Posts tagged with: recession

People still getting fired. Just not as many

This is what passes for good news these days: According to the Wall Street Journal, while companies are still laying people off, they’re not laying off as many as they were earlier in the year.

The Journal points to this as a sign that the economy is finally stabilizing. Though, if you are one of the fewer people laid off in the last few weeks, I suppose you’d not agree.

So here’s the “good” news: Non-farm payrolls dropped 539,000 in April, according to the U.S. Labor Department. That’s better than the 699,000 drop in March.

Still, that’s a huge number of jobs lost in April. In fact, U.S. employers have shed 5.7 million jobs since the recession started in December of 2007.

The unemployment rate hit 8.9 percent in April, the highest that number has stood since September of 1983.

That last number is the key. Until uemployment goes down, the economy won’t begin a true recovery.

The need to adapt

Work has become a drag for me. I’ve always loved the fact that I support my family, and pay a home mortgage, simply by writing.

There aren’t many people out there who love their work.

Problem is, I’m not loving the freelance-writing life quite as much these days. It’s the economy, of course, and the fact that it’s killing off my print-magazine clients at a dizzying pace.

These are terrible times for publishers. This means, of course, that it’s a terrible time to be a freelance writer, too.

Last week was a particularly tough one. My strongest print-magazine client, my highest-paying one, too, informed me that they’d be assigning me significantly fewer stories throughout the rest of the year. This was tough to take, and it was partially my fault: I committed one of the top sins of freelance writing. I became too dependant on one particular publisher.

I will survive, though. Yes, this is the toughest writing market I’ve ever faced. But I will get through it.

I’m trying to adapt. I’m writing more online stuff than I’ve ever done before. Most of it doesn’t pay well, but, I have to admit, it sure is easier to write for a blog or a content mill than it is to spend weeks researching, conducting interviews and planning site visits for a story in the Washington Post or Phoenix Magazine.

Adapting is key to today’s working world, and not just for freelance writers. We all have to adapt.

Yes, it’s awful. Yes, it’s not any fun. But … it is necessary.

The amazing shrinking economy

It’s official: We are suffering through the worst recession in at least 50 years.

Feel better? I don’t.

According to this story by Bloomberg, the U.S. Gross Domestic Product fell at a 6.1 percent annual rate in the first quarter. That was even worse than originally forecast, and it follows a 6.3 drop in the final three months of 2008.

To make things even gloomier, the Bloomberg story quotes Richard Berner, the chief economist at Morgan Stanley in New York City, as saying that the country will rebound from the recession very slowly, and that the recovery will be a weak one. Way to cheer everyone up, Berner!

Of course, most people don’t need the Commerce Department to tell them that this is one bad recession. They only have to look at their dwindling paychecks, their soon-to-end unemployment benefits or the bills they’re struggling to pay.

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.

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.

Sharing the misery of a dismal job market

I remember when getting together with family meant catching up on how far-flung relatives were doing, checking in on what kind of grades college-bound grandsons were getting and finding out just who was vacationing where this year.

Not anymore. Today, my relatives like to talk about the economy and, more specifically, the dismal job market out there.

This isn’t surprising. I traveled with my wife and two sons last weekend to Michigan for Easter. And if there’s one state that’s suffering in today’s economy, it’s Michigan.

My brother-in-law works for a school district. He’s worried about the cuts he’s seeing the district make. My sister-in-law works as a consultant for a big computer company. We all know that consultants are deemed as unneccessary expenses during the worst economies.

And then there’s me. I work in publishing. Magazines are closing all across the country. Newspapers are falling apart. It’s not the best time to be in my field, either.

Still, it was a nice weekend. And the conversation, though heavy on economic woes, did eventually stray to the more pleasant topics: Turns out my nephew is developing into quite a violin player. No that’s news I can use, especially in a grim job market.

More proof that the economy’s in the toilet: Selling hot dogs considered a viable career path

Do you like hot dogs? Are you out of work? Then you may be in luck.

A story in the Wall Street Journal says that a growing number of the unemployed are running their own hot dog carts to make up for their lost incomes.

The operator of a hot-dog-cart business says that sales of all his models are on the upswing. Hot dog carts retail for about $2,000 and up, according to the Wall Street Journal story. This businessman says he’s sold about 25 hot dog carts a week since January. That, he says, is about 15 more a week than usual.

Next time someone tells you that every business is struggling during this recession, point them to the hot-dog-cart industry. I can see it now: a thriving hot dog cart on every block.

I like hot dogs as much as the next guy — maybe even more than the next guy. But this story strikes me as particularly depressing. It’s bad enough that we’re relying on Walgreens now for more of our health-care needs. Now we have to trade in relish, ketchup and mustard to bring in extra income? As if U.S. residents aren’t fat enough already.

Laid off? Maybe it’s time to go back to school

In March alone, U.S. employers cut 663,000 jobs. That’s a lot of laid-off and fired workers.

And finding a new job? That’s a huge challenge today. The nation’s unemployment rate, after all, has shot up to a staggering 8.5 percent.

Maybe this is why many laid-off workers have decided to go back to school rather than test the job market. A story in the USA Today says that a growing number of unemployed workers are heading back to school to learn new careers.

Maybe this isn’t surprising. After all, Pres. Barack Obama’s federal stimulus bill includes $1.7 billion for adult employment servies. This includes training services.

The good news in the USA Today story, is that many colleges and community colleges are now tailoring many of their programs to attract adult students who’ve already held one career.

This is a new working world. Those people who want to navigate it successfully know that they must take sometimes dramatic steps, such as learning a whole new career.

What’s more important, job security or passion?

I found an interesting discussion on the Wall Street Journal’s Web site today. This question-and-answer session addressed whether, especially in these trying economic times, it’s better to pursue a career that offers job security even if the field isn’t one that you particularly enjoy.

It’s a good question. I suppose in a normal economy, we’d tell people to earn their living doing something that they feel passionate about, or that they at least find not too terminally dull.

But these aren’t normal times, are they?

Today, I’d be apt to tell someone to go for the job security. That especialy holds true if you have a family that’s depending on you to support them, or if you have housing payments to make.

Now, just because you’re working a job that you don’t feel passionate about doesn’t make you a failure. For one thing, you can pursue your passion when you’re not working. Secondly, a job doesn’t define who we are. Work is important, yes, but it’s not your whole life. It’s OK to do something solely to pay the bills.

Look at your parents. The odds are high that they worked a job for one reason: to pay the bills. They didn’t expect emotional satisfaction from their work.

In the best case, of course, a job would both pay the bills and fulfill us. In today’s economy, that’s not always possible.

A personal tale of giving up the perks

Last week, I wrote about all the perks office workers are willing to give up to hold onto their jobs. You can read the post here.

In the post, I worried that workers are giving up to much. I also worried that once the recession is over, employers — having grown used to not having to dole out raises or compensate their workers for extra jobs — will not pass those perks back out.

Well, turns out I have a confession to make. I’ve willingly given up a few perks, too.

Last year, I wrote all the stories for a newsletter that my publishing company was contracted to write for a large trade association. The work was tedious, and time-consuming, but my bosses did reward me by paying me a nice bonus to do the work.

Earlier this year, my bosses had to let about half of our department go. Everyone who survived, including myself, has been plenty spooked since. No one wants to lose a job in this dismal economy.

It recently came time to put the newsletter together again. Once again, I wrote stories, edited copy and dug up art. This time, though, there was no bonus. There just wasn’t room in the budget, my bosses explained.

Did I fight this? Did I argue? Did I tell them to find someone else to do the work? No way.

I gave up the perk. Not necessarily willingly, but because I know having a job is better than getting that bonus check.

Sure, I resent my bosses for giving me extra work without pay. And, yes, when the economy does turn around, maybe I will be motivated to look for a new employer.

But for now? I’m simply waving goodbye to that perk. It was nice while it lasted.