Waiting for unemployment to drop? Don’t hold your breath

The economy won’t truly recover from this recession until unemployment finally begins to fall. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen any time soon.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner last week said that unemployment in the United States may not peak until the second half of 2010.

For those of you looking for jobs, that means that the competition for available positions will continue to be extremely tough for the foreseeable future.

There are some good signs about the economy right now: Housing sales are slowly, but steadily, increasing again. The stock market has been solid. New housing starts are up. The economy is no longer shrinking as rapidly as it was earlier this year.

Still, until the nation’s unemployment rate begins shrinking any economic recovery won’t feel much like one. It’s hard to feel good about the economy when you’re out of work, or if you fear that you’ll be out of work at any moment.

And that’s the kind of economy we have now.

More going the self-employed route, just not by choice

Remember when working for yourself was a choice that savvy entrepreneurs made? These days, it’s more of a choice that’s been forced upon people.

A growing number of people who’ve lost their jobs haven’t been able to find new employment. So they’ve started their own businesses.

A recent story in Computerworld highlights the trend of entrepreneurs being formed not out of choice, but out of necessity.

Many people have dreamed of telling their boss to get bent and then going out to form their own successful small business. Problem is, doing this is really difficult. Well, not the telling your boss to get bent part. That’s easy. Starting your own business, though, that’s a real challenge.

It’ll be interesting to see how many of these new self-employed workers remain self-employed once the economy finally turns around and companies begin hiring again. Knowing how much work it takes to run a business, I have the feeling that many of these self-employed entrepreneurs will be happy to go back to work for a company once they get that chance.

Whatever happened to the work-free vacation?

I’m going on vacation with my wife and two sons next week. That’s great, except we’re going to Branson, Mo. It also means that this week has been frantic.

You know the drill: Before vacation starts, you cram in as much work as possible so that you won’t have to do any work on vacation. Then, when you hit the road, you still have way too much work left undone. That means you spend a chunk of your vacation tied to your laptop, finishing up the boring work you need vacation to get away from.

At least that’s how it works for me. As a freelance writer, I have deadlines to meet, vacation or not. Unfortunately, I see it happening to a growing numbr of people.

Part of it is that so many of us tend to be workaholics. We think the world will end if we don’t finish a report before we rush off to the airport for some wind-down time with our families. Then there’s today’s horrible economy. Companies are firing so many people, they’re forcing more and more work on their remaining staffers. This work has to get done, vacation time or no vacation time.

The odds are good, then, that I might miss the Andy Williams show while I’m vacationing next week in Branson. As tragedies go, I suppose that one doesn’t rank so high.

Can you not care about your work and still do a good job?

Some of the stories that I write for trade magazine publishers and online content sites are dull as can be. I’m writing today, for instance, about the latest HVAC technology. Yesterday, I wrote about organic lawn care. I also had to come up with a list of 20 reasons why being a blogger is a good thing.

Coming up with 20 reasons was tough. I even resorted to this one: “By blogging, you can influence the members of your community to act. Perhaps you can make a difference.” Yes, all three of the regular visitors to your blog can help overthrow the corrupt government in Zimbabwe.

It all made me wonder: Is it possible to do a good job in your work if you really don’t care about it?

I suppose it has to be possible, right? It’s hard for me to believe that my father really felt passionate about the work he did for a typesetting company for more than two decades. Yet, I’m sure he did a good job, even if he didn’t spare it a single thought after 5 p.m. or before 9 a.m.

Sometimes we get too wrapped up in our work. We define ourselves by what we do for a living. When really, we should define ourselves by how we live our lives, right?

Do you live in a Reloville?

Take a look at where you live. Are all the homes pretty much the same? Has every house been built within the past 15 years? Do you have to drive everywhere you go? And, most importantly of all, have most of your neighbors lived in your community for less than seven years?

If you answered “yes” to most of these questions, you might just be living in a Reloville.

What’s this? Author Peter Kilborn knows. He wrote “Next Stop, Reloville.” This new book takes a look at the lives of employees, and their families, who are sent moving every three to seven years by their employers. Most times, when these families relocate to a new city, they end up in a Reloville, a subdivision where many of their neighbors have been transfered from somewhere else, too.

The book itself, which I’ve read, is fascinating. You can read more about it in this review by the Wall Street Journal.

Living in a Reloville has some amazing long-term effects: For one thing, the people who live in them tend not to volunteer as much. They know they’re not going to be living in their Reloville for long, so why get too involved in the community? Secondly, living in a Reloville often turns homeowners into fierce protectors of property values. They’ll fervently fight against new affordable-housing projects, addiction-treatment centers, homeless shelters, anything, basically, that might lower their property values. The reason is fairly obvious: Residents of Relovilles have to sell their homes after fairly short stays. They need home values to increase.

The timing of the book is a bit off. The economic and housing crashes have changed the Reloville culture significantly. Companies aren’t moving employees around the country quite as much. It’s too expensive. And housing prices have fallen, so Reloville residents need to stick around longer or risk losing big money when they move.

I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve never been called upon by any employer to move. Moving so many times leaves families — and their children, especially — rootless. It seems like a sad way to live a life.

Unemployment worries still dog economy’s recovery

It’s hard to feel that the economy is getting better if you don’t have a job. But lately we’ve seen several positive reports suggesting that the worst of the recession may have passed us by. The economy, analysts say, is no longer in freefall.

But that doesn’t matter if you’ve lost your job and can’t pay your home mortgage, does it?

Gail MarksJarvis, a financial writer for the Chicago Tribune, does a good job summarizing why unemployment might slow the nation’s economic recovery significantly. You can read the story here.

MarksJarvis interviews financial experts who worry that the unemployment rate in the United States might hit 10 percent or higher and then stay there. If that happens, it can have a devastating impact on the rest of the economy. Think about it: With more people out of work, there’ll be fewer buying nonessential items at local stores. Fewer people will move into new homes. It’s all related.

So enjoy the good economic news reports. We certainly can use some good news these days. But remember, until unemployment goes down, we won’t see an economic recovery that truly feels like a recovery.

The funniest work-related blog I’ve found

Don’t know if you heard of Examiner.com. It’s a site filled with mostly lousy writers who regurgitate press releases once a day or so. For this work, these writers once received a penny for every visit to their particular Examiner site. Problem is, for most writers that came out to about 15 cents a day or so.

Now Examiner.com has changed the way it pays its writers. It’s hard to tell exactly what Examiners will be earning now, but it’s definitely less than a penny a page view.

Examiner.com grew extremely quickly, adding new writers seemingly by the minute. The site now covers most of the United States, meaning you can read bad writing from California to Florida and most places in between. The reason the site was able to grow so quickly? I have my theory: the bad economy.

So many people are out of work, they figured that a penny-a-pageview is better than nothing. Some probably had hopes that they’d make a couple hundred dollars a month. Examiner.com isn’t a scam, but its owners sure are cheap.

However, there is one bright spot in the Examiner.com world, and that’s Dudley B. Dawson. He’s known as the Life in the Cubicle Examiner. Unlike most Examiners, he has a sense of humor that shows through in his writing. He loves to skewer the idiocy of office life. He’s especiallly good at mocking the human-resource/marketing types out there.

Perhaps the funniest part of Dudley’s site are the comments. Invariably, some aggrieved PR person, human-resources professional or middle manager will write in defending his or her profession. They always sound rather lame.

So check out Dudley’s site if you need a laugh about the dismal world of work these days. It may be gallows humor, but at least it’s humor, right?

Are you stuck with a life that kind of sucks?

Life’s more stressful these days. My wife is returning to school. We’ve added a 22-month-old son to our family. And the struggling economy has made it more difficult than ever for me to land writing jobs.

I’ve been sending a lot of time in the evenings writing dumb-dumb content stories. If you don’t know what these are, they’re the filler stories that “grace” so many Web sites out there. It doesn’t matter much what these stories say, so long as they contain the right keywords. In other words, it’s garbage. And, unfortunately, while they’re quick to write, the pay for them isn’t great.

It all adds up to a life that, yes, sucks a bit more than it once did.

I was reminded of this when I stumbled across this video on the Wall Street Journal’s Web site. A Wall Street Journal writer interviews Michelle DeAngelis, the author of a new book, “How to get a Life that Doesn’t Suck.”

I think a lot of folks today think their lives suck a bit. They may be out of work and unable to find a new job. They may be fearful that their job is going to be yanked out from under them at any second. They may be taking on new duties at their job with no increase in pay. They may be taking yet another unpaid furlough day.

And while the job offers and raises have certainly stopped, the bills haven’t. Those come right on time every single month. It’s enough to ramp up the stress levels in most families.

I still have a good life. I have a wonderful, loving family. I have good friends. And I still have a job doing what I — mostly — love. But to be perfectly honest, I’d love to get rid of some of the suckier parts that I didn’t have to deal with just two years ago.

Losing your motivation at work? You’re not alone

We had a meeting at work today. At least the three of us writers left at the publishing company where I work. Earlier in the week, our boss — who’s a salesman — wrote a stringent e-mail message asking us to do more online work.

See, our Web site is a bit crappy. A lot crappy, actually. A paid consultant came in and told us so. The consultant ran down a long, long list of things that needed to be done with the site: redesign it, connect a blog to it, add video, add more content.

As I listened to that list, I knew that my bosses would focus on just one of those things: add content. You see, that’s the only improvement they can get for free, by throwing more work on us writers.

I agree that we need more content on the site. I understand it. But everyone seems to have forgotten that half of our writers were fired. There isn’t a lot of free time left in the day.

I’ll do what my bosses ask of me. But honestly, it probably won’t be my best work. In fact, I know it won’t be my best work.

Like a lot of folks out there, I’ve lost a large chunk of my motivation at work. I’m tired because of the extra duties being placed on me. I’m resentful because I’m not even getting a token raise. And I’m ticked that our sales staff, which has seemingly forgotten how to make cold calls, blames the editorial content of the magazine for their inability to sell any ads.

I’m sure I’m not alone. How many of you are dragging yourself to work every day wishing that it was already 5 p.m.?

A mandatory insurance benefits meeting. Not looking forward to this

Everyone at the publishing company at which I works is required to attend a mandatory insurance benefits meeting today. I’m a pessimist, I suppose. Maybe that’s why I have the unsettling feeling that we workers are going to be paying more for our insurance.

I can already hear the pitch: Times are tough. We’re all cutting back. We need everyone to pitch in. We all still have jobs, for that we can be thankful.

It’s all bull, of course. These days, workers are constantly being asked to do more while giving up more. It’s not a workable situation.

I understand that the economy is making life difficult for corporations and small business owners. I do. But I’m getting tired of bearing the brunt of this suffering. I’m sure other workers are, too.

Here’s what I’m dreaming of: the day the economy recovers and companies start hiring again. Then we’ll all get to see companies madly try to keep their employees or attract new ones. It’ll be time for the workers to get a bit of revenge in the form of higher salaries, better benefits and more perks.

The only problem is surviving until we get to that magical time.