Jobs! Unemployed people are turning into employed people at the rate of about a quarter of a million per month. Nice. Okay, so the unemployment rate hasn’t changed, but people getting jobs is a good thing; especially, if you are one of the people. Me? I’m busy. I’m working my job, which is my business (books, photos, speaking, consulting, etc.) which may someday pay my bills, which probably makes me employed but currently leaves me unpaid. Is there a category for that? Maybe that’s the definition of a budding entrepreneur. I’d much rather be in the paid but unemployed group. I’ll check my lottery ticket later. Statistics are a measure of the world, but they are an abstraction. Anecdotes don’t tell the whole story, but without them we may forget that people are involved. And the job of civilization is the proper care of its people.
Government data is frustrating. I prefer to include lots of links to basic data. Unfortunately, government data is obfuscated by clouds of boilerplate, caveats, and disclaimers to ensure that nothing is interpreted incorrectly. It is buried so deep that I wonder how anyone except bureaucrats or frequent visitors ever find it. The data presented is so obtuse that we rely on secondary analyses flavored by ideologies and agendas. I try to produce each of these posts in under an hour or two (it’s not like I’m getting paid for this, eh?), and today got a late start, so please accept my paraphrased version of the official jobs report. As I understand it, over 220,000 jobs were added last month even though the unemployment number stayed at 8.3%. Rather than parse how the 8.3% remained the same, I’ll celebrate over 220,000 people finding jobs. That’s 220,000 relieved households and improved lives. That’s 220,000 stories.
Jobs are not synonymous with good or bad. They are not a panacea. Sometimes they can be toxic environments, and unhealthy in many ways; but, jobs are the most direct way people have to make the money they need to survive in this society. Surviving is good. Thriving is better. Some jobs are a struggle. Others are bizarre Dilbert worlds. Some are even healthy, productive, supportive, and – gasp – fun.
One friend lost a terrible job. Getting out of the madhouse was healthy. Not being able to pay the heat bill was tough. A part time job has paid some of the bills. Survival is not assured, but is a lot closer than before. Another friend found a job that was initially a torture, but that quickly became positive and paid enough to recover three years of being unemployed. At that rate he’ll be thriving soon. More recently, a friend with only the cash left in their wallet, got a unsolicited request to help a billionaire with their estate. That’s a good start that could have a great finish.
I’ve been actively applying for jobs for over six months. So far I’ve only had one interview and offer. It was for a part time job that paid about $10/hr, but it was contingent on me not applying for regular full time work elsewhere. I said no. A job might as well pay for more than just the mortgage, unless there’s another part time job covering the rest, or money comes in from my business, and improved portfolio, or a windfall. To everyone out there that’s passing along my resumes, thanks. To everyone who is in the same situation as me, I feel for you.
I’m fortunate enough to have some savings to draw from. Granted that I never expected to have to tap them, or to have them drop so dramatically; otherwise I wouldn’t have semi-retired back in 1998. Evidently the semi- part carried more weight than I thought. As recently as two years ago I expected to reach “enough” within a few more years. It would just take a bit of good luck, maybe some traction from my business, and a bit of frugality in my lifestyle. Oh well, maybe that will happen yet, but the climb back is much steeper now.
Now that the shock has worn off, I hear more stories about people who lost everything. My net worth dropped 90% from the peak. Building back from 10% is possible. It’s been done before, and I won’t understate the effort required. Even an abrupt climb takes time and carries uncertainties throughout the rise. Stocks can be volatile in both directions. Others have been less fortunate. Some lost 100%, or more (yes it’s possible). Old maxims stated that stocks are risky and bonds are safe. The people that lost 100% were in bonds. The only people that lost more than them were leveraged in the stock or real estate markets.
Another maxim held that, in America, everyone can find a job if they just work hard enough. This is the land of opportunity. Yes and no. In general, yes. Yet, we have had times when jobs weren’t there for the asking. These last few years have that in common with the Great Depression. Sometimes the jobs just don’t exist. Fortunately, there’s always the route of the entrepreneur, the chance to create personal employment. I’ve been doing that too. It takes talent, skill, and effort – and luck. The right word to the right person at the right time can establish a business with one contact. Maybe that will happen with my books through word of mouth, with my art through a corporate art buyer, or with my consulting where a client tells a friend the right anecdote. I’m even having fun with fellow entrepreneurs who would rather collaborate instead of commiserate.
Companies are in a buyer’s market. They are adding jobs, but they can also be very picky, at least for now. One company pointed out that they screened their candidates by how extreme they were in the application process. How far were they willing to go to prove that they wanted the job? That’s an odd way to begin a mutual relationship. I decided not to apply there. Well, maybe I’ll take a crack at it. It doesn’t hurt to try, but I’ll just be myself. Besides, maybe that’s extreme enough, or maybe I’ll catch them on a day when they’ve had a bit too much extremism and find they’d rather have rational adults apply.
It’s a Saturday, time for this blog, and then a few other chores. I’ll work on my next book (my internal and external journey as I walked across Scotland), wrap and store a photo exhibit that just closed this week, and maybe call a consultant who was willing to consult with me about my consulting business. That will be more than enough work. Then it will be time to play. That’s my main job, living my life, and that is the most gainful employment possible.
When I was laid off just after 9/11 I was 60 years old. I had a good job in information systems and diligently looked for 2 years for another job–any job. I did not get one single interview after literally thousands of applications (the Vietnam thing perhaps gave me away). But my experience was a prelude to what I see happening now.
In short we have arrived at the new normal. The unemployment rate will always be at around 10 percent, regardless of what the BLS says.
That was a fantastic and enlighten post, I envy that you get to walk across Scotland and hope to visit there in the next few years. I am considering bloggong what I am about to ask/brainstorm with you, something I coin to be the $100 dollar problem. I make a little less than $100 a day sticking to desk or retail area for the entire work day. I have been trying my hand at consulting and tutoring people on computers, I make $25/hr doing that. While I do not have a stream of clients to make a $100 a day…I think I could if I spent the day looking, then working, then would have a $100 and I would have been out and about. There is no security in it…but still it eats at me when I sit in my retail area waiting for a boss to tell me something wrong. What are your thoughts?
It sounds like the classic tradeoff between working for someone else (regular paychecks but less passion) and working for yourself (passion but less regular pay). It is a personal decision and choice. How much do you need security? How much money do you need? How much control do you need over your time? Of course, with the right job, it is possible to do both (but check your contract). Good luck either way.