By Julianne Malveaux
Even before the unemployment rate numbers were released on August 5, it was clear that the labor market situation is improving, but far more slowly than many workers would like. In July, according to check-processing company ADP, about new 179,000 jobs were created. That’s down from the 287,000 jobs created in June, it doesn’t account from the increased number of people who are unemployed (some are returning to the job market because they think things are getting better), but when unemployment rates are below 5 percent that’s a reason to take note, if not to celebrate.
Labor market improvements aren’t exciting to the millions who still lack work, or to those who have not seen their paychecks increase, or to those who are engaged in the “Fight for Fifteen.” They aren’t exciting to those who have sent out dozens, if not hundreds, of resumes and have yet to receive a single return call, not to mention an interview. They look askance at the notion of a better job market because it isn’t so much better for them.
I had an opportunity to talk about Navigating the New Job Market at the National Urban League’s conference in Baltimore yesterday, as McDonalds invited me to present a workshop on jobs and careers. Why do I describe the jobs market as “new”? Essentially, because the contemporary job market requires a fluidity that many are unwilling or unable to exhibit. The fluidity is an attitude that change is the only constant, and that workers (and employers) have to be nimble and think fast on their feet. Workers have to figure out ways to develop “a brand,” or to stand out from the crowd. People have to network like crazy. And people need to always have a Plan B, C, D, and E. In other words we all need to be prepared for alternatives.
This job market is extremely competitive from top to bottom. Some people with advanced degrees are still applying for entry-level jobs, and being rejected because they are “overqualified.” Others are flooding the market with resumes, forgetting that who you know is sometimes as important (if not more so) than what you know.
One of the ways to be well-prepared is to commit to both lifelong-learning and lifelong networking. What’s the last book you read? The last class you took? The last time you really challenged yourself? Do you speak a language? Are you open to learning?
According to François Grosjean, the author of Bilingual: Life and Reality, most of the world’s population is bilingual. More than half of Europe’s residents are bilingual, and more than a third of those living in Great Britain and Canada are bilingual. But only one in six of us in the United States are bilingual, with people mostly speaking Spanish and Chinese. Those who are interested in having an edge in the job market should consider learning another language. African Americans are far less likely than others to be bilingual. Young people, and those not so young, must consider taking on another language.
When Tom Friedman wrote his book, “The World is Flat,” in 2005, he reminded us of the reality of globalization, a reality that too many of us would ignore. I recall being at a conference where a woman announced that she did not “like” globalization. That’s like saying you don’t like sunrise or sunset. Globalization has occurred, and the challenge is to understand how it affects us, how it affects the job market, and how it affects racial economic justice.
The Donald Trump presidential candidacy makes it clear that people will be experiencing all kinds of biases in coming decades. Some will be as blatant as Mr. Trump’s rabid attacks against Mexican-Americans, Muslims, and women. Others will be far more subtle. All of these biases will show up in the job market, but those who are best prepared will have more opportunities than those who are not.
So I told my workshop at the Urban League to learn a language. I told them to strive for excellence. I told them to be mindful of their social media presence. We live in a world, now, where there are few secrets, where bad jokes and tacky pictures take on a shelf life of their own.
When I look at the economic status of African American people, I see two things. First, discrimination is alive and well. That’s nothing new. Secondly, and equally importantly (if not more so), African Americans can do a better job of battling discrimination. There are too many ways for others to exclude African Americans without using race. If an employer said, for example, that a new hire needed to be bilingual, what percentage of African Americans would qualify?
African Americans can be winners in the new job market, but only if we are well prepared.
Julianne Malveaux is an author and economist. Her latest book, “Are We Better Off? Race, Obama and Public Policy” is available via Amazon.com for booking and wholesale requests visit www.juliannemalveaux.com.