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Unhappy with your job? Don’t feel bad. At least you have one! Many are unemployed and would love to have your problems.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. unemployment peaked at 14.7 percent in May, 2020. In October 2020, the rate was 10.8 for African Americans, and 8.0 for whites.  It’s especially high for youths aged 16-19, which will have a negative impact on career and educational outcomes.

But the unemployment rate can be misleading. The labor participation rate is a better measurement of a region’s economic health and vitality since it accounts for everyone over the age of 16 that is eligible to work. Unemployment only counts those who register for unemployment, and the rate decreases when there is a slow period of recovery as was the case over the past six years. People were in the system so long that they exhausted available benefits, and dropped out. Where did they go? Many filed for disability, some are on welfare, and others entered the criminal justice system.

Since 2001, more veterans have filed for disability benefits than ever before. In regions where there are few jobs, vets have reported that they were encouraged by the Veteran’s Administration to file. Forty-five percent who served in Iraq and Afghanistan sought compensation for service-related injuries.

We’ve added an impressive number of jobs since 2009, but there are fewer middle-and upper-income opportunities. Mid and upper salaries support upwardly-mobile generations, and a progressively healthier economy. Without the middle class, an economy can’t recover, and the infrastructure deteriorates. Education suffers, and an uneducated body of taxpayers are gullible; they might believe climate change wasn’t caused by our actions, or that we shouldn’t support the national investment in science and engineering.

The labor participation rate dropped when many baby boomers became frustrated and left the workforce before they were old enough to retire. Some took early retirement only to discover that they couldn’t survive on their pension. When they returned to the workforce, they had to compete with Millennials for the same jobs. And, ageism bias is painfully real. Many claim disability before they would need to in order to survive. As during the Great Depression, it’s now more common to have three generations living under the same roof. Or, grandma lives in a tiny home in the back yard.

Job search tips:

When you’re searching for work, don’t wait for one application to resolve before applying for other opportunities. It can take months for each search to conclude, and it’s very competitive. Hiring managers often receive hundreds of applications and they might not take time to acknowledge yours. Don’t take it personal.

The best-case scenario is to have more than one offer in hand so you can negotiate the high-end of a position’s allocated range. Otherwise, you have no bargaining power and you’re stuck with the lower salary. If they don’t publish the range, during the interview, ask what they’ve allocated for the position. On a $50-60k range, over ten years with a 2 percent cost of living increase, at the high end you’d earn an extra $12,189.00 in 10 years (and $28,207.00 in 20 years). With your next job, if your current is $60k, you might negotiate $70k. If you’re at $50k, you’d be lucky to swing $55k. It’s well worth the extra effort to secure a competitive offer each time you transition, if possible.

Rejected? It’s okay; you’re in good company. While rejection is difficult, there could be a dozen reasons why they didn’t hire you, and it only takes one. Don’t let it get you down, and keep searching!

While commercial enterprises can afford to pay better salaries than universities these days, they generally demand longer working hours and employees tend to transition quicker. University jobs tend to offer decent benefits, reasonable working hours and a better quality of life, in general. The benefit package has value; ask the HR manager what it’s worth. A full benefit package is typically valued at 30 percent of the base salary. So, for a $100,000 salary, you’re actually earning $130,000 counting fringe benefits.

Lately it’s popular for businesses (including universities) to hire independent consultants. In that case, they don’t have to fund the overhead. While it offers some flexibility (work from home, for example), be sure to negotiate enough base salary to begin with, and save for Uncle Sam. In this case, they aren’t withholding anything, so the tax obligation is owed by you on tax day. Negotiate an extra 40 percent, and save it (or more if you’re closer to retirement, and have had one or two bouts of unemployment).

Baby boomers are unemployed, on average, three times over the course of their careers, and have therefore neglected to save enough for retirement. In fact, more than half (by some estimates 6o percent) are ill prepared for their golden years. They are working, on average, eight years longer than previous generations, and the official retirement age has increased in many places.

For early-career professionals, university family education benefits are important if you’re pursuing an advanced degree, or if you have children. Debt-reduced college degrees could translate to millions in earning potential over the course of your collective careers! The average U.S. college grad now has more than $37k in student debt, and many Ph.D.s have borrowed more than $100,000. Early-career professionals will progress quicker without a debt monkey on their back.

Unfortunately, advanced degrees no longer come with the promise of employment. A recent Inside HigherEd article shed light on the plight of the Ph.D. American universities awarded 54,070 research doctorates in 2014, the highest total in the 58 years that the National Science Foundation has sponsored the Survey of Earned Doctorates. As number of Ph.D.s grew, the percentage of those without jobs waiting for them also grew.

While all disciplines face the student debt problem, some accrue more than others. Any debt is compounded by uncertain employment prospects. Consequently, an unprecedented number had been defaulting on student loans, but several new government programs are starting to help. The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program allows employees of eligible nonprofit organizations to have their student debt forgiven.

The business of higher education is undergoing drastic changes. While university jobs were historically more stable than others, this is changing. Many schools are implementing employment freezes, forced furloughs and layoffs. There’s a mass exodus of retirees (with early retirement incentives). While that means there are more jobs on the market, most are being replaced by lesser-paid, entry-level positions. Some state education systems are healthier than others.

If you’re considering a move to another location, compare the cost of living and quality of life in each place. Maybe cross-country jogging, or growing your own vegetables are important to you. While it’s not impossible, it can be more difficult to find the time and space to do these things in some places.

There are huge cost of living variations among states, and between rural and urban regions of each state. For example, if you currently earn $100,000 in Rockford Illinois, you’d need to make $189,000 just to break even in San Francisco, California. While San Francisco offers unparalleled cultural opportunities and natural beauty, if you live like hamsters in a tiny apartment, and can’t afford to take your family on vacation, what’s the point?

And, those are two of the most dangerous U.S. cities!  If safety is important, check the list of safe cities on Neighborhood Scout. Look at city and zone crime rate trajectories; some are improving, while others are in decline. Cheap rent could come with a great cost.

There is a lot to think about when considering a move. Do your homework and target the location that’s best for you and your family.