Thursday, January 29, 2009

The realities of a down economy

I recently read a story on about Amber Easton, a 35-year woman from Detroit who’s currently unemployed. She quit her job as a corporate compliance officer (where she was earning $80,000 / year) back in July 2007, to attend law school. After a year in law school she decided it wasn’t for her and she attempted to get back into corporate America. Unfortunately the economy had already begun to tank and she soon found out that getting a job in the same salary grade would be difficult if not impossible. She has already applied to 70 different companies but gotten very few leads. She’s also pursued positions with companies out of state but to no avail. Every day she searches for new job opportunities and every day results in more desperation. She recently lost her car and now faces eviction from her apartment. At a time when she should be climbing the corporate ladder and entering her peak earning years, she finds herself depressed and scrambling for work. "It's hard not to be depressed during a time like this," she wrote on "I never imagined in a million years that I would be in such a situation at my age and at this point in my career. I am humiliated. I am praying for everyone else out there who is facing the same problems." Her Detroit neighborhood a couple years ago was booming, she said, but now "it's like a ghost town around here." "It's bad everywhere, but it's so, so bad here," she said. All across the country, people like Easton are feeling the pinch, blah blah blah. Good jobs have evaporated. Former full-time employees are now working part-time contract positions just to get by, blah blah blah. Nearly 2.6 million jobs were lost during 2008, the highest yearly total since the end of World War II in 1945, blah blah blah. This week alone, major corporations have announced more than 80,000 job cuts, bringing this year's total to well over 200,000, blah blah blah.

I don’t mean to sound insensitive here and I’m not trying to single out Amber Easton. I’m sure she’s a very nice lady. But people like Amber Easton are exactly what’s wrong with America today. You don’t have to buy into the gloom and doom people. We all have a choice. So the balance of my 401K and 529 accounts is down more than 40% in the last 6 months, my house is now worth significantly less than I owe on it (I’m one of those ass hats who bought at the peak), and my 09 earnings potential is a fraction of what it's been in prior years. So what? Do you think this gives me the right to feel sorry for myself? Let me fill you in on a little secret. Nobody else feels sorry for you so it’s 100% pointless to spend any amount of time feeling sorry for yourself.

But nobody’s hiring, woe is me. And the people I’m competing with are more qualified than me, wah. The creditors keep calling, I’m almost out of money, and I’m so depressed. What oh what am I ever going to do? Um, try harder. So you’ve applied to seventy companies without finding a job - apply to one hundred and seventy more. So you’ve searched in four other states without finding a job - search in fourteen more. So you’ve gone to two job fairs without finding a job - go to twenty two more. I understand your situation may seem bleak but depression and self pity will not help pay your bills. Sack up and consider this: The US unemployment rate just climbed over 7% for the first time since May 1993, which just so happened to fall within the first few months of a new Democratic president’s first term after multiple terms of Republican leadership. Sound familiar? (the conspiracy theorists will have fun with this) I digress... The important thing is what this 7% unemployment figure really represents - the fact that 93% of the working population is actually still working. And I’m no mathematician but what a 93% employment rate tells me is that if you have even the most basic level of skills, intelligence, or motivation, the odds of you being employed versus unemployed are heavily stacked in your favor. Like I said before we all have a choice. You can choose to mope around, post your sob stories on, and be a victim of circumstance. Or you can choose to get off your ass, make shit happen, and take advantage of other people's malaise (this last point being especially true in a down economy).

It’s a sum zero world as I see it. For every winner there’s a loser. Everyone’s gain = someone else’s loss. For you to be rich someone else has to be poor. It’s just like poker night with your buddies, minus the excessive alcohol consumption and cigar smoking. A down economy’s no different. For every person who's gainfully employed there's a person who's unemployed. One person’s tragedy = someone else’s opportunity. For you to make money someone else has to lose money. It can be a harsh reality to swallow but the sooner you embrace it the better off you'll be. Life can indeed be cruel but only for those who choose losing.

I’ve personally been in corporate America for over 12 years now. I’ve worked for very large corporations and very small ones, and it’s always the same deal. When times are good and profits are up companies tend to get fat and happy. When times are tough and profits are down companies go on diets. And as is the case with any good diet, the first thing to go is always the fat - those employees who are undeniably lazy, who feel generally more entitled than they should, and who add little or nothing to the bottom line. The secret to staying employed is simple. Don’t be the fat.

But let’s be honest here. There is a certain percentage of the population who simply lack the basic skills, intelligence, and intrinsic motivation necessary to avoid being the fat. For these folks this recession (or dare I say depression) we now find ourselves in will undoubtedly result in a painful couple of years. But you individuals I speak of can take heart. For if history has taught us anything it's that the US economy is all about cycles. And in a couple years from now (okay – maybe more like five years from now - things are pretty fucked up) we’ll be in a good place again, the Wall Street meltdown of 2008 will be but a distant memory, Barack Obama will be officially anointed our savior, and the fat of the US workforce can reassume its position clogging up the arteries of corporate America. Until then there is a silver lining. If you don't find work, and let's face it you won't, you can survive like the many who came before you befallen by hard times. By suckling on the tit of legalized thievery we call the public welfare system. God bless America.

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