Who’s Still Hiring?

 (How are they funded?)
Fourth in a Series on 21st Century Economics and men’s work.

(c) 2013, Davd

Old men like me can remember times when “the world of work” was different; and in particular, we remember the “heyday of the job” between demobilization after World War II, and sometime between 1971 and 1990. That can be useful for context and comparison, but when we want to understand how “the world of work” is today, it behooves us to look at younger generations.

I can name two friends1 whose children’s jobs, i happen to know: One has two sons and a daughter; one has one son and one daughter. Their jobs: One police constable, one prison guard, two nurses, and one computer security [engineer? Technician? I’m not sure.] Each of the two has one child in law-enforcement and one in nursing; so it’s not a matter of either one’s family specializing in either field.

It is a matter of who’s hiring … or was … in the cases of these two men’s children, hiring for some of the best paid jobs available these days. Law-enforcement, “health care”, and computers, especially computer security, are among the categories of work where hiring is still relatively active … and they are all defensive in some sense. There will be work in these fields in any modern society that’s not in disarray; but in the vigorous growth of the Industrial Revolution, they made up a much smaller fraction of all jobs, than they do now—and even in these fields all is not rosy.

I also know the “jobs” my own children have: One is a graduate student in computer science, one a theatre technician, one a refrigeration mechanic, one a self-employed construction tradesman specializing in renovations, and one a car-body repairman: Three work in repair and maintenance (a good field for hard times when fewer people will be buying-new and more people will be maintaining what they have), one in entertainment, and one is studying “computers”.

I can hope that three of those lines of work—the ones in repair and maintenance—have a more optimistic employment future than “law enforcement”. Each is enhancing someone’s subsistence, and more efficiently than the alternative of getting a new house, car, or ‘fridge: They are maintenance-and-improvement jobs. They are also “funded” by the specific people who benefit2. Policing, prisons, and most “health care” are funded by governments, and the news of the past year-or-so, tells us that many governments, including the one of the province where i reside, are over-extended3. New hiring in any “government jobs” is likely to be minimal.

As i was drafting this blog, the McDonald’s chain of fast-food “restaurants” held a major recruiting blitz (on April 11th.) “McJobs” is now a slang word, originally named for the chain, but applying to similar low-wage service [especially food service] jobs. Because they do not pay well and are rather tiring, these are jobs that “burn out” some workers and drive out others as soon as those people can get something else instead. Fast-food outlets are often hiring because their jobs “have high turnover”; and they have high turnover because they don’t pay well for what they cost in effort and stress.

(If the economy “contracts”—if there are fewer people with the extra income to spend on a hamburger or chicken sandwich at such places instead of a sandwich made at home—there will be fewer “McJobs”—and quite plausibly, few people will miss them. Those who took minimum-wage work under pressure from the bureaucracy, pretty surely won’t.)

For now, anyway, it seems the minimum-wage “sector” is doing the most hiring. On April 21st, ten days after McDonalds held their jobs-day, CBC Radio’s “Sunday Edition” began hour 2 with a Maureen Brosnan sound-bite-collage which she titled “The Double Grind” (and program host Michael Enright referred to as: “The barrista generation”). All the statements were by young women university students or graduates. One statement of which i managed to write down over half, was an approximate summary of the point4: “Now that everybody and her mother has a university degree [it doesn’t assure you of success].”

Fifty days earlier, on March 2nd, CBC Radio News featured the contraction of the United States government, which contraction began that Saturday because their Congress could not concur on how to replace “the sequester”, a fairly drastic program of reductions in US Government work, which were enacted months ago, before last autumn’s national election, as an incentive for the new government to settle disputes that the last Congress could not. Apparently, the incentive failed. The cuts are forecast to slow border crossings, reduce shipments to and from the US, and reduce US demand for Canadian resources and goods.

What “the sequester” definitely is doing, is reducing the amount of work done by U.S. Government employees: It’s one more indication that governments, which were among “who’s hiring” until quite recently, might not be doing much hiring and might even be “laying off”, in future.

There are other indications right where i am: The Government of New Brunswick has announced reductions in the workforce of their hospital administrations. L’Etoile, the free weekly French-language newspaper i receive because this road has mostly Francophone households, has indicated several times since last summer, that policing costs are more than the Acadian municipalities can afford; and i’ve heard hints of similar stress on Anglophone municipalities in the rest of the province.

I don’t get local news “from all over”, but the imposition of terms of work on the teachers of Ontario, and their angry objections, were in the national news recently: Another instance of government-job qualiy in decline.

On Sunday, March 3rd, the day after they reported on US Government contraction, CBC Radio News included a story they called “Telecommuting challenge”; based to some significant extent on the fact that Yahoo corporation is ending telecommuting, and requiring all employees to work at their offices, saying that cafeteria and hallway discussions produce valuable ideas. A Cisco Canada official, however, said allowing telecommuting results in a productivity gain. The firms named in the radio story were electronics and in particular “networking” related, not agriculture, food service, garbage collection, manufacturing, medical care, policing, prison operation, retail, … or even “live” theatre. My best interpretation of the story so far, is that even in a ‘hot’ field like computer technology, jobs are losing the worker-friendly quirks that made for a “heyday of the job” 1-2 generations ago.

On the CBC Moncton morning show, that week, one Meg Wilcox reported that young workers, especially single young adults, predominate in social media and other “digital” jobs, partly because of the irregular hours. The future is digital, was the message: “If you’re a newspaper layout artist, your days are numbered” said one sound clip.

Who is hiring, then? Based on what i’ve noticed in the past year or so, the available jobs are those that pay least, plus a declining number in social control and medical-care. Some newly available jobs have recently been degraded in quality: Automobile worker unions accepted lower pay and lesser pensions for new-hires—so that there could be new hires; and Ontario’s teachers made their displeasure at imposed terms of work plain enough to be repeatedly reported on the national news.

In Alberta, one son told me, there are still quite a few jobs available in the trades, but many are in locations where living costs are high and amenities, somewhat scarce.  Near Victoria, a correspondent wrote, his daughter “was unemployed for months while sick, but now has a part-time job as a cashier at a local supermarket at minimum wage—needless to say we have to help her out with the rent.” A middle-aged man he knows, “could only get day-by-day pickup jobs for months, but recently landed a job with a local appliance store5.” Victoria doesn’t read to be a good place to hunt for a job.

A Manitoba teacher with forestry work experience says he could get work in either field, and would rather log than substitute-teach: “The kids love to play a game called ‘sink-the-sub’ and they’re getting damn good at it.6” He reports that there are also jobs available in skilled agriculture (operating machinery, especially), carpentry and other renovation trades, long distance trucking and tour bus driving, but that many employers prefer middle-aged workers to the young7.

Despite forecasts of modest improvement, the March unemployment rate was higher than February’s. Hiring overall, was much less than the Federal Finance Minister and his colleagues predicted. It could imaginably be, that McDonald’s won’t need to have another hiring blitz anytime soon: The people working for them now will have fewer better-alternative jobs to leave for, and there will be less money in the public’s pockets, to spend at their “restaurants”.

Henry Ford was famous for many things; one of them was that he recognized the importance of customer numbers, and paid the men working in his factories enough that they could afford to buy the cars they made. (Another of the first big industrial employers was “the textile industry”, whose products were sold to the general public, not just to the rich.) Ford’s strategy succeeded, as best we can tell from history—during a time of rapid industrial expansion about 100 years ago, when his first assembly-line factories began production (e.g. Duiker and Spielvogel, 1994: 816-8). What we might wonder—and perhaps worry—today, is whether the phenomenon will now “operate in reverse.”

Who’s still hiring? Those who pay least seem to be hiring most; and most employers who pay twice minimum-wage or more, seem to be hiring less if at all.  There is some demand for farm workers (where there are farms) and truck drivers; and the high average age in those areas of work is probably an important cause. We can expect that “health care” and law-enforcement retirements will be at least substantially replaced. Overall, the “Job Market” offers less purchasing power for more work, than it did 50 or 25 years ago.

My best guess is that today, few men can find “a good job” so good as to equal the alternatives in self-employment, be that in the form of co-operative [worker-owned, worker-run] enterprise, or farming, or repair and maintenance—or, because “attitude and motivation matter”, in any work you really enjoy.

The next ‘post’ in the series will look at a reason some readers might not have considered before: It’s better not to have to take all your earnings in money.

Notes:

1. I won’t name them publicly, however, out of normal respect for their privacy.

2. The car-body work is funded partly via insurance—and is also the least necessary for subsistence, as a future post on “commuting” will discuss further.

3. I deliberately did not name the province [i do further down in the text]. How many provinces are over-extended? and how many, spending less than they receive in revenues? One could also ask if government management of practical tasks is more or less efficient than when the workers manage themselves? Most people i talk with say government is inefficient, some say large scale “private enterprise” is also. One man told me that the “markup” on T-shirts sold by the major retail chain for which he works, is 400%.

This might imply, for instance, that co-operative clinics run by the physicians and nurses who work in them, would be more efficient than Government run or for-profit practices.

4. That quotation states in the feminine, what i advised students of both sexes in the 1980s: If you don’t get a professional “ticket” with your degree, get a trade. It is interesting, that the speaker used the feminine rather than the “politically correct non-sexist plural”, and that Ms. Brosnan chose to broadcast it. Perhaps “Affirmative Action” has made the university student population so overwhelmingly female, that “she” is more descriptive; or perhaps [my guess], student numbers in “Arts” but not science and engineering, are overwhelmingly female; and it is an “Arts” degree that now gives almost no advantage in seeking jobs.

Several said they had expected to go from graduation to a good job, a few of them because their parents had done so. Immense debt ws described as normal ($40,000-$50,000 examples as normal, $25,000 as low, and more than one mentioned “horrible student loans”). They saw the mid-20s as too early an age to have a good job (at 24 i was hired as Assistant Professor—in 1966.) It was not clear how many different women were speaking; perhaps 10 or fewer spoke, some repeatedly.

5. If that’s a warehouse or delivery job, it counts for more than if it’s “commission sales”.

6. This was confirmed by a local married couple i asked, both of whom do substitute teaching.

7. “The reason guys my age are sought after for jobs is that the work ethic in the ’20 something’ gang leaves much to be desired. They are generally very self-absorbed, and would rather sit and play with their cell-phone/camera/ipod thingy than actually work. They have zero job loyalty and frequently put their social life before their job, so they will come in late, hung over, coming down from a stoner, etc. They have not much respect for authority, so will challenge you and get in your face when you ask them to tone down the tongue studs, piercings, tattoos, orange and blue hair, and pants with the crotch down to their knees.”

I had to wonder if the past decades of “Feminist success”—de-stabilization of marriage, with fidelity no longer supported by the Law, the emphasis on girls in school systems already more girl-friendly than boy-friendly, double standards of violence and proof—had de-motivated young men. I was also reminded of a slogan from East Germany when they were part of the “Soviet Bloc” and pay was low: “They pretend to pay us, and we pretend to work.”

 

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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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