Here’s the thing: Nobody hires in August.
I know this fact quite intimately. I had begun my job search in the summer of 2008, before my job was ‘eliminated’ at the end of 2008. I was working in the real estate world then, and contrary to popular narratives, signs of distress were everywhere in 2007. In August 2008, a colleague enlightened me to this universal corporate meme.
So when the new numbers were released from the department of labor that showed zero job growth for the month of August and the unemployment rate held at 9.4, I didn’t flinch.
My expectations were already low.
I’m no politician, just an average, slightly over educated black woman who worked in the very industry that seems to be the lynchpin of the Obama’s job plan and well, a fake psychic.
Here’s me in February 2009:
So this brings me to my current thinking about infrastructure. Infrastructure is more than the physical universe of roads, bridges, schools, power grids, levees, dams, reservoirs, trains, subways. Think of them as veins and vessels within the body. The body cannot live without the mind. Teachers, firefighters, police officers, servicemen and women flow through that universe. So do you and I. And all of us need to be a bit more educated about how we all are connected in this life. How do we individually complement the stimulus package that was just signed? Infrastructure, beyond the jobs and economic stability it can create, includes you, me and a dose of intellectual curiosity.
America is a young nation with old systems in play. All that American ingenuity we’ve been taught about has laid fallow for too long.
Here’s Obama in 2011:
The purpose of the American Jobs Act is simple: to put more people back to work and more money in the pockets of those who are working. It will create more jobs for construction workers, more jobs for teachers, more jobs for veterans, and more jobs for long-term unemployed. (Applause.) It will provide — it will provide a tax break for companies who hire new workers, and it will cut payroll taxes in half for every working American and every small business. (Applause.) It will provide a jolt to an economy that has stalled, and give companies confidence that if they invest and if they hire, there will be customers for their products and services. You should pass this jobs plan right away. (Applause.)
Indeed. This thought process is rooted in simple economics: cash begets demand, demand begets supply, begets higher GDP. This is stimulus for main street. Create an environment so that consumers spend and employers hire. Investment in infrastructure is known by most policy wonks as the speediest metric to mark job growth. It is not unlike the recession of 2000/2001, when everyone looked toward investment in construction starts for housing, to compensate for the epic failure and job losses from internet companies folding. And that housing boom (and inevitable bust) carried the country out of recession of the early aughts. I suppose the logic remains the same here for the American Jobs Act; incentivize the private market (small businesses) to hire more 14 million Americans out of work, put cash in the pockets of those underemployed and overworked Americans so that we spend more and grow the economy.
Construction jobs are like cells dividing, besides the trades that get hired, folks who do work with their hands, it also creates a bureaucracy, a host of support staff to manage the endeavor. It’s not a bad idea…
Which is really to say that while this is effective method to stimulate job growth, it is a terribly old idea. If we’re to presume that everyone in the job market is looking to specialize in masonry, electrical, engineering trades, then he’s definitely on to something. It certainly would require a re-education or refining of capabilities. The ‘jobs’ that this bill will likely create would require a highly specialized labor force, one that seeks transform an erstwhile trader/bookseller that’s been serving up your latte at your local coffee shop for the past six months to rewire a school to support a 4G network.
When we talk of job creation what exactly are we talking about?
I suppose I wanted Obama to level with me (the American people, labor) and say: ‘The jobs you had are not coming back. It’s time to embrace new possibilities. Have you considered returning to school? Have you thought of working with your hands? Perhaps there’s an idea that we could fund that would be to benefit of us all? Let’s build something.’ Or: ‘Employers, to remain competitive in the global economy, you’re going to need to innovate your business practices. It also means that you must take a risk: you must train your new hires to be competitive in this new economy. You may also want to check your biases towards the long term unemployed at the door. Invest in them and they’ll invest in you. Seriously. Everyone’s got to eat…’ Or: ‘Graduates of 2009-2011, help is on the way. We certainly didn’t train you for this.’ Or: ‘Work is changing. Gone are the careers and jobs of your parents and grandparents. Over the next two decades, you will all become specialized workers, and independent.’
I had already entered this new economy with my eyes wide open. I had trouble imaging a scenario where my job as amorphous as it was would be resurrected. It was time to reconsider my options. I recalled a 2009 Obama, the Obama who then referenced another young president:
When written in Chinese the word crisis is composed of two characters.
One represents danger, and the other represents opportunity
The ‘opportunity’ in this economy, meant for me to re-imagine my own career goals and my quality of life. And after 18 months, 200 cover letters sent to various job openings listed on Idealist, Indeed, Monster, friend referrals and a modestly underused LinkedIN profile, I began to embrace the idea that the job I sought would be one of my own creation. It is still a work in progress, but it took silence and rejection for me to embrace the entrepreneurial side of my nature. One I hadn’t realized I had.
I’m not alone, there’s a small army of us, growing and scarcely counted in labor statistics:
Today, careers consist of piecing together various types of work, juggling multiple clients, learning to be marketing and accounting experts, and creating offices in bedrooms/coffee shops/coworking spaces. Independent workers abound. We call them freelancers, contractors, sole proprietors, consultants, temps, and the self-employed.
Horowitz’s assertion isn’t new news. An article I fail to recall from 2009 called us ‘Perm-a-lancers’. A friend of mine has been a permalancer for major advertising agency for years.
I don’t doubt Obama’s pragmatic resolve in cajoling an intractable legislative body to respond to the pressure of crumbling economy and frustrated electorate. Yet, I felt pandered to. In 2009, I understood the need for the Recovery Act to do the work of the American Jobs Act as presented in broad strokes tonight. In 2009, it was infrastructure investment that saved some jobs or at least stopped the hemorrhaging. For a time. Obama doesn’t have the power to hire 14 million Americans at livable wage. Or the countless/invisible underemployed class. I don’t think anyone inside the Beltway has a clue (or at the very least, willing to be honest) about what it’s going to take for us to redefine job growth for this new American century.