“Work” and “job” are not the same thing. One is an assignment to be productive in a particular way, the other is a position of security from which you can be productive (and get those assignments). Lots of people that don’t have jobs work full-time. They may even be paid for some of that work, but getting work is nothing like getting a job. I’ve noticed that my own interaction with the general public does not reflect the seeming downward trend of unemployment. When we get news reports, we generally hear about the official unemployment rolls as well as what employers have reported in gains or losses. What we don’t get is a clear picture of how our economy has morphed from one of family and financial security – like we experienced in the 50s – to one of frightened desperation.
When you get “work” but have no “job”, you basically have to put in exponential amounts of time for every dollar you actually earn. The unemployment numbers put forth by the mainstream media do not reflect folks that have fallen off of the unemployment rolls due to exhausting their personal benefits, folks that work part time, folks in temporary positions, or severely underemployed people.When you add in these numbers – of people wanting, waiting to work full time at what they are good at – the unemployment rate is over %15. That sounds closer to what you experience in the country, more than one out of ten people are scrambling to find income.
Trying to get a job, networking, re-creating yourself to fit a niche, re-writing resumes, putting feelers out, volunteering, working for free (so they can get a sample), interning, trying a venture – all of these are extremely time consuming and can be expensive. No employer wants to hire desperate people or hear your story. They don’t want to know that you are struggling to keep your home (or freshly kicked out), they don’t want to hear about how your car is usually dependable, they don’t want to deal with any illness that might impact their bottom line. You have to fake it till you make it if you want a decent job; don’t let on that buying a cup of coffee or glass of wine is a luxury to you, or that you can’t afford a “power lunch”. As the saying goes, it takes money to make money. It is extremely difficult to pull yourself up by your bootstraps when you hocked your boots to pay the rent.
When person is laid off (demoralizing and a shock to most), many time their skill set is no longer required due to outsourcing, a glut of similar applicants, or automation. The culture already exists in businesses not to hire unemployed people, so the odds are already beginning to stack against the unemployed. That person then starts adjusting to living a more austere life, but there is no “normal” there. There is no point that the unemployed person can relax into any aspect of their life, everything hinges on regular income. So even if they can get by on unemployment, a figurative wolf is constantly breathing down their neck because if they cannot return to the wage earning power they once had – and fast – chances are good that they will lose their house and any semblance of normalcy for their family. This may mean moving, changing schools, moving in with relatives or friends, and many times the stress can break a family apart (which starts a new cascade of logistic difficulties).
When unemployment runs out, the worker has no choice but to take any type of work that comes their way – this is in addition to still trying to network, schmooze, beg or otherwise throw yourself at any decent job prospect that materializes. What is more important? Making a dollar today or trying to secure a sustainable income? This is the choice unemployed workers make day to day, moment to moment. Meanwhile their lives are marching on and they still want to keep their friends, be there for their family, and participate in their community – but it’s harder. You can’t afford the luxury of consistency and dependability because you are always ready to spring into action in case one of your leads for a job (or work) materializes. While in this state of depletion of spirit, money, and time, you are supposed to figure out how to remake yourself to adapt to this market.
Revisiting your education and skills training takes time and money. People living on unemployment or making no regular income are worried about paying their bills for the short term – as well as the duration. This is an impossible situation of two “top” priorities. “Work” is much easier to come by and it may pay some bills, it hardly makes sense to turn it down when you have no job, but at the same time, it can cost you in lost opportunities for furthering a career with much more desirable salary range. Those that have been unemployed or severely underemployed for a long time are left floundering, trying not to slip into the quagmire of issues that come with poverty. One can only grin and bear it for so long before permanent patterns of discouragement, stress, and exhaustion take hold. The situation is fatal for the American Dream.
The Republican meme is that unemployed people are lazy (as I pointed out in my post “Get a Job! and Other Cruel Jokes“). I would counter that employed people get much more relaxation time – at least mentally – than the unemployed if for no other reason than knowing that they have provisions for the future (at least for now). The truth is that laziness cannot be measured by employment in a marketplace like we have now. The rules have changed and some folks – the ones most influential on making the rules – are making out like bandits, while others struggle to survive. This frightened and desperate state of the job market suits Republicans just fine, they would rather have a submissive work force than an empowered and thoughtful one. Once again they strive to prove how those sitting on piles of cash are authorized and deserving, those that aren’t…well, they must be defective or they are being punished (deservedly) by God. Ironic since Jesus spoke out against the hoarding of any treasures on earth.
The income gap has moral implications. When either income extreme gets too far apart, democracy and the American spirit suffer.