Big job losses in Chicago

I call Chicago home. So it pains me to see so many people losing their jobs in the city I love.

According to a story in the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago area lost 185,900 jobs last year. In May, the Chicago area saw its unemployment rate hit 10.7 percent.

I’ve seen it firsthand. At the publishing company where I work, the higher-ups fired about 65 percent of our staff. And every time I go to a family party or a friend’s house, I hear about or meet someone who’s lost their job.

I’ve seen people, too, who’ve had to go on forced unpaid furloughs. An engineering friend of mine has to take 10 days off without pay before the summer ends.

Are things getting better? I don’t see it. Is there anything you can do to keep your job? I have no idea. My only advice is this: Keep your resume’ circulating, even if you hold a steady job. You want fallback options in this terrible economy and job market.

How far would you travel for a job?

Tim Ryan drives two hours to pretend that he’s a werewolf at a tourist attraction. For this he’s paid a whopping $12 an hour.

But Ryan’s desperate: He’d been laid-off from his construction job, and couldn’t find replacement work. That $12 an hour is better than $0 an hour. So what if the commute is too far to take every weekday. Ryan sleeps in an old, mold-filled cabin that he can stay in for free during the workweek.

You can read about Ryan, and others in his situation, in this Wall Street Journal story. It’s all about the growing number of job seekers traveling impressive distances for jobs that aren’t quite as impressive.

It’s something that we’ll probably see more of. After all, the nation’s unemployment rate, which recently hit 9.4 percent, isn’t going down any time soon.

I’d hate to be in Ryan’s situation. But at least he’s resourceful. That brings up the question: How far would you be willing to travel to find work? How far would you travel if that new job was a mediocre one?

I suppose the answer depends on a number of factors, including how long you’ve been out of work.

Live in Ridgewood, N.J.? You might be out of work

Ridgewood, N.J., recently won a dubious honor from BusinessWeek. The magazine predicted that the town would be one of those that would see the most suffering because of the country’s financial collapse.

Ridgewood is located about 25 north of New York City, and is home to many people who made their living on Wall Street as bankers, brokers, financial consultants and other money-related jobs. Today, according to an NPR story, the town is suffering. That’s because one in six residents works in finance or real estate.

This is a tough time to make a go of it in either of these fields. Both are shrinking.

Of course, if you’re good enough at something, and you work hard enough at it, the odds are good that you will do well, even if you happen to be working in what others would consider a dying field.

In Ridgewood, though, I’m sure there are a lot of folks who wish they hadn’t gotten those finance degrees right now. Of course, there are a whole lot of people across the country staring at their own college degrees and wondering why they can’t find a job.

Is this the era of “good enough?”

I’ve written a lot lately about employees having to do more work, for no extra pay, to make up for all their fired or laid-off co-workers.

The other day, a friend of mine finished a big project at work. He wasn’t happy with the quality, but wasn’t able to do much about it. He was juggling three other big jobs thanks to layoffs at the financial-services firm at which he works. He told me that the work was from his best, but that it was “good enough.”

Unfortunately, “good enough” seems to be the new standard.

Personally, I’ve turned in “good enough” work lately, too. That’s because I’m having to take on smaller, lower-paying assignments to make up for all the regular magazine clients who have shut their doors or slashed their freelance-writing budgets.

It’s more than a little depressing. Most employees want to take pride in their work. But it’s not easy doing this when you’re doing the jobs of two other people. It becomes a matter of shoving product out the door.

Like I said, it’s a shame. But companies have to realize, when you fire everyone, you can’t expect top quality.

Working too much at Massachusetts General

Everyone feels like they’re working too hard during this recession, what with all the companies that have laid off so many employees. But for the general surgery residents at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital, the law has decided that, yes, they really have been working too hard.

According to a story in the Boston Herald, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education cited the hospital because surgical residents had been exceeding the maximum amount of hours they were supposed to work a week and had been often working seven days straight.

Residents are not supposed to work more than 80 hours a week. And they are also supposed to be given 10 hours off between shifts.

I don’t know about you, but I’d like my medical personnel to be as well-rested as possible. I know long hours and grueling shifts are part of the mystique of being a resident. I’ve watched my fair share of medical dramas. But this seems like a really dangerous situation to me.

We’re all working too hard, like I said. But I’m not cutting anyone open at my job. If I fall asleep at my desk, no one’s going to die.

Many states are extending jobless benefits

There hasn’t been much good news coming out of the world of work these days. But the New York Times did feature a column that has some hopeful news for the unemployed: Several states are extending their unemployment benefits.

According to the Times story, 21 states have changed their laws to make sure that the unemployed can receive benefits for a longer period of time if their unemployment rates reach 6.5 percent or higher.

The National Employment Law Project estimates that this seemingly simple change can help 1 million workers who are in danger of exhausting their state and federal benefits.

I’m not sure if this qualifies as terrific news. But in today’s weak economy, it might be the best we can hope for.

Obama memorandum passes on benefits to some gay partners

There’s still a long way to go, but Pres. Obama at least take one small step toward recognizing that gay couples are every bit as legitimate as straight ones yesterday.

Obama signed a memorandum on Wednesday that extends benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees.

According to a New York Times story, this move comes after Barack Obama has faced criticism from gay rights leaders that he has not lived up to the campaign promises he made to them in 2008.

These leaders have a point. Why hasn’t Obama taken on the military’s idiotic stance on not admitting gay men and women who want to serve in the Armed Forces? Why does’t he come out publicly in favor of recognizing gay marriage?

I’m still waiting for someone to give me a valid reason to oppose gay marriage. I’m still waiting for someone to tell me exactly how letting two women or two men get married hurts “traditional” marriage.

The reason no one can tell me this is because gay marriages don’t hurt straight marriages in any way. Someone, please tell me how I’m wrong, without telling me that the Bible forbids gay marriage. The Bible doesn’t like shellfish, either, but I don’t see a big movement against the shrimp industry.

I’m disappointed, too, that Obama hasn’t done more to support gay rights. Yesterday’s signing, though, is at least a step in the right direction.

Nursing industry suffering from lack of instructors

My sister works as a pediatric nurse. It’s a stressful job. She works with kids who have cancer, and that all too often ends sadly.

I know, then, how important nurses are to patients. They provide much of the important caring for patients. Doctors get the glory; nurses do most of the dirty work.

Unfortunately, many states are expecting a nursing shortage in the next few years. Part of the reason is that their colleges are turning potential nursing students away because they don’t have enough qualified instructors to give these future nurses the training they need.

This, of course, is a shame. There aren’t too many careers today that are growing. Nursing could be one of them. Too bad we don’t have enough of the resources to make it happen.

Mandatory corporate workshops: Aren’t we all stressed for time?

This week, the publishing company where I work is forcing employees to attend a mandatory hour-and-a-half sexual-harrassment workshop. And here I thought we were actually busy here thanks to all the layoffs we’ve suffered.

Sexual harrassment is a big issue, and a huge problem. But, I’m not sure that forcing employees to attend a 90-minute workshop is going to change anyone’s behavior. The solution to sexual harrassment in the workplace seems obvious to me: If someone’s guilty of sexual harassment, fire that person. Problem solved.

Now, I know that nothing’s really that easy. It just seems that in today’s tough work environment, when employees are doing the work of several of their laid-off colleagues, that mandatory workshops, even if they are only 90 minutes, are a big waste of everyone’s time.

Or maybe I just don’t want to sit through our workshop later this week.

Interested in working in a struggling field? Go for it

I’m working on a story for a major newspaper’s Jobs section. It’s an interesting one, taking a look at people who are entering certain career fields even though those fields are struggling mightily.

I’ve spoken to real estate agents and mortgage lenders, for instance. Both of these fields are going through tough times today. You can tell by all those houses in your neighborhood that aren’t selling.

It would seem like a bad time to jump into either career. But career counselors say this isn’t necessarily the case. At least the ones I spoke with for my story said that.

Here’s the reason: If you’re passionate about a career, or even if you’re truly interested in it, it makes sense to go after it, no matter how that field is doing at the moment. Take the mortgage loan officer. The mortgage-lending business is gasping right now. But a loan officer who’s truly passionate about the industry, who likes the thrill of working on commission and digging up business, is going to be the one who gets that business.

The loan officer who entered the industry during the housing boom because everyone was making a fortune originating mortgage loans, has probably already fallen into a new line of work.

What’s the lesson here? Do what you really want to do, even if people tell you it’s a dead-end industry.