By Michael Winerip
In September 2012, it appeared that the world was John Fugazzie's frozen oyster. He was in charge of dairy and frozen foods for the A.&P. supermarket chain, making $125,000 a year.
He was also a guest that month at a White House forum on joblessness, in recognition of his work creating Neighbors-helping-Neighbors U.S.A., a volunteer networking organization with 28 chapters in New Jersey serving 1,200 unemployed, mainly white-collar, baby boomers. ''John has one of the best volunteer organizations out there,'' said Ben Seigel, a deputy director at the Labor Department. ''He's tireless and always upbeat.''
Lately Mr. Fugazzie has been feeling a little weary and beat down. One morning last October, just before his 57th birthday, he was laid off and, carrying a box of belongings from his office, driven home in a car service hired by the company. In the 10 months since, he has applied for more than 400 positions and had 10 interviews, but still has no job.
He and his family are living in his 88-year-old mother's home, and last month he awoke at 4:30 a.m., sweating profusely, in the midst of a heart attack.
As happens to many Americans, when he lost his job, he lost his health insurance. He now owes $171,569.44 for the six nights he spent at the hospital.
And so on the evening of Aug. 15, at a meeting of the job club he himself started here two years ago, he told the others he was just like them. ''I need a job,'' he said. ''I need to make money now.''
Most of the 15 men and women meeting at the library in this prosperous suburb were middle-aged or older, people who had worked all their lives, but lost jobs in the recession and its aftermath and have not been able to get back to where they were. Many of them worry that they never will, in part because of discrimination by employers against older workers. (Related: 6 boomer jobs to ride the age wave)
On the statistical surface, boomers seem better off than other age groups. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for workers 55 to 64 (the category that best matches boomers, who range from 48 to 67) was 5.4 percent in July, compared with 7.4 percent for the general population.
But almost every other number from the bureau makes it clear that while the economy may be improving, a substantial number of older workers who lost jobs—even those lucky enough to be re-employed—are still suffering. Two-thirds in that age group who found work again are making less than they did in their previous job; their median salary loss is 18 percent compared with a 6.7 percent drop for 20- to 24-year-olds.
The re-employment rate for 55- to 64-year-olds is 47 percent and 24 percent for those over 65, compared with 62 percent for 20- to 54-year-olds. And finding another job takes far longer: 46 weeks for boomers, compared with 20 weeks for 16- to 24-year-olds.
Nor are those who believe age discrimination was a factor likely to have much luck in court. In 2009, just as the economy was hitting rock-bottom, the Supreme Court issued a ruling that toughened the standard for proving bias.
''It's easier for younger workers to bounce back,'' says Mr. Seigel of the Labor Department. ''They don't have many financial obligations. Older workers are supporting families; they may be supporting parents. They can't afford to spend two years going back for a degree to retrain.'' (Related: How to fight age discrimination)
At the Aug. 15 meeting, Barbara Braun, who worked as a marketing director for a pharmaceutical company, said she wasn't able to relocate to California when the company moved. ''I have a mother with Alzheimer's, I think it would have killed her,'' she said. ''Our lives are full of complications we didn't have at 35.''
They have no doubt that their age is held against them, yet work to keep hopeful. When a woman suggested shaving a decade off her résumé and not posting a photo on networking and job search sites to hide her age, Mr. Fugazzie advised against it. ''When you go to the interview, you're going to look like who you are,'' he said. ''To waste time hiding it when you're only going to lose at the other end makes no sense. If they don't want someone your age, you don't want them.''
What he does recommend is lowering expectations. ''You're not likely to be the department head,'' he said, ''so sell yourself as a team player who will work with younger people and help train them.''
Since the Supreme Court ruling, most lawyers won't even take age discrimination cases. In an effort to change that, a bill has been filed in the Senate each of the past several years, aimed at making it easier to bring a discrimination lawsuit.
The latest legislation has rare bipartisan support; Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa, and Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, are co-sponsors. ''Older Americans have immense value to our society and our economy,'' Mr. Grassley said in a recent news release. ''They deserve the protections Congress originally intended.''
In the last Congress, along with the Democratic majority in the Senate, six Republicans backed the legislation, although two, both moderates, Olympia J. Snowe of Maine and Scott P. Brown of Massachusetts, are no longer in the Senate. Cristina Martin-Firvida, a legislative specialist at AARP, says the bill has the votes to pass the Senate, but to have a chance at becoming law, more Republican senators would need to get behind it, which might then persuade the Republicans who control the House to take up the measure.
At the Ridgewood meeting, people discussed job-hunting strategies. Karen Clements, a paralegal, said she had four résumés ready to go, each emphasizing a different skill: bookkeeping, S.E.C. compliance, fraud investigation and intellectual property rights.
She described a friend who is dressed in business attire by 4 a.m. Mondays, so she'll be ready the moment an opportunity is posted online. If the firm wants to do a Skype interview, said Ms. Clements, her friend is dressed for Skyping. ''By Tuesday they'll have 1,000 résumés and the window will be closed.''
''It's like Wayne Gretzky says,'' Ms. Braun told them: ''You have to skate to where the puck will be.''
They discussed the importance of following up any contact with thank-you e-mails and handing out lots of business cards, though it's tricky to identify yourself when you have no job. ''Be careful of the title you give yourself -- you don't want to sound dated,'' said Ms. Braun, whose business card reads, ''Barbara J. Braun, principal, BarbaraJBraun LLC, Connect Goals to Extraordinary Outcomes.''
Several mentioned the importance of LinkedIn, the business networking site.
''You have to have at least 500 contacts,'' said Lisa Sepetjian, who has been an accounts manager for banks and small-business lenders. ''Any less shows you don't care; you're not in the game.''
Ms. Braun described how she was able to go from 50 LinkedIn contacts to 500 in just a week.
''I'm at 4,200,'' Mr. Fugazzie said.
''I don't want to know 500 people,'' Ms. Sepetjian said. ''But I want people to know I'm not some baby boomer sitting at home eating bonbons.''
At 8:50 p.m., when a librarian announced that it was closing time, many were still networking. Afterward, eight handed me their business cards and several sent follow-up e-mails thanking me for coming.
By 10:30 p.m., even before I got home, the first of 10 follow-up e-mails had arrived from Mr. Fugazzie. Attached were testimonials from five people; copies of four certificates of commendation for Neighbors-helping-Neighbors; and a letter of commendation to the group from the New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, that began ''Dear Friends.''
Also attached was an invitation to a May 16, 2013, meeting at the White House to discuss long-term unemployment, which Mr. Fugazzie hadn't been able to attend. ''I really wanted to go,'' he said. ''I could have made some important contacts, but my youngest son, Tyler, was graduating from the College of New Jersey on the same day and how could I miss that?''
Did you see the very scary business headline this past week? No, not the one about Nasdaq's Flash Freeze. And no, not the one about disintegrating emerging markets. Not the one about the Fed and tapering either.
It was this one: "Three-quarters of high school grads are failing".
That's right. According to ACT, one of the big college testing companies, only a quarter of this year's high school grads have the combined reading, math, English and science skills necessary to succeed in college or a career.
That's scary not just from a social perspective, but a business one. It goes directly to the ongoing skills gap debate. Companies say they have jobs but can't find skilled workers, people able to handle math and science, to fill them. If we're falling short right out of high school, it's unlikely that gap will close.
"That's what we wake up to and worry about each day," said Jennifer McKelly, president of The Manufacturing Institute, a research outfit affiliated with the National Association of Manufacturers. "Manufacturers are telling us that the individuals they have walking through the door are not ready for the world of work."
According to a 2011 survey by the institute, 67 percent of manufacturers say they have moderate to severe shortages of qualified workers.
Now there's all sorts of debate surrounding the skills gap. Some argue it's a concept invented by Corporate America to loosen up barriers to using cheap foreign labor. Others argue it's the result of industries unwilling to pay for training programs. Still more say it's the result of inefficiency in public education programs.
Regardless of where the fault lies, there's a general recognition in the business community a problem exists.
"I think one of the biggest issues is the growing gap between the available economic opportunities in this community and the aggregate skills of the workforce," LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner said in a recent CNBC interview. "To close that gap, I think we need to do at least three things. One, improve education, both in terms of primary school reform and vocational training. I think we need immigration reform to make sure it's easier for people with unique skills to be getting jobs in this country. And then, lastly, digital infrastructure."
Workers generally need two areas under their belt to be productive, McNelly suggested. One is the basic 3R fundamentals plus problem solving and communication skills—the kind of stuff you get in school. Then you need industry-specific training.
You can't get to the second level of training without the fundamentals of the first. And the ACT survey seems to suggest there's a big problem with that.
By Jeff Cox
While the government next week is expected to say the unemployment picture continues its gradual improvement, one indicator shows this jobs market is the worst in a year and a half.
Widely followed pollster Gallup puts the nation's unemployment rate at an ugly 8.6 percent in August, a startling jump from the 7.8 percent the organization recorded for July. When counting the underemployed, the rate zooms to 17.7 percent, off its 2013 high of 18.2 percent.
The government puts the jobless figure at 7.4 percent, and 14 percent when including the underemployed and those who have quit looking.
While Gallup's numbers have offered significant divergences from the Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the two numbers had been running fairly close for most of the year. In fact, Gallup's tally actually briefly slipped below the government's in April when it recorded 7.4 percent, compared to the BLS number then of 7.5 percent.
Since reaching that April bottom, though, Gallup's numbers have surged and tracked above 8 percent for August, reaching their highest level since hitting 8.7 percent in mid-March 2012.
The trend comes at a ticklish time for the economy.
Central bank policymakers have tied the potential QE pullback to an unemployment rate—as recorded by the BLS—in the 7 percent range, while 6.5 percent would be the minimum hurdle before the Fed would start raising its target interest rate again.
(Read more: Keep printing? Fed stays in game, but exit looms)
While Gallup's numbers can be volatile, they have portended rises in the official rate.
The data set is limited, but in previous occasions when the divergence was more than 1 percentage point "the BLS unemployment rate was flat to up over the next three months," Bespoke Investment Group said.
To be sure, there are major caveats.
The Gallup numbers are not seasonally adjusted, and surveying methodologies differ substantially.
"The BLS method is statistically more rigorous. With the Gallup, you're basically doing a poll," said Jacob Oubina, senior economist at RBC Capital Markets. "The Gallup is more of a sentiment-type indicator. Either way, the unemployment rate doesn't really give you a good indicator of the true state of the labor backdrop."
(Read more: The coolest jobs of 2013)
Instead, Oubina recommends focusing on the employment-to-population ratio.
The news doesn't get any better there, though.
The government puts that number at 58.7 percent, a level from which it has deviated little over the past four years since the end of the financial crisis and Great Recession.
According to Gallup, that measure is 43.8 percent, plunging over the years from 63.5 percent in January 2010.
It's not known whether the Fed is paying attention to what Gallup's polling shows. If it is, the discussions at the September Open Markets Committee meeting over tapering QE could take on a different tone.
"The employment-to-population ratio is basically bumping along the lows of the cycle," Oubina said. "We definitely still have a long way to go."
Whether it's huge screens, miniscreens, flashy colors or novel features, smartphone vendors are making a huge effort to stand out in the sea of devices available on the market.
But while all the specs and fancy functions may look impressive on paper, it doesn't necessarily mean consumers will bite.
Here's a look at what smartphone trends analysts say will actually stick when it comes to mass market adoption.
Samsung's latest phone, the Galaxy Mega, is the latest example of trying to stand out. The smartphone, which launches Friday on AT&T for $150, measures 6.3 inches diagonally, making it almost as big as a 7-inch tablet.
(Read more: New 6.3-inch Samsung phone approaches tablet size)
Samsung says that the new Mega is meant to work as a hybrid between a phone and a tablet so that consumers don't have to buy two products. However, the size of the phone may be more of a joke to consumers instead of a practical device.
"It's becoming a little silly," said Carolina Milanesi, a vice president of research on Gartner's consumer devices team. "It seems to me these companies are doing it just for sake of doing it."
Huawei rolled out its 6.1-inch Ascend Mate smartphone earlier this year, so Samsung had to play catch-up to that, she said.
"Five inches use to be the best size and then 5 inch became the norm and so companies felt like they needed to go up, and if you do 5.5-inch screen, people are going to catch up to you very quickly. So they jumped to the 6 inches," she said.
But with the phones entering the 6-inch range, the line between phone and tablet becomes blurred. Vendors, though, argue the large size solves the problem of having to carry two different devices—a tablet and a smartphone—at the same time.
And while this may be a solution for some consumers, it's really not a problem most people have.
While there is a growing number of tablet users, most of them only use their tablet at home, Milanesi said. In addition, most people still a want something they can fit in their pocket while they're on the go, which is why she said she doesn't see these extra large smartphones having mass appeal.
"I've always been a skeptic about very large screen smartphones," Milanesi said. "As much as you want people thinking they are getting one device with everything, it's still not quite practical. And as prices on 7-inch tablets continue to [get] lower, you will have more consumers who can afford both so they will buy both."
But there is definitely a market for the large-screen phones, said Charles Golvin, a principal analyst at Forrester Research. While the sweet spot for a smartphone size remains 4-5 inches, there's a segmented group of consumers who will prefer a bigger device, he said.
"You can't just have a one size fits all. Now people have a lot more choice, they have a lot more experience, they know what they like, and what they don't like. For some people, bigger is better; they like the bigger screen," Golvin said. "They are definitely not mainstream; most people want something that is more pocketable than that. ... [But] they are still selling."
While Samsung is going big, HTC is going smaller. The HTC One Mini, which also launches Friday on AT&T for $99.99 with a two-year contract, features a 4.3-inch screen, making it slightly smaller than the full size version's 4.7 inches.
However, while the Mini may be smaller than some of its competitors, it's still about the same size as an iPhone 5, which has a 4-inch display screen.
"When the HTC Mini was announced, it made me smile to see something that's 4.3-inches considered a mini, 2.6-inch was once considered a mini," Milanesi said. "If you go back a few years ago, Ericsson had a 2.6-inch mini. It was incredibly small. We haven't had 2.6-inch screen for years now, and now 4.3-inch is not that small."
In addition to custom sizes, consumers are also becoming more concerned about being in control of how their phone looks, sounds and how they interact with their device, Golvin said.
"Personalization is clearly a continuing trend in this space. The smartphone is the most personal device people carry with them. There is this need for consumers to standout among their peers," Golvin said.
A big way vendors are trying to appeal to consumers when it comes to customization is by giving them more control of the color.
Google-owned Motorola Mobility, for example, introduced a variety of color options for the casing of its new Moto X. The HTC One comes in red and is rumored to also come in blue soon. And the latest Nokia Lumia Windows Phone comes in yellow, in addition to the usual black and white.
(Read more: With Moto X, Google aims to truly redefine Android)
Apple may soon also be getting in on the color game with its new iPhone, which is expected to launch this fall.
(Read more: Blinged out: New Apple iPhone may be gold )
According to a TechCrunch report Monday, Apple will likely roll out its next generation iPhone with a new color option when it reveals its iPhone 5S this autumn. The company is planning to introduce the new phone in a shade of gold, similar to a champagne color, according to the report.
Golvin said while he's not sure Apple will roll out a gold colored iPhone, he does think the company will introduce a new color soon.
"It's not a matter of if Apple will add more colors, but it's really a matter of when ... and what is that color going to be," Golvin said. "If you look at the competition and what they are offering, it's reasonable to say that Apple has reached the end of the line of just offering black and white."
Along with the display screen size personalization options, smartphone vendors are also experimenting with new ways for consumers to interact with their devices.
"One of the challenges all smartphone makers face today is that there aren't that many areas in hardware where these companies can distinguish themselves," Golvin said. "There's size and pixel density, color depth, but realistically there are only a few screen suppliers out there and they all use them. ... What that leaves is software innovations."
Some of the software innovations gaining traction among smartphone makers are voice-controlled commands and gesture-controlled navigation. These functions make smartphones more convenient to use and shouldn't be considered gimmicks, Golvin said.
"As new capabilities come into these devices, there is a cycle of forcing a change in customer behavior and how they use them," Golvin said.
These functions are similar to how the touchscreen was perceived when it first came out, he said. Many people weren't sure if consumers would adopt the technology, but eventually it became embedded in consumer behavior, he said.
However, it's worth noting that voice-control commands, like the Google Now feature on Motorola Mobility's Moto X and Apple's Siri on the iPhone, are moving into the mainstream more so than gesture control functionality, Golvin said.
By Jennifer Schlesinger
Children enrolled in a program at Defcon, the annual hacker convention, in Las Vegas early this month learned computer security, coding and, yes, hacking. The program is run by r00tz Asylum, a nonprofit dedicated to teaching children to think outside the box.
"The ultimate goal of r00tz Asylum, like any other part of DEF CON, is to push the envelope on learning, go as lateral as possible," said James Arlen, a senior security advisor with Leviathan Security Group. "We spent so much time in parenting and education trying to stick to the rules, and Defcon has been for the last 21 years about breaking the rules.
"Maybe if you put a bunch of science and math and technical stuff in a play setting, the kids will accidentally learn something," he said.
This year, 175 children participated.
Simaya Rosenbloom, 11, explained one activity.
Noah Hunt Glickman, 8, was happy his father took him to r00tz Asylum.
Meanwhile, his father, David Sutter Glickman, said, "It's like training-wheels for learning about the technology … having kids start sooner, getting people who wouldn't normally get into hacking sooner, and spreading that it's not necessarily hacking in the evil sense but a lot about curiosity, finding flaws and sharing knowledge."
Another important teaching tool this year was the kids and their parents' conference badges. James Arlen designed the badge with his daughter, Amelia.
"It's lots of LEDs, lots of processors networked, runs on batteries, has a speaker to annoy the parents, which can also extensively be used as a sensor. … Smart pixels, buttons, we have a track ball, just like a BlackBerry," he said.
In addition to the badge, the 175 kids enrolled received an Android tablet with a full application development environment.
"It isn't just that they could play with a toy that hangs around their neck," Arlen said. "It's a way to connect the virtual world and the real world."
The r00tz Asylum program provides kids a safe environment in which to break the rules, he said.
(Read more: Six charged in biggest credit card hack on record)
That's part of the reason that Arnold Rosenbloom, a professor at the University of Toronto, brought his daughters to participate.
"Learning it in a controlled kind of environment under guidance is much better than people going off on their own and perusing it in any way they please, he said. "The goal here is not to learn to hack. ... It's just awareness and reasoning skills and logic."
For the kids, the program can even help to inspire future career plans.
"When I'm older I want to become a white-hat hacker," said Tyrique Fantu. "Meaning I'll work for the government or ... for [companies] that want people to look for vulnerabilities in their system. ... So I find it, and here's how you can fix it."
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