Back to work

It’s been a busy month and a half.

Since the beginning of September I have taken two road trips. The first to Indiana to visit my brother and his family — daughter Addy came along on that one. The second was over Labor Day weekend to visit my relatives in West Virginia, a solo trip. Then I moved out of my apartment and back in with my folks. And, I collected my final unemployment check, not because my stipend had run out but because I started a new job. I was on unemployment for only 8 weeks. Don’t think I don’t know how lucky I am, especially when you consider all the people who have been out of work for months and and years, especially here in Michigan. I got lucky, I know it.

Speaking of my job, it is pretty cool. I’m not going to name the place, though. It’s an office job with all the Dilbert-esque accouterments that that entails, like cubes and copy machines and daily meetings, but the people are really cool. I like it there. Hey, we get free slushies (made from Faygo) and popcorn daily. Coffee too. This week’s slushy flavors are Lemonade and Rock n Rye. Last week it was Grape and Red Pop.

Recently JenX67 posted on her blog an entry that is, in part, about Generation X in the work place. My office is full of GenXers. I’d say mostly GenXers, from what I can gather. But there are plenty of Gen Yers/Millennials as well. In fact, my immediate supervisor is one. He’s maybe 24 or 25 years old. I heard someone ask him where he went to high school and he said Fitzgerald, graduated in 2006. I stood up at my cube and, speaking over the half-wall, said, “Hey. I went there.”

“What?” he said. “You taught there?”

I said, “No. I graduated from Fitz…twenty years before you did.” I graduated in 1986. He laughed.

My supervisor is very cool, very hip. And very good at his job. I like him a lot. I was asked by someone if it bothered me to be “taking orders” from someone so much younger than myself. But you know, it doesn’t. I could really care less. I’m there to work and to learn and he has plenty to teach, so my ears are wide open. You know, I think I’d rather have this young guy than some aging Babyboomer. At least with my boss I don’t have to listen to droning nostalgia about the 60s or The Beatles or anything like that. My boss digs JZ.

In my immediate area there a few other  GenXers. And few a Gen Yers as well.

The other day 0ur supervisor, in response to something someone else said, replied, “Awesome blossom.” He said he didn’t know why he said it.

I asked him if he was referring to the 80s TV show “Blossom.” The other GenXer’s near me just laughed and said that could not possibly be the case, he, our boss, was way too young. I’m pretty sure he didn’t have a clue what I was talking about. Although strangely enough he was singing that Sade “Smooth Operator” today. So….

Maybe this is an opportunity to blog about GenX in the workplace. Gen Y too for that matter. We’ll see. I’ll be working long hours soon, 10 to 12 hours a day some day. This new schedule means I don’t see my daughter as much. She stays with her mom more, not an ideal situation or one that I want but one has to do what one has to do. Addy and I will just have to make the time we do have together count.

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New Jobless Rate

It’s back above 400,000 according this Associated Press article, and I was one of them. Sorry. My bad.

However:  “…the four-week average, a more reliable gauge of the job market, fell to the lowest level since mid-April.”  So I suppose that is something.

According to the article the number of unemployed needs to fall below 375,000 to signal that the economy is improving. Why that number precisely? I have not a clue. I suppose it’s as good as any…

Still:

The report on weekly unemployment applications does provide some positive signs for hiring in August. Applications are lower than they were in mid-July, when they totaled 422,000.

And:

Employers added 117,000 net jobs in July, roughly double the totals from each of the previous two months. The unemployment rate ticked down to 9.1 percent.

Talk about nickle and diming the numbers. I mean, seriously, are we supposed to get excited about a .1 percent drop in the unemployment rate, especially when it doesn’t really represent the real number of unemployed, since I’m pretty sure that it does not count people whose unemployment benefits have run out and those who have simply given up looking for work because they believe that there are not jobs out there for them as well as the undermployed? At all. Come on.

In that spirit the article also reports:

Other recent data show the economy gradually improved in July, after growing at annual rate of just 0.8 percent in the first six months of the year.

Consumers spent more on retail goods in July than in any month since March. And factory output rose in July by the most since the Japan crisis, a sign that supply chain disruptions caused by the March 11 earthquake could be fading.

Mildly encouraging at best. Or maybe I’m guilty of being cynical, not optimistic enough.  Amazing how much of our economy seems to run on optimism. Hope.

Example:

In an effort to boost growth, the Federal Reserve last week said it will keep its benchmark short-term interest rate at nearly zero until mid-2013. Previously, the central bank had never given a clear time frame. It hopes the certainty of low rates will encourage consumers and businesses to borrow and spend more.

Despite hope and optimism:

…July’s job gains are barely enough to keep up with population growth. At least double that many new jobs are needed to significantly reduce unemployment. And a consumer sentiment survey taken earlier this month showed confidence in the economy fell to the lowest level in 31 years, raising concerns that Americans could pull back on spending.

Worries about U.S. economic weakness and the ongoing European debt crisis caused the stock markets to plunge in recent weeks. While stock indexes have recovered some lost ground, the Dow Jones industrial average is more than 1,200 points lower than it was on July 22.

And:

The Fed’s assessment of the economy last week was gloomier than it had been in June. The Fed said it “anticipates that the unemployment rate will decline only gradually.”

As the man said, “Hope in one hand, shit in the other. See which one fills up first.”

Pinched

Driving home from my parents’ place this evening, where I had dinner with my folks, I was listening to the NPR show On Point, and the focus was the economy, specifically the jobs situation, the poor jobs situation. They’re talking about how the country, in the wake of this recession, is becoming divided into the affluent, the wealthy, and everyone else, i.e. the middle class is disappearing, which has been said to be the engine of our economy.

The guest “expert” is Don Peck,the author of  “Pinched: How the Great Recession Has Narrowed Our Futures and What We Can Do About It.” And I got to tell you that guy does not sound very optimistic.

I heard quoted that the average time of unemployment time span is 9 months. Nine freaking months! I can’t imagine still being unemployed come next may. And yet I’ve heard of people being out of work for up to three years. What do you do with yourself when you’re unemployed for three years.

Something else they’re talking about is how there are certain segment of American society that are not touched by the recession, people who don’t see the jobs problem. Now, I’ve only been unemployed for a week but I’ve been job-searching for months, ever since I learned that jobs would be cut at the library where I worked, because I strongly suspected that I might be one of the unfortunates to get the ax, and I can tell you that it is not good out there, jobs-wise. I don’t care what anyone says. I reviewed perhaps 100 j0bs and found only three to apply for. I mean, unless I want to work for $8.50 and hour, which would be a step down from unemployment. But who knows? I may be begging for a job lock that in a few months.

And yet there are people who believe things are not that bad, that they are improving. Someone said to me that they felt things are getting better because their company was looking to hire 7 people or something like that and couldn’t find people to fill those positions. That may well be, but it is not representative of what is going in the greater economy. The situation is not good, and I seriously doubt that it’s going to get much better anytime soon. It is going to be years and years before we recover, it we ever really recover entirely.

Of course, statistically I am supposed to be in a good position, since I have an education, an advanced degree even. But consider that my degrees are in English, creative writing. I’m not sure that these seem very practical or impressive to employers, if they even look at my resume amongst the hundreds, if not thousands, that are submitted for any given position.

Finally, they say that people get more conservative financially in times like these, and I agree. I question and pain over every nickle that I spend. I cut wherever I can. I go without. I just don’t buy stuff. And I’m not about to until things start improving.

Example: my lease is up at the end of September. I have to give thirty days notice to the rental office if I’m going to stay or move out. So that basically gives me two weeks to nab a job that will allow me to stay in my apartment. But I doubt that is going to happen, so my plan is to move back in with my parents. Now, I could probably afford to stay in my apartment while on unemployment. I could probably scrape by. But I’d probably run through what meager savings I have in addition to burning up the unemployment, which is substantially less than I was making at  my job, which was not that much. It may not be ideal, moving back in with my parents, but my goal is to not go into debt, and perhaps even preserve some money, what little I have.

I’m sorry, I’m just not very optimistic. Others may be, but I’m not. It’s a new reality, and it’s not good.

People say…

People say, “Good luck.” And I believe that they are sincere. But I can’t help wondering if they’re also thinking, “Whew, I’m glad it’s not me.” They must be, some of them. I know I would be thinking that.

As I was leaving yesterday the IT guy at work asked me if I was tired of people wishing me good luck. I had to admit I was a little. Part of me wants to say, “Don’t wish me good luck. Find me a job.” Actually, a few people have given me tips. So…

People say, “Hang in there.” And right now, that’s exactly how I feel, as if I’m hanging on a ledge, dangling over a deep drop. Yikes!

People say,” Something will come along.” And they are probably right. Eventually, I’ll be working someplace else, a new job, a better one perhaps. But it might not be a better job. It might be a shit job. But a shit job is better than no job, right? Right? And sometimes I can’t help wondering, “What if nothing comes along? What if I am unable to find a new job, ever?” There are people who have given up looking, because they believe that there are no more jobs available to them. Of course, that can’t be true, but I bet it feels true.  Feels true to me sometimes. I mean, I’d been looking long before I even got my lay-off notice and intensified my search once I did find out, but still nothing. Sometimes I wonder if it’s possible to fall through the cracks and end up unemployed for…life. Could that be possible? How could that be possible….?

But the possibility got me thinking. About a story idea. What if there were no more jobs? What if there were only a limited number of jobs? And they were, for the most ,taken, and you had all these unemployed people who need jobs but can’t get one? What if  the jobs you see posted online are for the most part a lie, propaganda to make people believe that there are jobs available. What if it got so bad that the only way to get a job was to not only be selected from thousands of applicants and make it successfully through the interview process but you had to fight for it. To the death. That you had to kill the person who also wanted the job or already had the job? Could you do it, if it meant the difference between having a life and providing for your family, making sure they had a place to live and food on the table and clothes on their back, and existing in squalor and hunger, as if in a third-world country?

Hmm. Maybe that the premise for my epic novel.

Of books and jobs

Last night I was at the local Borders for a reading by Megan Abbott from her new novel, The End of Everything. It was an excellent turn-out, filling up all the allotted seats, leaving standing room only. I was happy to stand, eager to hear Megan read — she always does a fine job.

With the closing of Borders this reading may well be one of the last at this particular store. It’s sad. I’ve been hanging out at Borders bookstores since I lived in Ypsilanti, where I attended school at Eastern Michigan University, back in the lat 80s and early 90s. Back then there was just the one store in downtown Ann Arbor, and now it is going to close, leaving a big gap there. I’m not sure what bookstores are left in Ann Arbor. I heard that the small independent bookstore, Shaman Drum, was forced out of business, by Borders ironically (I think that’s ironic anyway…).

Also, I’ve heard that Barnes and Noble is not doing all that well either. Will they last? And if they don’t, what then? Will small independent stores fill in the gaps, or will all bookstores fall by the wayside, leaving only online bookstores such as Amazon.com. Where will authors give readings then? How will this effect publishing?

Of course, there’s also the impact on unemployment. The closing of Borders means the loss of thousands of jobs. And on another jobs-related note, NASA’s space shuttle program ended today with the final landing of the last shuttle, resulting in a loss of thousands of jobs as well.

This morning on the radio, on my way into work, after dropping my daughter off at her grandparents’ for the day, I heard reported that Michigan’s unemployment numbers inched up to 10.5% which is well above the national average of 9.2%.

Dental chat

I woke up thinking about a conversation that I had with my dentist yesterday. Okay, it wasn’t really a conversation so much as he talked while I nodded my headed and uttered garbled responses because he had his hands in my mouth. It’s a tricky thing to carry on a conversation while you are in the dentist chair. You have to sneak in your comments when the dentist pauses to grab another instrument or check your ex-rays or something like that.

Anyhoo… we got on the subject of the crap economy after I told him about my impending lay-off. I was explaining how tight the j0b market is, especially here in Michigan, which of course he knew. And that the jobs that are available are often only part-time or temporary contract work, that unfortunately that seemed as if it was going to be part of the new reality work-wise. He pointed out that in discussions with small-business owners that he knows and has met that many of them are leery about hiring on full-time people because they don’t know how Obama Care is going to work once it is implemented — in what is it? 2014.

It was a good point. Because I had to admit I was every bit as confused. The Obama Administration and supporting Dems have done a terrible job explaining the new health care law and how it will work, perhaps because they don’t really know. Perhaps no one really knows. If someone does and can explain it, I’d be willing to listen, and even take notes.

My dentist also speculated that even if the economy does pick up and Obama Care works well (or at least doesn’t suck ass) they might just stick with running their businesses with a skeleton crew of full-time workers, filling in gaps with outsourcing, automation, and part-time and contract workers. Of course, an unintended consequence of this may be that people will reduce, perhaps even drastically, their spending habits on products and services. I know that if I’m only working part-time or on temporary contact I am NOT going to be spending my money. I”m going to be saving it, especially because I might need it in the even of a  medical emergency. Hell, forget emergency, I might need it for something minor, like a simply visit to the doctor’s office.

Which brings me back to the dentist, because I’m going to have to decide if I want to shell out money now to have him fix a filling and possibly put in a crown. Even with insurance, which I’ll have until the end of August, I’ll still have to pay out of pocket, but it won’t be as much as if a tooth suddenly goes bad when I don’t have insurance. And I have a tendency to grind my teeth at night which wears down the enamel and weakens fillings etc.  Not sure what to do at this point. It’s going to depend on the estimates I get back.

The New Reality

I’m hearing this term thrown around a lot lately at my soon-to-be former place of employment — The New Reality. It comes up in discussions about how work is going to get done once I am gone. Don’t get me wrong I know full well that I’m not an irreplaceable pillar of the workforce here but I know that I do a lot of work that is still going to need to be done once I’m gone. The thinking is this will be handled by outsourcing (we’ll see) and by others simply doing more work than they already do. Thus The New Reality.

But it’s not just here. This term is getting tossed around a lot in the wider world as well.  And perhaps has been for some time and I just haven’t noticed it until now. Like the person who works here who discussed her daughter’s work situation. This is a young woman with undergraduate and graduate degrees in music, a very smart and educated individual, and she’s working as a barista as well as doing some performance and I think giving music lessons. No full-time job, but instead a patchwork of part-time jobs. This may be what is in store for me, unfortunately.

Another movement in The New Reality is people starting their own businesses, like the one reported on in this article from the Detroit Free Press. Because even if you do have a great job with a good company there is no guarantee that your job will be there a year or six months from now, or even tomorrow for that matter.

A bit from the article:

OK, so if you accept the reality that all companies today are scrambling to control head count via software, automation, outsourcing — anything to limit the number of full-time workers with benefits — where’s an example of people adapting to that reality?

Last week, I visited Grit Design, a Web design and digital branding outfit of 15 people, mostly 30-somethings, working since March in space carved out of the Elevator Building, an old warehouse along the Detroit riverfront east of the Renaissance Center.

Almost all of them previously had swell jobs at big agencies — Ogilvy, Razorfish, Young & Rubicam — working on big-brand accounts like Ford, Disney, Cadillac, Dollar General.

I was asked last night if I would ever try to open my own business, instead of looking for a job with a company. It made me think. I guess I’d never really considered it. Mainly because I have not a clue what kind of business I would start, which might just be a sign that it’s not a good option for me. It would certainly have to be something viable in today’s market. It’s no time to be starting a labor-of-love business.

I have a friend who, after getting laid off from his long-time job, tried to start a home-restoration business. I don’t think it went well. He burned through his saving and may even be in debt now. I don’t want to end up like that. And I know, I know, you have to take risks be willing to put yourself out there and all that jazz. But there’s a time for risk and a time to exercise caution, and right now, in this economy and job market, I think more caution is warranted. Frankly, I’m just trying to weather the storm without winding up in debt. So far I’ve been able to to that.