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Region 3's Jobs Board: Fighting Engineering Unemployment

By George F. McClure

Unemployment in the United States has been at its highest levels since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking it in 1948.  Since 2009, the official unemployment rate (for non-farm workers) has climbed to 9.1 percent.  Six  million workers have been out of work for 27 weeks or longer — 4.1 percent of the civilian workforce. Part-time workers looking for full-time work totaled 8.8 million in August. The total unemployed but looking add up to 14.3 million.

The Region 3 Jobs Board

To aid unemployed IEEE members in finding jobs, Region 3 (southeastern United States) has set up a Jobs Board — a network of Employment Assistance Coordinators (EAC).  The goal is to have EACs in each of the Region’s 41 sections.  Region 3 Director Lee Stogner sees employment assistance as a way to grow IEEE membership, drawing an analogy with the guilds of the middle ages.  The EACs will serve as listening posts, tracking local engineering jobs available, maintaining contact with local employers through the industry relations function, and serving as a conduit to communicate new openings from firms’ Human Relations offices to qualified IEEE members.

As noted below, from a just released report from the Congressional Budget Office, with a slow economic recovery, it may well be 2014 before the unemployment rate drops to 8 percent, and 2016 to 2021 before it reaches a nominal 5.3 to 5.2 percent. In normal times, 5 percent unemployment is considered normal as people move around and switch jobs.

In June, six Region 3 areas had unemployment of 11 percent or higher, six were between 10 percent and 11 percent, and five were between 9 percent and 10 percent.  Not all members are familiar with tools available for unemployed members, including the IEEE Job Site, the IEEE-USA Career Navigator, and webinars and workshops available to sections, such as the Career Survival Workshop held last year (jointly sponsored by the Employment and Career Services Committee and the Career and Workforce Policy Committee), with recorded segments that can be downloaded.

Networking with other members at section and chapter meetings is an excellent way to learn of job openings, since over 80 percent of jobs are never advertised.

IEEE Sections are encouraged to advertise openings in their newsletters, and to add engineering managers and human relations offices to their distribution lists.  Local business calendar listings for section events should also be exploited.

Congressional Budget Office Mid-Year Outlook

The Congressional Budget Office has updated its economic projections to account for the effects of the new Budget Control Act and expiring provisions of the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010.

CBO assumes continuation of current laws, including expiration of some programs, but takes an educated guess as to increased economic activity including a gradual improvement in the housing market.  The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction could undertake changes that are not foreseen.  

The baseline projections in the CBO report include the following policies specified in current law:

Certain provisions of the 2010 tax act, including extensions of lower rates and expanded credits and deductions originally enacted in the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001, the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003, and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), expire at the end of 2012;

The two-year extension of provisions designed to limit the reach of the alternative minimum tax, extensions of emergency unemployment compensation, and the one-year reduction in the payroll tax all expire at the end of 2011;

Sharp reductions in Medicare’s payment rates for physicians' services take effect at the end of 2011; Funding for discretionary spending declines over time in real terms, in accordance with the caps established under the Budget Control Act; and there will be a $1.2 trillion reduction in spending between 2012 and 2021 under the Budget Control Act.

CBO notes that the pace of growth over several years will be restrained by the lingering effects of overbuilding, the financial crisis, and the recession.

With modest economic growth anticipated for the next few years, CBO expects employment to expand slowly. The unemployment rate is projected to fall to 8.9 percent in the fourth quarter of this year and to 8.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012 and then to remain above 8 percent until 2014.

Douglas Elmendorf, CBO director, notes that the economy is operating at considerably below capacity and the excess will have to be absorbed before expansion in potential output, including the labor force, capital accumulation, and productivity will occur.

Consumer spending accounts for about two-thirds of GDP,  but this could be reduced if households want to reduce their debt burdens further and therefore save more of their income than the CBO has projected.

Figure 1. National Unemployment Rates Since 1980

The Bureau of Labor Statistics issues a monthly Employment Situation release on the first Monday morning of each month. This contains a variety of useful statistics.

Household Data are based on some 60,000 monthly interviews, as reported in the A tables.  Table A-12 reports on the number of unemployed and the duration of their unemployment.  Table A-15, Alternative Measures of Labor Underutilization, includes not only the official unemployment rate (U-3) but also marginally attached and discouraged workers (who have looked for work in the past 12 months but stopped looking for work) and workers employed part-time but looking for full-time employment.  All of these subsets are rolled up into the U-6 category, where the total unemployed has exceeded 16 percent recently.

2010 IEEE-USA Unemployment Survey Report

IEEE-USA has conducted surveys of unemployed members at roughly two-year intervals since 1995 under the guidance of the Employment Assistance Committee.  In 1996, 1288 reported being unemployed.  By 2004 the number reporting had increased to 5329.  An E-Book was issued in 2010 summarizing the analysis of the latest figures. 

President Obama has requested a rare joint session of Congress on 7 September, where he plans to unveil his new jobs creation plan. According to a tweet from White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer, the president hopes to use the speech to "to lay out his plan to create jobs, grow the economy and reduce the deficit."

In the 2010 results, two job search techniques stood out for their effectiveness, according to reemployed members. Networking reduced unemployment duration by five weeks, compared to members who did not network, and those using internet job listings reported four fewer weeks of unemployment. The median duration of unemployment in 2010 for members was 66 weeks.

New Jobs Plan Announced

President Obama unveiled a new $447 billion jobs stimulus plan in a speech on 8 September. This is to be followed by a more detailed plan by 16 September.

The plan follows on the $787 billion stimulus package announced earlier, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, but which totaled $861 billion when $75 billion in additional unemployment benefits were added in.

The new plan provides for a cut in employee-paid payroll taxes in 2012 ($175 billion), an extension of unemployment benefits for another year ($62 billion), a cut in employer-paid payroll taxes and 100 percent expensing for new investments ($70 billion) as well as $140 billion in infrastructure investments, which includes aid to states for teachers and first responders. All outlays are expected to be “paid for,” but the details were not available at press time.

Thirty states have exhausted their funds for unemployment benefits, which count on experience-rated premiums from employers. These states have relied on federal loans to continue making benefit payments. The premium rates are rising, but this imposes an added burden on employers, especially small employers, deciding whether or not to hire more workers.



George F. McClure is Technology Policy editor for IEEE-USA Today’s Engineer and the IEEE Vehicular Technology Society's representative to IEEE-USA's Committee on Transportation and Aerospace policy.

Comments may be submitted to todaysengineer@ieee.org.

Copyright © 2011 IEEE

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