I’ve written about Detroit and its challenges before. I love the city and wish it the best. The business website 24/7 Wall Street reports that a poll of CFOs taken by Robert Half forecasts big job growth in the Motor City. The author cautions that the poll does not have national statistical validity, but it does indicate optimism in Detroit, Philadelphia, and several other large cities. My take away, as always, is that job growth in itself is not enough. We need good jobs that pay a living wage. Let’s hope good jobs and brighter days are coming to Detroit.
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.
Huffington Post offers an interesting take on Americans’ attitude toward work and time off. 16% of people worked would trade 20% less pay for 20% less work. While this statistic is interesting, it reveals two big problems in our current work economy:
- So many people are living so close to the edge that they can’t even pretend to be to do this.
- Some people still have good jobs, or they could not answer the question in the affirmative. For a person making $50,000 a year, 20% is $10,000. Not many Americans could give that much up and still continue to live in their current manner.
The question is interesting. What it tells us about American workers is even more interesting: We’re overworked, underpaid, and highly stressed. America needs a raise.
Aljazeera America’s Inside Story Team analyzed the recent “good news” about job growth in the U.S. The numbers are positive, but there are still big problems. Many of the new jobs are in low wage sectors, such as service and retail. Is Aljazeera just being a buzz kill, looking for bad news? Not at all. Job growth over the past few years has been highest for lower wage workers. Just as bad, many middle class Americans have seen low or no raises from year to year. I’ve had several clients whose bosses have told them some version of “be happy you have a job.” Until wages go up for the lower and middle class, the American economy will struggle. Worse still, millions of working Americans will live with a constant dread of insecurity and a feeling that they are never getting ahead. The news about unemployment is good, but for many it does not address the real problem: America needs a raise.
I was listening to the radio yesterday and heard a commentator moan: “There are seven people looking for every available job.” His point was that the economy is bad and getting worse. He wants the government to be more proactive in helping working people and middle class. I agree that the government can and should do more. However, we progressives and liberals should make that argument without using hyperbolic statistics.
As I’ve seen the statistics used, the 7:1 ratio refers to workers seeking jobs that pay more than $15 an hour. This is not good news, but it’s not all job seekers. That ratio is closer to 3:1. Again, not good, but not numbers that say: “There are no jobs.” The challenge for most workers in 2014, especially for young people, is finding a job that pays a living wage and provides some decent level of benefits.
For many workers, that challenge will not be available immediately. It will be necessary to take a bad job. The key is to keep the time in that job as short as possible. Anyone who has the skills, knowledge, and experience needs to keep the job search going until she finds the right kind of work. It will not be easy in this economy, but it is possible if the job search is followed in a patient, persistent manner. Don’t let the scary numbers send you into job search paralysis. Stay focused and don’t quit – that’s the goal for 2014.
Every month we hear about gains in the private sector job market. O.K. There are more. The real question is: Are they good? Laura Clawson of Daily Kos examines this problem, and what she finds is not pretty. The number of jobs paying more than $15 an hour is shrinking while the number paying less is growing. There are seven people competing for every job paying more than $15 an hour. Our job problem is real a wage problem. This story does not address the equally important problem of those who are employed getting minimal raises or no raise at all. Unless something changes, that’s a number that will have very big and ugly consequences.
I met with a long time client today. He had a short, unhappy stint with a company that paid a low wage and had high turnover. He asked me what could be done to prevent a similar situation from happening in the future. I told him to ask this question: What is the employer investing in you?
If an employer pays a low wage or works by a commission with small/no base pay, that company is telling you up front that they do not value you as an employee. If you perform well, you will be underpaid and maybe complimented. If you do not meet performance goals or dare to question how employees are treated, you will be replaced. A good employer will pay a decent wage and have clear rules for performance. This type of company usually does not have high turnover.
I understand that many of the jobs currently being created are low wage. Some people will have to take such jobs because they are low skilled or live in an area where unemployment is high. However, if your skills, experience, and education qualify you for something better, keep working hard to get the job you deserve. If possible, don’t take the bad job. If you have to take it for income, keep looking for work and quit as soon as you find something better. Show no loyalty to an employer who will let you go without thinking twice.
Before accepting any job offer, ask this question: What is this company investing in me? If the answer is “Not much,” keep looking for a job that values what you have to offer.
Politicians of both parties are beginning to preach a new meme: “good jobs.” They are aware that our country’s economy has produced new jobs, many of which are low wage. I agree with the politicians that low wage jobs are a problem. However, neither party has proposed a real solution to this problem.
What can you do as an individual in a low wage economy? Practice smart career management. Executives have done this for years. They have no loyalty to their employer. They study their industry, network, and change jobs whenever a good deal comes along. No politician will save you in a time of shrinking salaries. You need to know your value, find ways to increase your value, and look for employers who will pay you what you’re worth.
Hanging on to the job you have may give you a sense of security. It also might be a good way to fall behind financially. Take care of yourself – look for the best deal. That’s what the big boys do.
Is this good news? In a time when many young people can’t get summer jobs because programs have been cut, it is a good thing. As a spokesperson said, McDonald’s $8 per hour starting wage is higher than the federal minimum wage. However, most of the jobs will be temporary and part time. These jobs are greater starter job, but we also need jobs that can let people build a secure life. Too many of those have been lost, and our politicians either don’t know how to bring them back or – worse still – they don’t care.
Dollar General plans to open 625 new stores and hire 6,000 new employees. It’s hard to say this is not good new, but I’m going to try. Let me give three reasons. First, these jobs will, for the most part, be low wage (possibly part time). Second, the “dollar” store serves the needs of poor people on the price point level, but the goods they sell don’t last as long, which means buying the same thing twice. Finally, most of the goods at these stores are imported from China. Cheap sounds good, but it’s a philosophy that has cost this country millions of jobs. Some people say, “A job is a job.” I disagree. We need good jobs.
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