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

Pablo

December 8th, 2010
9:06 am

Cynthia:

You waited until the second sentence of your column today to start blaming republicans for what ails this Nation. You must be having a slow start today…

TallaDawg

December 8th, 2010
9:07 am

I do not agree or even find accurate everything in this article, but one important thing is true: until we stop exporting working-class jobs, there will be no recovery.

The comments on this blog demonstrate the main problem with our country now. It is only about “us” and “them.” If we do not learn to compromise, truly what used to make our system great, we will ALL sink. The compromise between Obama and the congessional Republicans is not perfect, but it shows a glimmer of hope for the process. We must work together.

shaggy

December 8th, 2010
9:08 am

I must agree with Vinny. If Fair Tax is enacted, the US of A will RAPIDLY become THE place to do business on the planet, and no IRS to boot.

Nothing Is Free

December 8th, 2010
9:09 am

Offshored

Sure. We all WANT to shop at Walmart. We live for AZIO TV sets when the new Sony 3D HD sets are available but we actually want the cheaper stuff.

I actually want a Chevy that is built the way cars were built in 1976, where they are ready for the junk pile after 100 K miles, but cost even more than cars being produced in robotic factories: much better cars that last for half a million miles.

Sure, it is our fault.

Good Grief

December 8th, 2010
9:10 am

MiltonMan – In my experience, my college degree actually was a detriment to finding a job at first. Many places I went to said I was over-qualified for the job I was applying for.

As for CT’s question: I suppose the federal government should step in and keep those workers afloat, right? They should just take money from that evil, filthy rich top 5% or so (who cares if they earned it? at this point they’ve made enough) and give it to a group that really deserves it: democratic voters (or do you consider that to be a code word for something?).

Equality 7-2521

December 8th, 2010
9:10 am

If you want jobs to return Cynthia, you know what needs to be done. Restore profitability to the businesses for the long term.

Yes, profits are up over the last year. But businesses right-sized themselves to the new economic realities(at the cost of jobs), and then soldiered on.

Reduce the minimum wage, eliminate all the mandates on employers for all the things they must do in addition to producing a quality product. Let the employee take the responsibility for what they will work for.

Or, keep writing about the absence of jobs here in Georgia.

More education for people will not resolve this issue.

More government subsidies will not resolve this issue.

Only the potential of someone to start a business, serve customers and make a profit doing so will return jobs.

Long term profits mean a sustainable business plan for five or more years. Otherwise, there will be no capital investment(which leads to more jobs).

ken

December 8th, 2010
9:12 am

When one opens a business:
1. The government and unions knock on your door and say: WE ARE HERE TO HELP

BlahBlahBlah

December 8th, 2010
9:12 am

“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”

- And it wouldn’t have been transformed had all the Bush cuts expired either. When you have no skills, you have no future.

Nothing Is Free

December 8th, 2010
9:13 am

Simple solution:

Outlaw unions. Lower minimum wage. Take the money spent on welfare and food stamps and put it toward a de-unionized education. Lower corporate taxes to 10%. Disassemble most of the federal government.

JKL2

December 8th, 2010
9:14 am

They can either sit at home and wait for their obama checks to arrive or they could go out and get one of those good paying government jobs. I can’t understand why everybody doesn’t work for the government?

BlahBlahBlah

December 8th, 2010
9:14 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.”

- In other words, a permanent expansion of the welfare state.

(p.s. this wasn’t any sudden shift, low skilled manufacturing jobs have been leaving for 35 years.)

New Guy

December 8th, 2010
9:16 am

CT
What is your point, the textile industry, especially cut and sew, has always been labor intensive. If you recall it moved from the Northeast to the south because of high labor costs caused by the influx of unions. As wages rose in the south the next move had to be overseas, they are now lost forever, taxes had nothing to do wit it.

Arlo

December 8th, 2010
9:16 am

As long as our government allows US companies to move overseas to avoid paying taxes, jobs will not come back.

Nothing Is Free

December 8th, 2010
9:17 am

Libs are saying much.

But then again, what argument could they possibly offer. They know what their party has done to our country.

C Tucker and anyone who still supports the job killing democrats should be ashamed of themselves.

Fang1944

December 8th, 2010
9:17 am

And, of course, we see the onslaught of irrelevant, ususally false rightwing clichés. I’ll deal with Vinny’s. According to the CBO the US corporate tax rate is at the very bottom for developed nations as a percentage of GDP. According to Nation Master, the US is #20 for the percentage that corporations pay of the nation’s total income tax.

Henry

December 8th, 2010
9:18 am

I never met anyone who knew everything about everything. Then I read Cynthia Tucker. The worlds most knowledgeable woman. Actually that should say person since she appears to be an expert on every subject know to mankind.

Equality 7-2521

December 8th, 2010
9:18 am

And the unemployment benefits that you insist on extending? Those are debts that are going to be repaid by businesses in the future.

Georgia is running up a major tab to the federal government that Thurmond only decided to disclose the day AFTER the November elections.

This debt, when repaid will be a future drain on those long term profits that are so crucial to restoring Georgia job growth.

So, you are sacrificing future job growth for the unemployed today. You may feel better about that, but those without jobs in the future sure won’t.

The choices made have consequences. November’s jobs report says we added on average 14 jobs per county across the nation.

That works out to 14 for Fulton County’s 1 million residents.

At some point you must admit what we are doing today is not working, and you must be open to another approach.

Nothing Is Free

December 8th, 2010
9:18 am

Arlo

Our government allows?

Good Grief

December 8th, 2010
9:19 am

Nothing Is Free – Are you asking a liberal to support downsizing the government? That’s funny.

CT – How old is too old to learn a new skill? Does the brain stop taking in new information at 40? 45? How about 50? Should we adopt a European style retirement plan where if you work in a hazardous industry (like a hairdresser) you can retire with full government benefits at 50 and live off the younger workers for the rest of your life?

Nothing Is Free

December 8th, 2010
9:20 am

Fang1944

Here’s a statistic for you:

9.8% unemployment.

US Corporate tax rates: Second highest in the world.

Mala Cori

December 8th, 2010
9:24 am

Cynthia: Your pathetic pulp town storry is lame. I grew up and worked in a pulp and paper town (in manufacturing) and saw the demise of the industry. As soon as I saw the downturn wasn’t picking up in the 90’s I quickly moved to a bigger city, took out a loan and retrained myself with a 2 year tech degree in healthcare/biotech manufacturing and again moved 3 more times for jobs (and I’m not young). We live in a faster paced society and one just can’t sit around in the same small town waiting the mills and unions to come back and save them. Both have been dying out since the 60’s. I’m a product of immigrant parents who were professionals in their home country, and started all over in their late thirtys when they moved to North America (legally), so I’m no stranger in reinvention. I think the furhter we move away from the heart and drive of the early immigrants, the lazier and pathetic we become. People can retrain and educate themselves, start business, learn a new language, move to a new country, create, invent, imagine…Why throw in the towel? As an online journalist, you’ve also contributed to your town’s demise by not printing your opinions on paper only. Very hypocritical!

TallaDawg

December 8th, 2010
9:24 am

Lending money to those who had no business with a loan was financially wrong and would have caused a financial downturn. Wall Street greed is what caused the crisis. If all of the loans had stood on their own and not been traded, packaged and re-packaged into ever more-complex derivative investments, the downturn would not have been the crisis that actually occurred. Wall Street greed spread the poison (bad mortgages) from one family’s well (mortgage lenders) into the entire aquifer (the national and international economy).

Get Real

December 8th, 2010
9:25 am

Geez Tucker….same old bird cage lining garbage

Republicans….Bad
Democrats……Good

You have to be the most extreme partisan in the US; when do you get your own show on MSNBC? I know you do quite a few interviews, why not get a permanent gig so you can party with your pals Overbite and Madcow.

jconservative

December 8th, 2010
9:25 am

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

This is correct and needs to be emphasized. The same tax rates in place in 2009 and 2010 will be in effect for 2011 and 2012. This includes both the Bush and the Obama tax cuts.

A lot of Republicans are saying this will create more jobs. The problem with that argument is that it did not create more jobs in 2009 and 2010. Sooooo?

So where do we go? For one, the deficit will increase $900 billion in the next 2 years. Our $13.8 trillion National Debt will go up to $14.7 trillion automatically if this agreement passes and Obama signs it. All the Republicans seem rather pleased about that.

Of course, we could help lower the National Debt and the pending annual deficits by simply cutting expenses. But unfortunately, both Republicans and Democrats have refused to cut spending for 28 of the last 30 years. Will they finally turn over a new leaf? Will they?

Reading the comments on this column I find it amusing that some attack Liberals as big spenders and some attack Conservatives as Scrooges.

But both ignore the plain fact that for the last 30 years both Conservatives and Liberals have been the biggest spenders in the history of the Republic.

For 28 of the last 30 years every president, Republican or Democrat, has on purpose, signed into law, deficit creating budgets that have increased the National Debt by $12.8 trillion. (Clinton signed 2 balanced budgets and that is the 2 years excepted from the 30.)

My apologies for dragging facts into the discussion and spoiling the fun.

Nothing Is Free

December 8th, 2010
9:27 am

Good Grief

- -Are you asking a liberal to support downsizing the government? That’s funny.- -

I understand my limitations.

We are in the nightmare scenario that many conservatives predicted back in the early 90s. The unions have infiltrated almost every manufacturing job. Minimum wage pays more than most contract work.

We don’t make anything. Of the billions of cell phones sold worldwide, we make NONE of them. We make a few high end computers, but our biggest moneymakers are banks that just move money around.

If a company wants to start a manufacturing facility here, they would have to be out of their minds.

Cal

December 8th, 2010
9:27 am

The economy was destroyed by do-gooders looking to give everyone, regardless of financial means, a leg up. When the outhouse door was opened, we saw progressive peeing on the economy. As a result, we’re all standing in their pi**.

Thanks for the memories that were america.

B Cosby

December 8th, 2010
9:28 am

I recall seeing headlines to the effect: Obama stimulus creates jobs! Where’s the jobs? Where’s the money? If CT can’t find either she asks where’s the Republicans? The savior has fallen! It didn’t take him long to bow to Congress. Where’s Pelosi? Out of the headlines now that her savior has fallen!

Offshored

December 8th, 2010
9:29 am

Nothing is Free. Your simple solution would definitely work. Just look at China. It’s working there.

shaggy

December 8th, 2010
9:29 am

Oh, I finally get it. Cynthia doesn’t want these people to learn any more skills. She wants them to be permanently attached to their entitlements, paid for by well…..YOU!
Why should they do anything but vote to keep their enablers in office, as long as they don’t have to actually do anything for the entitlement money.

Nothing Is Free

December 8th, 2010
9:30 am

TallaDawg

The loans should have never been made in the first place. Forced credit relaxation by the fed started all of this. Add on the union infiltration, increased tax rates, increased minimum wage and the progressive dream was on it’s way.

granny godzilla

December 8th, 2010
9:32 am

cynthia

bless you for your tolerance…….

TallaDawg

December 8th, 2010
9:32 am

So that I properly comment on CT’s blog, I think that unemployment benefits absolutely MUST be finite or else they provide no real incentive to try to find work. We cannot continue to pay people not to work. (See and applaud Mala Cori’s story, above).

el jefe

December 8th, 2010
9:32 am

christianity is the root of all evil….

Kamchak

December 8th, 2010
9:33 am

Nothing Is Free

December 8th, 2010
9:34 am

Offshored

- -Your simple solution would definitely work. Just look at China. It’s working there.- -

Look at the riots on Europe. How’s that progressive direction working out?

China does not emphasize education. Can you bring yourself to see the difference?

Bytestalker

December 8th, 2010
9:37 am

Retraining – everyone states that more education and moving into the technical areas will help. Wrong. I worked 20 years as a programmer and my job was sent to India. It was cheaper in the short run, but it took 3 people to replace me. That cost more than my salary and benefits. Now in India my manager’s role costs 1.5 times more than a U.S. based manager.
Why are so many jobs moving overseas? Our government allows a corporation to do it. Try that in Germany, France, Sweden, Italy, even India… You can’t move jobs out of those countries. I currently work for a high tech firm and was told all American jobs, mine again will be moved offshore and no jobs will be lost in the offshore countries because they can do it in the U.S. with no penalties and can’t in the offshore countries. The product will be cheaper in the U.S., but who is going to buy it?

Nothing Is Free

December 8th, 2010
9:37 am

Kammy

THe problem started when the standards for loans were lowered by the fed as an attempt to allow poor people to buy homes.

We would have done much better if we had just taken the money to fuel the new bureaucracies and just bought the damn houses and given them to the people that we knew were never going to pay their mortgage.

JKL2

December 8th, 2010
9:39 am

Henry- The worlds most knowledgeable woman

The teleprompter said she is the female version of obama. Peace prizes for everyone…

AmVet

December 8th, 2010
9:39 am

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

The short answer is that the neo-cons will cut your unemployment. Because “we can’t afford it.”

Yet, according to these Einsteins of Politics we CAN afford two ongoing massively botched invasions and occupations. And a permanent war machine that costs us as much as everybody else on the planet COMBINED spends on their “defense”.

Oh especially at this festive time of year, let’s not forget the endless handouts, subsidies and giveaways to the those struggling millionaires that run the “free market’s” Malfeasance and Criminal Negligence Machine. That’s a mere few hundred billion more dollars every single year.

The ONLY silver lining to this scenario, is that this time we are talking about millions of suburban Republicans on the dole with no decent job in their futures.

Let them eat cake. (Or McDonald’s hamburgers…)

Nothing Is Free

December 8th, 2010
9:40 am

el jefe

Another religious bigot. PAl, your way went the way of the dodo back in the forties. They have torn down the ovens. Get a new mantra. This one just makes you look very, very bad.

Kamchak

December 8th, 2010
9:40 am

THe problem started when the standards for loans were lowered by the fed as an attempt to allow poor people to buy homes.

Same crap, different verse.

Eubieful O'sheet

December 8th, 2010
9:40 am

Cynthia Tucker is striving mightily to replace Cynthia McKinney as the left’s most prominent whackdoodle.
To do this she had to learn that facts and logic are irrelevant in the preparation and presentation of her daily rant. Her postings for the past few weeks indicate she has achieved that step.

cosby

December 8th, 2010
9:42 am

Another hit on Republicans. Jobs left to other countries that provided a more favoriable position for return on investment. the Government – both Dems and Repubs – stuck so much restrictions on business that they had no choice. To blame the move on the Bush tax rates is laughable. But think about how the Feds are promoting class ware fare and abusing the 16th amendment for political toil. a good poster child to dump the 16th amendment and bring on the “Fair Tax’, then watch how the industry re-appears in this country!

Nothing Is Free

December 8th, 2010
9:42 am

AmVet

It’s the wars, huh?

LOL!!

How pathetic.

The vast majority of the cost of the wars go back into the US economy. Do you think we build tanks and F-22s in Mexico?

Toby

December 8th, 2010
9:44 am

End unemployment benefits and you end unemployment.

Gary

December 8th, 2010
9:45 am

Why not do away with corporate taxes all together? They only get passed on to the employee and and the purchaser of the goods or services. We see how important jobs are everyday. Seems silly to tax a corporation. You want jobs, easy the restrictions and expenses and burdens we place on these companies.

Nothing Is Free

December 8th, 2010
9:45 am

Kammy

- -Same crap, different verse.- -

It’s debate skills like these that have pointed out your brilliance.

I guess you couldn’t find an article to cut and paste.

markie mark

December 8th, 2010
9:48 am

the idea you cant retrain is crap. I am 51. For some of you who have read my posts in recent months, you already know this…..I owned two liquor stores in Fernandina Beach, FL. ABC Liquors, the largest chain in the state (chains are legal in FL as opposed to GA liquor laws) dropped thier newest 10,000 s

Shawny

December 8th, 2010
9:49 am

“The sewing mills have largely moved to low wage countries such as Vietnam and Bangladesh.”

RIGHT HERE is where the focus needs to be. You have to ask why? Why would a US company move that work overseas and then have to pay for the finished product to return here to sell?

#1 – minimum wage in the US has escalated, thanks to the late Teddy Kennedy and his push. No, that is not a good thing, as it is one factor that drives production overseas.

#2 – corporate taxes in the US are higher than in many parts of the world.

It seems ludicrous that a company can send product overseas, have it manufactured, then send it back cheaper than to just do it here, but there you go. FIX THAT PROBLEM, and everything else fixes itself.

The push over such a long time is for higher wages. That killed the US auto industry and forced US based companies to outsource work. What so many people still fail to understand is that back in the 50’s, it was a US market. Today, it is a global market and if joe blow company doesn’t keep their costs down, then a foreign competitor will sell for cheaper. We do not have the luxury of competing just against ourselves anymore.

el jefe

December 8th, 2010
9:49 am

abort christians!