There is a new group of people who define themselves based on the economic crisis. We’ve had ‘the unemployed,’ ‘the underemployed,’ ‘the seasonal unemployed,’ etc… And for those who are now coming to the end of their extended unemployment support (extended to ninety-nine weeks in the face of the Great Recession): the “Ninety-Niners.” They are people who are about to reach or have just passed that threshold of social support and are still looking for work. What could improve the situation?
CBS’s ’60 Minutes’ did a report on the unemployed in Silicon Valley, the place that many thought would not see the worst of the economic collapse – or at least would be one of the regions that would lead us out of the Great Recession. As the report shows, neither has proved true. This ‘recovery’ is flatter in terms of adjusted unemployment than even the crash of 1929-1931. The unspoken tragedy is folded into the term ‘adjusted,’ which allows politicians to massage the unemployment number that appears on the newscasts. As the ’60 Minutes’ report points out, unemployment and underemployment is really closer to 18%.
Social media is meant to connect us to like-minded individuals, is meant to broaden our voices, is meant to improve access to information, etc. Can it help people find jobs? A touching story on BlogHer.com suggests social media might help the unemployed stay aware of the ‘state-of-play,’ though it might not help them land a job. The protagonist of the original blog about her experience moving from a good position to being long-term unemployed is Laurie-Ellen Shumaker. Her story ran on The Huffington Post in July, and Mellisa Ford at BlogHer has been following the story ever since. Ms. Shumaker emphasized the loneliness that can overwhelm the unemployed:
It is very lonely to go from productive member of the workforce to trying to connect with jobs in the faceless, isolated way that most searches happen these days. The lack of response to my heartfelt applications was surprising to me. I am used to having a connection with people to sort out answers to issues. Most of the job postings were crafted so that one cannot find The Person to reach out to for that personal spark. Often the companies are “confidential” in the postings.
Her story became a hot issue for commentary of varying degrees of support and challenge, which Ms. Ford sees as one of the qualities that makes reaching out on-line such a tough decision for many.
The problem, of course, with social media and the numerous Internet archiving monsters is that there is no way to unring the bell. This article, as well as the Huffington Post article, could be found by any employers who Google her name while looking at her resume. That potential Googleability was the thought that her daughter struggled with when she debated whether or not to tweet and blog about the article.
If one shows sympathy or commentary or offers advice that does not pan out, will that outreach be held against that person, given the ease with which our friends, employers, or (worse still) enemies can trace our online selves?
Such ‘Googleability’ can put a chilling effect on a conversation that we need to have. Unemployment is putting aon much of the American workforce whose members largely ‘followed the rules,’ yet who are bearing the brunt of the stigma, isolation, and depression of long term unemployment – not to mention the economic strain that they will need years of income to ease. Moreover, the social media that many unemployed use to search out the scarce jobs is being used by companies to avoid the social interaction and networking that traditionally has been part of matching employees to positions:
more often than not, computers are allowing employers to hold the workforce at arm’s length. Analogous to warfare, just as guns and bombs depersonalized war and made it easier to pretend that something other than killing was happening on the ground, computerized applications and email has made it easier for employers to ignore the desperation that exists within this job market. They don’t need to look the person seeking work in the eye nor even bump into them around town. Instead, people are reduced to a single page view on a computer screen.
Unfortunately, the story of high and long-term unemployment will continue for some time. The story of the various influences of social media will also continue, so we will all need to keep an eye on the ways the two interact, for better and worse.