Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...


Tuesday, October 28, 2003  

Every now and again, a thought is large enough to get caught in the sieve that is my aging brain. Lately that thought has been jobs.

Yesterday the Conference Board released more-favorable-than-expected findings about consumer confidence. Orders for durable goods also improved. The stock market is inching up, and unemployment has stopped spiking. Although I haven't been tracking it as closely as I ought to, it seems that the preponderance of indicators are slightly more positive, and the general media vibe seems to be positive (that the media is business and has a vested interest in the positive vibe makes me wary). Yet in my little slice of the world, remote and unrepresentative as it may be, I sense that these indicators have nothing to do with the reality in the average American's pocketbook.

As I see it, there are three main issues: education, health care, and jobs. The first two are fairly obvious problems. Higher education is in danger of becoming a wealthy-only luxury. Tuition prices soared 14% last year--and this is the norm, not an exception. Health care costs are rising at a similar rate, which puts pressure on businesses and workers. Both of those phenomena are well-discussed and nuanced, but at least in the public press, jobs are discussed in the bluntest terms: do you have one or not?

But in individual lives, one job isn't as good as the next. My situation, by way of example, is fairly tenuous. I work as a researcher at a university, and even in the best of circumstances my employment is guaranteed only for a year. If the funding dries up, it's almost a sure bet I'll be working for less money, probably without benefits, in a less-fulfilling job (before I got hired here, I was driving a cab). You have seen the name "Iggi" appear on the comments of this blog; Iggi's a friend of mine who works as a website designer. He's also pretty much a month-by-month guy. Go check out Rantavation: no posts since the 13th. It's not negligence; Fred's lost his job and is searching for work.

At any given time, people lose their jobs--my anecdotes aren't particularly valuable. Except--and I think this is the prevailing mood across the county--that many of us are in the best jobs we're going to have. From here it's downhill. President Bush talks often about wanting to ensure that if Americans are willing to work, they'll have jobs. But some of us hope for a little more. Scratching by at half our salary, without benefits, without an obvious way to pay for our children's education, without insurance (or with insufficient insurance), in an unfulfilling job--well, this just doesn't fill our hearts with joy. As a measure of economic health from the worker's perspective, the sole measure of unemployment just doesn't seem to cut it.

posted by Jeff | 9:05 AM |
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