A Further Perspective

Joblessness and Recovery

These continue to be difficult economic times for far too many Americans.

By 7.27.10

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These have been and continue to be difficult economic times for far too many Americans. Far too many are out of work and cannot get work. It's painful to see this. I recently wrote that in my small circle of friends, I was seeing real economic pain for the first time ever. I also noted that among my circle of friends in Hollywood, many if not most who were unemployed did not have great work habits and had personalities that made it hard for them to work with others.

There were glaring exceptions, I said, and in the nation at large, the situation was different, with many people with fine work habits and great personalities who could not get jobs.

Somehow, this has gotten wildly distorted in the media, so let me set it straight once again -- although people who want to distort it will distort it no matter what I say. (My favorite is a magazine in New York who totally made up a quote from me that the unemployed were "lazy." I didn't say that any time, anywhere. For magazine writers to write it, for editors not to check it -- that's pure character assassination and, yes, lazy.)

However, to get a little closer to what I did say...There are people, in Hollywood and elsewhere, who do not have good work habits or who have unrealistic expectations of what kinds of jobs they should have. A daydreamer who expects to move right into being a movie director will probably be long-term unemployed as a movie director for some time. A clerk who shows up chronically late will tend to be unemployed chronically. A person who starts fights with his boss will not work for that boss for long.

Obviously, this kind of problem would comprise only a limited amount of the work force. In some industries like auto making and in some areas like Detroit and many other places, jobs are extremely difficult to get for even the best workers.

But my observation, in my limited world, is that men and women who are eager and focused, who have kept up with the latest job skills needed in this labor market, who are willing to move to get work, who are able to communicate and get along with their fellow workers, will, even in a painfully hard labor market, be the first hired and the last fired. It is a bit puzzling to me that this observation is considered controversial.

I have been told over and over by men and women in HR that this is the way their companies work as well. Again, there will be many areas and occupations where even this kind of preparation won't help in an economy as poor as today's. In 2010, this may be true in most areas. But in other situations, it works pretty well to be a good and pleasant fellow worker.

So, get angry at me if you want for my observation. And use your typical smear tactics, those of you for whom the big and oft-repeated lie is your stock in trade. But again, as I see my little slice of the world, and as I hear from people who hire, what I said is true. Even in today's very difficult economy, who the worker is and what he can and cannot do often have at least something to do with employment, not every time, but often. I know it's taboo in this country for anyone except the rich to be anything but victims, but sometimes we are victims of ourselves. Sometimes. Not every time, but sometimes.

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About the Author

Ben Stein is a writer, actor, economist, and lawyer living in Beverly Hills and Malibu. He writes "Ben Stein's Diary" for every issue of The American Spectator.