Reflections on Our 90th Anniversary and a Few Thanks

Assuming Dec. 21, 2012, isn’t the end of the road for us and we don’t fall off the “fiscal cliff,” I wanted to take a moment to reflect on some of the stories we’ve covered for our 90th anniversary before 2012 comes to an end. It has been a stellar year.

In January, Sam Greengard got the ball rolling with a story about worker safety in the 1920s and today. While we’ve come a long way, there’s still work to be done. In fact, I’m writing this a day after a medical helicopter crashed near Rochelle, Illinois, killing three people. While safety is certainly more of a priority today, medical helicopter crashes and other workplace accidents still happen far too frequently here and especially abroad as we saw in the recent factory fire in Bangladesh.

With more baby boomers closing in on 65, the issue of how to pay for retirement is huge. In February, Lisa Beyer took a look back at retirement plans in the 1930s and today. For decades, workers didn’t have to worry much about retirement because defined benefit plans (e.g., pensions) kicked in. That’s changed. Today, most companies don’t offer pensions and the one’s that do, like American Airlines, are having trouble funding them or switching to defined contribution plans (e.g., 401(k)s).

After a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. troops are on their way back. But will jobs be waiting for them? In March, Greengard explored the difference between the job front post-World War II and now. In November, the unemployment rate for Gulf War-era II veterans, for instance, was 10 percent compared with 7.7 percent for other workers. That’s a big difference, but some companies are trying to change that.

The unemployment rate is even worse for black people, where 12.3 percent of men and 11.2 percent of women over 20 are unemployed, according to the most recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, compared with 6 percent of white men and 5.8 percent of white women. It’s a problem that the U.S. has been dealing with for decades as Susan Hauser writes in her May story about the civil rights movement. In that issue, Matthew Heller interviewed Nicholas Katzenbach, the attorney general during the Johnson administration. He was instrumental in helping push through the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Sadly, Katzenbach died May 8 at the age of 90, a couple of days after the issue came out.

So where is the workforce heading leading up to our 100th anniversary and beyond? As my colleague, Ed Frauenheim, tells us in his cool look at the future story: “Externships,” where employees spend time at other companies, and maybe even brain scans to help employers better plan daily tasks for their workers may be in the cards. I better learn how to clear my head in the morning. And done.

These are just a few of the highlights, but I encourage you to check out all of the great stories and interviews we’ve run.

This experience has been personally rewarding: Besides swapping emails with Katzenbach and many other workforce-related notables and receiving a surprise voice mail from Lilly Ledbetter along the way, I had the pleasure of connecting with Jennifer Smith, one of “Ned” and D.D. Hay‘s grandchildren. Smith turned me on to lots of great information about “Ned,” the founder of the Hay Group who in 1947 became editor and publisher of Personnel Journal, and D.D. who served as editor for a short time after Ned’s death in 1958. I also got the chance to work with some past Workforce personnel: Allan Halcrow and Margaret Magnus, which made the experience even more enjoyable.

While this blog is ending, stay tuned in 2013 for a new Workforce staff blog. We’re still mulling over what to call it, but we will continue to offer perspective and hopefully engage you as well.

We’ve come a long way, but there’s more work to do. We’ll get together in 2022 and see where we’re at.

Until then …

James Tehrani is Workforce’s copy desk chief. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com.