Blog Archive - August 2014
Huffingtion Post (via 24/7 Wall Street) examines a serious problem facing working people: occupations that will no longer exist. As technology and processes improve, companies have been able to do away with people who perform tasks that can be automated.
The article cites the U.S. Postal Service as one example of a company that has been impacted by new systems. As more people use email and online systems for paying bills, there is less and less need for postal carriers and workers to process the mail. While this example is good, it does not address even more frightening scenarios for the job market.
What if businesses no longer needed to hire people to drive or wait tables? In the past few months, I’ve read articles that suggest that both of these occupations could go the way of the unicorn. Rather than have a waiter present the daily special and take orders, diners would make their choices on a tablet, and expeditors would bring the food/clear the tables. I don’t know if this system is practical given the waiter’s role in sales and customer service, but the system is plausible, especially for restaurants where service is less of an issue than price. I’ve also read articles that claim driving jobs will be gone by 2050 due to computerized vehicles. Imagine if all the people who held jobs as drivers and waiters were suddenly unemployed. I frequently criticize companies for paying low wages, but that is preferable to having an economy where machines do all the work.
What can we do? I don’t know. We can fight moving jobs to other countries through legal actions like tariffs and by economic nationalism (Made in the U.S.A.). I don’t know how you fight technology and progress. If a company can improve its business through innovation, it will do so. If it doesn’t, a competitor will do so. The problem of lost jobs (occupation extinction) is serious, and – like climate change – too many people are ignoring it.
Huffington Post reports that income inequality costs the average American worker $18,000 a year. This number is drawn from an Economic Policy Institute report that considers how money has been redistributed from the working poor and middle class to the 1%. The question is not just lost income, but also how increased productivity has not been matched by increased salaries. Huffington Post author Jillian Berman puts it this way: “The rich have gotten richer at the expense of the rest of us.”
This article is another example of why good job news can hide deeper problems. If workers are getting low income jobs or not getting decent raise, they will have a constant feeling of falling behind, one step from bankruptcy – social insecurity. This problem will not be solved until something changes so there is a more equitable distribution of income and wealth. America needs a raise, the kind of raise that will let working people pay off their debts and save for the future.
Several companies have instituted policies related to the use of social media. I’ve met people in the insurance and financial service industries who are not allowed to have Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn accounts. In some cases, the company is afraid that employees could give advice or make statements that would open the company to litigation. In other cases, disgruntled employee has post rants about their boss or company. Employees have been fired for making disparaging comments or violating policies. Be careful about what you post on line. Don’t let a moment of anger or the need to give advice cost you a job.
I’ve written in the past about the danger of signing non-compete agreements. A client recently told me a new tale of non-compete woe. He was working in a technical position for a company that was sales focused. My client’s position had no function related to sales, so he could not steal any accounts or clients. He applied for a job with a company that purchased from his current employers. The hiring manager informed my client that they would love to hire him, but could not do so because of the agreement he signed. In most cases, non-compete agreements last for one year. The one my client signed lasts for 18 months. There is currently a position open at the company that wants to hire him, but he will not be free for another four months. He has lost two opportunities to work for a company that wanted to hire him.
If you are taking a new job, think carefully before signing any non-compete agreements. In a profession with limited opportunities, a non-compete agreement could keep you from working. If you don’t understand what an employment document is saying, take it to a lawyer before signing it. Be very careful before signing any employment document. Don’t limit your future.
One of my favorite features in The Chicago Sun-Times is “This Date in Baseball” Something very odd happened on August 22, 1886. Abner Powell, an outfielder for Cincinnati, was chasing a line drive that had been hit over his head. In those days, fans sat in open areas near the field. On this date, one fan brought a dog who began to chase Powell as he ran after the ball. The dog sunk its teeth into Powell’s legs and hung on, which let the batter circle the bases for a game winning inside the park home run. This story gives new meaning to the phrase: “Dog days of summer.”
Diane Ravitch reports bad news about education in Detroit. 26 schools will be closed, and teachers’ pay will be cut by 10%. What angers me about this report is that Governor Rick Snyder and his allies preach the school “reform” line. They put the blame for poor education outcomes on teachers. Then they take measures that make good teachers want to leave the profession. The decision to make the cut was made by the city’s Dicta. . . Emergency Manager, who is a puppet of the Governor. Best wishes to the parents and children in Detroit. What is happening in your city is a crime against democracy – and common sense.
Common Dreams reports that much of the good news about job growth hides more troubling economic news. The article cites research by the National Economic Law Project that shows most workers have lost ground on wages. It also quotes economist Robert Kuttner, who notes that more new hires face part-time work schedules, including on-call jobs that give no set hours. We want more jobs. But they need to be good jobs, not work schedules that let employers make more money by making workers more insecure. America needs a raise and better working conditions.
Most people think about career change in terms of finding work that will be meaningful. They want to follow their passion. That’s a great goal, but any career transition needs to start with this question: How much money do I need to earn? Would-be career changers often ignore this question, and they are shocked to learn that their dream career will not pay enough to let them cover their living costs.
Before beginning a career change, you need to research average pay for the field you are seeking to enter. Develop a realistic budget to see if you can cut your costs. After taking these steps, you can decide if a new career path is realistic or just a dream.
Last week The Chicago Tribune reported that several large companies are bringing their call centers back to the U.S. While more Americans will be employed because of this shift, the news isn't all good. Many call centers pay low wages and offer little in the way of benefits or career path. Call center workers need to be smart and articulate. They have to solve problems while an angry customer often lashes out at them. How much are they paid for this service. According to the Tribune article, the average pay is $22,000 to $45,000 per year ($11 to $22 per hour). America needs these jobs. It also needs a raise.
Common Dreams offers a great essay by Laura Flanders that explores the success of worker-owned cooperatives. Flanders links a successful coop for home healthcare workers with New York City’s recent investment in promoting such business models. Workers in coops share the profits and collaborate to decide how the business will run. How does this benefit workers? In one case, a worker was able to move from a $6.25 minimum wage job to making $25 an hour as part of a coop. There are only 300 coops currently operating in the U.S. Hopefully we will see many more in the future.