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Unemployment on Labor Day

There has already been a lot written about the state of the nation’s employment picture following this Labor Day. With one out of every 10 Americans out of work, and another five to seven percent underemployed or just not looking, there is a lot for which to be appreciative if you’re among the still employed.

Unemployment ran through our house like a virus through a crowded day care center. I was first, mid-October of 2008, and I hadn’t yet figured out that I was going to have to make my own way when my wife came home early in April of 2009 and said she, too, had been re-organized out of a job. Though someone (younger) was in her position before her chair was cold, doing the same work for less money under a different title, my job, to the best of my knowledge, has not been filled. Not that someone’s not doing the work, but the FTE, as far as I know, no longer exists.

So as you can imagine, the employment situation is one with which I am very familiar.

Now, the good news is, we’re recovering nicely, though there was a year or so of spending what we had managed to save in order to only be among the unemployment statistics and not in with the foreclosure statistics. But to get there, we both had to kiss a lot of pigs. I wound up incorporating my own business to do things like write these columns, make public appearances, and do other writing and editing work.  My wife sent out literally hundreds of resumes, went to every networking event, followed up, and applied for jobs both for which she would have been perfect and in which she had no real interest before going back to work 13 months after being shown the door at her previous place of employment.

This is the economy in which we live today, and we’re among the lucky ones, though there was no little sweat equity that went into getting us back on our feet.

I do have to say that, when Speaker Pelosi said extending unemployment benefits was a jobs program because it gave people some money to spend… I was roundly insulted. The Speaker obviously had never had to rely on unemployment as a source of income. There’s not enough to meet the bare minimums, let alone any niceties. But I digress.

There are so many factors that make this a difficult job market that there is no one entity that will produce a magic bullet to solve our employment situation. Since the only job a government can create is a government job, businesses have to be confident enough in their own survival to add to payrolls that will then boost overall private sector employment. With the amount of fiscal uncertainty that exists throughout the country today, convincing those business owners that it’s going to be OK will likely take a long courtship. They are going to have to see some solid and sustained business growth before they will risk their bottom line adding people. And many may well wait until they are at the absolute breaking point before they manage to add employees.

Locally, last year brought us the first decline in real income in many years. The rising tide that was lifting most boats turned and went out. The drop in real income is certainly a reflection of companies slashing payrolls, and reduced salaries and benefits for those who remain on the job. Everyone, it seems, is doing more for less. And while Jacksonville is still ahead of the state average in per-capita income, turning that tide back to one that is incoming is going to require a lot of hard work, and probably not a little luck.

Still, any real student of economics will tell you that economies operate in cycles.  This is a particularly bad down cycle, but it is helpful to remember that, every time you see a statistic saying “this is the worst (fill in the blank) since (name a year)” it means that the nation has been there… or here… before.

It’s just likely to be a longer, slower climb out than we’ve seen in the past.

1 Responses »

  1. Creating jobs for the sake of creating jobs is not going to get us anywhere, and unfortuneately that is the approach the government is taking. Road building, rail projects, census worker positions, rebate programs and other temporary/short term job creators don't do anything to help establish a sustainable economic recovery.

    We have never been "here" before. Our previous economy was based almost entirely on service sector jobs (retail, restaurants, hospitality, tourism) and escalating real estate values which allowed consumers and businesses to keep pumping money back into the system (credit, refinancing, etc).

    We need to re-focus and accept that our goal should not be to get back to where we were, but to get to a place that allows us to become self sufficient. Retail sales should not be the benchmark for determining the health of our economy.

    You are absolutely correct in stating that this is going to be a long, slow climb, but unless and until we establish where the top of that hill is we will continue to descend deeper into the valley.