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November, 2011


Researching my essay last month about work in ND, Need a Job? Two Words: North Dakota!, made me wonder if there might be other, more attractive areas where employment could still be had despite the current "Great Contraction." As you may recall, jobs were aplenty in that state, but they were mostly associated with the petrochemical industry and involved apparent problems with pollution, overcrowding at the few sanitary facilities, and too little or too expensive housing.

So, with the official national unemployment rate as yet at a whopping 9.0%, unofficial estimates of unemployment plus underemployment ranging from 16-20%, figures on the long-term unemployed about as bad as, if not worse than, during the last major depression, little foreseeable growth in our private sector economy, and virtually no help likely to come soon from government, it occurs to me that every candidate for a position or an upgrade these days needs an edge, a means to give him or her a leg up on the competition.

We shall, I am sure, get through this challenging time and come out ahead eventually, but it will take efforts and adjustments by both individuals and their potential employers over the long run.

In my mind's eye, I considered what might be the ideal employee, one almost certain to get hired and then to keep work, and then how folks who fall short of that full ideal in one way or another can nonetheless look more appealing to personnel departments.

First, this hypothetical competitor might consider relocating. Yes, there are currently lots of jobs in ND, but that is hardly a perfect solution for everyone. A little digging via one's favorite search engine will reveal, however, that quite a few locations offer superior job prospects, so many, in fact, that one can to an extent pick and choose the part of the country where one might prefer to live.

Do you like cooler or more scenic regions? WA, ND, MA, MN, WI might fill the bill. If preferring a warmer clime, work in OK, LA, or TX might be one's cup of tea. MD, UT, or VA might also be options for people who prefer something between those extremes.

To give a feeling for the variety available, here is a sampling of cities in the U.S. with relatively appealing unemployment rates:

Where Jobs May Be

City                   State         
2.5%BismarckNorth Dakota
3.3%FargoNorth Dakota
5.5%Oklahoma CityOklahoma
6.0%Minneapolis-St. PaulMinnesota
6.7%Salt Lake CityUtah
6.9%New OrleansLouisiana
7.1%Baton RougeLouisiana

The rates indicated in the table are recent but always changing, so one might double-check the latest stats before deciding to move! At this time, they should be accurate to within half a percent each.

The average of all 16 cited metropolitan areas' unemployment rates, at 6.1%, is nearly a third below that for the U.S.

An exceptionally employable job seeker might be willing to relocate not merely within "the lower 48" but also to HI, AK, or even abroad, as my youngest brother did last year.

My theoretical sure-hire candidate would no doubt also have educational and/or skill sets to her or his advantage. Likely the person's background would include not just one but two or more in demand specialties. For example, I have a nephew who can interpret and instruct in sign language, can also teach special ed, and further is certified in IT security. Not too surprisingly, a few months ago he landed a good job in an excellent school system. Now in addition he has a chance to enhance his career there by using one of his extra talents.

I looked into what fields, degrees, careers, and/or sets of job skills are most in demand today. These were consistently mentioned:

  • Business Administration

  • Computer Science

  • Corrections Officer

  • Education, especially teaching in math, foreign languages, science, or using bilingual skills

  • Engineering

  • Finance

  • HVAC Technician (a specialist in heating, air-conditioning, and/or refrigeration equipment)

  • Long-distance truck driving

  • Medical profession specialties

  • Paralegal

  • Specialized sales, particularly representing pharmaceutical, technical, or scientific products or services

My ideal job candidate would bend, not break, with the winds of change, get extra training if necessary, utilize a network to assist with finding work, know more than one language, get along well with others, learn to be a confident public speaker, be ready to try new things, and, if still forced to be unemployed for a period of time, be willing to work as a consultant and/or to start his or her own business, to take advantage of a profitable niche in the economy.

A few years ago, my volunteer coordinator for a library shift, then retired from regular work, suddenly had to begin helping his son out financially after the younger man was in a nearly fatal car accident and had required extensive surgery and rehab. Though in his sixties, the day after returning from his son's hospital room, our coordinator resigned his nonpaying position, bought a small truck, and started a profitable business selling sandwiches and other breakfast, lunch, or break snacks at worksites around our diverse metropolitan area.

One need not be written off and forgotten amid the millions of unemployed. There remain a number of options. Friends among the Jewish community have spoken of times when their parents or grandparents' very lives depended on adapting to adverse circumstances while finding creative, reliable ways to make ends meet.

Warren Buffett talks of his friend, Rose Blumkin, who came to this country as a refugee from Russia, virtually penniless and not speaking any English, and wound up beating all her competition, the best furniture salesperson in the country, then kept managing her company till over 100.

Yes, our economic conditions are now adverse. Yet in most cases they are far from desperate, and our country leads the world in its capacity to support folks' aspirations, often seeing them literally go from rags to riches.

Few of us are as flexible, well educated, or skilled as my picture of an ideal job applicant, but most can augment our circumstances and opportunities by networking, adding an extra skill or language, moving to where more people are being hired, creatively taking advantage of others' need or desire for commercially viable services, or working long hours at first to get one's foot in the door. By such means, we can make what we offer tempting to customers or employers and thereby secure good work.

Of course, there is a catch. It is not easy. If this were not the case, tens of millions of Americans would not now be unemployed or underemployed. Yet if we take up this challenge there are things one can do to assure work, though a transitional period of working in less than fully desirable circumstances or locations may be required for awhile. One may need to work for lower pay, longer hours, with less benefits or more than one part-time job, with people who do not much inspire us, etc., to get by till things improve in the economy.

Still, if hoping to get ahead, the fundamentals remain the same in this financial setting as when there is a boom: 1. Spend less than the funds one takes in; 2. Save and invest a significant part of one's earnings, and do not touch the principal for ordinary budget items; 3. Work till one's assets plus retirement income will cover spending in the leisure years. To accomplish these steps, one must first have a reliable means of support.

So if one needs an income, get a job!


Larry is not a professional. Don't take him seriously!

Actually, the investment article provided here is for general information only and should not be considered as professional advice, a solicitation to buy or sell any security, or the Word of God. Investors are encouraged to do their own research while considering their personal goals and circumstances, or consult their own professional financial advisors, before making investment decisions. Neither Larry nor LARVALBUG will be liable for any losses sustained by any visitor to this site.

(Disclosure statement: Larry and Val have holdings in some of the suggested assets but do not "make a market" in any of them and do not derive any direct benefit from recommending them, except perhaps for a bit of smug self-satisfaction.)

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