What? Me worry? Yes.
All right, I’m beginning to worry.
I’ve come through “slow” economies before. I’ve been laid off, though not often enough that the average blackjack dealer would be impressed. I’ve seen a recession or two.
Sure, I’ve had concerns. In hard times, who hasn’t broken into a sweat when the boss runs a calculating eye over the peons, figuring how many he can do without?
Overall, though, no worries. Steady employment, along with a low threshold of satisfaction and a sense of entitlement no bigger than a lentil, eases the mind.
Anyway, as Grandpa used to say, there’s always work for good workers. I’m not one, but I’ve fooled people. In all my life, I’ve applied for only two jobs I didn’t get, and one of those involved major appliances, hand trucks and $1.25 an hour. ("Sorry, Dad, guess I’ll have to spend the summer at the beach.")
Probably as a result, I’ve never been very sympathetic to people who claimed they couldn’t find jobs. If you were willing to work, there was always something. This is America, where we honor labor. (Small-l labor, I mean. Big-L Labor is poised for a comeback, though.)
So why am I fretting? Let me count the ways:
Like nearly everyone these days, I know people—good people, promising rookies to experienced veterans—who are on the streets through no fault of their own. They hit every mark, went to school, took the training, put in the extra hours and subjugated themselves to The Team. Now they’re on the balls of their asses. Sweat and tears, service to the company, family: In the post-Bush economy, they mean squat. You can be flicked away to help some pants-wetting middle manager cling to his own job for another few months.
OK, business is business. It strikes me, though, that the way many businesses are responding to the current crisis will hurt them in the not-so-long run. When I hear workers say “loyalty” now, there’s a sneer behind it. They’ve been screwed or seen friends screwed for pennies, often while CEOs bring down seven-figure salaries. Why should they do more than the job description requires, and why not keep a resumé out just in case?
If the axe does fall, there are few places to go. The U.S. economy has lost 2 million jobs this year, and a recent survey showed that eight times as many companies plan to lay off as to hire in 2009.
Information like this normally sets employers to giggling. They love desperate jobseekers—but they’re worried, too. With so many people out of work, who will buy the goods their new workers produce? So they hold off on the hiring, and the snowball rolls on.
Lost health insurance is an inevitable side effect, so serious it deserves its own column but so frightening and destructive I barely have the heart to raise it here. On this, more than perhaps anything else, conservatives are deep down, bonehead wrong. Let me give you a typical number, if you’re a typical person with a typical spouse and two kids: $1,000 a month if you’re lucky. On the plus side, your layoff means the stockholders get another $0.015 per share, so you’re helping to keep America strong.
Americans are resilient and versatile, once you finally engage their attention, and we could come through this. We will come through it, eventually; those stories about whether the nation can “survive” are mostly the hyperbole of editors desperate for headlines. The news, the forecasts, the expert predictions, are uniformly, universally dismal right now, but everything will be all right.
Not tomorrow, though.