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September 24, 2013

The Old Normal

Quote of the day, from a list of tips for jobless grads:

That afraid feeling you have is never really going away. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but folks who were raised in the Great Depression were kind of neurotic penny-pinchers who fretted about financial security far more than the prosperous generations before and after. (Ask your parents about the older relatives who collected tin foil and rubber bands in big balls so that you could reuse them. I kid you not. That was a Thing Grandparents Did when I was growing up.) The bad news is that I, too, am also an obsessive penny pincher -- after two years of massive job uncertainty, followed by more years of earning much less money than my student loans would suggest. The good news is that your fear will end up having surprising upsides: there’s a reason that the U.S. household savings rate peaked right along with the earnings of the Great Depression kids. When they retired, savings went off a cliff. So instead of letting your fear ride you, use it constructively, to make you thriftier and more careful.

The entire list was excellent, but these items in particular stood out:

You need to take a job, any job.

Don’t say you can’t work a lesser job because you won’t be able to focus on your job search.

In a bad labor market, the only way many of you are going to get a good job -- or get ahead -- is to ask.

Have more than one iron in the fire. The more options you’re pursuing, the more likely one of them is to turn into a job.

Let this open you up to things you’d never have considered. I had no plans to be a journalist; I stumbled into it. And if I’d had better-paying options, I might not have dared to take that job at the Economist...

The common thread in all of these tips is, "be flexible". Don't expect everything to go your way. Employers don't exist to help you find your dream job. They're focused on their own goals: providing a service and making money. Figure out what they're trying to do and help them do it better.

I'm always slightly amazed when I see various pundits lamenting "the new normal" in which people are forced to accept less than they wanted, don't end up in the field they hoped to work in, take a different path in life than the one they originally intended taking. That's not the new normal - it's the way our parents and grandparents and great grandparents did things.

We look back at the end of their lives and think, "Grandpa was a doctor", or "Mom was a nurse" and assume that's all there is. But if we were to ask them about the dreams they dreamed when they were young, I'd be surprised if most of them ended up exactly where they planned to be.

Posted by Cassandra at September 24, 2013 05:40 AM

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Let me mention a Full Colonel who retired as Vice Wing Commander at Carswell AFB, Fort Worth, TX.
His first job was as the janitor at a manufacturing company near Fort Worth.
THE Company he wanted to work for.
Maybe 6 months later there was an opening for an engineer. He asked for that Job. A few years later he was offered the Position of Chief Engineer.
His message was and is, if you go out and get a job, and prove yourself in that job, a Position will be available. Go out looking for a Position and 2 years later you will not be able tgo even get a job.

Posted by: Bill Wilson at September 24, 2013 08:59 AM

But if I take that job then I might not be at home when Publishers' Clearing House comes by with the big check? Isn't there some way for me to get a job without actually having to go to work? Like being a pizza delivery timer or blogger?

Posted by: spd rdr at September 24, 2013 09:35 AM

Heh :)

I got my current job after my father (nepotism!) brought me onto a consulting job as a completely untrained helper.

I spent all of my time just looking for ways to be helpful. Clearly I didn't know enough about the tool set or the analysis work to be useful, but I could take notes, cross check numbers, keep track of paperwork and files, proofread....

I once got a job in a law office because I had taken a job in a bookstore :p And I got a job at a university because I was doing volunteer work at a Thrift Shop.

And I got a job at a bank because I was in a bar drinking beer with a bank employee. I got a job at the Navy Exchange (after applying unsuccessfully) because I was bar hopping with a girl who knew someone who worked at the NEX and (based on nothing more substantial than a single night's youthful carousing), that person put in a good word for me.

Come to think of it, drinking beer has been instrumental in several job opportunities I've been offered.... :p

{watch it, spd}

Posted by: Cass at September 24, 2013 09:59 AM

.. if you go out and get a job, and prove yourself in that job, a Position will be available.

I interviewed a woman week before last who had none of the skills I was looking for. But when I talked to her and reviewed her resume, the consistent thread was that wherever she went, she figured things out quickly and made herself indispensable.

You can train the right person to do most things, but the wrong person with the right skills usually causes more harm than good :p

Posted by: Cass at September 24, 2013 10:37 AM

The new normal, the old normal, and the forever normal!

Posted by: Texan99 at September 24, 2013 11:03 AM

We were talking about lessons from the Great Depression last night. It's the only good analogue for what faces the youth of today, because the last two generations didn't see anything like it.

As a result, the quality of our advice is suspect -- although this piece sounds quite reasonable to me, as it does to you, I wonder how useful it is. It may be that there isn't even a janitor's job available at the plant anymore, because there may not be a plant. You can get the janitor's job at the restaurant, and hope to move up to waiter or barstaff some day -- maybe even cook! And that's still better than nothing, but it's not the same game.

Even with Depression analogues, we've got a problem understanding the crisis because the economy has altered in form. Last week I dropped by the university's career fair, and lots of companies came out! They were hiring... unpaid interns. Lots of them. Some of these will eventually work their way up to a paying position at the bottom of the firm, once they have 'experience.' But the people who were there to hire had been told not to hire anyone who actually had experience, as I heard them explain to candidates who had resumes. They claim you need experience to get a paying job with them, but they aren't really looking for people with experience to fill those jobs. They're looking for indentured servants.

Take one of those jobs, and you'll work for free -- paid by welfare! food stamps! -- in the hope that someday you might be paid. But most of them won't be hired, of course: only the top percentages.

Should you still take one? Sure, I guess. Better than sitting around and stewing. If you work really hard you might be in that top position, but I don't know if it'll get you off welfare.

And these are college students, who will have bachelors' degrees when they graduate!

For graduate students, these jobs aren't available because they are 'overqualified.' If they want to become a professor, the job market is terrible; but if they get hired, 70% of the jobs now are adjunct positions that average around $20,000 a year. That will get you off welfare -- you'll earn just enough that you'd have been better off on food stamps.

That's not to say that this isn't good advice. It's just... things are really bad, far worse than is easy to understand for those who remain employed.

When we were talking about the Depression, my wife's grandfather was a civil engineer and so was able to find work and remain employed through most of it. It was still tough, but only a couple of lean years before things worked out.

My grandfather was a welder, and there was almost no work. He managed to get on with the WPA at times, but what really worked was when he started making moonshine stills on the side.

So another bit of advice, one that really relates to the Depression: if the legitimate market completely fails you, try the black market. And around here, the black market is going gangbusters. Drop by the "flea market" on the weekends and there are all kinds of things being bought and sold, cash only, no taxes, no regulations: everything from appliances to chickens (for "pets," if inspectors come by, not at all for meat or cock-fighting). The markets are run chiefly by Asians and South Americans, who understand nothing about the laws or regulations governing America, but a lot about how to work around oppressive government structures.

Of course, they're probably on food stamps too.

Posted by: Grim at September 24, 2013 11:30 AM

...things are really bad, far worse than is easy to understand for those who remain employed.

Grim, if I suggested otherwise, I didn't intend to. I know how tough things are in your area because my kids live there.

My daughter in law is re-entering the job market after being out several years to have children. She has a Master's degree, and she's working at a job that doesn't even cover the cost of child care and gas and doesn't require a Masters'. She's having to start back at the bottom, and this year at least will probably lose money on the deal.

She's doing that because it may lead to a better job and you have to be 'in the system' to have a decent chance of being hired. It's who you know, not what you have done. That's not fair. But it matches my experience.

I can tell that you see this post (which was aimed at kids) as being critical of people who are unemployed. But it wasn't meant that way. It was meant to point out that the odds of being hired the "traditional way" (floating resumes and filling out applications) weren't all that high even in a strong job market.

My personal experience, which is hardly expansive or comprehensive, has been that I've been hired more often because of personal associations than on my skills (even when my skills were top notch). And also that most of the jobs I've taken haven't been the ones I wanted, but sometimes they led to better things.

And sometimes they didn't (that's a big reason I decided to finish school - it opened some doors, but in the end it wasn't enough. I got hired only after being recommended by someone on the inside).

There are no guarantees, but I still think the advice is useful. Your advice about considering the "black market" is also useful, and it also matches my experience. So you have one thumbs up from me, for however little that may be worth.

Posted by: Cass at September 24, 2013 12:04 PM

It's worth a lot. I like people who will disagree and fight with me, but that doesn't mean I want to disagree and fight all the time. :)

And I worry about these kids. Being at the university, I know so many of them. They're really working hard, and they're smart, and I just don't know what is going to become of them. They're doing what everyone advises is the right way to go, but still...

Posted by: Grim at September 24, 2013 12:50 PM

I like people who will disagree and fight with me, but that doesn't mean I want to disagree and fight all the time. :)

I'm sorry that I got upset last week. This is not an excuse, but I was in a lot of pain and should have just gone to bed. But I had a ton of work to do and ended up flat on my back on Friday anyway.

Who says old dogs can be taught new tricks?

I don't think there's any one 'right way to go' that is guaranteed to work. I don't really think there ever has been, though. Certainly we've seen better times and worse times, but I don't believe the economy is so bad that people can't figure it out eventually.

It may well be that there aren't enough jobs for all these 2 career couples, Grim. Lord knows that's a thought that has occurred to me often enough: is my desire to work hard and save up the money we couldn't save up all those years when I was a SAHM putting some other guy/gal out of work?

It's possible, and I'm sure someone (Barack Obama) could make a good argument that my "greed" is literally stealing food from more deserving folk :p

On the otter heiny, the fact that I didn't work for 20+ years when I could have (and we really could have used the money) meant that other people got the jobs I didn't "consume".

It may be that we need to accept a lower overall standard of living. This is my strong conviction: that our present standards of living are unnaturally high. When you look back at our parents/grandparents, there's a lot of evidence for that thesis. That may mean larger households - Thomas Sowell has written about how during tough times, families moved back home and shared housing. In better times, they split up.

I did a lot of looking at employment numbers several weeks back and guess who's "hogging" all the jobs? People in the 45-60 age range. So the argument could be made that they should be forced to retire to make room for the younger generation.

I don't like any suggestion that limits the ability of people to choose what kind of life they want and go after it, though. And I really don't support any arguments that start with "X has a right to expect.... Y, Z, etc."

If kids can't afford to move out, they should stay home, save money, and keep trying. But we're all in competition with each other all the time. I don't see how we get around that without intrusive government mandates that limit freedom.

Posted by: Cass at September 24, 2013 01:28 PM

Speaking of "old normals", wouldn't it be ironic if the lack of jobs forced younger people to think more kindly about the value of marriage?

Posted by: Cass at September 24, 2013 01:53 PM


Of course I understand; there is no need to apologize. I could have walked away from the discussion too, rather than driving on with it when you were clearly upset. My own instinct for conflict is surely at fault at least as much as your pain. Please forgive me.

You raise several good points here, and I think I agree with most of them.

Posted by: Grim at September 24, 2013 05:10 PM

My parents' stories about the Depression really stuck with me. Also, I graduated from college in 1978, into a rotten job market, and worked as both a waitress and a painter before I went to law school. My college-educated took scut-work jobs, too, and we all made ends meet by living together in a flophouse where we paid practically no rent in exchange for doing all the maintenance ourselves, from plumbing to re-roofing. A certain amount of black-market activity occurred as well.

Posted by: Texan99 at September 24, 2013 05:19 PM

"My college-educated friends," of course I meant to say.

Posted by: Texan99 at September 24, 2013 05:20 PM

Howdy Grim,
I'd like to disagree, somewhat.
Engineering graduates, Nurses, and well qualified (TIG, high alloys) welders* ought to be able to find a job in nearly any economy.
If you are young, serious and have a clean record the military is usually hiring.**
Will cheerfully admit I have little sympathy for folks that chose to major in fields for which there is not a strong job market (most humanities, and ""-studies, etc), and even less if they chose to rack up large student loans to pay for it. Many, perhaps most, colleges are complicit in creating these many small personal tragic comedies, by providing assistance to obtain loans to pay their tuition/fees, but not adequate early*** employment counseling.

* welders may well have to travel.
** full disclosure; I enlisted in '78
*** PRIOR to selecting a major & paying tution!

Best Regards,

Posted by: CAPT Mike at September 24, 2013 08:07 PM

Thanks for your disagreement, Captain Mike. As I was just saying, I really value it.

As for the military: My understanding from General Odierno is that 85% of BCTs will be combat ineffective by the end of next year due to sequestration. Although, he also said we'd be cutting 10-13 BCTs regardless by 2017... or perhaps even 15, which is fully a third of them. I gather that's the non-sequestration plan.

I think unless something changes, we won't really have a military anymore after Obamacare comes online.

Posted by: Grim at September 24, 2013 08:24 PM

Mike, Grim was a Marine. I may be mistating things, but I think he was willing to go back in, but was prevented by an injury.

He did deploy as a contractor, though.

Please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong in the particulars, Grim. Most days, I can barely keep my own details straight :p

I think Mike's point is a good one as concerns young people. Just wanted to make it clear that Grim served, both as an active duty Marine and as a contractor.

Posted by: Cass at September 24, 2013 08:25 PM

Tch, tch, Princess, you know better...once a Marine, always a Marine. A fact that is especially apropos when we're talking about Grim.

Posted by: DL Sly at September 24, 2013 11:16 PM

Hey! :) Good to see ya!

Posted by: Cassandra at September 25, 2013 07:18 AM

And if you think the Army will be in trouble from the sequester--the Navy will be pretty much irreparably damaged for the short and medium term. You can "grow" BCTs/Divisions/whatever in a couple of years. You cannot do that with a Navy, particularly when the industrial base necessary has been allowed to wither away.
When I retired from the USN,SWMBO pointedly started putting the help wanted pages under my nose at breakfast. After a false start as an adjunct professor, I eventually got a job with the state as the lowest form of life--an emergency management planner. I retired 20 years later as Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security--but there was a lot of crow eating in the first part of those 20 years.So yes: "Get a job--any job; and work your way to where you want to be".

Posted by: CAPT Mongo at September 25, 2013 09:08 AM

I don't know all that much about the Army, but agree on the Navy. Those big ships can't be replaced on a dime.

The Marines are essentially returning to their pre-war end strength, so I am not terribly concerned over personnel cuts there. I am much more worried about replacing all that [already old] equipment that got worn out/broken/ridden hard and put away wet/left in Iraq or Afghanistan.

I can remember when The Spousal Unit was doing I&I for an arty bn that later deployed. He spend a lot of time trying to make sure his gun park was in good repair. A few years later he went over to Fallujah to coordinate the 1MEF/2MEF swapout (boy, I hope I'm remembering that correctly - I think I am, but it was a long time ago). The assumption was that units rotating out would be getting their heavy equipment back but that wasn't cost or time effective.

And I know we ended up leaving a fair amount of equipment over there. I found a report I remember reading from back in 2006 that talked about the cost of fixing/maintaining/replacing all that gear:

"Over the past three years the Marine Corps has maintained 40 percent of its ground
equipment, 50 percent of its communications equipment, and 20 percent of its aviation
assets in Iraq.
This equipment is used at as much as nine times its planned rate, abused
by a harsh environment, and depleted due to losses in combat.
To maintain acceptable
readiness levels, the Marines have been taking equipment from non-deployed units and
drawing down Maritime Prepositioned stocks, including equipment stored in Europe, thus
limiting their ability to respond to contingencies outside of Iraq.
Resetting and recovering the force will be expensive. The cost of restoring the Marines’
ground and aviation equipment to its pre-Iraq level, as of the summer of 2006, will require
$2 billion plus an additional $5 billion for each year the Marines remain in Iraq..."

Remember, that was 7 years ago and only talks about Iraq.


Link: http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2006/08/marine_equipment.pdf

Posted by: Cassandra at September 25, 2013 09:30 AM

You read a report that talks?
I'd have just listened to it personally.....buuuut, that's just me.

Posted by: DL Sly at September 25, 2013 12:06 PM

I'd have just listened to it personally.....buuuut, that's just me.

Ppppphhhhhtttththththththt :)

Posted by: Cassandra at September 25, 2013 01:42 PM

Take one of those jobs, and you'll work for free...

Speaking of "black markets", you *are* paid, just not in cash. You are paid in knowledge and networks. In all honesty, those jobs don't bring a whole lot of value to the business as much more time is spent in training than in production. Especially since, in a semester, they have to start all over again with someone else. There really isn't a ton of ROI for the business

But most of them won't be hired, of course: only the top percentages.

Maybe not by the company you interned at, but that second tier employer may view that top-tier internship more favorably than your fellow student who didn't have one.

And not to take away from the valid point you and Cass brought up, but anecdote ahead...

I have a BIL who graduated from college a couple of years back (with what I consider to be a junk degree). He's spent the last year or so in a salary job with no growth opportunities. On Friday he interviews for an hourly job working as a shift supervisor in a warehouse. It'll likely be flat or a reduction in pay and requires a move of about 400 miles. But it'll also open up long term prospects if he does well.

Now, warehouse shift work is hardly the type of job a college graduate is usually looking for, but ultimately it may be better than holding out for a corporate desk job.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at September 25, 2013 05:23 PM

When I moved back to Texas in December 2004, it was for a job similar to the one I had in Arkansas (doing tech support for a propriety software for a limited market). However, it didn't take me long to understand while the work was similar, I didn't like this new job - it was too small an office and I was bored out of my mind most of the time (call volume just wasn't what it was at the old job). So, I decided I would go back to school to get my teaching certification for Elementary Ed. Started to school first summer session 2005. Graduated with a 4.0 GPA December 2006. I had assumed I would substitute teach the following spring and begin my new career in education the following fall. Yeah, not so much... I kept hearing more and more "it's who you know", and I obviously didn't know the right people...

I picked up another part-time job at a Carter's store (subbing, especially at first, wasn't enough to cover all my obligations and you can't sub over Thanksgiving/Christmas/Spring breaks or the summer). I found that job by walking into the store to ask if they were hiring. Also picked up a job as an usher at the minor league ballpark. I spent a lot of time out there anyway, both my sisters had been doing it and were well liked, so I got to do that, too. Spring 2008 and still no "real" teaching job. Summer is coming and I know Carter's and the ballpark won't be enough over the summer. Both my sisters were working for the same company (the older younger sister got on there first, then the youngest younger sister), and the youngest sister became aware of a temp job needing to be filled in the accounting department. Since I had a BBA in accounting, and, again, my sisters were liked there, I got an interview and got the job. I eventually moved from "accounting" to the credit & collections department (a department usually known as "A/R", doing the odd duties the collectors didn't have time for (they needed to be on the phone, following up with customers about unpaid invoices), and it worked well for me, as this boss knew I wanted to teach and would let me take days off to sub - it allowed me to keep my foot in the teaching door and helped her keep her payroll expense minimized.

Then came fall 2010. I managed to get a couple of interviews with schools, but again, no actual offers. I had gotten to the point where I decided I could wait no longer on that first "real" teaching job. My boss knew I needed something permanent (not just full-time temp). She would tell me about jobs in other departments she became aware of. I had previously applied for a customer service job when the company moved that functionality to Austin from Sunnyvale, but I didn't even get an interview. I was disappointed and would later come to see I'd actually dodged a bullet by not getting one of those jobs. After my failure to get an offer for the 2010-2011 school year, my boss approached me about a job in a small department that had gone through a series of temps that just didn't work out. I could start by splitting my time between where I was and this other department, to see if it was the right fit. It turned out well and I officially because a full-time permanent employee in January of 2011.

I am in a job I never would have sought out. However, it is a job I find interesting and occasionally challenging and I think I have some of the best bosses in the world (they have been fantastic in letting me work from not at the office with the husband's heart-related health scares which have happened more times that I would prefer).

The husband has had his own employment challenges. When he and I meet just two years ago (we met face to face for the first time on Oct. 2, 2011), he was recently laid off from his radio station job due to the way the industry is changing (your morning traffic report probably isn't being done locally - no more radio station guy out driving around looking for the worst traffic in person, it's all being done from a city 3 hours away by someone looking at online traffic information). He was a partner in a business and also doing contract work from home. Then, he had to have bypass surgery. When his contract was up in January, the a$$ he was working for preferred not to renew his contract. The partnership wasn't enough (but that's an entirely different story as to why). He was getting frustrated because his resume didn't seem to translate well into many of the jobs he was hearing about either from the Texas Workforce Commission or what he could find listed online. Then, I had to go in to the local Home Depot for something. There was a banner hanging from the building: "Now hiring". I told the (then fiance) about it and he applied. He got hired as part-time seasonal (eventually), but he again had health setbacks and missed work. He called and called and called until he was able to speak to someone to see if he still had a job (since he missed work, they'd stopped scheduling him). Because of his persistence, he got back on the schedule. He impressed his bosses. Someone spoke to him about the possibility of making Home Depot a career. It wasn't what he'd dreamed of doing, but he (mostly) enjoyed his job. He was working almost full-time hours, but it was flexible enough to allow him to go back to school to for a business degree (just the community college for now). His boss told him he'd been put in to convert to full-time last year. Then January rolled around and Obamacare started making employer change they way they did things to try to avoid new costs associated with the law. Gone were the 35-39 hours a week for his paycheck. He was lucky to get 25, but he wouldn't get more than 29. Hit 30, and that costs the company money. he got frustrated as he would apply for other full-time positions that came open, only to have either someone else get the job, or to hear the store was shuffling existing full-time personnel to cover for it. Still, he spoke to management level people about his desire to advance. He was given the opportunity for a lateral move from floor associate in inside garden to service desk associate. Same pay, but a position that would give him greater exposure to other areas of the store. If nothing else, it was good that this was a less physically taxing job (some of the meds he's on for his heart have a side effect of making him feel tired a lot of the time). Still, he would apply for full-time positions. Then, the woman who trained him at the service desk (who held a full-time position) was leaving, and she let my husband know, and said she'd put in a good word. He was paranoid - after time passed with no word - that they would do as they had done before and not actually replace the "lost" full-time personnel. This time, though, after again speaking to the (new) store management, he was finally converted to full-time. It's been an adjustment, though. He's still a full-time student, and we (along with friends) are trying to get a new business off the ground (he's no longer a partner in the other business, which is a good thing). Ideally, the business becomes enough to replace his Home Depot income, but we are under no illusions that will be any time soon. Long story short, his willingness to take a job he may have previously not considered as "not enough", his obvious work ethic and his persistence in expressing his desire to advance eventually paid off. His next paycheck will be the first one of two weeks at full-time. Then, we sit down and reevaluate what we can pay on our debts so we can work towards moving out from my parents' place...

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at September 26, 2013 01:45 AM

Howdy again Grim, and thank you for your service to our country. and yeah, Cass was correct that I was specifically referring to young people.

Howdy CAPT Mongo,
Yeah, I'm not feeling good about the future of the fleet. Part of the blame goes to our very own 'leadership' (Admirals) that have done a remarkably poor job of planning. Waay past time for *huge* housecleaning at NAVSEA.

Hi Cass,
You are quite right; the Marine Corps will weather yet another downcycle OK, though it will be brutal for many Marines. They are a very unusual and effective organization.
I don't give a damn about the USAF; they are a terrible outfit that have never ever carried their weight.
Am quite concerned about our Army. They do not have the same kind of tradition as the USMC, and have been badly damaged by past downcycles and at times their own poor leadership (I'm not qualified to make detailed observations, the Jarheads can fill that role).

Best Regards,

Posted by: CAPT Mike at September 26, 2013 01:48 AM

Missed this for a while.

Captain Mike: Thank you for yours. Mine was entirely negligible, but for what there was of it, you are certainly welcome.

I'm beginning to sound like one of those later-Vietnam Veterans who were always saying that the war was won when they left, but got lost by Congress when they'd gone. I was in Iraq in 2007, 2008, and 2009, for the Surge and the aftermath. Triangle of Death, Mahmudiyah, south Baghdad area. The war was won when I left, and got lost by State after we'd gone.

Posted by: Grim at September 26, 2013 10:39 AM