life, and I am betting the handout, funded by those evil rich people, would be your solution.

Keep Up the Good Fight!

December 8th, 2010
8:49 am

Union.. the dems focused on healthcare? Guess the stimulus bill and TARp (started by Bush and the followed up by Obama) were just my imagination.

But really this effort time and time again to “blame” by ignoring the reality of the fillibuster and the inability to get the 60 votes to get by the Party of No lockstep march to the destruction of the country is quite entertaining (very sad too).

Owl

December 8th, 2010
8:50 am

Nancy Pelosi has been running this show since January 7, 2007. Amazing how blameless she is of all of our woes today. Reading CT, she must have been grossly ineffective- let’s hope some new leadership will improve things.

Jan

December 8th, 2010
8:51 am

CT – I am reminded of an earlier column of yours about trying to hire men in your hometown to help with a construction job. I seem to recall you concluding that perhaps the men of your town did not, in fact, want to work.

The manufacturing job base will always move. Look at Hong Kong. The manufacturing base has moved in concentric circles further into China. As each “circle” becomes more affluent, the types of jobs in that “circle” shift.

Also paper mills aren’t ubiquitous anymore. We recycle paper, use email more than paper letters…. Society is never at a standstill and the people of Alabama need to realise that and adapt. Your’re right is isn’t their fault the ground shifted, no more than it’s my neighbors fault the tree fell on his car. But you roll with the punches, find new work. Maybe you can’t retrain as a nurse. Are you willing to provide child care or yard work for those who are working as nurses? (see paragraph #1)

Plutarch

December 8th, 2010
8:51 am

and on a little note

all started with…..Reagan

that’s Reagan, the Republican Party’s Green Bean Casserole…showy, overrated and a lame attempt to make it look like you did something good

shaggy

December 8th, 2010
8:52 am

James,

Great post. Spot on!

Union

December 8th, 2010
8:52 am

keep. sorry you have such a selective memory.. maybe vitamins or something would help with that?

War Eagle

December 8th, 2010
8:53 am

This is Obama and the Democrats fault.

jt

December 8th, 2010
8:53 am

Who wants to start a business in a country that has the highest percentage of lawyers, an intrusive corrupt government that sets an unrealistic minimum wage and doesn’t respect private property rights, and an intolerable Tax-code?

Cheaper wages was only a small part of the reason Industry fled the US.

Progressive policies was the main reason. The Progressives have “helped” 20 million people out of a job.

Chris D.

December 8th, 2010
8:55 am

What a sad world Ms. Tucker lives in where people get to a certain age and their brains are incapable of learning new skills. I wonder what age she believes this to be? 45-50?

MiltonMan

December 8th, 2010
8:56 am

CT, I also grew up in south Alabama living on a farm. When I go home people are always playing the “victim” card and are blaming everyone else but themselves and the decisions they made. Like you, I attended college & this open more doors than I ever imagined. The economy today is one where a college degree is almost mandatory to obtain a decent paying job.

War Eagle

December 8th, 2010
8:56 am

Liberals are only generous when they have their hands in the pockets of someone else.

Stonethrower

December 8th, 2010
8:57 am

Most folks who have there hand out are republican not democrat.

Cynthias an Idiot

December 8th, 2010
8:58 am

Read the name.

granny godzilla

December 8th, 2010
8:59 am

War Eagle

December 8th, 2010
9:00 am

“The victims of those tectonic shifts — especially workers too old to learn a new skill or move to a new city – may need long-term, government-funded assistance. It’s not their fault that the ground suddenly shifted beneath their feet.”

When does one become too old to learn? or move?
With the proposed extension, unemployment payments will exceed 3 years. Is that long term? or does it need to be endless in your world?

Nothing Is Free

December 8th, 2010
9:02 am

Brilliant Tucker

When i see you post a pro-corporate post, then your diatribe about the “poor worker” will begin to have a little credibility.

We don’t have jobs because YOUR party has declared war on business.

All there are are government jobs and we all know who gets those.

You guys ran corporations to other countries and now we are stuck here listening to the fricking whining.

But then again, what else to liberals do but whine?

shaggy

December 8th, 2010
9:02 am

CT,

Yes, I agree with other posters and want to know when if to old to learn?

You really need to elaborate on that one, maybe cite some empirical reviewed research to thet effect.

Offshored

December 8th, 2010
9:03 am

It’s really not the government’s fault. It’s all our fault. We would rather buy cheap clothes made in Asia then quality clothes made in America. We would rather buy cheap computers and talk to the help desk in India, than spend the money for a better quality product. As an employee of a high tech company, I’ve seen more and more jobs shipped to India, Brazil, and Eastern Europe. My employer had almost no presence in India 15 years ago. Last year they reported having 70,000 employees there. This year they decided not to publish any geographic employment statistics due to the negative publicity. As long as we are willing to buy cheap foreign made goods (that includes oil) and allow our US corporations ship our jobs overseas, the trend will continue. At some point, as their economies rise and ours falls, the playing field will be leveled and we’ll get our minimum wage jobs back. Then we can produce goods for them.

Vinny

December 8th, 2010
9:04 am

Oh Cynthia, you are such a complete ditz.

The high corporate tax rate in the U.S. has driven manufacturers and companies overseas along with the jobs.

Implement the Fair Tax and the jobs will return.

Martin the Calvinist

December 8th, 2010
9:05 am

Cynthia, my family makes less than 45,000 a year, I like the current tax rates. They should be made permanent. Or we can have a true tax reform bill, sorry off topic. My family of four has a home, two cars, and two very happy children. The “very wealthy” are not the only ones benefiting from this compromise, we are too. Personally, I don’t care how much money my neighbor makes, or the guy who can afford 2 million dollar homes, none of my business. I wish you would open your eyes and see that the Democratic party has a huge part in our economic demise and it’s the policies they advocate that have helped drive businesses overseas. Our real problem is that we spend way too much as a nation than we take in in tax revenue. That is a Republican and a Democratic problem! You should be more willing to criticize your own party as well. They are to blame as well.