The Jobs Blog: Unemployment, Like Real Estate, Is Local

By Joseph Coombs Nov 4, 2011

Another month, and another subpar jobs report. The nation’s unemployment rate was relatively unchanged at 9.0 percent in October 2011, and only about 80,000 jobs were created.

Given the rut that our labor market is in, perhaps we should stop treating unemployment as a national problem—even though it is a top concern in communities across the United States. But the argument can be made that, much like real estate, joblessness is local.

Consider traditional Midwestern manufacturing economies like Detroit and Cleveland, which were battered by the downturn in the auto sector. Today, they are tackling industrial-style economic development initiatives that play to the strengths of their local workforces.

But in places like Phoenix and Tampa—where the construction boom provided rapid-fire growth, only to crash when the economy went south—they’re turning to new industries like solar power and environmental sciences, respectively, to build modernized labor forces that are more in line with today’s economy.

And that’s just the point: What works (or doesn’t work) to address joblessness in New York City won’t necessarily fly in Los Angeles, or Boston, or St. Louis. Or anywhere in between.


What’s occurring in your community?
What needs to happen to increase job
opportunities in your corner of the country?
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Joseph Coombs can be contacted at


In better times, workers could pack up and take their skills to markets where they were in higher demand. But mobility has slowed to a crawl in the past few years. We’re in a depressed housing market filled with property owners who cannot afford to sell their homes without taking a major hit—or perhaps they just can’t sell them at all.

And although it’s clear that the job market is primarily suffering from a lack of demand, there are structural issues that cannot be denied, specifically a skills mismatch between job seekers and available positions. More than six in 10 (63 percent) of HR professionals are having some degree of difficulty in hiring properly skilled people for new positions at their companies, according to a Society for Human Resource Management survey scheduled for release in early November 2011. Nearly three in four respondents (73 percent) from the high-tech industry said they were having difficulty finding workers (60 percent said it was “somewhat difficult,” 13 percent said “very difficult”), and 72 percent of manufacturing sector respondents had the same issues (63 percent said it was “somewhat difficult” finding qualified individuals; 9 percent said “very difficult”).

With political differences on Capitol Hill holding up any meaningful attempts to reduce unemployment, maybe it’s time to emphasize the local approach. One noteworthy effort is taking place in Chicago, where city officials have teamed with the private sector and economic development group World Business Chicago to create Chicago Career Tech.

The public/private partnership has served 700—and counting—job seekers. And though it doesn’t guarantee employment, it provides free training that’s applicable for 10 tech-heavy job sectors in the city. Those that have landed employment through Chicago Career Tech are earning an average salary of $51,000, and the program has a completion rate of 90 percent.

Participants must meet a few qualifications: unemployed status, city residency and previous annual income ranging from $25,000 to $80,000. The program includes six weeks of on-site training at local companies, and the work can include obtaining skills in social media, Microsoft certification, web design and development, and health care information technology.

To hear a few of its success stories, check out this video on the website: Making a Difference—Chicago Career Tech.

So it’s clear that there is no one answer that will solve our continued high rate of unemployment. But these are unprecedented times for our economy—after we lost more than 8 million jobs quickly during the recession, we know there will not be a commensurate rapid recovery. It will take cooperation from the business world, the government, the education sector and job seekers themselves, who must be willing adapt to a constantly changing labor force.

Joseph Coombs is SHRM’s workplace trends and forecasting specialist. He can be reached at​​


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