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.”

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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.

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%.

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.

 

One upside to being unemployed

Besides not having to shower in the morning or even put on pants that is. It may be better than having a crap job, at least that is the thrust of this Time article.

A new study says that, income notwithstanding, having a demanding, unstable and thankless job may make you even unhappier than not having a job at all.

Of course, I’m not sure that exactly applies to me. My job is not overly demanding. It was definitely unstable there leading up to notice of my lay-off. And I wouldn’t say it was thankless. It could sure be tedious and boring, but I liked that the fact that I worked in a library, that I was contributing to the purpose of such an institution even if what I did was not always that interesting or challenging.

Here are some numbers:

Unemployed people in the Australian study had a mental-health score (based on the five-item Mental Health Inventory, which measures depression, anxiety and positive well-being in the previous month) of 68.5. Employed people had an average score of  75.1. The researchers found that moving from unemployment to a good job raised workers’ scores by 3.3 points, but taking a bad job led to a 5.6-point drop below average. That was worse than remaining unemployed, which led to decline of about one point.

And here is a conclusion that made me smirk:

Perhaps employers could be persuaded to be more mindful of the mental health of their workers — happier employees are a benefit to their employers. “The erosion of work conditions,” the researchers noted, “may incur a health cost, which over the longer term will be both economically and socially counterproductive.”

Because while I believe that some employers may have good intentions when it comes to being mindful of their employees mental health that on the whole it is not high priority. Getting stuff done is, regardless of how it beats up employee moral.

Stay at home Dads more likely to divorce

This according to a recent study as reported in this article in Time magazine.

While attitudes about women working have evolved considerably, social pressure on men to be breadwinners is still strong, according to the study, which was published in a recent issue of the American Journal of Sociology. The study shows that unemployment, more than unhappiness in the relationship, predicts divorce — at least for men.

I wasn’t a stay at home dad, although when my daughter was first born I worked from home three-days a week at first until finally transitioning back to full-time at the office. It wasn’t long after that that I lost my job, at which time I become a stay at home dad. I really enjoyed that time with my daughter and am glad that I had it. We’d go to the park and the zoo together. I remember one time, standing by the big fountain at the Detroit Zoo, my daughter accidentally grabbed my glasses and knocked them off my head and they fell into the fountain, at which point I had to set her down and wade into that mucky water to get them. It was kind of funny.
I wasn’t unemployed when I got divorced, although I suppose it is safe to say that I was underemployed in relation to my my education and experience, but the job I had (have until August 9th) allowed me to be more available to my daughter while my then wife pursued her career goals. I guess I was under the impression that this was okay. But if this study is to be believed that just isn’t the case. Men are still expected to be the breadwinners, equally if not more so than women. Things have changed for women but men are still being held to an old standard, or so it would seem.
It’s emblematic of an “assymetrical revolution,” says Sayer. “The role of women has changed a lot, but we have seen far less movement in the roles of men,” says Sayer. “That men be breadwinners still seems to be very salient for couples. If a man is not bringing in some money, it seems to be unacceptable.”
But hey, things change, and change can’t always be for the better for everyone, right.

Apparently the job market isn’t doing better

Earlier today I blogged about an article that reported that the economy and thus the job market was looking up. That put a little spring in my step this morning. Some encouraging news, right.

Yeah, well. Then I read this article from Salon.com and my optimism pretty much plummeted.  Apparently the government jobs report is not quite as rosy. Hell, it isn’t even close. Check this:

There is zero good news and a ton of terrible numbers in this report. The U.S. economy added only 18,000 jobs in June. May’s initial 54,000 gain was revised down to 25,000, while April’s 232,000 fell to 217,000. The topline unemployment measurement ticked up to 9.2 percent, but the U-6 number that gives the broadest measure of unemployment jumped from 15.8 to 16.2.

Holy crap! Talk about a difference in numbers. How does one report say we added some 157,000 jobs and another say we added only 18,000? Plus an uptick in unemployment. Where are these people getting their numbers? How can there be such a disparity? I just don’t get it. I really don’t.I mean, are they purposely fucking with people or what?

The spring in my step has turned into chest pains of anxiety. Ugh!