Sunday, October 6, 2013

Workin' at the Car Wash Yet?

September 20th came and went with virtually no mention of the August 2013 unemployment figures compiled by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. For those of you who still don't know, here is what they found out:

Both the number of unemployed persons, at 11.3 million, and the
unemployment rate, at 7.3 percent, changed little in August.

A careful reading of the summary also revealed this unreported tidbit:

The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for June was revised
from +188,000 to +172,000, and the change for July was revised from
+162,000 to +104,000. With these revisions, employment gains in June
and July combined were 74,000 less than previously reported.

Apparently none of this was newsworthy, because not one major television network covered it. I watched with baited breath, hoping against hope that the dismal unemployment picture would be spotlighted. People need to be aware that there are 11.3 million Americans who still don't have jobs despite trying. There are nearly 900,000 more "discouraged workers" who have simply given up hope of ever finding work again. Nine-hundred thousand. That's close to another million people not being counted as unemployed.

The Employment Situation for September that was scheduled for release October 4 didn't occur due to the government shutdown. Don't even get me started. Those poor federal employees currently furloughed can look forward to back pay once the government grinds to a start again. I'm not without sympathy for their situation, but I know state employees who have faced annual furloughs of anywhere from two to eight days for as many as seven years now, and they will NEVER be reimbursed. Cobb County, Georgia educators took a 2% across-the-board pay cut several years ago. That money isn't ever coming back, either. And then there are those of us among the 11.3 million jobless, who don't see any end in sight.

The Deeper Meaning of Unemployment (and really, employment)

Lately I've been thinking about applying for a job at a new restaurant. It's a few miles up the road from me, not open yet, in a different county (meaning less chance of running into people I know). I'm beginning to see a string of jobs ahead of me that all involve some sort of silly uniform, like Trish in the Disney show Austin & Ally. Maybe it's not humiliating to take pay for wearing a rubber cheese wedge on your head, or to dress up as Wonder Woman and stand on a boulevard advertising a Halloween costume sale. There is freedom in punching a time clock, doing unskilled labor, punching out and going home. You are less likely to get sued, to get yelled at by a boss, or to have to face the judgment of a complex evaluation.

 The question is, when do we make this backward leap out of professionalism? Most of us have mortgaged ourselves around a higher salary and will have a hard time letting go of the dignified lifestyle we earned by reaching middle age. We were salaried people! We got paid not to work on national holidays! We had ID badges and office keys and mail boxes. What's going to happen to us now? Please tell me I'm not going to have to settle for minimum wage and run into my old boss driving a van shaped like a giant hot dog. 

I'm afraid, though, that reality bites. As our unemployment insurance runs out, so goes our pride. One kid needs braces, another has college looming. Some of us simply can't afford to fall victim to discouragement and give up the search. How long does one hold out for a "real job" before settling for work at The Yarn Barn? And will this be the start of something small? Is there ever going to be a time for hope again?

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