Finally, some good news for the unemployed. You’re not as likely to catch swine flu

If you’re unemployed, you should visit Unemploymentality. As perhaps the funniest blog out there dedicated to the unemployed life, it will undoubtedly make you feel better.

The blog, in fact, features a post today that features actual good news for the unemployed: You’re less likely to catch swine flu. Although, personally, this possible pandemic has at least given all our excitable TV news personalities something to panic over. It’s also given Fox News something else to blame on Pres. Obama. I don’t know how exactly they’ve done it, but the geniuses at Fox have decided that the United States is now at greater risk because Obama still hasn’t filled some key health and human services positions.

So, a few more bureaucrats is all the United States needs to stop the swine flu from infiltrating our borders?

Anyway, back to Unemploymentality’s take on the swine flu. The blog proudly boasts that unemployed people are less likely to fall victim to the flu because they don’t spend as much time on crowded trains, they don’t attend useless business meetings where they have to shake hands with co-workers or (even worse!) strangers and they rarely leave the house.

Yes, the post is tongue in cheek. But at least it’s something to laugh at. And we can all use that, right?

More moonlighting for U.S. workers?

My dad worked as a typesetter and proofreader at a Chicago-based printing company for most of my childhood. The money was steady, and my father enjoyed the work.

Of course, that didn’t stop him from driving a schoolbus in the mornings. Any extra money helped when raising a family. (We kids liked when he got to park the schoolbus outside our house. We’d run inside and jump around the seats and run down the aisles. I walked to school as a kid, so a schoolbus was pretty exciting stuff.)

I’m thinking of following my father’s example and doing a little moonlighting of my own. I already have my freelance writing and my editing job at a Chicago trade-magazine publisher. But I’m hoping to add one more full-time editing job to my plate. That way, I can replace some of my freelance work.

Because that freelance work is getting a bit dicey. Many of the print publications that I write for are either out of business or relying solely on in-house writers, all thanks to our bad U.S. economy and the dismal times publishing companies are now facing.

Like my father, I’d like a bit of extra steady income. Unlike my father, I’d like that steady income to come from something I actually enjoy.

Is that asking for too much? Maybe in this economy it is. Maybe I should be happy that I do have one full-time, steady job and that I do still have a good amount of freelance writing coming in.

But I can see the future, and scrambling for jobs from print magazines looks to be an increasingly tough way to make bucks.

I’m trying to be proactive here. It’s something I recommend to anyone in the working world. Don’t wait for things to happen to you. If moonlighting is the key to stability for you and your family, go for it.

How heartless are employers? They’ll cut even if they believe the economy’s improving

I’m always harping on my friends who seem to live for their jobs. I think by now, though, most of them have gotten the message that their employers really don’t care about them.

Three or four rounds of layoffs will do that.

But here’s even more proof that companies don’t care all that much about the well-being of their employees: A story in the Wall Street Journal reports that employers are still cutting workers and eliminating benefits even though many of them believe that an upturn in the economy is near.

The Journal story highlights one company that has cut its employees’ 401(k) plans, is eliminating health benefits and is putting employees on reduced schedules. Wow. Might as well be unemployed. At least then you can watch TV all day.

I wonder if this recession has changed the way more people view work. I’ve always looked at it as something I have to do, not something I like to do. If I had my way, I’d spend all my writing time drafting scripts for comicbooks. But that doesn’t pay the bills, so I write for trade magazines. It’s not may passion. It’s only my job.

NY Times: Teaching not a fallback career

It happens during every economic downturn: Workers fired from their corporate jobs get an idea. They decide to become teachers.

Workers see it as a break from the corporate rat race. They see themselves surrounded by motivated fellow teachers and eager students.

Of course, all of this is fantasy. Just ask anyone who actually works as a teacher.

Or, you can check out this story in the New York Times. In it, a panel of educators warns fired employees that teaching should not be considered a fallback career.

Being a teacher requires real commitment. The pay isn’t always great. It can be an extremely frustrating job, one with as much bureacratic red tape as any other.

And, even worse, it’s getting awfully hard to find an open teaching job these days. There just aren’t a lot of openings.

Yes, it’s just one more bit of bubble-bursting in this dismal economy. It’s getting to the point where all of our working world fantasies are disappearing.

Corporations’ new message: Leave your daughters at home!

I never quite understood the point of Take our Daughters and Sons to Work Day. If I was a daughter or son, the last thing I’d want to do is spend time at either of my parents’ jobs. I saw enough of my parents, thank you, I didn’t need to see them during their working hours, too, thank you.

But the taking your kids to work thing certainly grew in popularity over the years. So what if you can’t get any work done with a bunch of kids hanging around all day? So what if you can’t swear at your clients once you hang up the phone? You’re teaching your kids an important lesson.

What, exactly, is that lesson? Who knows? Maybe it’s that work isn’t any fun. ‘Course, kids already know that lesson. It’s called school.

This year, though, it seems as if the big event is being scaled down a bit. At least that’s how this story in the Chicago Tribune presents it.

Turns out the sour economic times are causing a growing number of companies to skimp on the field trips, goodie bags and special events for the wee ones. Instead, companies are providing kids with a tour of all the empty cubicles in mom and dad’s office.

This is Take our Daughters and Sons to Work Day 2009. It’s grim enough that I wouldn’t be surprised to see our nation’s children petition for a Leave me at Home Already Day in 2010.

60 cents for a pop? One more reason working stinks

One of the perks at the publishing company where I work is the pop machine on the first floor that sells Diet Coke for 40 cents. I drink a lot of pop, and that machine might be the best soda value in the city.

Rather, it used to be.

Yes, the terrible happened earlier this month. My employer boosted the pop price from 40 cents a can to 60 cents. I know that’s still a reasonable price in the days when vending machines will charge $1 for a single can. But still, I’ll miss that extra 20 cents jingling around in my pocket.

Am I complaining about something that really doesn’t matter? You bet. But these are the kind of things that annoy workers. It’s like when companies discontinue offering free coffee to their workers. It makes everyone a bit gloomy.

These are tough times for workers. We never know when we’re going to get fired. We don’t even expect pay raises these days. For some of us, that 40-cent can of pop was one of the last perks we had left.

Some job interview mistakes that can cost you dearly

This would be funny if it wasn’t true: A growing number of candidates, once they receive a job interview, spend an inordinate amount of time during these interviews complaining about the financial hardships they’ve suffered because they’ve lost their jobs.

Look, we all know that it’s awful to be without a job. I don’t know anyone who’s done that whole “make sure you have enough savings to cover at least six months without work” thing. (Who can save that much money today?) But a job interview is not the time to confess that you’ve been eating noodles for breakfast.

A story in the Wall Street Journal points to this, and several other job interview flubs, that are keeping the unemployed, well, unemployed. These screw-ups are especially bad today when job interviews are few and far between.

Another mistake candidates are making, according to the Wall Street Journal story? Many are showing up to interviews up to an hour early. What better way to say that you have nothing better to do?

Read the whole Journal story. As usual with the Journal, the advice and anecdotes are right on. If you are fortunate enough to nab an interview in today’s dismal job market, don’t blow it by looking too desperate.

How to stay invaluable at work — and still get fired

A friend of mine did all the right things to keep his job at a big banking company.

1. He showed up early to work three days a week, at least, and stayed later just as many.

2. He volunteered to take on extra projets, and never asked for any bonus money for doing so.

3. He brought new ideas to his bosses, ways in which his company could cut costs or earn more dollars.

4. He even brought in donuts or muffins on the odd Friday morning.

Pretty good employee, right? Yes, he was. He even removed all his Christmas cards and decorations from his cubicle before his bosses sent out the annual memo requesting that holiday stuff be trashed.

But none of this mattered. My friend was laid off this week. Another round of cost-cutting at his struggling firm cost him his job.

I’m confident my friend will land on his feet. Like I said, he’s a wonderful employee. But I wonder if this experience will change him. Maybe he won’t be so likely to work extra hours for no extra pay or recognition. Maybe he’ll treat his job more as a 9-to-5 thing rather than a lifestyle. I’m sure his family would appreciate him being home more often.

The point here is that none of us can really protect ourselves from being laid off. We can be the best workers in the world, but if our employers want to shed costs, they won’t think twice before letting us go. It might make more sense, then, to do a good job, certainly, but to not make work our lives. There are better things out there than the office or a presentation to the shareholders, after all.

The rise of the unpaid furlough

I heard from my very first editor yesterday. He knows I sometimes write scripts for comic-book companies, and he wanted me to put him in touch with one of the publishers that I sometimes work with.

Seems my former editor needs the work: He’s on a one-week unpaid furlough from the newspaper chain where he works.

He actually feels fortunate. He hasn’t been fired and his newspaper is still in business. That’s rare these days. But he’s taking the proactive approach, and is trying to diversify his writing skills just in case either of those two factors change.

I’m hearing from a lot of people about unpaid furloughs. It’s a pretty nasty sounding proposition. But I suppose if companies pitch it as an alternative to layoffs or firings, it’s not so bad.

Problem is, there are a lot of people out there who live close to the bone. If they miss a week’s worth of work, they may not be able to make their mortgage payments or their rents. That one-week unpaid furlough can really hurt.

Follow my former editor’s path and prepare yourself for the day that you might be laid off. Boost your skill sets in whatever way possible. There are a lot of people out there now looking for work, in just about every field. Do something now so that you will stand out in case the worst happens.

Tax Day double standards?

U.S. Treasury Secretary, and tax scofflaw, Timothy Geithner

U.S. Treasury Secretary, and tax scofflaw, Timothy Geithner

Today, of course, is that most hated of days, Tax Day.

Did you file your returns on time? If not, maybe you should send in an application to be our country’s next Treasury Secretary.

I kid. But a whole lot of people are unhappy today. There are several “tea parties” taking place across the country today, all held by citizens protesting the amount of taxes they have to pay.

Some real frustration lies in the fact that our country’s own Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner admitted that he recently forgot to pay $34,000 in payroll and Social Security taxes. Oops.

The Chicago Tribune has a good story about this here. Apparently, a lot of IRS workers are peeved that they can be fired for making simple mistakes on their own tax returns, but bigshots like Geithner get away. It’s a double standard, they say.

Lord knows, it’s hard to argue. I hate dealing with taxes. I work full-time at a publishing company but I also run a busy freelance-writing business from my home. My wife works from home, too, as an independent contractor. That makes our taxes a bit confusing. Add to this the fact that we last year adopted a child, and filling out our tax forms was an adventure this year.

But we did it. And we did it on time, miraculously.

If our government hotshots could just do the same, maybe there wouldn’t be so many tea parties today.