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After losing her job at an auto plant, Sue Bechard has slashed her living expenses and returned to school. (GEOFF ROBINS FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
After losing her job at an auto plant, Sue Bechard has slashed her living expenses and returned to school. (GEOFF ROBINS FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

In a slump like no other, a new joblessness emerges Add to ...

Sue Bechard is fixing her appliances by herself now.

That’s something she wouldn’t have done before she lost her job at the auto plant. Now, in her mid-50s with just a partial pension, she has returned to school to retrain in web design.

“So far I’ve fixed the dryer and the fridge, and it’s stuff that I wouldn’t even have tried before,” said Ms. Bechard, who got decent severance but is about $1,000 a month shy of a full pension after the closing of the General Motors of Canada Ltd. transmission plant in Windsor, Ont., in 2010.

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With a year left to go at Windsor’s St. Clair College, her lifestyle in nearby Tecumseh, Ont., has changed, thrift now a priority. She gave up the satellite system, turned off the pool heater and automatic sprinkler, and looks closely at the price before she buys the milk with the easy-pour spout.

And she’s worried about finding her next job, fearing she might be considered too old.

Ms. Bechard is representative of those who lived a comfortable life before the meltdown four years ago. Now, she’s among the unemployed, underemployed, and twice- and thrice-downsized.

The jobless numbers are staggering: More than 25 million in Europe, 12.5 million in the United States and 1.4 million in Canada. Unemployment in Canada is still high, at 7.3 per cent, although the labour market rebounded far more quickly here than elsewhere. In countries such as Greece and Spain, about one in four people can’t find work.

High jobless levels aren’t just trouble for the unemployed and their families, but also the tax bases of countries, exacerbating the trouble climbing out and making deficit-trimming all the more difficult.

It’s going to take a lot to fix it, including retraining.

“The people who are getting the jobs are high-skill workers,” said Craig Alexander, chief economist at Toronto-Dominion Bank. “As we recover, an awful lot of those middle-skill jobs just aren’t going to come back.”

The proportion of the jobless who have been out of work for a year or more has tripled since 2007, with one in three unemployed people across the countries that make up the Organization for Co-operation and Economic Development still looking for a job 12 months after having lost their old one.

Training is essential to help combat the problem, economists say. While it is usually governments that are called upon to provide training programs, businesses should take on some of the responsibility to give workers technical skills, Mr. Alexander said. Companies are often concerned that they’ll train workers only to watch them leave to use their skills under another employer. “My response is usually, ‘Well, what if you don’t train them and they stay?’ ” Mr. Alexander said. While many Canadian companies lament skills shortages, just 27 per cent of employers in Canada offer workers formal learning opportunities or skills development, according to an Accenture study released this week.

In Canada, job creation has effectively stalled over the past several months. Statistics Canada said Friday that the economy created 34,300 jobs in August, but that was a rebound from July’s loss of 30,400 positions. And it was all on the back of part-time employment, as full-time work actually sank by 12,500.

Already in Canada, the economy had recouped the number of jobs lost during the recession, and then added some 300,000 more, but the jobless rate remains higher than before the crisis, an indication that a large number of people are still looking for work. The jobless rate is forecast to remain above 7 per cent at least through next year.

In the United States, just 96,000 jobs were created last month, and while the unemployment rate dipped to 8.1 per cent, it did so because of the hundreds of thousands of people who gave up hunting for jobs. Indeed, the participation rate, which includes Americans working or still searching, dropped to its lowest level in more than three decades.

The sluggish recovery in hiring is a major battleground in the presidential race. Democrats point out that the U.S. economy has added jobs for 30 consecutive months, even as they acknowledge that the pace remains far from satisfactory. Republicans claim that President Barack Obama’s policies are responsible for the muted hiring by companies and argue that it’s time for voters to put them in charge of the critical task of spurring employment.

Economists say solving the U.S. job predicament – where hiring shuffles forward instead of racing ahead – will involve a combination of factors. They include revving up growth, closing the gap in skills among workers, and removing impediments to hiring on the part of companies. The two candidates differ on how to achieve those goals. Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, says he will cut taxes, scrap regulations and shrink government. President Obama, meanwhile, calls for investing in education and worker training, increasing exports, and reducing taxes for small businesses.

Employment troubles are far more severe for the young.

In Greece and Spain, for example, where the youth unemployment rates top 50 per cent, there are fears that some of these young workers won’t ever be able to land a job.

In Canada, youth unemployment is much lower, although still at almost 15 per cent.

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