Like many older, unemployed workers, Geoff Dutton would like to find a job. The former software-manual writer has been out of work for 18 months, and during that time businesses have increasingly shifted to Internet-based systems for storing data rather than having their own in-house servers.
"The companies that were in that area kept looking for people who had been in that area, and that wasn't me," he told NPR recently. After being out of work for so long, Dutton worries that his skills are slipping away and he thinks that has contributed to his inability to find work. "I wasn't up on the new version of everything anymore," he said.
Though he is 68, Dutton can't afford to retire, but he also fears he may never work again.
Dutton is among hundreds of thousands of Americans that the Labor Department calls "discouraged workers," those who want jobs, but have given up looking precisely because they believe there are no jobs out there for them. They aren't included in the nation's unemployment rate of 7.8 percent because the Labor Department includes in that tally only those who have actively sought work during the previous four weeks.
The number of discouraged workers peaked in December 2010, when more than 1.3 million people fell into the category. Since then, their ranks have slowly fallen each month to 802,000, recorded in September, according to data released Friday.
Still, that's roughly twice the number of discouraged workers there were in September 2008, just as the financial crisis was beginning to unfold.
Older workers have weathered previous downturns, such as the bursting of the dot-com bubble in the late 1990s, says Steve Miranda, managing director of Cornell University's school of industrial and labor relations. Back then, however, many job seekers still had hope of finding a job.
Today, there's a greater sense of urgency, precisely because so many discouraged workers have been out of work for so long -- and there are so many more of them. For many, Miranda told AOL Jobs, hope has evaporated.
"People are fundamentally questioning whether [they] will find work again," he says.
Once unemployed, workers age 55 and older are, on average, out of work longer than their younger counterparts, according to the AARP Public Policy Institute, which conducts research on older Americans. It notes that the duration of unemployment for this group has been close to or exceeded a year since March 2011.
Of course, it isn't only those who have been in the workforce for decades who are discouraged. Many recent high school and college graduates have also found it difficult if not impossible to find work.
Daniel McCune graduated three years ago with a bachelor's degree from Liberty University in Virginia, majoring in government service and history. As he told Reuters, the Ohio-native was optimistic that his good grades would earn him a job as an intelligence analyst with the federal government.
But the 26-year-old gave up his job search a year ago after going on only two interviews.
Who's Hiring For The Holidays
Discouraged Workers: Ashamed, Invisible And An Enduring Statistic
Seasonal job openings: 5,200
A staple of many shopping malls across the nation, the gourmet gift basket retailer relies heavily on holiday sales to add to its profits. A privately held company, Hickory Farms perennially hires as many as 6,000 seasonal workers to work at its stores, which it calls "Holiday Gift Centers." Though many jobs involve interacting with customers, the company also needs additional workers to fill stock and labor positions, which may include driving in some locations, it says.
Though it has no bricks-and-mortar stores to staff, Amazon.com Inc.'s seasonal hiring plans are nonetheless robust. It needs plenty of additional workers to help fill orders and keep products moving through its warehouses nationwide. The Seattle-based company, which is unveiling a new line of Kindle-brand electronic readers and tablets, also plans to add 2,000 new jobs at three new distribution centers to help deal with demand driven by the new devices.
The department store operator announced it September that it would ramp up holiday hiring by more than 10 percent from last year to support its business in stores and online. Wisconsin-based Kohl's Corp., which operates 1,134 stores in 49 states, plans to hire an average of 41 workers at each store, a 4 percent increase from last year. The company also expects to add about 5,700 seasonal positions at distribution centers and more than 30 seasonal credit operations jobs.
The former No. 1 seller of toys in the U.S., Toys R Us Inc. credits a gradually improving economy and an increase in consumer spending for its decision to hire 11 percent more seasonal workers than the 40,000 it did in 2011. Of those it hired last year, Toys R Us says roughly 15 percent of them were kept on after the holiday sales season ended.
The holidays are the busiest time of year for the world's largest retailer and the company plans to hire more than 50,000 temporary workers to help keep store shelves and move customers through checkout lines as the 2012 holiday season approaches. Walmart Stores Inc. also plans to give existing employees the chance to work more hours during the season, acknowledging complaints among some workers who said they weren't able to work as many hours as they would have liked.
Though far smaller than rival Walmart, the nation's No. 2 retailer nonetheless plans to hire plenty of holiday season workers in 2012. The Minnesota-based company plans to add 80,000 to 90,000 seasonal jobs, down a bit from the 92,000 it hired last year. Hiring forecasts are likely be held in check by Target's expectations of an "ultracompetitive" holiday sales season. Target Corp., along with Walmart, is keeping an eye on expenses, which of course includes labor costs, so as to lower prices and stimulate sales.
The king of all department stores, Cincinnati-based Macy's Inc. said it's hiring nearly 3 percent more seasonal staff than it did last year, in anticipation of higher holidays sales. Sales associates and call center employees are among the positions Macy's is looking to fill, which also include those in its distribution and fulfillment centers, to support the department store operator's growing online business.
Best Buy Co. plans to hire about 9,000 more seasonal workers as it did last year, though this year's number is still below the 29,000 it hired in 2010. In July, the world's largest consumer electronics chain cut 600 of its "Geek Squad" employees in response to weak sales. The boost in seasonal hiring is helping to contribute to what analysts say is the best year of seasonal-job creation that the U.S. has seen in five years.
Much like Best Buy, GameStop has seen its sales erode as more and more consumers turn to buying online. Faced with strong competitors such as Amazon, GameStop has nonetheless managed to hold its own in terms of sales and profits. As with most retailers, the Grapevine, Texas-based company derives much of its sales during the all-important holiday sales season -- and its more than 4,400 stores in the U.S. need more staff to help keep those cash registers ringing.
J.C. Penney Co. has struggled to remake its namesake JCPenney stores into a retail business that's more modern and less reliant on discounts to draw customers. And the coming holiday shopping season will be an important test of whether the signs of improvement that Plano, Texas-based company has lately been showing are real or not. Sales are expected to be tepid this holiday season, but at least one company representative says that won't affect the need for seasonal workers. "[It] looks like there will be another increase this year over last year's hiring," said, Bob Parker, a site manager for JCPenney in Sarasota, Fla., "probably by as much as 10 to 20 percent in some cases."
The fall is prime season for privately held Party City Holdings Inc., which is perhaps best known as a seller of Halloween costumes. But the retailer also sells party supplies and seasonal decorations, which result in a steady flow of customers this time of year. The Rockaway, N.J.-based company has 600 stores nationwide. In addition to its namesake Party City stores, it also operates The Paper Factory, Halloween City and Factory Card & Party Outlet shops.
It takes a lot more workers to help move the millions of boxes and packages Americans send to each other each holiday season. And though FedEx Corp. expects shipping volume will be up 13 percent, it's hiring about as many workers as it did last holiday season. The company says it can stick with the same number of seasonal workers as last year because it has been hiring staff throughout 2012.
The Memphis, Tenn.-based company, which is closely watched as an indicator of consumer demand and economic health, anticipates handling more than 280 million shipments during the holiday season from Thanksgiving to Christmas. Competitor UPS added about 55,000 workers for the holidays last year, 10 percent more than it hired in 2010.
With expectations of delivering 527 million packages this holiday season, UPS Inc. is adding 55,000 workers to sort, load and deliver packages, the same number it hired last year, but 10 percent higher than in 2010. Based on the company's forecast, it appears those and full-time UPS workers will be busiest during the final week before the Christmas holiday. UPS says 28 million, or 5 percent of packages, will be delivered Thursday, Dec. 20 -- projected to be the busiest of the year.
"There's nothing out there, and there probably won't be anything for a while," said McCune, who owes about $20,000 in college loans. He has moved back home to New Concord, Ohio, and lives with his parents, who are helping to pay off his debt.
The move hasn't done much for McCune's self-esteem. Without a job and no prospects for one, McCune says he feels like a high school dropout.
"I don't like it, it's embarrassing," he said. "I don't want to be a burden to my parents."
Still, experts say that there are ways to jump-start a job search, even if you're one of those discouraged workers. Here are five tips from About.com job-search expert Alison Doyle:
1. Don't beat yourself up.
It can be hard not to feel like a loser because you can't find a job -- even in a job market as challenging as this one. Keep plugging away. There's no shortage of online employment sites (including CareerBuilder, an AOL Jobs sponsor) that can help you find job listings fast.
2. Consider a makeover.
Discriminatory, or not, the younger you look, the better your chances of being considered for a job. Updating your look can help in your job search, and it needn't cost a fortune. Discount stores such as T.J. Maxx, Marshalls or Loehmann's, as well as mainstream retailers such as H&M and Target, all sell fashionable business wear. If you're really short on cash, programs such as Dress for Success provide interview attire for disadvantaged job seekers.
3. Revamp your resume.
Employers are wary of applicants with large gaps in their resumes. So if you've been unemployed long-term, fill in that time by volunteering, taking classes or doing some consulting -- activities that you can easily incorporate into your resume. If you've been working for decades, include just 10-15 years of recent experience to lessen the chances of age discrimination.
4. Get job search support.
Don't try to find a job on your own. Everyone can benefit from advice, contacts and just moral support. Colleges frequently extend career services to alumni regardless of when they graduated. Many libraries offer job search classes, job clubs and other programs for job seekers. Online, checkout Hiring for Hope, a nonprofit that works with job seekers to minimize the challenges in finding work. And be sure to tell everyone you know that you are looking for work.
5. Be open to alternatives.
If you're batting zero in your job search, it might be time to consider other options. Retailers are hiring now for both full-time and part-time holiday season workers and they are adding thousands of jobs -- now. Macy's and Target are two examples. Both retailers expect to hire about 80,000 workers each to fill seasonal jobs. United Parcel Service and other package delivery firms are also expected to hire this fall. What's more, you might find it easier to land a seasonal job because employers hiring for such jobs are less concerned about any gaps in your resume.