Sunday, August 15, 2010

Job Market

Here's Daniel Gross's take on the job market in Slate magazine:
On Monday, Aug. 9, JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater gave new meaning to the word "exit interview." Angered at the boorish behavior of a passenger, he picked up the intercom, loudly submitted his resignation, pulled the ripcord, grabbed two beers and slid down the escape chute.

The same day, a front-page Wall Street Journal article documented the plight of employers who were simply shocked that people weren't interested in the jobs they were offering. The aggrieved included a company in Illinois that wanted to pay skilled machinists a below-market $13 per hour (about $26,000 per year) and an airline based in Dubai that simply couldn't grasp why hordes of Americans weren't rushing to move halfway around the world and take up residence in a non-democratic emirate for the irresistible annual wage of … $30,000.

For people of a certain age, such anecdotes might evince something like nostalgia. It was 1976, a time of similar economic difficulty, when stressed-out newscaster, Howard Beale, played by Peter Finch, urged his viewers to stick their heads out the window and scream: "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore." Two years after Network appeared in the movie theaters, Johnny Paycheck had a hit with the country song "Take This Job and Shove It."


The economy has been growing for a year, and corporate profits have surged—Standard & Poor's estimates that profits of the constituents of the S&P 500 rose nearly 52 percent in the second quarter of 2010 from 2009. Much of that impressive profit growth has been driven by the remarkable gains in efficiency and productivity that corporate America has notched since the recession took hold. Last year, productivity—the ability to produce more with less—soared 3.5 percent, up from 1 percent in 2008 and 1.6 percent in 2007. Yes, companies embraced the Gospel of Cost Cutting with missionary zeal—printing on both sides of the paper, eliminating bottled water, turning off the lights. But most of the gains came straight out of payroll. Companies slashed salaries and curtailed benefits, all while asking shell-shocked veterans to pick up the slack for downsized colleagues.


Slater's self-ejection vividly illustrates the personal story behind the numbers. The last couple of years have been a golden era for employers. They've been able to hire whomever they want and pay them lower wages. But at some point, companies that want to grow will have to break down and hire new people, or turn part-timers into full-timers, or put contractors on the payroll. Many employers are treating existing and potential employees as if they're desperate for work. And plenty of Americans are. But desperate times can lead to desperate measures. Push your work force too hard without adequate reward, and someone might occasionally tell you to take this job and shove it.
Go read the whole article to get the embedded links.

It is outrageous that company CEOs have been giving themselves bigger and bigger pay raises (and bonuses!) while cutting jobs and squeezing salaries and pretending that "there's nothing I can do". My experience working went from one of feeling I was getting a fair shot at things to two decades of watching my salary stagnate while I watched the top managers go hog wild with big pay increases and stock options. The CEO made $7 million in one year when he took the company public. For a company of only 10,000 employees that meant he took $700 from each employee as a special treat just for himself while telling everybody else there "was no money" for pay increases. For a decade I thought "this can't continue" but it did and, incredibly, it has continued to get worse. That's one reason I got out. I couldn't stand being raped to make some overpaid executives even richer than they were. The system is completely corrupt.

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