Why is finding a job so much harder than decades ago?

Decades ago, not many people go to college. Most people graduated fresh from highschool and found good jobs. Nowadays, this is unimaginable, as everybody who wants a half-decent jobs need a college degree. Even people with higher qualifications such as masters or Phds often have problem finding jobs.

It is basically a buyer’s market now, with the employers have the upper hand. An employer opens up a position and 10s or 100s resumes floods in. Compared to the old times, you didn’t even need much experience, and employers were happpy to employ newly graduates.

So what has changed? My suspicions are as follows:

The declining population: most Western countries have low natural growth and even negative growth (e.g. Germany). This shrinks the job market and makes younger people harder to get jobs as easily as their previous generation do, especially the baby-boomers generation.

The “free trade”. Yeah right, you hear this right. While free trade benefits, it has drawbacks as well. In the old time, when the manufactoring sectors were stil intact as well as many low-skill jobs in the States, it had to employ a lot of people, “absorbing” a lot of population. Nowadays all these jobs are outsourced to countries like China and India, so the same kind of people in the older generation who could easily get a low-level job now have to gain a college degree because the low-level jobs don’t exist any more! This puts extra pressure on the people who go to college because now so many people HAVE to have a college degree, and because of this, college degree devalues significantly. So the end result is everybody got to have college degree now, today’s college degree is yesterday’s highschool diploma.

Employment laws: minimum wages, as it distorts the labor market and prohibits people from taking lower wages just to get a job. And in many Western countries, it is hard to fire someone, which makes the employers much more cautious in choosing the right candidate than before. Connections becomes increasingly important, since it reduces the information cost, so the employer knows what kind of candidate he/she is. Interviews become much more prolonged and complicated than before, often invovling multiple rounds of interviews, asking all kinds of ridiculous, pointless questions. And this even prompt the emergence of recruitment agencies. You don’t have this kind of agencies decades before. Their very existence siginals that the labor market now favors the employers, and it is filled with “too many” potential applicants.

Feel free to discuss. I really want to know. Add your thoughts!

Since the OP is looking for opinions, this is best suited to IMHO.

General Questions Moderator

The things I most blame it on:
-The student loan bubble (Right now almost anyone can take out tons of student loan money that you can’t discharge in bankruptcy to get a degree that’s worthless to getting a job) which has caused a huge oversupply of expensive degree programs trying to snag some loan money. Hence why we now have lawyers working at Starbucks. Tuition will continue to soar as long as the loan money keeps flowing.
-The social idea that everyone needs to go to college as proof they are smart instead of admitting that some people are better off going to trade school
-The loss of manufacturing jobs in the US because Americans value cheap shit from china more than they value having a functional economy

The supply of jobs has gone down while the market of applicants has gone up.

There are something like 130 million jobs in America with about 315 million people. Back in the 1990s there were 130 million jobs and about 280 million people. So about 35 million more people and 0 more jobs.

Not only that but due to wage stagnation women entered the workforce. So now you have adult men and adult women competing for jobs.

Not only that but a lot of people who want to retire can’t because of the economic collapse, so retirees are staying in or reentering the workforce.

Plus the % of jobs that are ‘good’ jobs seems to have gone down. Permatemp jobs are exploding, so are service sector jobs. High wage manufacturing jobs are mostly gone.

Even if the minimum wage prevented the creation of jobs (which is controversial and not proven) it is worth it. Is a society with 3% unemployment but where jobs only pay $2.75 an hour worth it? No.

Your heart is the right place but your stats are incorrect.

Think labor force participation rate. It’s going down. The jobs do not exist because they’ve been shipped overseas (and not coming back) coupled with the bursting of the financial bubble churn. The minimum wage scare is just that, a scare tactic. Costco pays around $17/hour, with benefits (yes healthcare). They continue to fight calls by Wall Street to raise their prices to increase their profits. Instead they charge Costco members 15 percent above their costs. It works. It’s profitable. It’s a living wage with benefits.

The American economy is changed forever. What existed five years ago won’t be back in your working life.

How many decades ago were you thinking about? The answer depends on what time period you’re looking at.

Partly it’s because of the shipment of jobs overseas, partly because of mechanization. For just a small example, if I call tech support, I’ll generally get an automated system that encourages me to play musical numbers on my phone, choosing which option is most applicable, and mostly it works. If I keep saying agent, or hit zero, then I will almost certainly be connected to someone in India, and there is much mutual misunderstanding. 20 or 30 years ago, if I called tech support on something, I’d be put on hold for a while, but when I finally got an answer, it was a human being who spoke American English, and at least we could understand each other.

Another part of the problem is that companies seem to think that loyalty should only flow from the worker to the company, and not from the company to the worker. I grew up in the 60s, and my father was in management. He frequently brought his management booklets home, and a lot of them were about how to counsel problem employees and try to help them become better workers. The booklets talked about things like turning around an alcoholic, or someone who has trouble at home. It was evident that the booklets assumed that once a worker was hired, he pretty much had a job with the company for life, though his position might change. Even if he was coming in each morning with a hangover, and coming back from lunch after having three or four drinks. The company would try to rehabilitate the worker. Nowadays, if someone comes in hungover or drunk, the company will do a write up, or just plain fire him. Companies view workers as disposable.

There’s a big trend to cut the fat, by which they mean dumping unproductive or unneeded workers. And, to a point, this is good. Past that point, however, you’re not just cutting out the fat, but also cutting the lean meat and even the bone.

Many jobs nowadays, especially the ones you need to provide a decent standard of living, are skilled. But people train for jobs they desire rather than what their economies need (I’m not saying they’re wrong to do that, just stating the facts).

Here in the UK, it’s not just a matter of encouraging people to choose certain jobs, I think people are not even aware of the kinds of roles that are in demand.

These are the main reasons. When my son graduated high school 5 years ago, I encouraged a trade school rather than college. He followed my advice (at roughly the same cost), while his friends went to college. He’s employed now and has his own place. He still sees his friends frequently, mostly when ordering food or coffee.

Disclaimer, he’s finishing up an online degree because he’s applying for a position that requires “a degree”, but no major in particular. This allows him to check that box on the app, without spending much money.

During the post WW2 era. America was the world’s leading manufacturer of everything, due to factory destruction, disruption of European capital, social dislocation, & our own capacity (extensive).

Are you comparing finding a job in the aftermath of the Great Recession to finding a job during the height of the dot-com bubble?
It wasn’t exactly all that easy to find a job before the internet. Unless you got hired during on-campus recruiting, it used to require sending out long, well written resumes and cover letters to dozens of companies. Then you hoped to stay at your employer your entire life.

15 years ago, there was an article in (I think)the New York Times, titled
“My Father Sold Bra Straps”. It was written by the son of the bra-strap salesman,
who was lamenting the sad state of the American job market.
It was an interesting picture of the “good old days” when there were jobs for everybody.

This guy lived in South Carolina, where there had once been a thriving textile industry.
He described the days when his father was the salesman for one of the textile mills.
His father drove around the area in a car with a trunk full of samples—mostly bras and women’s clothing.
He would drive from one small town to another, show his samples to the mom-and-pop “habadashery store” and take a commission on sales of a few dozen items each time. One of his items were the aforementioned bra straps…which lots of women bought to sew (or fix) their own bras.
And from those small commissions, he supported a family in 1950’s America.

Today, of course, it’s all gone.
The textiles are made in China, the wholesale orders are computerized, the haberdashery shops are gone, and the market is gone (women don’t sew their own clothes).

That’s why there are no jobs. No workers are needed.
Not at the factory that made the stuff, not at the wholesaler who drove around selling it, not at the small shops that retailed it.

Things have changed.

There was a time when you could graduate from high school - with few if any skills - and get a secure job at an manufacturing plant making a good wage, without expending a whole lot of effort to secure the job. Those days are gone. Nowadays the labor force is a dichotomy of sorts; If you have *specific *skills that are in demand, you won’t have a problem finding a job, while the opposite is true for folks with no skills. The situation is a direct result of overseas competition and better efficiency due to advances in information technology.

It’s true we need less low-skilled workers. But it’s also true we need *more *highly-skilled workers.

There is a shortage of highly-skilled workers in this country (e.g. engineers, mathematicians, statisticians, medical researchers). I’ve read reports where U.S. companies are actively hiring overseas talent simply because U.S. schools are not producing enough graduates to supply the demand.

Some ideas that haven’t been brought up yet…

Looking (or, at least, convincing yourself that you’re looking) for a job has become much easier over the past 20 years, but the actual finding of a job still takes time.

Computers. All these computers are doing work that people used to do. For example, my family’s business once had a call center. Originally we kept over 100 people employed (part to full-time) in the call center, everybody manually dialing from paper lists. Then we spent about $200k on a predictive dialer and call stations, and was able to relieve 1/2 of the staff within a few weeks of implementation. Then one of the guys in the call center became interested in programming the dialer. We said “Sure, go ahead” and within 6 months he was able to make it that 90-95% of our calls no longer even needed a person at the other end.

In the end, a department that kept 100 people employed shrunk to fewer than 10. Repeat a zillion times all across the world and you’ll end up with a situation where the job market is in tatters but corporate profits are at an all-time high. Hell, even Paul Krugman is coming around to this point of view.

The industrial revolution destroyed the manual labor market, but we thought it was OK because people could go into “information labor”, “services labor”, etc. But now computers are destroying the “information labor” and “services labor” markets - who knows what jobs will be left in 40 years?

I disagree with the premise that there “are no jobs” (again, local economic conditions notwithstanding). The job market has simply changed over the past decades. People lament the days when “you could graduate high school and get a ‘good’ job in the local factory or textile mill” as if stamping car bumpers or running a hat press (or whatever they call the machines that make hats) is an awesome job. I worked those sort of factory jobs when I was in high school and college and they are hardly “good jobs”. They are tedious, repetitive and dangerous. All qualities that make them good candidates to be replaced by a robot or someone cheaper and more expendable than an American high school graduate.

The trend has been towards jobs that cannot be easily replaced by technology. Mostly professional services, whether it’s management, law, finance, marketing, consulting and accounting on the high end or retail and fast food on the low end.

The other major difference is that change happens much faster now. Whereas companies took years or decades to make major strategic decisions, they can now make them in days or weeks. Which means that you are more likely to be hired for a 6-18 month project than for a 20 year career. Or even if you are in a career job, you may need to change divisions or employers every couple of years as companies react to changing market conditions.

With technology, it’s also a lot easier for employers to hire for a specific need. So simply having “college” on your resume may not be enough. You need to demonstrate having a specific skill, whether it’s formal education or a specialized trade.

Yes what a pity it is that we have machines that now do tasks that once required back-breaking human labour. And curse those damn electric lights! That was lucrative work walking around lighting lamps.

The net effect of a machine doing a job a human used to do is positive. We can get more done and human labour is freed up to do something more useful. The fact that this has happened so many times is the reason you’re probably sat in comfort behind a computer, in a nice warm room, instead of lying in a ditch exhausted from your 14 hour day of subsistence farming.

ETA: I may have gone over the top on snark. But it’s a common misconception that the net and permanent effect of automating / outsourcing a job is unemployment goes +1, with no benefits for the common man. The net effect on unemployment should be mildly negative while there still exist useful things a human can do.

Like others have said, things have changed. From what I can tell, a lot of it has to do with a more or less natural readjustment of things from the post WWII situation where the US was pretty much the sole manufacturing power in the world.

Back then, it seems like if there was something to be made, someone could make money producing it in the US. Shipping was much more expensive, labor costs weren’t particularly high relative to the rest of the world, and raw materials were plentiful and cheap.

These days, US labor is significantly more expensive than in places like China and Mexico, shipping costs are extremely low, and some raw materials are no longer cheap nor plentiful. All of these things push US manufacturing toward being less profitable or even not profitable at the same price as competitors who use foreign cheap labor.

US manufacturers basically have the option of using domestic labor and significantly raising the cost of the goods they sell, having it done in Mexico, or contracting it out in China.

US minimum wage is $7.25/hr, which equates to a gross pay of $58 per 8 hr day. The highest Chinese minimum wage is $208 per month, which is what we’d pay a US worker in a little under four 8-hour days. Mexico is not much better, with a minimum wage of about 90 pesos per day, or $7 USD.

That’s why US manufacturing isn’t thriving; it’s not so much plutocrats screwing hard workin’ Americans out of jobs. Look at it this way- if you are in charge of company A making a widget that costs you $3 in materials and $2 in labor, and you’re selling it for $7, and company B is making more or less the same widget that costs $3 in materials, but only costs $0.15 in Chinese labor, and $0.25 in shipping costs, and is selling it for $5, what do you, as head of Company A do?

Obviously you can try and differentiate yourself, but that’s risky, depending on your brand recognition, and the nature of the market for your widget.

The obvious thing to do is to cut those labor costs- you can either automate or go somewhere cheaper, both of which put people out of work.
That aside, I think that a lot of what are now minimum wage jobs had a more skilled component back in the day (1970s and before) than they do now. For example, I get the impression that being a butcher back in the day wasn’t being the goon who plastic-wraps pre-cut meat at the local megamart. Or the guy who worked in the hardware store wasn’t just some doofus who works at Home Depot. I don’t know exactly how those jobs lost their skilled aspects, but they sure seem to have.

I also think there’s a lot to what Mijin says about poor job planning on young people’s part. Even when I was younger, I was surprised at the number of people whose career plans sort of ended after college with “get a job”, or after high school they were convinced that their band was going to make it big, and consequently didn’t plan beyond that. Or the number of people in college who wanted to be doctors or lawyers or whatever high-octane career, and then washed out and had no fall-back plan.

The flip side of that is you don’t need to spend years being a butcher’s apprentice to go work at Stop & Shop. So that job is now available to more people, even though it doesn’t pay as well.

Probably because nobody really likes what they do. No teenager says “I want to be a systems analyst for a big insurance company”. Even a “high octane” career like lawyer or investment banker mostly consists of tedious paper-pushing.

How would that increase jobs?

All of those companies would be bankrupt now due to competitors taking advantage of cheaper labor.