Look Beyond the Headlines

Posted September 28, 2009
By Clay Cerny

In dark times, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt told Americans not to be afraid.  Today’s newspapers seem to be sending the opposite message.  Yes, the job market is not good.  Too many people are looking for work.  However, the media too often makes claims on evidence that is selective and negative.  They think bad news and dire headlines sell.

In yesterday’s New York Post, we are told that over 50% of young adults aged 16-24 cannot find work.  The article even wonders how or when these young people will ever be able to leave their parents’ home.  What it doesn’t ask is how many of those counted as unemployed are students or working part-time.  This demographic group always has a higher percentage of unemployment.  In a time when they are competing with more experienced workers, the number will be higher.  But like young people in other recessions, they will leave their parents home eventually.  Many already have.

The Chicago Sun-Times explores “Why Women Earn Less” (80% compared to men).  This story is much more nuanced than its negative headline suggests.  It cites experts who say that women are less likely than men to ask for a higher salary and negotiate for a better offer.  These are behaviors that women can change, especially when they understand the consequences of not fighting for better wages and benefits.  The article also notes that women’s salaries compared to men have risen from 62% in 1979 to 80% today.  Moreover, younger women (16-34) are making 90% compared to their male counterparts.  Should there be equal pay for equal work?  Yes.  Is the situation getting better?  Yes – despite the headline.

 The most egregious headline of the day comes from the New York Times“U.S. Job Seekers Exceed Ratio by Record Ratio.”   The article notes that there are 14.5 million unemployed Americans and only 2.4 job openings.  The problem is that this ratio has only been measured since 2000.  We have never had an economy like this one where this ratio has been used to measure unemployment.  Is it a record?  Yes.  What does the record mean?  We don’t really know.  How does this economy compare to 1983 or 1933?  We don’t know.  The story in the Times focuses more on anecdotal stories rather than seek any further statistical/historical evidence or analysis.

My advice to job seekers continues to be you are not a statistic.  Do not let these negative stories and headlines affect how you look for work.  It is a challenged, competitive market.  Focus on what you can offer employers, and find employers who need your skills and experience.  The American economy has bounced back from worse situations.  The job market will improve.  In the meantime, each of us has to look beyond pessimism for pessimism’s sake.