Life After Jobs

 

Life After Jobs1:

First in a Series on 21st Century Economics, how men can liberate ourselves thereby,
… and the need and hopes for Social Efficiency

(c) 2013, Davd

There will always be work, but a wise man will choose the work that fits himself and his times. The money is no longer as good reason to choose the “get a job” pattern of work, as it might have been 30-60 years ago.

The right work for you might be “fulltime”, “part time”, or “seasonal”. Many men will be best-off doing more than one kind of work at different times of day, on different days of the week, and-or in different seasons of the year. Many kinds of work will pay more in direct subsistence, or as contributions to building non-monetary wealth shared co-operatively, than in money. The two main criteria for choosing to take up work, should be aptitude and enjoyment—not pay—for most men today.

Since what you just read is unconventional and may seem radical to some readers, i want to summarize the history—most of which took place in my lifetime, but i am now an old man—that brought about the job-based notions of adult and especially men’s work, which it is now time to change. When you can see how job-based thinking came to be “normal”, it will be easier to see why its time is ending, perhaps already done.

Once upon a time, when i was a boy and a young man, many working-class jobs “paid well enough to support a family”; and many working-class men were the sole source of their household’s money income. Their wives “stayed home”, kept house, cooked and sewed, gave birth to the “Baby Boom”, and for the most part, were faithful to their marriage promises. Many of those wives, in the 1950s and late 1940s, were glad the war was over, had had more than enough of working for some employer doing [usually war related work], and considered it a good life to keep house and especially, to have babies and rear children.

A few had been old enough during the “Dirty Thirties”, to remember the unemployment of that “Great Depression” as personal experience; and remember that in those years, many men and women could not afford parenthood … and they told the younger housewives, over coffee and tea, how lucky they were to live “when times are prosperous”. (Even the young wives had experienced wartime, and knew to value peace.)

Those post-War years, from sometime between 1947 and 1950 to sometime after 1975, were the glory days of the job. There was a tremendous pent-up demand for housing and “consumer goods” (including cars and gasoline) which had been rationed or completely unavailable during World War II, and which many people “couldn’t afford” during the Thirties.  Workers to build those houses (and a few apartments) and man the factories that made the consumer goods, were in demand; labour unions were well established from earlier in the century; and so, wages were good—usually, skilled-workers earned enough to support a family and have a few conveniences as well.

Most families consisted of a married couple and their children. A few included one or more parents (usually widowed) or siblings (usually not yet married) of the married couple. Most had one car, very few had two; probably more urban households had no car than suburban households had two. Television was a new thing, computers were wartime novelties built of vacuum tubes, each occupying a room larger than most people had in their homes, which some bureaucracies were adopting for record keeping but many universities had not yet acquired.

It is worth remembering (and may be “before the time” of many readers) that:

  • expectations were more modest in the 1950s. After a decade-and-a-half of austerity, or longer, a postwar couple considered a house of their own, a car of their own, and enough income to have children of their own, to be adequate fulfillment of the “American Dream”. The Canadian Dream was mostly similar, with snow shoveling more important than air conditioning and hockey more important than basketball.

  • The consumer goods were made by American and Canadian workers, not “automated” and not out-sourced.

  • As the 1950s became the 1970s, the visible social changes were based more on the Baby Boom producing a huge subpopulation of adolescents and young adults, than on ideology: Wilder music, and social and sexual experimentation, are phenomena more of the teens and twenties than of later or earlier life.

  • “Technology”, and especially computer technology, was absent from consumer goods until the 1980s and became commonplace only in the 1990s. Computers were invented during World War II, and initially used mainly to co-ordinate radar data with air defense. They became common in large data-dependent bureaucracies during the latter 1950s, in universities and the US space program in the 1960s, in factories during the 1970s and 1980s, and as individually owned consumer goods and in cars, in the 1990s.

  • Divorce, abortion, and homosexuality were shameful in the 1950s and most of the 1960s; men and women who married in those decades expected fidelity in their own conduct and that of their spouses.

It’s not just lifetime marriage, then, that has collapsed since 1970—it’s also the availability of jobs a man can get in his 20s or even late teens, work at until he retires, and rely on to support a family and then a decent retirement. Things have changed, and i dare say, drastically. A few news items will illustrate:

“Employment Insurance” changes, which especially affect areas where jobs are scarce in some seasons (usually winter in Canada), took effect with the New Year. Protests have been intense in Atlantic Canada, where many workers cannot find jobs in winter. The Government’s message seems to be “Willingness to work is not enough: If your jobs are seasonal, you had better limit your lifestyles to what the pay they yield in season, will support for the year.”—which conflicts with the experience of seasonal workers earlier this century and for the latter part of the 20th.

On January 7th, CBC Radio “Maritime Noon”, featured those “changes to Employment Insurance” and interpretations of the recent changes by a “Director Mendelsson of the Mowat Centre” in Toronto. “Have seasonal workers had it too easy?” asked Norma-Lee McLeod, the chief personage of the ‘show.’ Dr.  Mendelsson seemed at first to equivocate, but after qualifications, stated he did think it unfair that  year-’round workers pay higher “EI premiums” so that seasonal workers could have benefits in the part of the year when they are regularly laid-off from their jobs—or one might say, in the part of the year when their jobs don’t exist.

If it be unfair, why was it normal Government practice for so long?

On January 21st, CBC Radio News naturally gave major coverage to the US Presidential Inauguration … and as context, to the fading American dream, and specifically to the failure of recent economic growth and “prosperity” to benefit the working-class. (There is a complex irony to that context: Feminist jobs, and women’s jobs overall but to a somewhat lesser extent, are more “white-collar”, sit-down, small-muscle jobs [like “bank teller”, bureaucratic clerk, and keyboard entry, for instance] while men’s jobs are more “blue collar”, stand-up, move-around, large-muscle jobs [including carpentry, factory work, fishing, logging, mining, power-line maintenance, and welding]. White-collar work is neither really working-class nor is it “ruling class”. It has grown in amount and pay, better than blue collar work, since some time in the last quarter of the 20th Century—but it is less essential to subsistence, so pay has gone more to the rich [who vanishingly seldom do blue collar work!] and to the office workers, than to those whose work is most essential. )

On “The World this Weekend”, the day before Thanksgiving 2012, CBC Radio News reported that the unemployment rate in Spain is above 25%, and among Spanish “youth”, above 50%. Earlier, they reported on the Canadian Auto Workers Union “achieving” contract terms that protected the pay rates and pensions of older workers but accepted lower pay and lesser pensions for new-hires—so that there could be new hires.

In Moncton, NB, the local CBC Radio news has covered a city bus system shutdown about which someone at a transportation-committee meeting in Miramichi remarked “They [the union] want a guarantee that there won’t be pay or workforce reductions through 2018—that’s unrealistic!”

Unrealistic? to ask that a bus system? in a growing metropolitan area, at a time when prices are rising and populations are aging, continue to pay the same number of bus drivers (and maybe mechanics and such) the same wages, for six more years? Let’s have a closer look at that; because it seems to imply that Atlantic Canada is not much better off than Spain and Greece, and the Dirty Thirties, known south of the border as the Great Depression, may well be coming back for a longer “run”.

Keeping the same rate of pay while prices rise, amounts to receiving less and less in “purchasing power”. Since when was accepting gradual “real income” reduction, unrealistically demanding?

Since politicians decided to admit that “social program[me]s” cost more than taxes can provide for them and the “Baby Boom” generation has enjoyed more affluence than its children and grandchildren can realistically hope for—that’s since-when.

In a time of declining real wages and increasing numbers of “elderly”, in a growing metropolitan area, bus systems can expect to have increasing ridership, not less. If there are going to be increasing numbers using the bus system, how could it be unreasonable to demand that the number of drivers and support trades, not decrease?

The union didn’t even ask for increased staffing proportional to increased ridership, as i heard the story. Implicitly, they accepted that the future will be, or at least well could be, less prosperous for their members than the past—and for that, they were locked out and called “unrealistic?” (If they were unrealistic, doesn’t that imply the working conditions of the previous several years, perhaps decades, were unrealistically good?)

I do not know if they were or were not unrealistic; i do know that what happened to them reminds me of Greece, Italy, Spain, and some worried writers in the USA. Slow declines in real income are not enough for some governments, from municipal to provincial (think Ontario Teachers, for instance) to national.

The old grey job, she ain’t what she used to be, says the news from Ottawa about EI, from Moncton about working for the bus system, from the USA of Barack Obama’s Second Inauguration, from Spain about employment rates, and from Windsor about pay rates. “Get a Job!” was much better advice 40-60 years ago than it is today—but there seems to be such a thing as social inertia; and it is being said by some, as if it made sense like it did then.

Many men today could find working differently than “Getting a Job”, liberating.

I’ve read several places that a single man does not need much money to subsist2. If, for instance, four or more men buy a house containing one bedroom for each, and share the kitchen, social rooms, work spaces, and bathrooms, they can live fairly comfortably, including owning a car together, for about $5,000 per man per year.3 It is quite possible for seasonal workers to live comfortably year-’round on one season’s wages—but not necessarily possible for them to marry and rear children “on” those wages.

The CAW contracts with Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler; the E.I. Changes, which mean that seasonal jobs which used to support a household won’t any longer; the Moncton city bus system’s lockout of a union that was willing to accept no pay increase and no new hiring at at time when ridership and food prices are almost certain to increase; and the demonstrations, maybe fit to call riots, around the unemployment rates in Spain and Greece—are telling us that the job-based lifestyles will not be as materially abundant, as economically prosperous, as they were when our parents and grandparents were our age.

To summarize: Young men can fairly reasonably expect to live on wages, but probably cannot support a family from wages unless they have a high-paid profession or trade. Even then it’s a a risky “bet” (which it was not, 50 years ago.) The latter-20th-Century stereotype of a suburban family with nice house, nice car, nice food and clothing, all paid for by one adult’s wages, may not be feasible for those who are now children, even with two adults working for wages.

Many writers have warned young men of the dangers of civil marriage as revised under Feminist lobbying pressure. This “post” is warning young men—and women—of the dangers of depending on an “Industrial Revolution” economics which is very plausibly collapsing.

In a famous aphorism, “The future’s not what it used to be.” More exactly, during the second half of the 20th Century, the great majority of average folks could raise families on the pay they get from jobs working for somebody else. The future is not going to be so generous: A smaller and smaller fraction of all jobs will pay well enough to support a family.

That didn’t need to be a surprise. It seems to this writer that the future of job employment started looking worse rather than better by 1990, and though my motivation was fatherly rather than financial, i got out at the right time. That story, i expect to make my second “post” of the series.

Meanwhile—don’t go taking a job if you don’t love the work involved (and i assume as i write that, that you wouldn’t love work unless you were good at it.) If somebody is fool enough to nag you to “Get a Job!” one good response is “Find me one that’s worth having”—which a generation ago included years of secure continuity, and a defined-benefit retirement plan indexed to inflation. 40-50 years ago, jobs worth having were plentiful… but living as if it were still 1963-73, doesn’t make sense.

Notes:

1. This is not about the late [recently deceased] founder of Apple Computer, Inc., though the timing is such that the title might lead people to think of him; it is about working differently.

2. The now-famous “Misandry Bubble” blog puts it this way: A single man does not require much [money]. Most single men could eke out a comfortable existence by working for two months out of the year. The reason that a man might work hard to earn much more than he needs for himself is to attract a wife amidst a competitive field, finance a home and a couple of children, and ultimately achieve status as a pillar of the community. … [Recently, competent non-elite] males who were told to follow a responsible, productive life of conformity found that they were swindled.
Living well on seasonal work is especially practical in a low-tax, low-rent, low-real-estate price area, which Port Alberni was when i moved there [and wasn’t any longer when i sold, because of the Hong Kong money pushing up Vancouver real estate prices, which led thousands to sell there and buy on the Island.] Like rural Atlantic Canada, especially New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, still are.

3. The calculations were made and the blog was published early in 2012. Inflation may have raised the dollar amounts, but as of January 2013, not by much for rural Atlantic Canada.

 

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About Davd

Davd (PhD, 1966) has been a professor, a single father keeping a small commercial herb garden so as to have flexible time for his sons, and editor of _Ecoforestry_. He is a practicing Christian, and in particular an advocate of ecoforestry, self-sufficiency horticulture, and men of all faiths living together "in peace and brotherhood" for the fellowship, the efficiency, and the goodwill that sharing work so often brings.
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