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April 24, 2012


The media have invented a new class of victims: the underemployed. I guess if everyone's entitled to the well remunerated job of their dreams, it might seem unbearably oppressive to have to start at the bottom like your parents did. Don Surber isn't buying it:

As the Associated Press reported: “While there’s strong demand in science, education and health fields, arts and humanities flounder. Median wages for those with bachelor’s degrees are down from 2000, hit by technological changes that are eliminating mid-level jobs such as bank tellers. Most future job openings are projected to be in lower-skilled positions such as home health aides, who can provide personalized attention as the U.S. population ages.”

Recessions happen. Blame government. Blame business. Blame sunspot activity. My wife and I paid 19½% interest on our home in the mid-1980s. We survived. So will this generation.

Perhaps "underemployed" is the new, "near poor". This is what happens when poor is redefined to mean, "I have a job, a place to live, and food to eat but my next door neighbor has more than I do... therefore social injustice has occurred."

My first job after graduating from college as an adult with some work history was a consulting engagement I worked for free. My husband loaded soda trucks and filled vending machines and set up audio visual displays before going to Marine OCS in 1981.

How were you oppressed by the Evillest 1% in your youth? Share your tales of running capitalist pig-dog oppression in the comments section.

Posted by Cassandra at April 24, 2012 07:53 AM

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The highest wage I made prior to graduating from high school was $4 an hour. The work included irrigating, cutting hay, branding, riding fence, sweeping hay, raking hay, driving truck, moving cattle, feeding the cattle, doing minor repairs on the equipment, house chores, some cooking . . . These days there isn't a rancher out there who can hire someone at less than $12 an hour and they expect vacations, days off, and only working 8 hours a day. I try to go back every summer and help out for at least 10 days 'cause there still is something extremely satisfying about that kind of 'underemployment' work!! ;-)

Posted by: Nina at April 24, 2012 08:53 AM

How were you oppressed by the Evillest 1% in your youth?

The summer after 6th grade I was made, nay forced [1], to rise before dawn and slave all morning long in the berry fields, picking berries for the Man.

Did I, at the tender age of 12, get a living wage? A fair hourly wage for my labor?

NO, brothers and sisters, I did NOT.

I earned my comic-book and slurpee pocket change [2] by slaving - the Man only paid for the output I put in. Work hard, make a pittance. Work less hard make less than a pittance.

Oh, the berry picking fields of Washington were awash in misery and toil all the live-long-day. Or at least until noon when we knocked off for the day, turned in our tickets for cash.

[1] I was staying with my aunt that summer. She did not believe that children should be idle. And how lucky - the field boss for the berry farm lived right across the street.

[2] Never mind that at the end of the summer I put $500 in my savings account.

Posted by: Brian Dunbar at April 24, 2012 09:26 AM

I was 13 when I got my first job at a fish market shortly after the national minimum wage kicked in. I brought in a whopping $1.75 an hour to receive fish (coho salmon, cod and halibut being the main species our market bought), weighing and sizing them for proper payment, packing them in ice for future sale and transport, manning the front sales counter, cleaning the receiving docks, cleaning the front *store* area, sharpening knives (once it became common knowledge that I not only knew how, but could put a chef's edge on a blade in about 15 min.), picking up trash from the parking lot and pretty much anything else the boss deemed *needed being done*.
Oh, and I rode my bike the 13 miles to work and back because both parents worked.
Not sure if it was a *fair* hourly wage, but it was more money than I'd ever had in my pocket, and I was damn proud to be able to say that I earned the spending cash for my softball habit.

Posted by: DL Sly at April 24, 2012 09:59 AM

"How were you oppressed by the Evillest 1% in your youth? Share your tales of running capitalist pig-dog oppression in the comments section."
He (E.O.P.C.O.) grew weary with my constant pestering for this, that, the other, or just cash. So to teach me the value of money he found me my first real job in the summer of my 12th year, working in a tobacco warehouse.

Since that fateful day when the earth stood still, and finding the cash bull persistently reluctant to support the lifestyle to which my imagination had become accustomed, I've worked in a plate glass company cutting and installing plate glass, at a restaurant as a busboy/handyman, in administration/security at a hospital, in my very own lawn service business, aka cutting grass, edging, pruning and such for pesos, in a machine shop cutting, milling, and welding metal, in a cabinetry shop, on a truck farm as jack of all trades/tractor operator, and in a gas station.

And like Sly, I rode a bicycle to from work. The plate glass bid'ness folks called me bicycle willie in jest because it was a good 10-12 miles from my house to the company. On rare occasions when I was flush enough and wanted to splurge, I would put gas in the motorcycle. My dear mom would not allow me to drive the Chevy Bel Air the old ma, er, E.O.P.C.O. had given me when I hit 12 and a half until I had a license to drive. Don't laugh! IIRC, those halves meant something back then.

When I became one with the Majority, I decided to volunteer for the USN to sail the oceans and see the world.

Since then my employment history includes working for an assortment of engineering/computer companies finally ending with BACC (large posterior computer corporation), a Fortune 100 company, where I remained for over a quarter century earning a mighty fine salary, benefits, and all the wonderments attached to hard, persistent work.

Under employed? Hardly ever that I can recall. I worked my tookus off at every station along the way. As a result, my position and compensation advanced steadily. The few instances where it did not, I kept my mouth shut and sought another employment opportunity.

Employment history in a nutshell.

Hard workin', for a piece of the promised land works more often than not.

Posted by: bt_the cranky_curmudgeon_hun at April 24, 2012 11:24 AM

I've been underemployed and overemployed. My problem leading to the first is that I'm under-credentialed. Life was too interesting to bother to fix that. One of my -- not society's or the government's -- biggest mistakes. I've dealt with it.

Posted by: htom at April 24, 2012 03:26 PM

I read that Surber piece earlier this week, and the breathless AP article that it linked to. The AP article told the mournful story of a young man who had a degree in -- wait for it -- creative writing, but couldn't seem to find a job that made full use of his university training. I've been trying ever since to think of what kind of job possibly could have done so, other than perhaps writing something creative and trying to sell to someone, but then how do you get the health benefits that are your human right?

The AP writer concluded that a lot of kids with non-STEM degrees were going to have to find work in the unskilled healthcare field, where an increasingly elderly population will demand personal care just as many businesses are replacing a lot of erstwhile white-collar workers (like bank tellers) with machines. So I think the moral of the story is: don't get a degree in creative writing unless (1) you've completed a manuscript of the next great American novel, (2) you have a good lead on a Hollywood scriptwriter's job, or (3) you like changing diapers.

Posted by: Texan99 at April 24, 2012 03:37 PM

It's articles like that that make me want to slap the taste out of the mouths of whiners. Look, my dream job was teaching History at the Collegiate level. It's what I wanted to do more than any other job that I could realistically do (cause we can't all be test pilots or astronauts). But I was also aware as a young married man that the potential market for that career was pathetically small, and I'd end up having to teach at the High School or Middle School level (which bordered just this side of my nightmare job). So I got my degree in something marketable (in my case, Computer Science).

What I did NOT do is stick my fingers in my ears and get the degree that wouldn't get me a job while insisting the universe change reality to suit my whims. "Creative Writing"... psh. Might as well get a degree in 5th Century Left Handed African Women's Studies.

Posted by: MikeD at April 24, 2012 04:22 PM

...a degree in...creative writing, but couldn't seem to find a job that made full use of his university training.

He was looking in all the wrong places. Any NLMSM newspaper would have been glad to have him.

Personally, I can't say I've ever been underemployed except by my own choice. I did have that summer job that paid for a year of my college. I did have that ROTC scholarship that paid for two more years.

I didn't have my own car in high school ("If you can afford your own car, you can afford to live on your own, too," went Mom's imitation logic), but I might as well have had, since I had ad lib. access to the family car.

I did have a whale of a time in the USAF (four years to pay back that scholarship, another 10 just because I was having so much fun) training to kill Russians.

But like htom above, none of that trained me to a highly useful skill for life-after-USAF. I had to [gasp] go make my own way after that.

What is it about folks that they think that, just because they've gotten degreed in basket weaving or tiddly-winks, the rest of us owe them a living?

Oh, wait....

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at April 24, 2012 05:01 PM

I delivered the morning paper, worked for 2.15/hr, did day labor for Manpower. But I wasn't underemployed, I was a kid in school. That I paid for myself, and this allowed me to work for the last 35 years as a chemical engineer.

But I am underemployed. I'm actually best at snow skiing and sailboat racing, but still now offers. Woe is me. /

Posted by: tomg51 at April 25, 2012 08:09 AM

But like htom above, none of that trained me to a highly useful skill for life-after-USAF. I had to [gasp] go make my own way after that.

I don't know about the Air Force, but the Marines did give me skills to prepare for life-after.

I got lots of training in Details Matter, What Hard Work is Like, and You Can Do Anything You Set Your Mind To.

Now, as my my first enlistment as an 03 was ending I did not really believe this, so I signed up for another enlistment as a 4000 (data processing) in order to have a Skill for When I Got Out.

But it was only luck that what I learned as a 4063/4066 was applicable to my first civilian job. Within 3 years all the technical stuff I painfully learned was obsolete. I was left with the lessons I picked up as an 03.

Posted by: Brian Dunbar at April 25, 2012 10:13 AM

Like most of the commentators, started work at 14, stocking shelves, bagging groceries at my local store..worked full time as a Dept Manager while I was going to college, took a break and joined the Marines for 3 years and a combat tour in beautiful RVN. Discharged in Calif., I came to Houston with only a sea-bag, my separation pay (thanks to an ex-wife who spent the money I sent from Vietnam - 'nother story), and a clapped out English Ford. Since the Corp (Not the Corpse, Mr. President!) had gotten me used to eating a few meals a day and sleeping with something over my head occasionally, I hired on a a lineman with a national telecommunications company. Interesting thing, I discovered that the Marines were using TQM (Demming) for decades before it became popular! Honesty, hard work, core values, and knowing that nothing is impossible are tools that will equip you well no matter what job/career you pursue, and values that employer's admire and want in a future employee. Thirty years later I retired as a manager, trying to pass on the values that the Marine Corp instilled in me to my direct reports. Before I could leave, I had to hire my replacement. All the college grads we interviewed (and this is not a rip-off of the 'Bill Gates Points', but actually occurred) fully expected to have a company provided cell phone, a company car, and were shocked to learn that it was expected that they worked 10 hr/day as management. One said they would rather dig ditches for Brown and Root - Yeah - I see that happening Butter Palms! (I gave that one a business card for Pick & Shovel Inc, one of our contractors that buried cable using only hand labor - never knew if he took me up on that referral).

Posted by: Grumpy Curmudgeon at April 25, 2012 10:37 AM

I got lots of training in Details Matter, What Hard Work is Like, and You Can Do Anything You Set Your Mind To.

Oh, I got those skills in the USAF (not in college), but as others have pointed out, those are not useful skills in today's world.

"I exist; you owe me."

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at April 25, 2012 10:53 AM

"I got lots of training in Details Matter, What Hard Work is Like, and You Can Do Anything You Set Your Mind To."
Just a few of the lessons the old ma, er, E.O.P.C.O tried to teach me as I was growing up.

Learning those lessons in the USN probably gave the old, ah, E.O.P.C.O, aka evil one percent oppressor, the incentive to ensmarten himself too.

That would certainly explain why he was several orders of magnitude smarter when I hit my 30's than he was when I was in my teens.

"Posted by: E Hines at April 25, 2012 10:53 AM"
Mr. Hines, I'll wager the tab for a night in the Pub that those personal attributes make a comeback. Goes around, comes around and all that. And if they don't, everyone will have their own Gub'ment beer (tastes like) chit and I'll be holed up in the woods.

Posted by: bthun at April 25, 2012 12:55 PM

They're still useful skills, but there are no credentials for them. To many HR departments, credentials trump accomplishments.

Posted by: htom at April 25, 2012 01:00 PM

Mr. Hines, I'll wager the tab for a night in the Pub that those personal attributes make a comeback.

Mr Hun-man, I hope--and suspect--you're right. But that would be tomorrow's world.

Today, we have a lot of debt to pay off--it's just that they won't like the luchre with which I intend to pay. And that deck does need to be cleared first (not to mix metaphors too badly, or anything.)

At the risk of jinxing things, I would really like to see one of two outcomes this November:

1) Obama re-elected with Republican veto-proof majorities in both houses of Congress, or

2) more dangerously, Republicans elected to majorities in both houses of Congress and to the Presidency.

As my wife often advises me, "Payback's a bitch, and so am I."

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at April 25, 2012 02:36 PM

To many HR departments, credentials trump accomplishments.

Make that "In too many HR departments..." and you nailed it.

I've seen gummint contracts written by Hahvahd MBAs that were physically impossible to comply with because the Statement Of Work required the widget they wanted created be used in the creation process.

Posted by: BillT at April 29, 2012 03:49 AM

My initial encounters with the evil 1% really were - with the 1%ers! I was offered the opportunity to work at a country club in Ft. Worth, the place where some of the objects of my early teen (14 at the time) fantasies were members.

I cooked, ran the snack bar at the pool, served as bar back and waiter. In the fall, I scrubbed pots and pans and bussed tables. All for a miserly $1.30/hr. And found out how shallow some people can be.

Prior to that, I had mowed lawns, picked up dog poop and trash, and while living near Dayton, OH, I had the pleasure of crawling through fields picking green beans and peas. I think we got 0.35 cents a bushel basket.

I tried a little college and said "Hell no...." and joined the Navy. Met the curmudgeonly "BT" on CVA66, and had a pretty good time. Wanted to fly and the Navy said no. But the Army said yes. But they said Marine Engineering Officers were more critical, so I sailed for the Army.

Time to retire AGAIN from the Army. 30 June is when I hang up the gear for the last time. But first is 40 year HS reunion at Ft. Worth. Me and another old friend are wearing Mess Dress just to be different. We'll see how that goes.....

No one owes me anything. I owe a lot of people for all I have been given and all I have been taught.


Posted by: Kbob in Katy at April 29, 2012 09:31 PM

I got my social security card at age 12, what with child labor laws being only indifferently enforced for tall kids who worked on a far-- ummmm -- performed as an agricultural apprentice.

Getting my BA in English Lit proved a wise choice. I've never been challenged on my command of the English language in the *mumble*ty years since...

Posted by: BillT at April 30, 2012 04:22 AM