I've blogged in the past about how politicians in both parties say they want good teachers and then do everything possible to drive educators to change careers. The latest example of this trend is found in my sweet hometown of Chicago. Chicago Public Schools (CPS) have opted not to extend a contract with its teachers that would have given them a raise of 3%. Instead, CPS has said it will ask teachers to take a 7% cut in pay. Mayor Emanuel is quoted in today's Chicago Sun-Times that teachers are "working hard" and that schools are achieving "incredible results." At the same time, the mayor cites "serious fiscal challenges" as a reason for CPS' actions. Teacher's union president Karen Lewis call this action an "insult." There is good chance that the teachers could be forced to go on strike again.
For me, the real problem in this story is how it will affect teaching in the future. If we really want the best and brightest students to go into teaching, we need to think about how they react to stories like this. What intelligent, ambitious student would pursue a career that would cut the pay of people the mayor calls hard working and successful? Politicians and citizen need to ask themselves a difficult question: Do we care about saving a few dollars in taxes or educating children?
My young clients (35 years older and younger) all tell a common story: They worry about being able to pay their student loans. For the past five years or so, the common struggle of getting a good early career job has been compounded by low wages. The worried refrain I hear from new and recent college graduates made me pay attention to an article posted on Bloomberg: “Why Most Popular Cities Are Out of Reach for Young Professionals.” In most of America’s sexiest cities new and affordable housing is not being built at a pace that will let young people live in cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Boston.
The article did point to an interesting exception to this rule: Chicago. The Windy City is building new housing at double the rate of other popular cities. While not the most affordable on the list, Chicago remains a decent option for both buyers and renters based on a survey by Zillow.
This article is odd and encouraging to anyone watching Chicago’s current mayoral campaign. The conventional wisdom is that the city is broke, that jobs will disappear if the current mayor is not re-elected. The charts in this article paint a much brighter future. Chicago seems like a great place for young people to build their careers without getting gouged on their mortgage or rent. As someone who has lived in the city for more than 25 years, I hope this is true.
If you are looking for a new job, you might want to consider how a company is rated by its current employers. Last month, The Chicago Tribune published its annual list of best places to work in metro Chicago. This list offers great information on small, medium, and large employers. I recommend that you follow these companies and jobs they have available. Salary is always an important factor, but it’s just as important to be at a place where workers are happy. Check out the Tribune’s list, and you might find an employer who will make your new year very happy.
Aljazeera America reports that 1,300 fast food workers from across the U.S. have gathered in Chicago to organize and fight for an increased minimum wage. They want more than more money. The workers are also seeking the protection that comes from being part of a union. Their efforts will set an example for workers in other industries, even middle class professionals who have seen small salary increases over the past few years. Low wage workers are leading the way.
Jobs! Jobs! Politicians and TV talking heads have been saying we need more jobs since the financial crisis of 2008-2009. Well, now we have some good news about jobs. The American economy has made up all the jobs lost during the crisis. This would seem to be a positive trend. However, all jobs are not equal, especially when it comes to wages.
In today’s Chicago Sun-Times, Maudlyne Ihejirka has written a detailed account of this situation. She tells the story of an experienced child care teacher with a salary of 35,000 who was laid off and could only find a new job playing $12.25 an hour (a little more than $25,000 per year). 41% of job losses were in higher wage industries. Only 30% of new jobs have been generated in those industries. Hiring patterns complicate the problem. As I noted in a recent post, more companies are relying on long term contract and temporary employees to fill open positions. A graph accompanying Ihejirka’s article notes that temporary jobs were the leading source of job growth in the U.S. over the last year.
The one problem I have with the article is that it suggests that most of these jobs are at the minimum wage of $7.25. Many low wage workers make $8-$12 an hour, which is still not enough to raise a family or even survive as an individual. Companies are also avoiding paying benefits by limiting hours or scheduling employees on an on-call basis with no guarantee of hours. Moving the minimum wage to $15 may sound extreme, but it is based on the reality of life in most American big cities.
Bill Clinton with help from Newt Gingrich and the GOP ended “welfare as we know it.” More people are working now than ever before. The problem is that there are more and more low wage workers who need help from government programs to pay for life’s necessities, such as rent and food. In essence, we have moved from a system that rewards individuals who don’t work to one that subsidizes large corporations and big investors by helping to house and feed their employees.
Rather than worrying about benefits given to poor people, we should focus on corporate welfare and tax breaks to the “job creators” who have been raking in record profits and increased income on their billions. The problem is not jobs. It’s pay, and who is getting paid.
David Sirota of Pando Daily has written an excellent article on Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel and his plan to “reform” pensions for public workers. According to Sirota, the city has not made its share of contributions to pension funds for the last 14 years. At the same time it has built up TIF (Sirota calls them “slush”) funds that could have covered a good part or all of the missing pension contributions. I urge you to read this article because, as Sirota says, this is not a problem unique to Chicago. Across the U.S., political leaders of both parties are claiming pension funds are in crisis. What they almost never discuss is how the crisis came to be and who should be responsible. The rule of our time seems to be: Workers must pay, so the rich and their government representatives can play.
I ran into a neighbor today and made a joke about the weather. He didn't laugh, telling me that Chicago will be hit by about 6 more inches of snow before we face two days of below zero temperatures. This winter sucks, and there's another month left to go.
What does this have to do with job search and career management? A lot. Whenever we dial back on looking for work or put career management on the back burner, we lose opportunities. Employers need to hire, and they will make an offer to the best available candidate. If you're so traumatized by the snow and cold that your not networking and responding to job posts, another person is getting a job that could be yours.
Here's a good reason to look even harder during this kind of weather: Less competition. If bad weather is keeping people from applying for the jobs you want, that means your chance of landing that job is better. Take advantage of a bad situation, and make it work for you. Don't get stuck singing the Cold Weather Blues.
Huffington Post reports that Snarf’s, a chain sub shop, has fired all of its employees at a Chicago restaurant three days before Christmas. It informed its former staffers in the most personal way – email. 20 employees lost their jobs because the store will be “reconcepted” as a burger joint. The chain’s Director of Marketing told Huffpo that the employees should not have been surprised because “they were aware of the loss of business over the last year.” How would she have felt if she were laid off three days before Christmas?
This story is another example that shows how employees are just numbers to large corporations and chains. What would it have cost a national chain like Snarf’s to wait until the end of the week? It might have cost them the chance to turn the knife. Employees at this store participated in a fast food workers’ strike that took place earlier this month. Retaliation? No, they say, it’s all just business. Hopefully Snarf’s customers will treat the chain the same way it treat its workers. A company that can be this cold at this time doesn’t deserve to exist.
P.S. (12-26-2013) The CEO of Snarf’s, Jim Seidel, has issued an apology for how the layoff was handled. To his credit, Seidel called the action, “insensitive and poorly planned.” He also wrote that employees would be provided an extra week of wages. This admission shows that pressure and negative PR matter. We who support a living wage need to remember this lesson.
I live in Chicago, a city where our Democratic mayor fights unions, especially the brave members of the Chicago Teachers Union. Writing in Daily Kos, Laura Clawson introduces us to another “tough love” Democrat, Rhode Island Treasuerer Gina Raimondo. This public servant has been attacking public work pensions in the name of “reform,” which really means screw the workers and pay the bankers. Raimondo is rumored to be a candidate for Governor. Hopefully Daily Kos and other liberal groups will educate workers about who this “Democrat” really is.
[On Sundays, this blog looks beyond jobs, resumes, and interviews in “Sabbath.”]
Let’s Play Two
Ernie Banks loved baseball so much that he’d say, “Let’s play two.” This week I had the pleasure of enjoying two plays at Edgewater’s Raven Theatre. Last night I saw Horton Foote’s A Trip to Bountiful and, earlier in the week, I attended Our America, a program that Raven put on with students from Senn High School.
I knew nothing about A Trip to Bountiful before yesterday’s performance. I knew Horton Foote was a playwright, but had never seen any of his plays. After yesterday, I will make it a point to learn more about this talented artist and attended productions of his plays. The play is set in 1950s Texas, and, on the surface, it is a story of family dynamics. Deeper it is a story about the change in American culture as people moved from the country to the city. Mrs. Watts is the center of the play. She lives with her son and combative daughter-in-law in a cramped apartment located in Houston.
Over the course of the play, we learn that Mrs. Watts has suffered greatly throughout her life. Still, she remains a woman of integrity and values. Her goal in life is simple: To return to the rural city where she was raised, a swampy patch of dirt called Bountiful. The only thing better than Foote’s writing is the way Raven’s actors bring the play to life. As always at Raven, the stage and the way it changes throughout the play complement the acting. This play runs through November 17, and I highly recommend it.
Earlier in the week, I attended Our America: Ghetto Life 101 & Remorse: the 14 Stories of Eric Morse. This performance was based on two NPR radio documentaries in 1993 and 1994. In the first act, two young teen age boys, LeAlan Jones and Lloyd Newman, chronicle what it was like growing up in the Ida B. Wells housing project. An energetic, diverse group of 12 students from Senn High School interpreted the boys' experience. While showing the horror and fear of living in a world where people literally get their face shot off, the student actors conveyed the humanity of people who are intelligent and loving despite the challenges of urban poverty.
In the second act, Jones and Newman interviewed neighbors to investigate the death of Eric Morse, a five year old boy who was pushed out a 14th floor window after refusing to steal candy. He was pushed out of the window by two boys age 10 and 11. What was even more shocking in this section of the performance was the breadth of sympathy that Jones, Newman, and the Senn student actor bring to life. I simply remembered this case as a savage murder. Remorse challenges the audience to consider all aspects of the situation, including the punishment given to the killers. The stories told by neighbors and relatives show that morality is not simple and punishment can outweigh the crime. Three cheers to the students of Senn High School and Raven Theater for bringing this story to the stage. The only downside is that the production was only staged for two days. Later in the year, before Christmas, Raven will join with local schools to put on Seedfolks, a play about urban gardening and its significance to the local communities.
Raven Theater is a great example of how local theater can bring life to a community. Since the 1990s, Raven has produced classic and contemporary plays by American playwrights. It also shares its space with smaller theater companies and community groups. It offers programs for children and teens. Community theater helps build a community and keep it strong. Edgewater is very lucky to have Raven Theater.
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