Richard Richard Wolff on Jobs Now, and David Cay Johnson and Jobs Then

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Typically, when we post a video, we post only one. But I felt these two posts were more powerful combined than separately.

First, Richard Richard Wolff, in 38% of American Workforce Still Jobless. Wolff is a Professor of Economics Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and currently a Visiting Professor of the Graduate Program in International Affairs at the New School University in New York.

Everything Wolff says will be familiar to readers (including the parts about the role of the Fed, and the way the crisis that began in 2008 is still roiling the world) but these passages, especially, caught my eye:

JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

The Department of Labor released its jobs report for September, and it’s way behind expectations. The U.S. economy created about 140,000 jobs when economists expected a bit more than 200,000 new jobs. The share of the population in the workforce, which includes people who have jobs or who are looking for one fell to about 62 percent, the lowest level since 1977. …

DESVARIEUX: All right. And is this bad news for everyone, these job numbers? Are there sections of the economy still doing quite well? And are people pretty much feeling the pain, or are people feeling the pain throughout the global economy?

RICHARD WOLFF: I think people are feeling the pain throughout the global economy because this is a global effect. Europe and China and the United States are in many ways the three poles of the world economy. Everybody else caught up in the relations among them. So everybody’s hurting. But in a capitalist economic system of the sort we have, when there is hurt those at the top are the ones best positioned, and have the resources to push the pain away from themselves and push it on to those just below them. And so it, if you like, trickles down. And the folks at the bottom, the temporary workers, the part-timers, the unskilled, those in the least capacity to protect themselves are the ones upon whom the ax eventually falls. And they don’t have anybody else to pass it down to. So everybody’s hurting, but those who should hurt the least hurt the most, and those who should hurt the most hurt the least. It’s the way our system works.

So from Wolff’s “those who should hurt the least hurt the most, and those who should hurt the most hurt the least” to David Cay Johnsto’s Taking from the Many to Give to the Few. Johnston is an American investigative journalist and author, a specialist in economics and tax issues, and winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Beat Reporting.

This is the first part of a series, and Paul Jay does a great job drawing out Johnston on his family and his childhood. I liked this story:

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: So when I was ten years old and we lived in Mill Valley, California, in a little, tiny rented cabin slung over the side of a hill, I went to work to help the family. And by the time I was 13, we were living in Santa Cruz, where I then grew up. I was working full-time. I had seven newspaper routes, four in the morning and three in the afternoon. And on weekends I washed dishes and mowed lawns and did all sorts of things to sort of help the family.

JAY: So as you’re throwing or handing newspapers over, are you ever thinking, I will be writing in these someday?

JOHNSTON: Actually, the scariest part was I had no idea what I was going to do to make a living. I had no–like millions of young people in America, there was no sort of path to where things were and how you got somewhere. And fortune shined upon me. When I was a senior in high school and I was married and I had a kid, the local weekly paper, which was always shooting my picture ’cause I’d won a speech contest [Yay! Public speaking! –lambert], asked me to write a column and offered to pay me a little bit of money–$0.20 an inch. They liked it, so pretty soon they had me covering the school board and the city council for minimum wage. And one day at the county board of supervisors meeting when I was 18 years old, a reporter from The San Jose Mercury who was filling in for the local guy who was off on vacation slides down the bench next to me, asking what’s going on, during the break takes me to a coffee shop. I literally don’t have a penny in my pocket and I have a hole in the bottom of my shoe. And the following day he told me he had arranged a job interview for me at The San Jose Mercury as a reporter. And I looked at him and I said, “I just graduated from night high school. I’m 18 years old. They’re not going to talk to me.” And he said, “Yes, they are.” So I went over there. They made fun of me for an hour for applying. And I went back and told him how terrible it was, and he said, you go back every three weeks on Friday night until they hire you. And nine months later, they hired me.

Now, I was a university kid, and I most certainly was not married with a child at eighteen (fortunately). So I didn’t have the economic pressures on me the Johnston did; I didn’t have to “help the family.” But, like Johnston, I was working from the age of thirteen or so; moving lawns — I was rotten at setting prices, so I had a lot of customers — and shelving books in the library and washing dishes and painting houses, and so on; all before I left for school. And — from the Olympian heights of the 1% — I was very much of “the many,” and very much “at the bottom,” just like Johnston.

And also, I feel again, from his tone, like Johnston, I didn’t find the work alienating in any way. I enjoyed doing it, both in body and mind, and have felt the same way about all the jobs I’ve had (except the mill that cheated me on piecework), all the way up to the present day. And I’ve had a lot of jobs.

Which brings me to the terrible labor market, and the terrible labor force participation rate. Readers, I would like you to ground me in reality by answering a few questions. (Yes, I know your answers will be anecdotal, but I’m not sure any scholars — or at least academics — are collecting real data on them.)

On the labor market:

1) Is the sort of teenage work experience that Johnston and I had — granting our male privilege, alas — available to teen-agers of today? I have the feeling it’s not, partly because those jobs don’t exist (or have been replaced by deskilled jobs in service industries), partly because “kids these days” are severely overscheduled (though this is surely a class thing), and partly because compliance culture means that kids aren’t nearly as free today as we were when I was growing up. Readers? In your own personal networks and a degree or two of separation out, who do you see doing what?

On the labor force participation rate:

2) What do the disemployed and how do they live? Since I have never found work alienating, it’s very difficult for me to imagine not having any. Friday, I said: “I keep wondering where all those people not in the labor force disappeared to, and what they’re doing. System D? Shuffleboard? The streets?” (In fact, I asked the same question back in 2012.) Again, readers, in your own personal networks and a degree or two of separation out, who do you see doing what?

I’ll give David Cay Johnston the last word in what appears to be his alternative bio:

Mr. Johnston, a renowned investigative journalist, says he used to believe if you worked hard you would prosper, but now, there is a completely different environment.

I guess I’m asking, what is this “completely different environment”? I’ve been working all my life, and expect to work ’til I drop, since shuffleboard is a death sentence. What would I not see?

NOTE Obviously, you don’t have to be an old coot like me to answer!

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. sd

    Rural kid. I had a number of jobs in high school. Picking drop apples, hay stacking at harvest, cashier at the farm stand, babysitting, firewood stacking, house cleaning, yard work, Etc.
    By way of comparison, these jobs appear to no longer be done by teenagers. It took the stepson two years to find a job at a local quick mart.

  2. Woodrow Wilson

    “I keep wondering where all those people not in the labor force disappeared to, and what they’re doing.” –

    Talk about a disconnect.

    They are easy to find in local communities, at least here in The Northeast, check under bridges and in the woods. Local officials have an on-going donation program to grab tents, non-perishable food, anything to help out. In some cases, local governments are trying to kick them out of their make-shift camps due to “health concerns”. Right. Their only concern is having so many homeless/jobless living near their communities. Maybe for those living in gated or very well off communities (or academia) don’t see it, but neighboring towns and cities do. If you live in a medium city (70K) especially, it’s everywhere, food banks and churches cannot keep up with the demand.

    The “new normal” – pretend all is well in this dystopia and make sure the “TV” keeps championing that mantra. If this reaches the true middle-class, those with homes and decent jobs, and they lose all that, the cities are going to burn.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      “Local officials have an on-going donation program to grab tents”

      Nothing like that up here, and we have a lot of woods. What part of the country are you in?

      1. Woodrow Wilson

        Massachusetts/New Hampshire border (Merrimack Valley), take a boat ride along The Merrimack River and you can find mini-cities under hard to get to bridges. The local areas also have a number of “parks” in wooded areas, not as dense as they are up in Maine, again, mini-tent cities.

        1. Lambert Strether Post author

          Great, and horrifying, data point.

          * * *
          The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread. –Anatole France.

    2. Oregoncharles

      Here, too, though not on quite the same scale. I haven’t seen figures for the whole country, but you’re right, this has to be a significant portion of the missing. Tent cities were a feature of the Great Depression. Apparently we’re having another one, only with the financial end smoothed over and better propaganda around unemployment.

      When I raised this question, which Lambert brought to the fore, I was being optimistic; I thought probably a lot of them were moving into the underground economy. Some may be – it’s hard to measure, and I haven’t heard that anyone is really trying. And many are falling back on family – one effect is to reverse the movement of women into the work force.. But I fear you’re right: the Reserve Army of the Unemployed are sleeping under bridges.

  3. Larry

    With regards to teens working, I think it depends on where you live. I visited a creamery/farm this weekend with my kids. It’s no longer a farm, but rather a bustling family attraction. Corn maze, bouncy jumps, ice cream, food etc. And I can tell you that the employees were by and large high school kids. I counted four adults at the whole place, and about 20 teens doing everything else. Our local grocery store, which is part of a big conglomerate, also hires teens. But I suspect that my area is not as desperate economically as others. Teens do these jobs, because the adults have better options, whatever those may be.

    In terms of my own experience with the long term unemployed: My cousin retired from the Air Force over three years ago. He has a wife that works as a nurse and a military pension. He tried getting work for years, and is now taking advantage of some of his military benefits to get an associates degree at a community college. They are getting by okay, because housing in the South is relatively cheap. But he has been looking for work, wants work, and cannot find it. So he’s going back to school. And he’s a stay at home dad. Both don’t really count as being part of the labor force.

    1. Oregoncharles

      There’s a successful local restaurant – a fish and chips place – that is operated mostly by teenagers (at least they look like teenagers to me). There are generally, but not always one or two older adults. It does seem there are more in recent years.

      The food is quite good, but a strategically limited menu. It’s a great business model: keep the menu simple enough that you can do it well, even when most of the employees are kids. And the place itself is very appealing, in a way that may date back to the sixties – lots of bare wood and antiques.

  4. allan

    Here in the suburbs of Western NY, newspaper `delivery boys’ are middle-aged or elderly, often from the inner city, stitching together several jobs to make ends meet. Car troubles abound, and there is a steady turnover. Almost any job that in a previous generation might have been a starter job for a teen is now sought after by many desperate people.

    Those not working are a varied bunch. Among those I know: Being laid off and unable to find another job after 50. Leaving the workforce for child or elder care and then unable to find another job after 50. (There’s a pattern there, I just can’t put my finger on it.) Disability.

    But just wait for the patent reform jobs boom to kick in.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      “Car troubles abound”. Well, self-driving cars will certainly solve that. I bet you’ll be able to rent one to get to work, at least as long as you make the payments….

  5. Uahsenaa

    In the Midwest, the same sort of minimum wage work that was available when I was in high school still exists–bagging groceries, lifeguard, seasonal jobs at amusement parks, etc.–but many of the pay-per-job things like mowing lawns, shoveling driveways, and what have you are now either the purview of landscaping services or people just do it themselves. Even babysitting seems to be less common among teenagers, due to, I presume, paranoia over child rearing and the culture of fear that now surrounds teenagers. In Iowa City, there’s also the problem that a lot of this sort of work gets gobbled up by college students.

    If you’ve never read danah boyd’s work, i strongly suggest it. She at least does the basic ethnographic work of finding out what teenagers do nowadays.

    I suppose I would qualify as “one of those people” who’s out of the labor market or not meaningfully attached to it. My spouse works full time for the university, and previously I did as well, until my position was turned into tenure track, and I was not even considered for it. Mostly, when classes are available for me to teach as a lecturer, I teach, and when they’re not, I don’t. This was recently complicated by the fact that the only thing I was offered directly conflicted with picking my daughter up from school, so I had to decline, since the money earned would only just cover the expense of having her in an after school program every day. As for “what I do,” I perform most of the domestic tasks and continue to work on my research/write articles, so I can at least pretend to still be a scholar. It’s rough, when you no longer have an academic affiliation/access, but I have some experience now navigating the loopholes. I also do intermittent translation work.

    I never felt especially fulfilled by having a job, though I do miss teaching quite often.

    1. Martin Finnucane

      pay-per-job things like mowing lawns, shoveling driveways, and what have you are now either the purview of landscaping services or people just do it themselves

      In my area, those jobs are dominated by people with felony records. For those guys and gals, it’s cut grass or work at the chicken plant down the road. The chicken plant chews up people as fast as it does factory farmed chicken, so “going straight” for felons most often means cutting grass and getting a bit lucky. Personally, I’d rather cut grass with nail clippers than work in that hell hole.

      I have a neighbor who is up before dawn most mornings getting his machines, truck, trailers, and various implements in working order before he hits the road. Maybe that’s him working on that debt to society. Interestingly, his skills somehow don’t get counted as skills, and his resourcefulness doesn’t get counted as resourcefulness. To respectable (white) society, he’s still a bum. The protestant work ethic spiel doesn’t apply to him but would to, say, a procurement officer.

      Awesome country we got here, right?

  6. tegnost

    Teens among my friends and families kids don’t work. I started bussing tables 10pm to 6 am in lubbock tx at 13 because my uncle wanted to “keep me off the streets” but gave me money for working so…I can’t say that working has been that great a deal, had I somehow overcome the jumbled atmosphere of childhood (nuclear bomb family) I may have done more in the way of life that the rest of my extended family (black sheep) but I would work and like you doing pretty much everything, never (well not very often) say no to work and so clawed my way through the GFC, mostly homeless, but lots of couches to sleep on, but at this point mostly played all those cards. Interacted negatively with a jeep cherokee that unseated me from my mount in 2009 and I can thank yves & co. for assisting me through the recovery, mostly better now lucky me.Had a two person landscape co. I hardscape, she garden, since GFC no gardening, so I mostly give money, get groceries, etc… and she lives in a boathouse behind one of the few charitable americans left god bless their souls. yesterday the boss (tech guy) came over with family (rental remodel) wanted to make his kid work he said but mostly kid sat in the backyard with the dog. They did manage to do what they consider gardening, butchered the yard to save a few bucks I’ll try not to tell the girl (she used to work for them but GFC gave everyone the excuse they needed to unload workers) she’d start crying.

  7. Skyburn

    Many teenagers around where I live (suburban Philly) get retail or fast food jobs, since there are a lot of them. There’s also a lot of under-the-table work. For example, there’s something of a building mini-boom in the area. Someone will buy a $500,000 house, knock it down, and build a million-dollar house in its place. Most contractors have at least a few people working under the table, and during the summer at least a few will be teenagers. Also, in Philly itself, there’s lots of under-the-table work in car repair and auto body. There’s also under-the-table work in childcare, working for the same people paying to have half-a-million dollar houses bulldozed.

    I was unemployed for a few years. I basically spent time, which I had lots of, instead of money, which I didn’t. For example, I brought rainwater inside in buckets to flush the toilet, and cooked most everything from scratch. I also did under-the-table work where I could find it. I was able to defray the expense of internet by doing online surveys for a marketing company.

  8. Dan Lynch

    There was little work available when I was growing up in the 60’s and 70’s. The few youth jobs available usually went to someone’s relative or friend. Those jobs also required transportation, which I did not have. The end result is that well-connected kids whose parents bought them a car or loaned them the family car had jobs, while the poor and not-so-well connected did not have jobs. So from childhood onward your economic opportunities were largely a function of which family you were born into.

    As for mowing lawns and such, in the town where I grew up those sorts of jobs were usually done by blacks. It’s not that white kids were unwilling to do those jobs, but you had to compete with black adults who worked for cheap and were viewed as more reliable than kids. There was an unstated rule that certain types of jobs were performed by blacks (lawn care & maid services) while other jobs were performed by whites (i.e. bagging groceries, fast food, and delivering newspapers). I did not make the rules, obviously.

    My first summer job at age 18 was arranged by my father who had a friend who had a friend. That’s how things were done. And by that time my dad consented to loan me his beater truck, though only to commute to work. Without my dad pulling strings and loaning me his truck, I would not have had that job. At the construction company where I worked that summer, black youth were assigned to ditch digging jobs while white youth were assigned as helpers to skilled tradesmen. Again I did not make the rules.

    To sum up a long and varied career, most of the jobs I did sucked. Several employers were downright abusive. Wage theft was standard operating procedure. Many of the jobs were very dangerous and involved exposure to hazardous materials — asbestos, poisons, carcinogins, etc.. Many of the jobs involved working with people I didn’t like, ex cons, child abusers, and just plain rotten people.

    Unlike Lambert, I have no fond memories of being an employee. I am currently self-employed, and I’m OK with that, but nonetheless am counting the days until I can retire. The problem with being an employee is the way you are treated, the workplace hazards, the terrible co-workers & supervisors, and the lack of relevance to your training, aptitudes, and career goals. That’s one reason I have little enthusiasm for MMT’s JG — it’s easy to imagine ending up in some miserable dead end position.

    There are a lot of people in this world who are not self-directed, who if left to their own devices will sit on the couch and watch TV, so they would just as soon have a job. I have never been like that. I ALWAYS have stuff I want to do. Hobbies, home projects, exercise, reading, writing, cooking, etc.. That’s why I would rather retire.

    How have things changed in my lifetime? Many agricultural jobs that used to be performed by teenagers are now performed by adult immigrants. The immigrants work for cheap and are viewed as more reliable than young whites. Otherwise things haven’t changed much — the few youth jobs available go to someone’s friend or relative and only if the parents will loan the kid a vehicle. So the well connected kids who have parental support get the jobs.

    1. Ché Pasa

      A great deal of truth is in this post. Important to understand just how little opportunity there was for young people’s employment (still is) back in the day. There were (somehow) never enough paper routes and lawn mowing jobs to go around on the one hand, and on the other, if you didn’t know someone who could/would hire you or have a relative in the business, you were simply not going to be employed at all. Like most of the young people I knew, I had my first job in college: work-study. 16 hours a week. $1.40 an hour.

      Transportation was a serious issue, too. If you didn’t have your own vehicle or the use of a parent’s vehicle, you were pretty well out of luck pretty much everywhere except those few cities with decent public transportation.

      Racism, sexism and classism were constant realities for most everyone.

      But the other side of it was that kids weren’t expected to work until they were “ready” — which was usually well after they finished high school or college. Child labor laws prevented their regular employment before they were a certain age, and custom dictated that working for money was far less important than getting an education.

      Boys and girls were on separate tracks when it came to employment. Black people and other minorities were on separate tracks from whites. Class distinctions were strict and strictly adhered to. One dared not get above oneself.

      It meant that ultimately a lot of people became drudges and were often abused by employers.

      It’s the way it was.

      Fast forward to now, and millions upon millions of Americans were forced out of the labor pool and into poverty by the financial unpleasantness of the 2007-2008 period, and many of them — perhaps most — will never recover. Many young people have little or no opportunity for decent careers or any career. Unless they know somebody or have a relative in the business… they’re screwed.

      It’s one reason there is a growing underground economy.

    2. jrs

      It’s kind of hard to say how jobs were back in my day as my father more or less forbid me to work when I was in high school. He wanted the concentration on schoolwork. “You’ll have your whole life to work” he said. How bitterly true that is. It was kind of a reaction to his own upbringing in poverty where he had to support himself at age 16 after his dad died and his mom was sick and moved away cross country to recover and they had always been poor. My sibling tried to get jobs and had no luck, he found out later most of his friends who got jobs knew a lot more about job hunting than he did merely filling out futile application after futile application in retail as he was doing (this was in the 90s) . It’s always been a game that has gone to those who knew the tricks I guess.

  9. susan the other

    I liked DCJ’s story about his parents and growing up. Kinda different. But he was saved by a more innocent era when it was more-or-less “so what” if your rich father disowned you. I think he has been an inspired advocate of how things should really be but aren’t. But now, and 25 years hence, if things keep going to the 1%, we will not have any more David Cay Johnsons, we will have domestic terrorism and anarchy. Because of the law of equal and opposite reactions. Richard Wolff is absolutely right. We need fiscal policy and deficit spending because the strict adherence to ideological system tweaks is absurd when the system is proven to be a big nothing. Now about John Boehner’s “every crappy job he could find” speech: it was at least a time when you could find a crappy job. Back in the 60s everybody could give a teenager some little job because everybody had an extra bit of disposable income. Not now. Big corporations have sucked the life out of the economy. We either need to replace our life’s blood with government deficit spending or we need to decentralize asap. Shut down every mega corporation and go back to mom and pop businesses. I don’t think there is another option to these two.

    1. Norb

      Couldn’t agree more. Government for the people- what a great idea.

      I think the propagandists have done such a number on working people that it is going to take some effort to turn things around. The trouble starts when everyone is looking to become “RICH” instead of receiving a fair and living wage for their efforts. Even the idea of mom and pop businesses falls apart if mom and pop are more interested in using their enterprise for personal wealth creation alone with no social restraints on growth and profits use.

      The idea of who will do the economic planning for society is an important discussion that is just beginning to reemerge. Hopefully, that energy can be directed to the creation of more just institutions.

      We need less talk about becoming rich and more about becoming human beings.

  10. Norb

    Starting off, I think my views of work have be shaped both directly and indirectly by my parents. I come from a two parent income home and both parents worked until reaching Social Security retirement age. My father spent the majority of his career working for the same title insurance company. After being downsized later in his career, he continued working for Walmart until reaching retirement age. My mother was a secretary/ office staff worker who moved up through the ranks until she retired from a management/consultant position at a major business relocation firm.

    Growing up I saw and appreciated the efforts my parents took to provide for our lifestyle. They worked hard, were frugal with their money, and we didn’t waste resources. Home cooking, hand me down clothes, and you wore things till they wore out. We grew up in a happy and well provided home.

    However, my parents displayed a sense of insecurity because they lacked formal college education. With all they had worked for and accomplished there was always something underneath that was missing. Class shame? I’m sure the lack of formal education was used as a limiting factor on their wages which caused both resentment and emotional conflict- they enjoyed working and displayed loyalty to their employers but also didn’t get paid as much.

    I also remember my mother recalling family stories of the Great Depression. Still having family memory of that time directly influenced her outlook on life and work which she passed on to her children- well at least me- not my sisters as much.

    This sense of work and the importance of work is part of me. I have never done work that I have not “enjoyed” in the sense that the work is something that needs to be done- so do It. There is a pride in working- of expending energy to accomplish an end -Whatever that end my be.

    I see my work life as one unbroken chain. Mowing my parents lawn as a chore, then to mowing lawns for money. Getting a first summer job in a factory stock room and another as a short order cook. While in college, needing work to pay rent and no longer willing to work in the fast food business, I too kept returning to the local grocery store every week to ask for a job stocking shelves. As luck finally intervined, I was offered a job after the owner was embaressed to realize I was standing behind him as he told the stock manager to refuse me once again! Finally, Interest in drawing and lithography in school lead to work in the printing industry where I am today.

    It seems to me that when your chain of social experience becomes broken- or you allow someone to break it- that your troubles begin.

    It is the social bonds- in all forms- that we cannot allow the predators to destroy.

  11. Jesper

    Might need to differentiate between the disemployed who have money and the disemployed who are without money.

    Disemployed with money to be pitied? I find it strange that there is even a discussion about that group while there are people who are starving and living on the streets. They might have it tough in some ways but seriously?
    Join a charity, spend time with friends and/or family, read, write, explore, sing, play an instrument, whatever, just stop sounding like children: I’m bored, entertain me or at least force me to do something…..

    1. jrs

      No dis employed with money can be bad. I mean unless we’re talking never have to work again money in which case party on. But otherwise it’s like ok you have some savings but you know in a year you’ll have burned through it say, so there’s pressure to find a job before a year is out. Now in a truly good job market this would be a walk in the park – you want to work and have skills even, jobs want to hire – all is right in the world. But in a bad job market it’s not, everyone is picky and looking for a purple elephant, noone wants to hire over 50, whatever work exists is contract work or low wage labor etc. (though this will tide one over if they can get it). Meanwhile the time bomb keeps ticking, even being unemployed at all makes you a poorer hire in many employers eyes, the longer you are unemployed the worst it looks so that many employers aren’t considering anyone out of work for a certain amount of time, all that reading, writing, singing and playing an instrument is risky and if you fall between the cracks there is no safety net. As bad as homelessness? No. But the thoughts occur it might well lead there. It wouldn’t surprise me if many of the homeless once had savings … once upon a time.

      1. Jesper

        It seems we agree that the problem with being unemployed is the lack of security, not the lack of directed activity?

        The US, the land of the free where people can’t handle having free time.

        1. jrs

          Well what they can’t handle is economic insecurity. It’s so much easier to handle if you have a view of the world where being middle class means you stay middle class and you couldn’t possibly fall all the way into homelessness etc.. I think that view of the world is false. I could be wrong.

          Even if your suggestion is people should live in the crux of economic insecurity, what works well for a young single person will work less well if one has gone the parenting route (noone would suggest people should willing expose their kids to constant economic insecurity – it doesn’t help them learn about the world, like all serious childhood pain it just damages them).

  12. papicek

    Who’s doing what?

    I used to work alongside a Harvard grad with a degree in astrophysics. He was shlepping Starbucks.

    I know someone with an accounting degree (which ought to translate freely across any kind of business) working in a shipping/receiving department.

    I also used to work with someone who has a business degree who landed a wonderful job shlepping lumber & building materials at the local Home Depot (non-management, btw).

    I’m retired now, but since 2009, my jobs were manning a cash register at Barnes & Noble, which was fun, then taking a seasonal job at a big garden center, which was backbreaking (nobody expected me to last). Me? I was a data analyst.

    I don’t get out much, but I’m sure there are many, many more like us. We’re redundant.

      1. papicek

        One other observation. Today’s graduates are entrepreneurial. Their endeavors may be secondary profit centers (web design or bookkeeping done at home), but they’re out there advertising. See it all the time. Wasn’t that way when my cohort entered the workforce in the late 60’s and early 70’s. We knew there would be jobs waiting for us, and work which paid a fairly decent wage after a few years. We expected houses, cars and 2.3 children. That’s gone.

  13. jrs

    1) much of that work is probably taken by immigrants (some by non-immigrant adults).

    2) I don’t know the answer. Certainly homelessness is rampant. If two spouses used to work, one spouse working can sometimes pay the bills and I suspect a lot of that goes on (but what about single people or if they are both unemployed? I don’t know. Single people have high poverty rates). I suspect older people do try sometimes to get on disability if they can’t find work or take early retirement. I don’t have a problem with this, if there is no work to be had there is no work to be had and if disability and SS are the only social safety nets out there, what exactly are people supposed to do?

  14. Kris Alman

    1) One of 9 kids, I worked to pay for college from 3rd grade on. It helped my father bought a small restaurant in rural IL. Of course, in the mid-70s, tuition for University of Illinois was only $350/semester. Our nearly-21 and 23 year-old kids have had great difficulty getting low paid work. Restaurants: part-time, erratic schedules. The older is a college graduate; the younger is still in college. What will happen when they turn 26? I shudder to think how they will be able to find stable living wage jobs. Everybody will become migrants, nomadic in the pursuit of jobs. But where will all the economic (and environmental) refugees go?
    2) I have three friends who are STEM educated, one in environmental sciences, one in nutrition and diabetes education and the other in electrical engineering. All jobless. Looking at all the other qualified people who can’t find work despite their degrees and experience. Employers demand specific skill sets, education and experience that give them the ability to blame education and to demand more H1B visas. I worry about my friends.

    And I just don’t know how to give any advice to my kids about education and career choices. At least they have no debt.

  15. OregonChris

    I think there is a fair amount of consolidating households within family and friend groups, and the disemployed are able to have a roof over their heads that way and also contribute to domestic tasks and supplement household income with piece work.

    My impression regarding homeless is that many have burned through their relationships with family and friends, and then have nowhere to go. I realize that is not the case for all homeless. I represented low income clients in very tough financial spots, and it was very sad and discouraging to see people lose family and friends through the increased pressures of financial stress/disaster. Those family/friend groups that are able to not internalize the stress or take it out on each other fare much better and have a better chance at maintaining or creating some kind of stability.

  16. jonboinAR

    In my small town there’s a couple of plants, or factories, also plants in nearby towns. I know of a number of young families who work in those plants who live in a sort of motel that’s effectively an apartment building. There’s one bedroom, a few units have two, a tiny kitchen and living room. It’s usually a couple with one or two babies living in these units. Many of these families have come from outside of the area to find work. Many don’t stay too long. There’s also a couple of trailer courts with shabby trailers that some live in and several traditional apartment buildings, also somewhat shabby, that, typically, these lower-wage factory workers live in. There’s a mix of blacks, latins, and whites.

    The members of the community who have “roots” here typically have some land where they raise beef and/or chickens in “chicken houses” contracted for by the local chicken processing plant. These folks also dominate the better jobs. They may own several chicken houses and also have one of the better positions in a plant, or one of the better government jobs or utility positions. Their kids move into the entry levels of these job-types. I have been blessed with a good job for around here, as has my wife and son-in-law. We all got our jobs through our family and community connections. Together we have been able to get my daughter through some college and into an internship in family counseling. It’s an interesting job that doesn’t pay much. We live in a decent house on a nice plot of land, but all share one roof in order to make ends meet. My wife and I are praying that our company stays in business until we can retire.

  17. ekstase

    I had a conversation with a boy of nine years old or less in the summer. He was selling lemonade, and I told him he’d picked a nice spot, under a tree.

    He then started to tell me his whole timetable, “At 3:30 I have to do this.” “At 5:00 I do this.” “Every Tuesday I do this.” I was thinking, “Where is this going?” And then he said, “I’m just glad I get to be outside.”

    I think a lot of kids now are being raised to regard their childhoods as either “work,” or as prep for “real life.” Over-scheduled, and on some level, they know it. I think this ties in with today’s article on education, too. Education, if it is really going to serve you, needs to open your mind, not prep you for obedience and whatever the jobmasters have available at the moment they designed your curriculum.

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