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By Susan M. Sipprelle
Englewood, NJ, USA

Susan M. Sipprelle
Susan M. Sipprelle

Back in 2010, few economists, if any, anticipated that the negative impact of the Great Recession would last well into 2013. Yet more than three years after the downturn officially ended in December 2009, only about half of the nine million jobs that were lost have been restored. 

Recent news stories also revealed that the Federal Reserve underestimated the severity of the subprime mortgage-lending crisis in 2007 and predicted the economy would not be seriously affected. However, since the end of 2006, U.S. households have lost $7 trillion in home equity. Unemployed homeowners discovered to their dismay that their fallback - selling their homes to relocate for new or better job opportunities - disappeared as the value of their houses declined, often leaving their homes underwater or worth less than the mortgages owed on them.

When the experts do not get the big picture right on the economy, how can individual workers figure out what to do in today's job market? 

Healthcare is consistently a highly recommended field for jobseekers, given the aging population of the United States. In fact, in its December 2012 feature The 10 Best Jobs for Women in 2013, Forbes touts positions for health professionals, including registered nurses, pharmacists, dieticians, as the No. 2 future job opportunity. (Health professionals came in just behind diagnosing doctors - the No. 1 job opportunity.)

Similarly, the Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts a bright occupational outlook for registered nurses based on a 26 percent projected growth rate in openings between 2010 and 2020.

Simultaneously, the American Society of Registered Nurses reports "43 percent of new California RNs can't find work 18 months after graduating and the rest of the country is still a virtual shut-down for entry-level grads seeking hospital jobs." In 2011, the Society instituted a "Save the Grads" jobs program that identifies entry-level jobs nationwide for new or recently graduated registered nurses and makes these listings available only to its members (who pay a discounted fee or no fee at all in hardship cases). The Society has been forced to extend the program for another year to reduce unemployment among nursing graduates.

Apparently, there are not enough job openings because older nurses who often retire in there 50s are clinging to their jobs now because their spouses lost their jobs in the Great Recession and they need at least one income. Or, they are trying to rebuild savings that they depleted during the downturn when their spouses became unemployed. Or, they are trying to save additional funds for retirement because the value of their homes, the nest egg they thought they could rely on, has declined.

Not to worry, though, because economists predict that as hospitals and other healthcare facilities adapt to accommodate the aging population in the future, older nurses will begin to retire, and the result will be a massive shortage of nurses.

A couple of potential problems with that scenario can be envisioned for people who heeded forecasted career trends and trained to be nurses over the past few years. First, today's newly minted nurses, often carrying heavy student loan debt loads (ranging from $50,000 to $100,000 for private nursing school graduates), probably cannot afford to wait for the healthcare industry to need them, but will have to find other jobs in the near term to support themselves.

Second, who is completely sure that all those nursing jobs will really materialize as technology continues to make rapid advances. In January, the FDA approved the first human-interacting autonomous robot for use in hospitals. RP-VITA, or Remote Presence Virtual + Independent Telephone Assistant, navigates independently, incorporates an iPad for control and interaction by doctors and nurses and interfaces with diagnostic devices and electronic medical records. More than 400 hospitals already use robots to transport food trays, linens, medical records and medications.

In its new series "The Great Reset" based on employment data collected from 20 countries, the Associated Press found that technology is replacing jobs for many occupations worldwide that traditionally provided middle-class wages such as secretaries, word processors, typists, travel agents and bookkeepers. And the pace of innovation is accelerating.

Laid-off paper mill workers in Wisconsin tell a bleak joke:

How many employees does it take to run a state-of-the art paper mill?
Just two - a man and a dog. The dog's job is to keep the man away from the machines.

The solutions for workers are, unfortunately, not quick fixes. At a national level, they demand a long-run commitment to education. At the individual level, they require a dedication to lifelong learning and embracing the idea of "anti-fragility," the concept described by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

Taleb gained fame when he described big, unexpected events that reshape our lives as black swans. It seems likely that robots are the already-happening next black swan that will upend jobs and careers. Only highly educated, highly skilled workers will be prepared or "anti-fragile" enough to reposition themselves for the jobs of the future because many of the jobs with titles we recognize are already disappearing.



Susan M. Sipprelle is a multimedia documentary maker, a journalist and a photographer. She graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism in 2008, and is the mother of five children.

OVER 50 AND OUT OF WORK is an ongoing multimedia project that documents the impact of the Great Recession on jobless Americans, 50 and older. Boomers, generally regarded as self-centered and indulgent, reveal unexpected depths of faith, perseverance and resilience through their life stories.

All opinions expressed by Susan M. Sipprelle are solely her own and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.

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