Blog Archive - December 2010
Professor Juan Cole writes one of my favorite blogs, Informed Comment. He recently embedded a video from National Geographic about world population, which will soon reach 7 billion people. That number and how quickly it has increased raise some big questions for the future.
Beyond the very important environmental and resource issues, what about work? Both the U.S. and Europe have been affected by the shift of jobs to lower wage, developing countries. Increased population means more people who need jobs, which could mean even lower wages and worse working conditions. At the same time, new technologies are automating more and more functions once performed by humans. We lose jobs as we achieve these new levels of efficiency. It all adds up to fewer jobs and more people who need jobs. This video is brilliant – and disturbing.
Huffington Post offers an interesting slide show about ten types of careers that have high rates of depression. While this overview is interesting, it doesn’t address a simple question: Does the job cause the depression? Some people are prone to depression. They may tend to take a certain kind of job. Again, the post is interesting, but don’t take it as anything more.
If your job is putting you in a bad mood, keeping you up at night, or driving you to tears, your mind and body are sending a message: it’s time for something new. No job and no salary can compensate for poor health. We need to value our lives as much as our jobs.
The New York Times reports that last week’s unemployment filings were the lowest since July 12, 2008. More importantly, a graph included with the story shows a steady decline in people filing for first time unemployment, which means few people are being laid off. A four week average measure also fell to its lowest rate since 2008.
As always, I caution not to get caught up in statistics. Your career should be your main focus. However, if the Manpower survey is correct and 84% of working Americans are willing to switch jobs and more jobs open up, there could be opportunities in 2011 that we haven’t seen in 3-4 years. Make your New Year’s resolution to dust off the resume and update it. Be ready when opportunity knocks.
Don’t get too excited. It’s in China. According to the Financial Times, low wage workers in Beijing will get a 21% wage increase. Across the country increases will range between 12% and 21%. Overall inflation in the country is up 5% with food costs increased by nearly 12%. The increases in minimum wages are meant to help those who have the least, a concept more and more foreign to American society.
A Chinese economic expert says that the government is seeking to keep tensions from rising between the rich, who are living very well, and the poor, who have not benefited from the country’s booming economy. The government estimates that 3 million people will be aided by this policy.
Moral of the story? It might not be as simple – or as good – as it sounds. While I want what is good for working people anywhere on the globe, this kind of increase might also foreshadow inflation problems in China. In the long run, no minimum wage laws can keep pace with inflation. In fact, it could make the problem worse. China’s policy of cheap money may be catching up with it, and those who have the least will suffer most.
Today’s Chicago Sun-Times features a story about a 75 year old teacher in New York city who is paid $97,000 a year not to teach. The story is twisted. The teacher was charged with molesting a student, but the charge was dropped. School disciplinary proceedings were dropped due to a technicality. For the last 13 years, this teacher has been paid to stay out of the class. It’s outrageous.
Then again, so is this story. It’s an outlier, an unusual circumstance that fits a conservative meme: unions protect bad teachers. Instead, we should ask why the school system hasn’t found some other way to deal with this issue. We hear again and again from alleged education reform groups that teacher unions are the problem, and a story like this is great grist for their cause. However shameful, this story says more about the people running the schools in New York than it does about thousands of good teachers who are helping students learn. Beware of the outlier stories. They are usually told by outright liars.
One of my favorite magazines is the Utne Reader. The latest issue covers different aspects of work in America. Betty Lynch Husted focuses on the shock and grief related to job loss. She recalls her own history of being laid off: “If I wasn’t a teacher, who was I? Anyone who has been unemployed has asked some version of that question.” We often get lost in the statistics of employment rather than thinking about how joblessness affects real people.
Andy Kroll from TomDispatch examines how unemployment is having the greatest impact on middle-aged members of the middle class. He looks at the human costs related to job loss, which includes increased suicide. The prospect for this age group is bleak: “In the end, what we may be seeing is the creation of a graying class of permanently unemployed (or underemployed) Americans, a genuine lost generation who will never recover from the recession of 2008.”
What went wrong in America (and the U.K.)? Chicago labor lawyer Thomas Geoghegan considers the demise of unions and how it has affected worker income and security. Geoghegan compares the U.S. to Europe where workers are higher paid and have better protections. While they pay more taxes, Europeans have less inequality and more security. Geoghegan writes, “I have spent my life watching plants close in Milwaukee and Waukegan [a northern suburb of Chicago], where skilled labor was paid $26 an hour, only to reopen in Georgia and North Carolina, where it was paid $8 an hour.” What Geoghegan doesn’t say is that those $8 an hour jobs have now often been “offshored” to countries where labor is even cheaper. Unions protect workers; many of our largest corporations have sold out their country and fellow citizens to increase profits.
Finally, Peter Dreier of the American Prospect asks readers to think critically about our obsession with the word jobs. Bad, low wage jobs will not solve our employment problem. Too many people (many of them as working couples) now have to labor at two or more jobs just to get by. Unless American workers can have protection of unions, their wages and standard of living will continue to decline. The impact will not just be their personal dilemma, but the decline of our country as a whole.
I strongly urge you to buy a copy of Utne Reader and think about what these writers are saying. Just as government’s failure to regulate the banks helped lead to the financial collapse, in a similar vein government has watched as American workers have lost their jobs and incomes. Some tax laws actually benefit companies’ moving their operations out of the U.S. Have we gone mad as a nation? The writers in Utne have not. They have a vision of a better future for working people in the U.S.
A client came to see me a few weeks ago. He was visibly down. An HR Manager at his firm told him that he demonstrated no managerial skills. She also tried to get him to agree to take a demotion in grade level and pay – or face a lay off.
I asked him to tell me more about his history with the company. He’d been employed for more than five years and was frequently assigned to key accounts. His responsibilities included working directly with clients and ensuring that projects were delivered on time. While he did not directly supervise employees, he managed projects and assigned tasks to various specialists. He was also selected for several projects that improved the company’s operation and efficiency. To me, that’s a pretty good record as a manager and leader.
His flaw? He believed the HR Manager, not the facts. We worked together to write a resume that demonstrated his skills and achievements. More importantly, he began to present himself in a way that was confident, a manner that would impress potential employers.
My client did not take the demotion. To this point, he still has a job – and his dignity. Hopefully, he’ll have a new job in the new year.
[“Sabbath” is Career Calling’s Sunday feature on work and life.]
The Work of the Un-Popular
The most popular movies this holiday weekend are the third installment of the Fockers’ series and the Coen brothers’ version of True Grit. These films will bring in millions of dollars. Art house theaters focus more on foreign films and retrospectives of classic films, stars, and directors. In Chicago, The Music Box Theatre is a classic place to see such movies.
The theatre was built in 1929, and on weekends it often has someone playing a pipe organ to celebrate the sounds of those early years. The building has had a rocky history, including a stint showing pornographic films. Over the past few decades, however, it has given Chicagoans a place to see movies large entertainment companies won’t show. I’ve been to the theater for everything from classic silent films and retrospectives to foreign films.
2011 will be an exciting year at the Music Box. January will be a celebration of Woody Allen, who is turning 75. From late January through February there will be screenings of films featuring Ingrid Bergman. The most exciting program for me will be Silent Cinema Saturday. Every two months there will be classic films featuring Buster Keaton, Clara Bow, and Douglas Fairbanks.
The people who run the Music Box aren’t making millions. They run a business that appeals to a limited audience. At the same time, they offer films that have few champions. Their work is to give life to films that most people don’t want to see. It’s easy in the age of streaming video and on-demand channels to dismiss a business like the Music Box. That would be a mistake. People still go to movies to share a group experience (or video would have killed movie theaters long ago). A place like the Music Box lets people of all generations and backgrounds share their passion for things the main stream doesn’t want. That’s good work – may it continue for a long time.
Sunday Extra Helping:
A photo of the Music Box
On the Christmas edition of Common Dreams, Jay Walljasper, editor of onthecommons.org, has written a great essay about the things we share. Much of what we hear in the corporate media is based on a simplistic belief: private is good – public is bad. Walljasper challenges that belief and gives us much to think about on a holiday that has become too much about personal consumption. We need to remember that Jesus preached about serving the “least among us.” He did not say, “Greed is good.”
In a related editorial published by the Chicago Sun-Times, Rich Miller asks his readers to think about public employees in light of the recent death of two Chicago firefighters. Miller concedes that are problems in government, including the funding of employee pensions, but also he challenges the Civic Committee, which claims that public sector employees are overpaid. (I wonder how much members of the Civic Committee are paid – and who pays them.). As Miller says, the debate has been too one-sided. He ends his column with a good Christmas notion: “We shouldn’t turn each other into enemies.” I agree, but that doesn’t mean we should roll over and stop fighting for what is fair – and moral.
I was educated in public schools (and private schools). I also have learned much in public libraries and public venues that promote the arts, such as the Chicago Cultural Center. Public parks give people from all backgrounds the opportunity to enjoy nature and culture. Public roads let us get from one side of the country to the other. Good public officials (there are a few left) try to protect our rights and keep us safe. We constantly hear well deserved praise of the military, police officers and fire fighters. Like teachers, they are public employees. Public is not a bad word. Neither is sharing.
One of my clients sold his business about ten years ago. He wanted to break into sales with a well respected company. Through a contact, he met the hiring manager who told my client that he couldn’t hire someone without experience in the industry. My client didn’t give up. He asked where he could go to get experience. The manager gave him the name of a competitor, where my client worked for less than a year. After proving himself, he was hired by a company that was higher ranked than the one he originally applied to. Morals of the story? First, don’t give up. Second, ask good questions.