[“Sabbath” is this blog’s Sunday feature that looks beyond jobs and careers.]
The Week Ahead
This very well could be the week the U.S. government defaults on its debt. If that happens, experts say the world economy will be harmed. So why don’t Republicans in the Congress do what their predecessors have done, which is to increase the debt limit? Politics. The GOP and its Tea Party wing have become so desperate in their hatred of President Obama that they are willing to do anything to ensure that his presidency is a failure. I am not being partisan in saying this. Why did the same members of Congress – Boehner, Cantor, Ryan – raise the debt ceiling under President Bush and allow two wars and the new Medicare program to be put off the books if they cared so much about the debt and spending? The simple answer is that Republican leaders in the House only care about politics, and they see default as a path to power. They believe the public will come to blame the President for the consequences of a default, which could include an instant jump in interest rates and a quick trip back into recession.
I’m not a great fan of President Obama. He’s been too soft in all of his dealings with the Republicans. He negotiates by starting with the compromise and then giving away even more. In some way, the GOP’s action could be based on this behavior: They’re sure he will give in again. So far, the president has been steadfast in refusing to compromise, asking to be treated as other presidents have been in the past. The problem is that the current group of Republicans is unlike any politicians we have seen in their ability to invent a reality to fit their rhetoric. They are also very flexible in shifting from demand to demand, moving from healthcare to spending and now a mix of spending and social issues. Many Democrats are gloating that this is the end of the GOP. I’m not so sanguine. If their action drives a weak economy into a tailspin, neither party will benefit, at least initially. Then when the problem isn’t solved fast enough to fit a media news cycle, all blame will be shifted to Obama and the Democrats. Even if the GOP caused the problem, the Democrats didn’t fix it. This seems to be a very high stakes game of chicken. I fear there will be a very ugly crash, and it will begin later this week.
It’s often too simple to judge job growth by the raw number of jobs gained or lost. Laura Clawson of Daily Kos breaks down this month’s statistics in a way that we should consider. I especially like a point she makes at the end of her article. We went into a deep ditch quickly. It’s unrealistic to expect a quick fix. This point is supplemented by another of Clawson’s posts on the impact of the sequester. I recommend them both as must reads.
We all want security. In a time of high unemployment and job insecurity, many people look for careers that will be recession proof. Sadly, like the unicorn, such jobs do not exist. Even healthcare, which is clearly a growing field, churns jobs. My clients in this field have told stories of layoffs and reorganizations. Several hospitals in Chicago have reorganized departments and laid off staff. One of my clients survived a layoff. She had to take over a co-worker’s job and her staff had to take on the duties of other laid off workers. So much for recession proof jobs in healthcare. Rather than seeking a security that doesn’t exist, the best career strategy is to be prepared for any challenge or opportunity. Change happens. Make the most of it.
[On Sundays Career Calling looks at intersections of work and life in “Sabbath.”]
Slow and Not So Steady
Writing in today’s Chicago Sun-Times, Mary Wisneiwski profiles several Chicagoans who live in a neighborhood on the South side of the city that has been hit hard by the recession. They are feeling better, more confident. We’ve seen the economic ups and downs before, but this recession has been especially strong in its ability to keep people afraid. Even now we have stories of national economies collapsing in Europe (Greece, Ireland – maybe Spain and Portugal). It’s hard to be confident when there are always warnings about disaster just beyond the horizon.
Fear makes people stop and think twice before they spend. It also affects how they manage their careers and look for work. I’ve had several clients tell me, “There are no jobs out there.” Factually, this claim is wrong. Jobs are hard to find, but some are available. However, if someone has an attitude that they will not be able to find a job, that attitude will make it even harder – if not impossible – to get hired.
Not all is bad. Two restaurants profiled in the article report that business is up. When people eat out, that is a sign of confidence. A car dealer interviewed for the article also says his sales have increased. Auto manufacturing is still a vital part of the American economy. If that business goes up, more people will be employed, which means more confidence and consumer spending. Based on visual evidence, the holiday shopping season if off to a booming start.
We still have big problems. Unemployment needs to come down, which will only happen once there is some change in manufacturing and offshoring. As long as American business leaders chase the cheapest labor, it will be impossible for American workers to live with any kind of confidence. Our political leaders also must behave differently. We live in a media-driven age where everything is politics. That said, our leaders need to find a way to address real problems people face. One and two word answers – “tax cuts,” “freedom” – are cliches, not solutions.
I’ve never felt this recession was as bad as doomsday pundits made it out to be. I remember the 1970s and early 1980s. That was the time when our industrial base really took a hit, especially in industrial cities like my home town, Cleveland, Ohio. Inflation was double-digit, and OPEC drove gas prices high by limiting oil supply to the U.S. We survived that time. Our parents and grandparents survived the Depression of the 1930s. This too shall pass – eventually.
Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post, has written a thoughtful article about jobs and how politicians talk about them. Politicians on all levels talk about creating or saving jobs. Huffington asks the right question: Are these good jobs?
Over 1,000,000 manufacturing jobs were lost in 2009. The new ideal jobs are on Wall Street, where a few people are paid very well and produce nothing that helps the larger economy. Huffington does a fantastic job of explaining why the loss of manufacturing jobs is a serious problem. Follow this link to read her post.
Today’s New York Times reports on the trend of working people who prefer temporary jobs. The article profiles Michael Sinclair of Atlanta, Georgia, who likes “contingent work” because it provides flexibility and time off between assignments. For many other workers, temporary positions are all they can find. The number of people who call themselves self-employed (a.k.a. contract workers) has more then doubled over the course of the recession.
Mr. Sinclair’s fervor for short term jobs is a minority opinion. As the article states, most workers are not happy with this trend. Contract work offers no security. It is a one way street designed and built by the employer. As I’ve written before, this recession is not unique in a heavy number of layoffs. What makes it different is changing models of compensation: 10%-20% pay cuts, lower commissions, and furlough days. Add “short term jobs” to the list.
Follow this link to read the article in the New York Times.
In today’s Chicago Tribune, Ann Meyer writes about a business, Warmly Yours in Long Grove, Illinois, that set a noble goal for this recession: Lay off no workers. The company owner and her workers banded together and found new customers for their product (radiant heaters). The owner Julia Billen cut her pay, but did not cut her workers’ salaries, which is a very unusual story in this Great Recession.
What can we as job seekers and career managers take from this story? First, try something new and don’t expect it to be easy. Second, have a goal. Finally, as Billen put it, “I kept chanting ‘Keep pushing and no fear’ until I believed it.” You have to believe, and then work some more, and never stop believing. That’s a good model for a business or a career.
To read the story, click here.
Click here for the Warmly Yours website.
It’s not just layoffs. The Tribune reports that Illinois lost 709 manufacturing companies in 2009 (52,000) jobs. Of course, some of those companies went to other states. Others went “offshore” (quaint term). Many closed. Our politicians are not addressing this manufacturing crisis, which has been ongoing since the 1970s.
To read the Tribune article, click here.
For a different, powerful take on the consequences of America without manufacturing, listen to and watch a performance in which James McMurtry sings his blistering protest “Can’t Make It Here Anymore.” Click here.
I’ve written several posts on this subject. Huffington Post has an article on the subject today that analyses how much people might lose.
To read the article, click here.
The one thing the article doesn’t say is that workers will have to start thinking like a business. If your new job underpays you, take their money, do the job well, but keep on looking for the job that will pay you what you deserve. When you find that job, lay off the cheapskates.
A report in today’s Chicago Tribune notes that Colorado is doing something no state has done since 1938: It is dropping the state minimum wage from $7.28 to the federal level of $7.25. Three cents might not sound like a big deal. But it is part of a larger trend along with furlough days, changes in bonus structures, and direct pay cuts. Companies aren’t satisfied with layoffs. They want to take pay and benefits away from the workers who are contributing to the company’s success.
According to Colorado state officials, they can make this cut because inflation is down. Really? I guess inflation is down once you factor out food and energy as the federal government does. We don’t need food or energy. We need to keep inflation down, even if it means cooking the numbers. Even if it means, taking a few pennies from the poor and passing them back to the rich. Once again, workers be damned.
To read the Tribune story, click here.
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