Career News from 2011: The Year in Review

Wednesday, December 28, 2011
For my final blog of 2011, I decided to repeat last year’s idea of looking back at the tweets I’ve issued on Twitter in order to follow up on some and comment on the significance of others. (If you’re not already following me, my handle is @LaurenceShatkin.)

Green career issues have been a frequent theme in 2011. In January, I linked to “Top 10 greentech predictions for 2011.” Now, looking back, you’ll find that most of these predictions have come true. (This was actually a retweet from @CarolMcClelland, whom you should follow if you’re interested in green careers.) Another tweet on this subject, in October, was about the Bureau of Labor Statistics page for Green Career Information. In March, I linked to survey results from the Solar Energy Industries Association, which projected 26 percent growth in solar jobs from 2010 to 2011, with a net of 24,000 new jobs. Among the jobs they reported on, the best combination of fast growth and low competition was for solar photovoltaic installers and technicians.

Another frequent topic has been recovery from the Great Recession. The news in 2011 has been mixed. In February, the National Association of Colleges and Employers reported that for the first time since 2008, a college class was beginning the year with average starting salary offers higher than the previous year.
One interesting feature of this recession was its uneven impact on different age groups. In March, The Wall Street Journal reported that 34 percent of men in their 60s were holding paying jobs, compared with fewer than 15 percent of males ages 16 and 17. I blogged on this same subject in July and speculated that perhaps Congress has been doing so little to create jobs because the most reliable voters have the lowest rate of job loss. This doesn’t mean, however, that job loss is not a problem for older workers. As reported on the Economix blog of The New York Times (a must-read site for anyone interested in the economy), the small percentage of older workers who do lose a job subsequently endure the longest stretch of unemployment. In fact, the graph that accompanies the blog posting shows that the close correlation between age and duration of unemployment covers the full spectrum of ages.

An important milestone in the recovery was the rebound experienced by the automobile industry, thanks to oft-maligned federal intervention. In February, General Motors reported its biggest profit in a decade and said it would give 45,000 union workers a profit-sharing check for $4,300. In May, GM announced that it had seen its earnings triple in the first quarter and reported that it would invest $2 billion in 17 automobile plants across 8 states, saving or creating 4,200 jobs. In September, a deal between GM and the United Auto Workers union saved or created 6,400 jobs. The deal was especially aimed at accelerating the hiring of entry-level workers and at reducing the leakage of jobs to Mexico.

Despite these positive developments for the auto industry, this has been largely a jobless recovery so far. In March, the Commerce Department reported (PDF) that corporate profits had increased 29.2 percent in 2010, the fastest growth they have experienced in more than 60 years. But a July report from JP Morgan (PDF) revealed that the main force driving the rebound in profits was decreases in employees’ earnings and benefits, thanks to an oversupply of workers and offshoring. This is not how a middle class recovers from a recession. Jobs in construction and manufacturing seem particularly stuck in a post-bubble slump.

The Occupy Wall Street movement drew a lot of attention to income disparities that have come into high relief as the well-off have shrugged off the recession while most of the rest of the nation continue to suffer either unemployment or wage stagnation. Just last week, I tweeted about a study by historians that demonstrates that the Roman Empire had more equal distribution of income than United States does now. A graph posted by New York Times columnist and blogger Paul Krugman shows the dramatic difference between the after-tax income growth of the top 1 percent of earners versus everybody else. Another graph in that same blog post points out the earnings advantage of higher education but also shows its limitations. The hourly wages of college graduates have increased substantially since 1980, in contrast to the flat or declining hourly wages of people with less education. However, those wage increases for college graduates stopped at 2000, and the gains by those with advanced degrees have slowed to a trickle over the past decade. It seems even the upper middle class is not served well by the economy we now have.

I don't want to end on a down note, and it’s always good to have a laugh, so if you missed Stephen Colbert on “The Audacity Of Hopelessness,” enjoy it now. He explains how the Department of Labor computes unemployment figures and why giving up your job search actually helps the economy.

I hope the coming year is a good one for you and for your career.


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