You've read how national unemployment remain above 8 percent, and Stanislaus County above 15 percent.
You can hear the concern that this number refuses to decline, even though jobs are being created. Fingers are pointed in various directions, blaming government, faulting consumerism, accusing businesses.
I'm not arguing those aren't all factors. But there's more to it than those over-chewed issues.
First, let's play with numbers because percentages can distort reality. How is unemployment calculated? By dividing the number of unemployed individuals (people who are without jobs, who are available to work and who have actively sought work in the prior four weeks) by all individuals currently in the labor force.
In Stanislaus County, our labor force is roughly less than half our total population. Consider our July unemployment rate of 15.7 percent on a labor force of 236,000. In July 1992, it was 15 percent on 170,400. Net: our labor force has increased by 65,600 people in 20 years three times the population of Oakdale.
Compounding the problem, our employment was largely fueled by a tenuous construction and service jobs that blew out when the housing bubble burst. Meanwhile, manufacturing has been steadily leaving the valley.
Understandably, people want jobs to return, to rejuvenate the economy. But are we all accidentally contributing to the stalled job market?
Thirty years ago, computers arrived in the mainstream. One of the key promises of the computer revolution was that it would give people more leisure time (seriously!). What really happened is that technology convinced people that it was easier to do things themselves rather than pay others to do them.
Does anybody remember making travel reservations with an agent? Having a typist handle your correspondence? Speaking to a real person instead of a voice system when you phoned a company? All those tasks meant jobs.
Technology has had many positive outcomes. But a fundamental dark side is that it has contributed to the elimination of many jobs. Why wouldn't a business want to cut its costs if it can hire a computer instead of a human?
Those pink and blue collar jobs were an essential pillar of our economy. And they're not coming back, no matter whom we elect to office, unless you plan to give up your dependence on technology which I doubt.
Technology's inevitable consumption of less-skilled jobs, combined with Stanislaus County's less-skilled workforce (only 16.3 percent have a bachelor's degree, according to the 2010 census), plus a steady growth in our population (projected to increase by 140,000 by 2020), creates a perfect storm for our ongoing unemployment troubles.
If we assume that these trends will continue, then the question for our county's business development planners is, shouldn't you focus on attracting companies whose labor needs fit with our region's labor force capabilities? Though there's much discussion about wanting companies that will pay more who want more skilled labor shouldn't that be a long-term goal, not a short-term strategy?
The job environment many of us grew up in isn't coming back technology precludes that. Instead, our county needs to focus on ways to attract a diversified industry base that will be less sensitive to economic swings and to actually wants hire our workers.
Newcorn is an author and freelance writer living in Modesto. Send questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.