Gaslighting America’s Jobless

As a general rule, I try to avoid using pop psychology terms. Too often, they have been used to disparage problem-solvers such as myself, to question our motives and even our sanity. In the case of gaslighting, though, not just our sanity, but the sanity of millions of jobless Americans is being regularly questioned by the politicians and their supporters. The term folds in on itself and becomes the very heart of our grievance, that we are experiencing first-hand this Great Depression II that the democracy tells us we are imagining.

First, the Liberals told us that Barack Obama avoided a great depression and ended a meaningless phrase called “The Great Recession”. Recessions are short-lived affairs undeserving of the modifier “great”. By this rhetorical sleight-of-hand, they transmogrified the Great Depression II into the Great Euphemism, belittling the months-long stretches of joblessness many of us have experienced in the past eleven years, going into twelve years. They tell us to employ positive-thinking while companies are thinking of new negativity to refuse employment to all but a few of us. Liberals tell us it is not so bad, that it cannot be too bad because “it is not like we are in a Great Depression or anything. Thank Heavens President Obama avoided that! It could have been much worse.” Yet we know that it is much worse than the Great Depression of the 1930’s. We cannot see who else is on the job-hunting queue as they could in the days before online submissions and the Applicant Tracking System. Then somebody had to tell us to our face that we were not getting the job. Now the companies send us e-mails saying that they “are going in a different direction” and we cannot respond to it.

The Conservatives then build on this fable with Barnum-like barking of “the Greatest Economy on Earth”. They point to “jobs numbers” which have always been of questionable validity due to the fluidity of the labor market turning the data into a time series and, during a depression, the forced mobility of the jobless — read “homelessness” — affecting the households interviewed. Further complications, such as corporation-to-corporation contracts and school enrollment while job-seeking, distort these “fake statistics” beyond semblance to reality. Yet the jobless are supposed to accept these concocted figures, with an extreme bias toward employed, hence stable, households, over their own experience and that of their friends and separately domiciled family members, the latter being dismissed as “anecdotal”. Of course, there is too much systemic information in these stories to pigeon-hole them as purely anecdotes.

Both Conservatives and Liberals refuse to listen to systemic information because this qualitative evidence proves the reality of the Great Depression II. Indeed, the very terminology of a “job market” and of “jobs numbers” is proof-positive that there is an oversupply of labor. If there was a shortage of labor, we would correctly refer to the labor market as a “labor market”, where companies were looking for labor rather than workers looking for jobs. We would also be observing the price of labor and the statistics collecting those observations.

Beyond this orientation toward “jobs” rather than “labor”, there are other systemic evidence of a labor over-supply which indicate the more extreme case of a labor glut. One of these I have already mentioned: anonymous rejections of job applicants through ATS, the Applicant Tracking System. Such rejections are necessary when there are hundreds of applicants for each open position, making it too costly for companies to personally respond to each rejected job seeker. Similarly, the parsing of resumes in ATS only becomes cost-effective when there are hundreds of applicants submitting resumes to a company.

When there are thousands of well-qualified applicants without work, it becomes necessary for companies to create fictional “qualifications” to winnow down the applicant pool to a more manageable number. These have been legendary in computer programming, with several cases of requirements stating more years of experience in a programming language than that language has been in existence. In this Great Depression II, companies have added required experience in bogus “technologies” such as “Agile” which have more to do with how actual technologies will be used or avoided, than with the technologies themselves. The Agile methodology is doubly problematic for those asserting a plenitude of jobs: it creates unnecessary positions to re-invent the wheel, indicative of companies having redundant workers and middle managers finding an excuse to keep them on hand, maintaining their count of supervised workers. When companies require “experience” with Agile, they are saying that developers are a dime a dozen and they can afford to waste money on hiring people to spin wheels. They do not want to hire anybody who would solve the problems on which they are working, because that would put an entire department out of a job, including the executives.

Another form of superfluous job creation indicating a labor glut in software development is the splitting of the programmer analyst position into multiple “roles” more suitable for a division of labor at a pin factory than for intellectual tasks such as programming. Thus we have the “business analyst” role, where the programmer determines what the company wants their system to do, the “software engineer” role, where the programmer or a program the programmer programs writes a program which does what the company wants their system to do, and the “test automation” role, where the programmer writes a program to test the programs the programmer, or a program-writing program, wrote, even though program-verification would prove the programs correct and obviate testing. From this absurd exercise in job-splitting, three or a dozen jobs are created out of one programming contract, again proving that there is labor glut.

One could go on, as the middle managers can be very inventive in throwing cheap bodies at an organizational chart, but the case is more emphatically in the obverse, in what happens when there is an actual labor shortage. In such circumstances, people are hired on the spot, without going over requirements which could easily be met in the first few hours on the job, or days at the most. There are no gatekeepers to turn applicants away. A sign says “help wanted”, without a web link to apply online. If there are actual job requirements, of the brain surgeon or rocket scientist variety, somebody from the company is sent to recruit from academia. Most hires are local but, if everybody is already hired on a great salary in town, an offer is made to the one person they can snag, with a complete re-location package and a six-figure salary. There is no concern about “company culture” and, instead, an emphasis on the benefits of the town where the company is located. The contract guarantees salary for at least four years, enough time to justify taking the position. The new hire gets an office, with a desk and a nameplate. There is a budget for journal submissions and professional conventions. There are at least four weeks of vacation and ample company holidays. Employees are allowed civic participation and a family life. All this is the norm when there is a labor shortage because companies are genuinely worried about losing an employee. Unless you observe this as a practice, it is safe to say that there is an excess of labor.

That this practice is as far out of consideration as it is currently confirms the suspicions of America’s jobless that we are in the Great Depression II.

The lights are indeed dimmed.

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