In my last blog post I complained about the lack of jobs, especially the lack of decent jobs in our American economy. I admit to a certain personal interest in this. I've been one of those underemployed individuals since the last recession in 2002. Going on ten years. I don't work in construction, real estate or finance, so the housing boom of the 2000s did me no good.
I'm not counted in official government figures for the long-term unemployed. I'm deliberately overlooked. So are a number of my friends who have been struggling along with occasional consulting jobs or freelance work, at a small fraction of the salary they used to make when they were middle-manager types.
So I thought, maybe I should see if I could come up with some ideas for improving the job picture, since I'm the one complaining about it.
Uhhh ... this is going to be a short post.
But I'm not the only one with no ideas. Certainly the Republicans didn't have anything that worked very well, relying on old-fashioned trickle-down economics. They gave tax-breaks to the rich, in the hopes that rich people with even more money would somehow start hiring more employees. Maybe a few extra butlers and chauffeurs did get hired, but it didn't make a dent in the unemployment rate.
The other Republican idea was to give the banks lots of free money, again hoping they would make loans to home buyers and car buyers who would in turn spur production in the auto business and the construction business. This maneuver did help out the car companies a little bit, at great cost, and Ford and GM have hired back a fraction of the workers they laid off in 2007-08. It has not worked for the construction business, since the only people buying real estate are investors taking advantage of desperate people behind are on their mortgages. And the few regular people who want to buy a house usually find they don't qualify for a mortgage from banks that have suddenly made their lending standards tighter than a rusted screw.
Banks were also supposed to lend that free money to small businesspeople to expand their businesses and hire new workers. The trouble is, most small businesses are not interested in expanding in a weak economy. So instead, the bankers pocketed the money as "bonuses."
If the Republican ideas for creating jobs were old, inefficient and largely ineffectual ... well, at least they had ideas. The Democrats have no ideas at all. They've simply continued with the Republican policies -- giving free money to the banks, extending tax breaks for the rich, keeping interest rates artificially low. Why should we be surprised? The architect of the Democratic strategy is the same as the architect of the Republican strategy -- Ben Bernanke.
I happen to like Mr. Bernanke, and I think he's a very smart man. I felt the same way about Jimmy Carter.
One thing the Democrats have done is debase the dollar, and that does seem to have helped a little. When the dollar is worth less, American goods are cheaper abroad, so it's easier for our companies to sell their products and services around the world. The export business is up, and employment is up too. Computer companies, which do a lot of business overseas, have been making money and hiring people. As MerCyn pointed out, just yesterday the Wall Street Journal reported that California's information technology sector added 5.3 percent more jobs in March. And a company like Caterpillar, which sells farm equipment around the world, has seen its profits grow as tall as Midwestern corn -- and Caterpillar has been hiring. Just one small example: Caterpillar is currently signing up about 600 people to staff a distribution center in Ohio.
All these efforts have produced some growth in employment. As I pointed out in my last post, the American economy last month created 244,000 jobs, the third month in a row that businesses have added more than 200,000 new jobs. But as I also pointed out, after a precipitous three-year decline, we have a long, long way to go to get back to a vibrant economy that will provide opportunities for ourselves and our children. Experts have estimated that at the current pace of job creation, the economy won’t return to full employment until 2018.
So what else can we do? Bernanke will probably continue to lower the value of the dollar to increase our exports to the world. That's a good thing. We should probably lower taxes on American corporations (rather than increase them as some liberals are saying), but that should be coupled with some sort of incentive program to hire Americans rather than people in other countries. We could (but probably won't) lower the payroll (aka Social Security) tax. After all, every employee costs a company an extra 7.5 percent for its share of the payroll tax, and it's just one more reason not to hire on another person.
And speaking of the "extra" costs that companies take on when they hire an employee, one significant way to encourage corporations to hire more people would be to get the health insurance gorilla off their backs -- by converting to some kind of national health-care system.
As for what you and I can do -- well, it seems that education and training are the keys to a decent job. I know (again as I reported in my last post) that the New America Foundation, in an April 2011 report called "The American Middle Class Under Stress," claims that our underemployment is not due to a lack of skills, but to the new structure of the job market. The report cites people with college degrees doing jobs for which a college degree is not necessary -- including one out of every eight waiters and waitresses, and more than one out of eight parking lot attendants.
Nevertheless, I also saw a news report on this year's college graduates in California. Kids graduating with engineering degrees are getting an average of three job offers each. Not too shabby.
It reminds me of the old joke about the theater major coming out of college, asking what lines she should learn -- and the response was: "Would you like fries with that?"
It seems obvious, but our kids are not listening. They should not automatically jump into a liberal arts college. They should instead consider a vocational school that teaches them a real skill. If they do go to college, they should not major in sociology, women's studies or theater arts. They should major in engineering, information systems or nursing. And learn another language like Spanish, German or Chinese.
When I met B a few years ago, I had just lost a job, and she had just lost a husband. At the time, I thought about going back to school. But I felt that I had paid my dues. I was tired of working, and I sure as hell didn't want to start over. Now, seven or eight years later, I'm doing essentially the same work I did before I lost my job -- except I'm doing it part-time, at half the price, with no benefits.
B, on the other hand, decided she would go back to school. She worked part time, and took classes in the evening, and there were times when she wondered why she was doing this at her stage of life. But she persevered, and at age 55 graduated with a master's degree. Now she has a new career ... with health insurance, vacation time and all those other benefits we used to have.
So don't ask me how to get a job. Ask B!