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U.s. Job Seekers Exceed Openings By Record Ratio

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Despite signs that the economy has resumed growing, unemployed Americans now confront a job market that is bleaker than ever in the current recession, and employment prospects are still getting worse.

Job seekers now outnumber openings six to one, the worst ratio since the government began tracking open positions in 2000. According to the Labor Department’s latest numbers, from July, only 2.4 million full-time permanent jobs were open, with 14.5 million people officially unemployed.

And even though the pace of layoffs is slowing, many companies remain anxious about growth prospects in the months ahead, making them reluctant to add to their payrolls.

“There’s too much uncertainty out there,†said Thomas A. Kochan, a labor economist at M.I.T.’s Sloan School of Management. “There’s not going to be an upsurge in job openings for quite a while, not until employers feel confident the economy is really growing.â€

The dearth of jobs reflects the caution of many American businesses when no one knows what will emerge to propel the economy. With unemployment at 9.7 percent nationwide, the shortage of paychecks is both a cause and an effect of weak hiring.

In Milwaukee, Debbie Kransky has been without work since February, when she was laid off from a medical billing position — her second job loss in two years. She has exhausted her unemployment benefits, because her last job lasted for only a month.

Indeed, in a perverse quirk of the unemployment system, she would have qualified for continued benefits had she stayed jobless the whole two years, rather than taking a new position this year. But since her latest unemployment claim stemmed from a job that lasted mere weeks, she recently drew her final check of $340.

Ms. Kransky, 51, has run through her life savings of roughly $10,000. Her job search has garnered little besides anxiety.

“I’ve worked my entire life,†said Ms. Kransky, who lives alone in a one-bedroom apartment. “I’ve got October rent. After that, I don’t know. I’ve never lived month to month my entire life. I’m just so scared, I can’t even put it into words.â€

Last week, Ms. Kransky was invited to an interview for a clerical job with a health insurance company. She drove her Jeep truck downtown and waited in the lobby of an office building for nearly an hour, but no one showed. Despondent, she drove home, down $10 in gasoline.

For years, the economy has been powered by consumers, who borrowed exuberantly against real estate and tapped burgeoning stock portfolios to spend in excess of their incomes. Those sources of easy money have mostly dried up. Consumption is now tempered by saving; optimism has been eclipsed by worry.

Meanwhile, some businesses are in a holding pattern as they await the financial consequences of the health care reforms being debated in Washington.

Even after companies regain an inclination to expand, they will probably not hire aggressively anytime soon. Experts say that so many businesses have pared back working hours for people on their payrolls, while eliminating temporary workers, that many can increase output simply by increasing the workload on existing employees.

“They have tons of room to increase work without hiring a single person,†said Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute Economist. “For people who are out of work, we do not see signs of light at the end of the tunnel.â€

Even typically hard-charging companies are showing caution.

During the technology bubble of the late 1990s and again this decade, Cisco Systems — which makes Internet equipment — expanded rapidly. As the sense takes hold that the recession has passed, Cisco is again envisioning double-digit rates of sales growth, with plans to move aggressively into new markets, like the business of operating large scale computer data servers.

What did people expect in a jobless recovery???

If people have been living beyond there means for years tapping credit and stocks for a quick cash fix, we aren't going to see any sort of recovery for years, because we are heading for normality which isn't considered normal.

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A BUNCH of the guys drove straight to a bar. You get laid off from a job that pays $15 an hour, plus health care and other benefits — it’s Miller time. Time for a convoy to one of the watering holes in this town, 80 miles west of Omaha, where you can buy a beer at 10 in the morning.

Few of the employees of Katana Summit, a wind-tower manufacturer, saw it coming. On that day in early August, and in another round of cuts a few weeks later, about half of the plant’s 195-person payroll was eliminated, a shock that came with one notable consolation: the executives said they hoped to hire everyone back soon.

They seemed to mean it, too. As Kevin Strudthoff, the chief executive, explained that day, this was a “temporary layoff,†but there was a limit to what Katana could promise. The company, privately held, said it landed a multimillion-dollar deal last year to provide 225 wind towers to a turbine maker that it declined to identify. But when the credit crisis hit, wind-farm developers found it all but impossible to raise money, killing demand for wind towers.

In June, the turbine maker called Katana and said it was temporarily suspending its order. Layoffs were then inevitable.

Charles Salak, a burly, 39-year-old welder with an unruly goatee, was among the newly jobless that morning. But instead of commiserating with friends at the Sahara Lounge, he drove directly to the unemployment office, or Workforce Development, as it is called here. He was thinking about his wife and three children and how nuts he would go without a paycheck and something to do. Why not start looking right away?

“I was getting these text messages from my friends saying: ‘Where are you?’ We got a cold one for you,’ †he recalled over lunch at a local fast-food chain called Runza. “I just wrote them back and said, ‘Nah, you guys drink it.’ â€

The question now is whether that order for 225 towers will be scaled back or canceled. If it’s canceled, Katana Summit won’t operate at even a fraction of full capacity anytime soon and won’t need Charles Salak and his co-workers for the foreseeable future — if, indeed, it ever needs them again.

It is early September, and Mr. Salak and Mr. Strudthoff — the semiterminated and the semiterminator — are living parallel lives. Neither of these men is idle, but each is living in that awkward, immiserating limbo where it’s clear, or maybe just clearer than usual, that your future and financial well-being are determined by forces beyond your control.

That limbo is arguably the quintessential American experience of the moment. When the Great Recession is dissected into its component parts, this might be remembered as the Waiting Phase. It’s not as scary as the Plummeting Phase of last year, or as event-filled as the To-the-Ramparts Phase of several months ago, but that doesn’t make it any easier.

A real recovery, we have heard time and again, won’t begin in earnest until the jobless rate, now at a 26-year high of 9.7 percent, starts to fall. But what will it take for the rehiring to start? What do companies like Katana need to see before they call back people like Charles Salak?

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