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Opinion The culture of unemployment

Everyday we are bombarded with the unemployment numbers; they are up, they are down; the number of jobs added and/or lost. Numbers are wonderful things if you are trying to prove your president is doing a good job or you can use the same numbers in a different way to prove he’s not. Besides, they can only track people who have actually worked at a job and are eligible for unemployment.

I contend that the numbers do not tell the whole story. It doesn’t even tell the part of the story that matters: People that are really and truly out of work; people who have no intention of working; people who cannot find a job they are qualified to do and people who are virtually unemployable.

When people who are unemployed say, “I just can’t find anything” or “there are no jobs,” chances are, they mean there are no jobs they are willing to do. Driving around Franklin, the “now hiring” signs appear in the windows of fast food places, gas stations, dollar stores and the big box stores, i.e., Little Caesars at Kmart. Now, I realize that it’s easy for me to advise others what they need to be doing, sitting in my air conditioned office. But, make no mistake about it, if I didn’t have a job, I could sling hash or bag groceries with the best of them.

I’ve always said that 90 percent of any job is showing up. In my time, I have heard many a bag boy who showed up day after day, got promoted to the produce department, then dairy, and the next thing you know, he’s the manager. But, you have to show up. Ask anybody in the hiring business, it’s a continuous battle to fill shifts with people who will show up. My family owned a restaurant in town several years ago. It became a joke to come into work and wonder if we would have a dishwasher that day. After five years in operation, we had had 75 dishwashers.

Another side of the issue is employers who cannot find people qualified for the positions that are open. A local business bought a company on the verge of bankruptcy to augment the services that it already provided. The intention was to hire 50 people to fill the openings. After more than 100 interviews, not even 50 qualified people could be found that could pass a simple proofreading test and a typing test. The scope was expanded to neighboring counties that included Western Carolina University. Several drove from Clayton, Ga., and one employee worked part time and went to school in Gainesville, Ga.

Apparently this phenomenon is not unique to this area. A friend of mine was a manager of a warehouse in Greenville, Ga. The employees on the payroll were consistently tardy, laid out often and generally had mediocre work ethics. He set out to “clean house” as it were, but found it was most certainly easier said than done. In the eight months he was there, he interviewed 150 potential employees. These were the cream of the crop from the hundreds of applications he received. The ones that could actually pass the background check, very often failed the drug test. From those interviewed, he hired 10 people, six of whom actually showed up for work. And this was not a minimum wage job. These folks were paid well from a corporation that offered much sought-after benefits like insurance, retirement, vacation pay and paid sick days — a good job by anyone’s standards. They just had to show up and work.

Another friend attended a job fair last week with several hundred jobs available. He went through the interview process, submitted his resume and the prospective employees were placed in groups of about 16 people to vie for the part time jobs being offered. They were given several different “tests” and the clincher: A math test. One gentleman was escorted out for his disagreeable personality, he didn’t want to fill out the paperwork again, which left 15 people remaining. The coordinator separated the tests and dismissed those that failed. Now the group was down to six. She said that very few hires make it to the end of the 90- day probation period and that if you did, you were pretty much guaranteed full time. She also said that more than 50 percent of prospects fail the drug test. She said of the thousands of people that are processed through HR (Human Relations) only 25 percent are hired full time.

My son was head of his deparment at a Caterpillar shipping plant in Peoria, Ill., just as the economy was tanking and the “emergency unemployment” was kicking in. He, all of a sudden, was plagued with people who were slack in their work or who just wouldn’t show up and some who even said, “Why don’t you fire me and I’ll go home and drink beer all day and draw unemployment?”

The unemployment numbers also do not factor in those who have never drawn unemployment because they are diligently seeking part time work from private individuals, like odd jobs or yard work or drywall or whatever they can find to do to make ends meet. Then there are those who won’t do anything that would jeopardize the amount of food stamps they get a month. I am not talking about people who are underemployed, go to work everyday and can’t support a family on the wages they make and supplement their food budget with food stamps. The program was designed to be a help, not a lifestyle.

In some states across the country, including Georgia, drug tests are being suggested for food stamp recipients. Many American corporations require their employees to be drug free to work, why can’t the government have the same requirement? Assistance is a privilege, not a right.

This multi-faceted issue will not be solved here. America has created a culture of unemployment and dependence. The food stamp rolls have doubled. The chronically unemployed have discovered they can survive with little to no effort. Fraud is rampant. SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) cards are being used for non-food items like beer, gas and cigarettes from merchants who are also just trying to survive, albeit illegally.

What happened to taking care of ourselves or the pride in being able to stand on our own two feet? What happened to our American ingenuity and our confidence that we could weather any storm? Granted the boat is a little leaky, but we have always been able to patch it up through to clear sailing. I can’t help but feel this ship is going down if the wind doesn’t change.


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