Barbara Garson: How to Become a Part-Time Worker Without Really Trying

Yves here. This post by Barbara Garson, which originally appeared at TomDispatch, describes how big companies squeeze down even more on workers by turning what were once full-time jobs into part-time positions to avoid providing benefits and to push pay even lower (workers who are desperate to get more hours will also accept reduced wages, working off the clock, and abusive work conditions). Tom Engelhardt, in his introduction, pointed out that this campaign to drive ordinary workers into penury so as to fatten executive pay packages, was made respectable by Walmart. Of course, the end result, as some economists predicted, is that failing to share the benefits of productivity gains is ultimately self-defeating. It sucks demand out of the economy, limiting revenue growth, as the New York Times reported last week:

Major retailers, like Walmart and Kohl’s, that cater to budget-conscious customers with lower incomes cited sluggish sales this week as they decreased their annual forecasts. Macy’s, with a slightly higher-income clientele, did not meet analysts’ expectations for the first time in 25 quarters.

But even upper-income consumers do not seem to be spending as freely as some hoped. While Nordstrom’s, which reaches a middle-to-luxury-end market, reported a higher-than-expected quarterly profit on Thursday, it too said sales “remained softer than anticipated” and lowered its forecast.

And who is responsible for this type of scheme to crush labor? McKinsey. In The Firm, a book on McKinsey due out in early September, Duff McDonald reports that in 2007, McKinsey told Walmart that more experienced “associates” (with seven plus years of tenure) earned 55% more than ones who were one year into the job but were no more productive. The clear implication was that Walmart should ditch more seasoned employees and encourage churn, since having overly-experienced workers was too costly.

By Barbara Garson, the author of a series of books describing American working lives at historical turning points, including All the Livelong Day (1975), The Electronic Sweatshop (1988), and Money Makes the World Go Around (2001).  Her new book is Down the Up Escalator: How the 99% Live in the Great Recession (Doubleday). Cross posted from TomDispatch.

Watch closely: I’m about to demystify the sleight-of-hand by which good jobs were transformed into bad jobs, full-time workers with benefits into freelancers with nothing, during the dark days of the Great Recession.

First, be aware of what a weird economic downturn and recovery this has been.  From the end of an “average” American recession, it ordinarily takes slightly less than a year to reach or surpass the previous employment peak.  But in June 2013 — four full years after the official end of the Great Recession — we had recovered only 6.6 million jobs, or just three-quarters of the 8.7 million jobs we lost.

Here’s the truly mysterious aspect of this “recovery”: 21% of the jobs lost during the Great Recession were low wage, meaning they paid $13.83 an hour or less.  But 58% of the jobs regained fall into that category. A common explanation for that startling statistic is that the bad jobs are coming back first and the good jobs will follow.  

But let me suggest another explanation: the good jobs are here among us right now — it’s just their wages, their benefits, and the long-term security that have vanished.

Consider the experiences of two workers I initially interviewed for my book Down the Up Escalator: How the 99% Live in the Great Recession and you’ll see just how some companies used the recession to accomplish this magician’s disappearing trick.

Freelance Nation

Ina Bromberg genuinely likes to outfit people.  Trim and well dressed herself, Ina sells petites at the Madison Avenue flagship store of a designer brand boutique with several hundred outlets.  Even I had heard of the label.  I had to ask what its exact place in the fashion hierarchy was, though.  “We fall into a niche below Barney’s-Bergdorf-Chanel,” she explained.

In the course of a 20-year career, Ina, now in her sixties, had been the company’s top-earning national sales associate more than once.  Her loyal clients return each season saying, “You know what I like.  What have you got for me?”

When I first met her during the Great Recession, however, her hours had been cut back.  “They’ve moved the entire sales staff onto flexible schedules,” she explained.  “On Thursday, we are told what our schedule will be for the following week.  When they told me my new hours that first week, it was down to ten.  I said, ‘Why don’t you just lay me off?  I can collect unemployment.’  And [my boss] said, ‘No, no, it won’t be this way every week.’”

“Maybe this is their way of sharing the work in order to keep the experienced people till the recession is over,” I suggested. That used to be standard practice during a downturn.

Ina didn’t think so.  She referred me to an article about her firm on a fashion website.  “Read the responses,” she said.  “These are by people who worked in the office — probably not anymore.  They say that in some of the stores they’ve taken all the full time people and made them part-time.  And with that, there’s no more sick days, no more vacation days, no more commissions for anyone.  They say they’re going to do that to all the stores, even New York.”

“Do your managers claim that the short hours are just for the recession?” I asked.  “Do they thank you for making sacrifices till business picks up?”

“Not that I ever heard,” Ina answered.  “I think — and I’ve been saying this for a year and a half — their ultimate goal is to have all part-time sales people working shifts of four-and-a-half hours.  That way they’re not responsible for lunch, they have a lot of bodies, they pay no commissions, no benefits, and it’s a constant turnover.  This is what I think they want even after the recession because,” here she leaned in as though to reveal a secret, “they haven’t stopped hiring people.”  She checked to see if I grasped the significance of that.

I did and so did her fellow saleswomen, but it’s hard to go job-hunting during a recession.  While a few of the old professionals had already left, most were holding on, chewing over any bits of information they could pick up that might indicate management’s intentions.  “In our store we know they’ve continued the health benefits until March,” Ina said.  “What will happen after is what we’re trying to find out.”

Eventually, the company broke the suspense.  Managers called the remaining full-timers into the office and gave them two choices.  They could take a small severance package and collect unemployment or they could stay at truncated versions of their old jobs if they wished, but as part-timers with no benefits and no commissions.  In a way, the company had made government unemployment benefits a part of its buyout package. They were saying, in effect: you go voluntarily and we’ll agree that we laid you off.

Four years after the official end of the recession I interviewed Ina again.  She was the only one of the former sales staff still working there.  Her earnings were less than a quarter of what they’d been a few years earlier. 

“I can afford to retire,” she assured me.   “In a way, I already am.  I just like coming out of the house and seeing my regular customers.  But everyone who had to support themselves left.  All the new people are young,” Ina complained. “They have no commitment to the job.  They skip days whenever they feel like it.

“But why shouldn’t they?” she said suddenly, reversing her judgmental tone.  “It used to be if you missed a day, you missed a chance to earn commissions.  It mattered.  But at nine or ten dollars an hour, if they have something else to do they skip it.

“The job is only worth it if you’re a college student and the hours are a perfect fit for your schedule.  If that changes the next term, they leave.  And it doesn’t seem to make a difference to the company.  They treat employees like nothing now.  I don’t mean it has to be a family, but it isn’t even a team.”

I recently checked her company’s website under “careers” and it was true; they were advertising for more than 70 sales assistants for their various North American stores.  All but one of the positions was listed as part-time.  The sole full time job happened to be in Canada.

In other words, under the shadow of the recession, the company hadn’t sent jobs offshore or eliminated them.  It had simply replaced decently paying full-time employment, including benefits, with low-wage, contingent employment without benefits.  It had, that is, pulled the old switcheroo, turning good jobs into bad ones on premises.

Entering the Freelance Life

Here’s how the same magic trick works a little higher up the food chain.

Greg Feldman was a full-time professional doing computer graphics for an educational publisher which produces test preparation materials for school districts.  One day during the recession, his company laid off some 20 staffers including him.  As far as I can tell, its business wasn’t declining.  (Standardized test prep must be one of the last things desperate school districts cut.)

“When I got home I went into panic mode,” Feldman remembered.  “I said I better redo my resume before the weekend.  And I did.  But there were a couple of openings I could have applied for that day — one full time, one long-term temp.  But I waited till after the weekend to send it in.  That was in November [2008] and this is February [2009].  I’m on the websites every day and I haven’t come across any other regular staff positions since those two.”

Four years later Feldman was piecing together his living by combining a steady but low-paying part-time job with freelance gigs.  He still considers himself unemployed.  Whenever we speak he enumerates the new computer graphics programs he’s mastered and asks me about job leads.

But is Feldman really unemployed by post-recession standards?  He may not have a full-time job with his old company, but neither does just about anyone else who did the work he used to do for them. It’s by no means impossible, I once suggested to Feldman, that he himself might wind up working for his old firm through a subcontractor.  

“Possible but not likely,” he answered. “What I heard is that they send that work overseas now.”

The Good Old Switcheroo

When America’s industrial workers were hit hard in the 1970s and 1980s, the excuse for breaking their unions, lowering their wages, and outsourcing their work was that we had to compete with foreign manufacturers.  But not to worry, it was then suggested, there might be tough times ahead for a few blue-collar troglodytes who couldn’t be retrained, but the rest of us would soon be data manipulators in a booming postindustrial society.

Feldman is as postindustrial as you can get and his former company doesn’t even compete with foreign firms.  It seems, though, that corporate headquarters no longer needs excuses or explanations to make workers cheaper and more replaceable.   

The recession itself certainly doesn’t explain such job transformations.  Traditionally, during recessions employers reduced hours or laid people off in a way that would enable them to reconstitute an experienced work force when business picked up.  In the meantime, they competed on price and took less profit.  As a result, the share of national income that went to owners and investors used to decline during such periods, while the share that went to workers actually rose.

No longer.  Ina’s and Greg’s employers used the downturn to dump entire departments and reorganize themselves so that the same work, the same jobs, requiring the same skills, would henceforth, in good times and bad, be done by contingent workers.  Many other companies seem to be doing the same thing.  One sign of that: during the course of the Great Recession corporate profits went up by 25%-30%, while wages as a share of national income fell to their lowest point since that number began to be recorded after World War II.

According to the latest Labor Department figures, 65% of the jobs added to the economy in July 2013 were part-time.  The average hourly wage fell slightly. Interpreters of those statistics will make it sound as though it’s simply a matter of factories firing and burger joints hiring.   That, at least, would be a situation that could be reversed over time.  If, however, golden jobs are being transmuted into lead by the reverse alchemy described in this piece, then they’re not coming back gradually, certainly not without a growing labor movement and a fight.

I checked back recently with Ina Bromberg to see if anything had changed for the saleswomen in her store as the nation crawled into what’s now called “recovery.”

“The hours are creeping back up,” she said, and pointed to an irony.  “When they started all this they told us that short shifts make us more efficient.  Now, they’re letting a few people work, six, seven, even eight hours some days.”

I asked if benefits and commission were also creeping back.

“Of course not!” she answered.

“It’s sad in a way,” Ina mused.  “If one of these young women gets eight hours for a while, she’ll think she has a regular job.  None of them can remember what a regular job was like.”

Ina is describing a perfect sleight of hand.  Good jobs disappeared into bad jobs so deftly that hardly anyone has noticed the switcheroo.  Soon enough the zombie jobs that replace the real ones will move among us as if they were normal.  If you sense that there’s something missing, there must be something wrong with you.  Get with the program.  We’re becoming a freelance nation.

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  1. fajensen

    The counter move from employees will be to minimise commitments, like debts, and have no loyalty to the employer whatsoever.

    Wonder how that will work out, do we want to buy something from sales people who don’t give a shit, in a place where the carpet is dirty because the cleaners did not show up that day?

    The delivery guy might finde it more profitable to take a shortcut through a bad part of time and get “robbed”, so shelves are not stocked that day.

    Lots of goods might “wander off” – who wants to risk stopping a thief at $9/hr?

    Employers will end in the same place as outsourcers to India:

    Once they have fully described all the “extras” supplied for free as part of people being normally responsible and loyal, then put in place systems to verify compliance and enforce standards, they will have lumbered themselves with huge legal/contracts departments, compliance officers, ridgid step-by-step procedure and unmotivated dum-dum employees, who gleefully will do everything “By The Book” and occasionally enjoy it – especially when “just following procedure, guv” can sabotage or annoy!

    1. WorldisMorphing

      Mean & lean … and mediocre.
      One could argue that as oil price rise, some jobs are going to come back. On the other hand, one could also argue that as those price rise, so will everything else so consumption will plunge.
      Some say contracting economies will keep oil price down, but an indisputable fact remains: the oil we have left is the oil that will only be extracted at high oil prices.

      All in all, I don’t see what force would come in play and budge “The New Normal”.

    2. Nathanael

      This is the point at which any would-be feudal lord has an opportunity.

      Just treat your employees with some loyalty, customers will flock to you, and you can build up an empire powerful enough to overthrow governments — *very* quickly.

  2. Clive

    I think it was Yves who mused a little while back “just what people will be expected to do to pleasure our new overlords” (that’s not an exact quote, but gives the gist).

    I’m of an age and of a position to not need to worry too much. Like Ina’s experience in the above, I am lucky enough to quit the system and get by if I have to. But what of the next generation, mired in debt and subject to the extraction by the multitude of licensed protection racket players in healthcare, finance, education or housing ? How can they ever get ahead ?

    There’s a story making the news here in the UK about how an intern basically worked himself to death doing his stint in one of the big banks (apologies, don’t have the link to hand). Poor chap; he is unfortunately only the first of many.

    1. LucyLulu

      I don’t recall where I read another story about this, but it said the cause of death was unknown. It also showed a portion of his webpage with the Serenity Prayer quoted and I wondered (granted, was speculative) if he had a history of addiction. Then I read the Guardian link posted and saw it reported that toxicology results were pending (yeah, it’s routine testing for a death of unknown cause, but not typically highlighted in press reports IME). So, I question how accurate “working himself to death” might be. A gut feeling says his death was drug-related, not that it becomes any less tragic or senseless for being so.

      That being said, if he did struggle with addiction or had become sober relatively recently, working those type of hours would have put his sobriety at risk. He either would have or should have been warned to limit himself to ~40 hours/week, even if it meant skipping the internship (as whatever is deemed more important than staying clean will be lost…… or so is the common wisdom). I wonder if Merrill Lynch was unaware of his being at risk, or if they knew and ignored it. I could be wrong but it seems an internship and the mentoring role would (or perhaps the mother in me thinks it should) imply some sort of custodial responsibility on the part of Merrill, or whatever the correct term would be.

      1. Clive

        You’re right of course Lucy — innocent until proven guilty applies to everyone or not at all.

        I would add that suicidality, depression / stress, chemical or behavioural dependency are often co-morbid. If an individual is predisposed to these conditions, it will be exacerbated by a presence of overwork. Overwork can also be a trigger. I’m not sure we ever want to normalise a culture where 15 hour days are routinely tolerated and thus degenerate into employment Darwinism where only the strongest survive.

      2. Yves Smith Post author


        I don’t know if you’ve every worked the sort of hours young people on the investment banking (NOT trading) side work at big firms. I had one of these jobs back in the early 1980s. It is simply inconceivable unless you’ve been in it. It’s worse than what medical residents are put through. You are not permitted to say no, you have (in my case) 100 people who can give you work (30+ clients, typically 2 or more people at the firm who could ask that something be done, plus the client would often call the junior staffers directly if they wanted something small done quickly) with none of them caring what the other 99 had you doing. Priorities changing all the time intra day as markets moved and deals got accelerated or delayed and pitches to clients had to be changed based on changing market info (you could not finalize any client marketing piece until you had closing prices at 4, which meant inevitably you were working into the evening, and that was the more ordered part of the work).

        How do these firms get away with it? They are the most prestigious, sought after employers. They can hire whoever they want. They seek people who are smart, intensely competitive, and insecure. They then wind up in an environment that has much in common with a cult. People wind up largely abandoning all their former friends and spending much less time with their families due to the hours and the pay gap (people who make that much money are quickly acculturated to eat out and spend what little recreational time they have at a lavish level). The environments are also extremely conformist. Social psychologists write about the power of social assent, that if enough people in your environment do something, you’ll see it as normal, even required. And the extreme hours are most certainly required. Young people in these jobs are expected to have no boundaries. When asked to do something, they are not permitted to say “No, I already have too much on my plate, I can’t take that on”. The only acceptable answer is “When do you need it?”

        I known one someone at Salomon who started vomiting under the stress. Every half hour. Went back and kept working after each incident. Electrolytes got so messed up he collapsed and had to be hospitalized. I know another person at Lazard, working on a big deal. Was seen lying in the office lying on the floor on one side reading documents over the weekend. People asked if she was OK. She waved them away, insisted she was fine. The pain eventually got so bad she went home and called her boyfriend. He ran up and took her immediately to the hospital. The operated straight away, thinking it was appendicitis. It was diverticulitis, which is usually a disease of old people but can be brought on by stress and bad diet. They had to remove half her colon. Had they gotten to her a half hour later, her colon would have ruptured and she would have died.

        Same woman later lost 90% of her vision in one eye due to glaucoma, didn’t have time to get regular eye exams. This was the price of becoming the first woman partner in M&A at any major firm.

        I can give you other stories like that. Breakdown is hardly unheard of.

        I did 2 all nighters in a row and was starting to have trouble with motor function (coordination for inputting data was starting to go). Three, which is what this young man did, amounts to torture. And you can do that on mere caffeine.

        Your blaming his death on drugs when I am highly confident you’ve never done more than one all nighter and have no idea what that does to you is uninformed and is supporting the banks and abusive work environments generally.

        1. LucyLulu

          I read the link you posted and one other article. If it was mentioned that he had stayed up three nights in a row, somehow I overlooked it. And yes, I’ve done several (successive) all-nighters in the past, having to be on call for a week at a time, and work 12 hour days even if up all night (fairly often). I didn’t fare well, and didn’t stay at the job long.

          I wasn’t meaning to be judgmental towards the intern. I consider his death just as tragic and senseless if it was fatigue-induced, and my point about responsibility lying with the mentoring firm still stands. In fact, I don’t understand why the practice is allowed to continue. Medical residents and related professions have since had limits imposed on the number of hours that can be asked to work without time off.

          1. Yves Smith Post author


            Thanks for the reply, but even then, your experience with all nighters is not directly comparable. I meant all nighters while you were working, as in 48+ hours of continuous work except for dealing with essential bodily functions and some hygiene. And this is also in an environment that is intolerant of errors, where typos or computation errors are career enders or severely detrimental.

            So even working 12 hours and not sleeping well/at all by being on call is not the same as having to keep working except for eating and showering/clothes change time/pottie breaks. The stress level is considerably worse.

            As to the three all-nighters, it has been reported but not confirmed. And BofA will clearly try to make what happened look less awful than it was:




            1. DolleyMadison

              yep…I used to wonder how battered women stayed with their abusers…I didn’t realize until after I LEFT BofA that I was essentially a battered woman…surrounded by her enabling in laws. You don’t realize how crazy it is until you leave. It really is like a cult. If you raise your hand to question the regime, retribution is swift and sure, even among “friends” with decades long relationships, and even against spouses. I truly believe some of my former co-workers would even commit murder if their overlords insisted on it.

              1. Nathanael

                I’m glad to be immune to that particular sort of coercion thanks to abnormal psychology. I wish more people were like me.

                Worth noting: the particular psychological oddities which make people resistant to that type of coercion seem to be the same ones which make people good at computer programming. I have no idea what the social consequences of that combination will be.

                1. kievite


                  Worth noting: the particular psychological oddities which make people resistant to that type of coercion seem to be the same ones which make people good at computer programming.

                  An interesting observation. I also saw this type of individuals among programmers.

            2. LucyLulu

              I’m really not trying to be argumentative, but actually I WAS talking about working all night, as I took after-hours call from home, at least until I had to go get somebody admitted or petitioned or go out and do an emergency assessment or something. It was clear what you meant when I said I had done it also. I would also argue that mistakes kinda aren’t tolerated in the health field either, though perhaps for different reasons.

              Nobody should be expected to work for 72 hours straight, nor is there a need, it’s sheer exploitation to maximize profits. It’s more than the human body and mind can endure. Workers need to stand up and say no. I think that’s something people tend to learn as they get older, gain confidence, and their priorities become more clear. 21 is still very young. And saying no, if it means possibly the loss of the job, is not so easy when employment is scarce and an income is needed, or it’s a standard requirement for one’s chosen career, as apparently it must be in finance (Higher Power sending initial clue that one has chosen lousy career??). Workers no longer have unions to help them negotiate collectively….. though nursing never joined unions in most parts of the country, It was deemed to be beneath the professional status of a registered nurse to be a union member, rather conveniently. Thee places I ended working, almost exclusively in the south, it was risky to be overheard mentioning “unions” within earshot of management. IIRC, the provision of nursing staff is easily a hospital’s single largest expenditure. With unionized nursing, how can a hospital pay their CEO their $15M living wage?

      3. fajensen

        I wonder if Merrill Lynch was unaware of his being at risk, or if they knew and ignored it.

        Easy to find out*: If the HR-bods either knew or suspected anything they would have taken out a life insurance on the poor guy, with Merill Lynch as beneficiaries.

        Gotta play them odds!

        *) Or maybe not so easy – It is depressingly common for employers to buy a little bet on the early demise of the “Human Ressources”.

    2. Nathanael

      “But what of the next generation, mired in debt and subject to the extraction by the multitude of licensed protection racket players in healthcare, finance, education or housing ? How can they ever get ahead ?”

      Off-the-books economy. Find one part-time job which gives you enough tenuous connection to the on-the-books economy that the police state doesn’t get suspicious, then do *ALL* your other work off the books.

      Already happening.

        1. LucyLulu

          If it’s off the books, you’re already committing tax fraud (or tax evasion, or something like that) on your IRS return.

          The off-the-book work would also have to be something that could be done on a flexible schedule since the part time job hours will change every week. But any work where you can be your own boss and set your own hours is preferable to dependence upon the ‘good will’ of an employer, IMO. I’m working on that one myself. (I knew I should have taken basketweaving.)

  3. LucyLulu

    This link by Charlie Stross was on Jesse’s page and was an intriguing read on the implications of the current labor culture. Stross theorizes that Snowden and Alynikov type defectors will become the norm now that Gen Y, first born in the early 80’s, are starting to flood the labor market (most employers don’t have the vast resources for retribution of the US gov and Goldman-Sachs). Gen Y is the first generation having no prior work experience in a culture that favors mutual employee/employer commitment, nor having grown up witnessing parents in more secure “jobs-for-life” and termination-for-cause employment. They’ve only had experience with jobs that are outsourced, offshored, laid-off, contract, zero-hours, temporary, part-time, etc.

    Gen Y believes in the workplace golden rule (“do unto others as they do unto you”… okay, I’ve taken some liberties paraphrasing Stross). Thus today’s employees will have no less reticence about ‘screwing’ their (former) employers to advance their own self-interests, than employers have about ‘screwing’ their workers to maximize profits. It’s a good read.

    With any luck, it won’t be merely wishful thinking to say:
    Karma’s a bitch!

    1. Doug Terpstra

      Yes, it’s “funny” how the Wal-Mart right-to-work churn, permanent student debt, gross inequality, and social insecurity caused by a triumphant class war has fractured American cultural cohesion, especially within Gen Y. At this juncture economic dynamism can no longer be sustained, and along with it, autonomic patriotism. Following up on fajensen above, in a climate of callous top-down disloyalty, the roster of conscientious whistleblowers such as Snowden, Manning, Assange, Kiriakou, Darby (Abu Ghraib), Drake (NSA) and many more, is certain to grow. Dissent rises gradually, then rapidly, as things fall apart and the center cannot hold.

      I think we have a great disharmonic convergence coming, likely this year. Ben Shalom is leaving and is almost sure to take away the punch bowl before Summers is seated.

    2. psychohistorian

      Karma is a bitch.

      That is what is going to bring the current system to a halt. The young ones are not daft, I am finding.

      The current economic/social system runs on computers and if servers stop/slow or the networks begin not working right, the trust level is eventually broke and all hell breaks loose…..geometric finger pointing and cascading fail overs between and among vendors.

      Being an old techie I engage every other techie I run into and the young contract techies keeping the NSA sub contractors running are a hairsbreath from mayhem the management can’t contain.

      Go long on popcorn and don’t be surprised if techie shit gets less reliable for a while. Prepare for a bouncy ride.

      1. kievite


        The trend toward less qualification in IT is probably present as younger people did not experience the emerging of all those technologies as altimers did. So they have less “in-depth” knowledge that old-timers acquired due to this process. But there are old-timers and old-timers. A lot of old-times are just accidental people which moved to the field during boom years of IT (say, 1990-1998). Many of them are barely competent in what they are doing even now.

        I would not get too exited about new generation of IT workers (mostly part-time and lower paid) greatly affecting network or server reliability. Amy be something will happen on the margins. But it looks completely remote to me. May be due to commodization of the technology the IT support on the level of the firm now matter less. Complex issues are solved by vendor support, or professional consultants. Enterprise software is also more or less standardized.

        Where huge blunders are now made is at senior level, where people became generally detached from technology (and sometimes from reality). Also too many technically illiterate bean counters were promoted to senior positions. And they often rely on fashion (and vendor hype and/or bribing) in adopting new technologies for the firm. But at the end of the day this is just modest cost overruns. Nothing to be exited about.

        So something that cost $100K is bought for a million and cost another couple of million in maintenance fees and internal costs before being abandoned. That’s about it. Remember IT is generally around 1% of the total cost of a large company operations.

    3. hazmat

      Employers destroyed the golden rule in the work place. As an employee, you simply cannot continue to treat them the way you wish to be treated over a sustainable period of time when they offer only these kinds of abuses in return.

      Reciprocity is the new rule for employees. If they take care of you, take care of them and treat them well. Pamper them. If they screw you over, return the favor a multitude worse. Make it painful.

  4. Doug Terpstra

    Thank you, Yves, for another great bottom-line assessment of the change Obama has inflicted on us — the exact inverse of his electoral campaign. Although Ms. Garson says nothing of Obamacare directly, the ACA (the Insurance Racket Bailout Act) is now a huge reason for the great bait-and-switch acceleration to part-time and freelance jobs. As Lambert has reported it is hugely damaging socio-economic engineering.

    This is Obama’s legacy, shaping up to be not abysmal but disastrous. Even worse, I suspect it’s intentional, the deliberate creative destruction of disaster capitalism in a grab for absolute power. That’s the most disheartening apprehension.

    Here are a few more inconvenient truths about our change president from “33 Shocking Facts Which Show How Badly The Economy Has Tanked Since Obama Became President”. It’s an objective and damning assessment of real change under Obama. People won’t be able to ignore these much longer, and eventually even veal pen journalists (MSDNC) will have to acknowledge certain stubborn facts:

    #1 When Barack Obama entered the White House, 60.6 percent of working age Americans had a job. Today, only 58.7 percent of working age Americans have a job.

    #2 Since Obama has been president, seven out of every eight jobs that have been “created” in the U.S. economy have been part-time jobs. [87% of job creation…part-time; this differs from the post(?)]

    #5 40 percent of all workers in the United States actually make less than what a full-time 11 since the 2006-2007 school year.

    #8 According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the middle class is taking home a smaller share of the overall income pie than has ever been recorded before.

    #20 Health insurance costs have risen by 29 percent since Barack Obama became president, and Obamacare is going to make things far worse.

    #23 In 2008, that total amount of student loan debt in this country was 440 billion dollars. At this point, it has shot up to about a trillion dollars.

    #24 According to one recent survey, 76 percent of all Americans are living paycheck to paycheck.

    You get the idea. And those are only some of the economic changes, without even broaching disastrous militarism, and police-state espionage.

    1. Robert Dudek

      I’ve got a good title for a book on this phenomenon. Unfotrtunately, it’s already been taken: Road to Serfdom.

    2. reason

      And you seriously think this is all Obama’s fault and that the GOP had nothing to do with it?

      1. Michael Fiorillo

        Needless to say, the GOP has much to do with it, but it’s two hands washing each other.

        The infernal brilliance of the Overclass’ support for Obama is his ability to misdirect and divert whatever energies for resistance remain within what passes for the Left.

        What insidious genius to have a Black man (well, sort of) be the one to undermine Social Security, public education (his policies are at least as bad as Bush’s, probably worse) and institutionalize the National Security State.

        Sure, the GOP is at fault, but Obama was hired to make sure that potential opposition remains paralyzed.

      2. Doug Terpstra

        All O’s fault? No, but it’s his legacy, like it or not. Clearly it doesn’t bother him.

        Blame the last four and a half years on Republicans if you like. So then, let’s just say O’s been implausibly impotent and hopelessly inept. Not only are none of the foregoing economic failures his fault, he couldn’t close Gitmo; couldn’t bring himself to prosecute a single one of his Wall Street investors (Corzine); couldn’t renegotiate NAFTA; couldn’t stop Republicans from ramrodding thru three new SHAFTA agreements and initiating TPP (oh, wait…); couldn’t bring himself to sign a widely adopted land mine ban; couldn’t stop himself from creating and stacking the cat food commission; couldn’t prevent Bibi from building new settlements; Egypt from massacring a thousand unarmed MB protesters; couldn’t reign in the frackers or the XL pipeline; couldn’t do anything about Kyoto or global warming; couldn’t help but fund al Qaeda in Syria; couldn’t end extraordinary rendition; couldn’t help but bomb Libya; couldn’t help but expand the drone murder program (forced to do the hard work of picking out the targets personally); couldn’t control the NSA (presumably run by Republicans) and can’t stop lying about it; couldn’t prevent the downing of a sovereign leader’s plane; couldn’t help but appoint a fox to every public henhouse; couldn’t do anything to keep single-payer on the table …

        I could go on and on but it would bore informed NC readers to tears. You may think Obama is hapless and incompetent to the point of making Herbert Hoover look like an activist progressive. I happen to believe he’s brilliant, an epic false messiah, a diabolically-hypnotic charlatan who’s a total eclipse of his idol Reagan.

        1. Nathanael

          “You may think Obama is hapless and incompetent to the point of making Herbert Hoover look like an activist progressive. I happen to believe he’s brilliant, an epic false messiah, a diabolically-hypnotic charlatan who’s a total eclipse of his idol Reagan.”

          And I don’t really care which he is. I judge entirely by results. Whatever is in his “deepest heart”, in practice Obama has been very close to G.W.Bush’s third and fourth terms. (Oh, there are weird little exceptions, like railway funding, but I think Obama wasn’t paying ANY attention to that.)

      3. bluntobj

        Laying blame on one side or the other is like sitting in a stadium and cheering for your team, red or blue. The owners of both teams are up in the owner’s box, drinking champagne together and counting the ticket & concession sales cash.

        Just entering that stadium means you’ve bought in to their propaganda. The only safe path is to opt out and create an alternative to the game inside for yourself.

  5. reason

    I think the store in the first anecdote will end up going bankrupt when (I suppose if) a full recovery comes. It won’t be able to pay the rent with poor unreliable service.

    But I’m reminded that there was a (Henry) Georgian here once who was shocked when I suggested that firms shed labour in a recession, because they have a good excuse to do it and so won’t suffer reputation consequences. He was very much a classical (not neo original classical) economist who thought all feedbacks were negative. The only way that this sort of thing will stop is for labour markets to become tight, so that firms will want to attract labour. Then part-time casual labour won’t be reliable enough.

    1. Larry Barber

      The labor market will never “tighten up”, if we ever get to the point of nearly full employment, even if only in selected fields, the Fed will merely tip the economy into a recession again. Don’t want the help getting uppity and forgetting their place.

  6. TomDor

    From ‘Tax Facts’ 1920’s

    Laborers knowing that science and invention have increased enormously the power of labor, cannot understand why they do not receive more of the increased product, and accuse capital of withholding it. The employer, finding it increasingly difficult to make both ends meet, accuses labor of shirking. Thus suspicion is aroused, distrust follows, and soon both are angry and struggling for mastery.
    It is not the man who gives employment to labor that does harm. The mischief comes from the man who does not give employment. Every factory, every store, every building, every bit of wealth in any shape requires labor in its creation. The more wealth created the more labor employed, the higher wages and lower prices.
    But while some men employ labor and produce wealth, others speculate in lands and resources required for production, and without employing labor or producing wealth they secure a large part of the wealth others produce. What they get without producing, labor and capital produce without getting. That is why labor and capital quarrel. But the quarrel should not be between labor and capital, but between the non-producing speculator on the one hand and labor and capital on the other.
    Co-operation between employer and employee will lead to more friendly relations and a better understanding, and will hasten the day when they will see that their interests are mutual. As long as they stand apart and permit the non-producing, non-employing exploiter to make each think the other is his enemy, the speculator will prey upon both.
    Co-operating friends, when they fully realize the source of their troubles will find at hand a simple and effective cure: The removal of taxes from industry, and the taxing of privilege and monopoly. Remove the heavy burdens of government from those who employ labor and produce wealth, and lay them upon those who enrich themselves without employing labor or producing wealth.

  7. George

    None of this is a surprise. . . a few years ago at my company, it was decided to withdraw all benefits for freelance employees, many who were putting in full time hours as any staff employee. The freelancers staged a walk out and the company relented in the short term by grandfathering those freelancers employed at that time with their current benefits.

    Since then, the benefits for those freelancers have been reduced to the barest of medical plans with high deductibles. Any new freelancers who come in don’t get health insurance unless they work a consecutive number of days in a row, which is near to impossible since the company forces them to take 6 weeks off throughout the year, thus cementing the fact that they’ll never receive health insurance.

    At that time, the company cited being competitive in the global market, and pointed to our competitors which made similar changes years earlier. Considering we’ve been earning healthy profits after the first year of the Great Recession, and the CEO and other high level execs lining their pockets with record sums, it’s pretty clear they’re more interested in short term gains as pushed by Wall Street. That greed is really what’s ruining this country and those playing the game won’t be satisfied till they’ve squeezed us for all the money we have, laughing all the way to the bank in Singapore.

    1. Nathanael

      “and the company relented in the short term by grandfathering those freelancers employed at that time with their current benefits. ”

      FWIW, this is the level of intelligence which seems to be missing from our current elites.

    1. bluntobj

      Only work for yourself by opting out of the game being played in the stadium.

      You will be considered a whacko and stupid, but those insults will be coming from people with underwater houses, CC debt up to their eyeballs, a job they hate, a 101k retirement plan coming in September, and a heart condition due to stress.

      Think alternatively, and be much happier.

    2. Wat Tyler

      Saying from the old Soviet Union:

      “They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work.”

      No society can survive if work is not valued at the economic and psychological levels.


  8. Anarcissie

    No doubt things will fall apart. The problem is that the Left is not at all ready for things to fall apart. Instead, someone else will pick up the pieces — probably, someone not very nice.

    1. Nathanael

      I’ve been saying this since the coup in 2000.

      There’s probably someone out there who saw it coming earlier.

  9. MaroonBulldog

    Barbara Garson’s story reminds me of another story–the story of what happens when a retail chain goes bankrupt and its inventory has to be liquidated: the former employees are let go, and the liquidator’s employees show up. fajensen’s story reminds me exactly of what such stores look like once the liquidators took over. But hey, neoclassical economics says this is all for the good, right? Because the consumers are getting the best deals for the best prices.

  10. Benedict@Large

    If your seven-year employees are no more productive than your one-year employees, there is something seriously wrong with your business model. And that goes for whatever your business is. If your managers can’t increase the productivity of your employees after their first year, it’s not your employees you should be churned; it’s your managers.

    McKinsey actually gets paid for advice like this? How do they stay in business?

  11. Vitaeus

    To think Henry Ford, started off with the idea that his employee’s would be the ones buying the product, so making them cost effective was a Good. The wheel has turned and the idea that the employee is nothing but a Cost is back with a vengeance.

    1. Nathanael

      Ford was a smart man.

      There’s a reason why the folks in _Brave New World_ pray to “Our Ford”. Henry Ford’s model of society was *functional*, and makes for a dystopia which is *sustainable*.

      In constrast, our current leaders are the worst elements of Veblen’s leisure class. They score “points” in their minds by oppressing and cheating people, and they pay no attention to whether they are better off in the long run by doing so.

    2. F. Beard

      The wheel has turned and the idea that the employee is nothing but a Cost is back with a vengeance. Vitaeus

      Because of the money system. Money can be issued as either Liabilities or as shares in Equity.

      Guess which one is subsidized by government?

      “It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and money system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning.” Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company. from

  12. Jim in SC

    The quality of jobs out there has diminished terribly. It makes so much more sense to be self employed if this is possible in your field.

    I think it is incredibly short sighted that so many say: ‘study nursing’, ‘study in STEM fields’, and so on. All of these are seeing a glut, too. At our local technical college, many people pursuing RNs are $40,000 in debt and get bounced out of the program because the requirements are very strict. Fail one test, and you’re gone. Ironically, even though the technical colleges were created to train students in ‘technical’ fields, I saw very few grads in those fields at a recent graduation. The quality of K-12 education is such that everybody gets in the remedial track, and that slows down progress towards technical degrees. Meanwhile, the cost of tuition has gone from $100 a semester in 1980, to $2,000 a semester today. What are we doing?

  13. Kaleberg

    So, guess who won the Cold War? Hint, it wasn’t the US. We now have the old Soviet surveillance state, a gulag in Cuba, a compliant media, and good, solid jobs where we pretend to work and they pretend to pay us.

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