Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘recession’

It’s (Still) All About Jobs

Lots of noise in the business world about the economy. What’s the Fed gonna do? Is the Recession over? Will rising interest rates pull us back into the despair of 2008-10? What about the blah blah blah?  That’s all this noise is, really. Blah blah blah. It’s all about jobs. Still. Jobs, jobs, jobs. Jobs and work. There aren’t enough jobs out there. People have stopped looking for jobs. Unemployment is stagnant, but even those numbers don’t tell the story because hundreds of thousands of people have just given up the search.

But wait, there’s another side to the coin. It seems that there are hundreds of thousands of jobs out there, but businesses can’t find people with the skills, or even the desire to learn the skills necessary to fill those jobs. Gone is the willingness to take an entry-level job of whatever sort at whatever pay in order to start the journey to “get ahead”. Some would go so far as to say that NOT taking that low-pay starter job is a rational decision. The cumulative value of various and sundry government programs add up to a “salary” that far exceeds most entry level jobs, benefits which would go away if one took such a position.

So which is it? Come on…you can’t have it both ways now. Either there are no jobs, employers are withholding jobs to avoid this or that (Obamacare, yadda yadda), or employable adults are simply unwilling to work. Which is it? Are there no jobs, or has there been a paradigm shift in the collective sense of what it is that must be present in a job before it is worth taking?

I call BS on the no jobs thing. There are jobs out there to be had. Good jobs. Jobs that will add up to $20, $30, $40 or more per hour jobs. The problem with all of those jobs, and the reason that employers are having a tough time filling them is two-fold: you don’t start at $20, $30, or $40 per hour, and in order to have those jobs you have to do actual work. It’s Life, Liberty, and the PURSUIT of Happiness, not Happiness.

Pursuit is another word for work.

Say what you will about government policies that discourage hiring (30 hour work week = full time, mandatory provision of health “insurance” for companies with >50 employees), gnash as many teeth as you please about the inability to house a family on a single minimum wage income (what household has only one worker now, anyhow?), mount as much hew and cry all you wish about income disparity, in the end it all comes down to a very simple, very common denominator: in order to have a job you must be willing to go to work.

All work has value; there is honor is any job. That is not to say that all jobs and all work are equal, or have equal value, or even that there is any justice in the valuation of one job relative to another (why is someone who sells municipal bonds a millionaire while the plumber who drains the basement that was supposed to be kept dry by the pipes purchased with those bonds is not?). No, the point is that having a job, going to work, doing the work has an intrinsic value in and of itself, and that all jobs intersect in society in order that society can function, much like the 11 men on a football team must each do his job in order to move the ball down field.

It’s been offered many times by many people that the best social program for a society is a job. The job you start with, or the job you may have at the moment is not necessarily the job you want to end up with, but each job provides you with a sense of participating, of producing, of contributing, while at the same time perhaps providing a stepping stone to something better. The “Pursuit” in Pursuit of Happiness.

To land and then to keep a job is really not all that difficult. I worked for others as a younger man, and for some 25 years now I have been an employer. Really, as someone who gives people a job I’m here to tell you it’s not that tough to get one. You need three things, only, to get a job. You must WANT a job. Once you have a job must be willing to DO the job, to work hard. You must have integrity–you must be honest.

Seriously, that’s all it takes.

Ideally you would add a fourth component; you would be ambitious. People who have jobs to fill also have businesses to grow, and growing businesses have room for ambitious workers to grow into much larger jobs. Hard workers who are honest, who put in an honest day’s work who have any ambition whatsoever move up, either with the company that gave them that first job or with another company that is competing for the skills they acquired because they took that “entry-level” job. The managing editor of Time Magazine started there in a sub-minimum wage job as a fact-checker. She is the epitome of the axiom that all you need is a foot in the door and the willingness to work hard.

Sure, sure, I know, it’s not always that cut and dried, and people get rooked, and bad stuff happens. I know. That’s life. Life happens. Life can be hard. In life, though, the reality is that rarely, if ever, is anything handed to you. You earn it. You don’t sit back because something unfortunate might happen because the odds are really stacked in your favor that they won’t, go against you that is, if you simply go out and demonstrate your willingness to get a job, even an entry-level job, work hard, and be honest. The work/life balance thing is all well and good, as long as you remember that work is part of the equation, too.

Indeed, work comes first.

 

The Value of Work

All work has value. Well, all legal work of course. Every job has value. There is a certain dignity that can be found in every job. Mop the floors? Someone’s gotta do it, and the rest of us should be thankful that someone did it. Digging up coal? Man, that’s a dangerous job. I think I read that 90% of Ohio’s electricity comes from coal. I’m warm today because someone went deep and came up with that coal.

Heck, even used car salesmen perform a job that has value. Seriously.

More to the point, especially at this time of year, is the value that is conferred on the person who has the job. Almost any job. You’ve got a reason to get up in the morning (or evening if you work graveyard). You have folks you are responsible for, and you are taking care of them. You are taking care of yourself. Taking responsibility. FWIW I would go to work on Wednesday if I had the magic lottery ticket on Tuesday.

In the Great Depression what everyone asked for was a job. Will work for food. I truly believe that this is still true for the most part today. People feel deep down that they need to work. When they have a job by and large most people work as hard as they can to do a good job. I live and work in the second most highly regulated industry in the U.S. (bonus points for knowing the first), and my income has been halved over the last 10 years or so. I still go to work, though, and I still work for the people who “buy” my services just as hard and in the same good faith that I did 10, 15, 20 years ago.

That’s my job.

Which brings me to the point: if you have a job for Heaven’s sake do your best. Work hard. If someone has given you a job work hard for her. Don’t’ let any resentments interfere with doing your best work. Everyone is underpaid; your boss thinks he’s underpaid, too. It may or may not be true, but when you are on the job it doesn’t matter. When you are at work is not the time to harbor or act on anything other than the job at hand. If you work for someone, WORK for him. Do whatever it takes to do the work well, to get the job done.

It’s not just that you owe it to her, you owe it to yourself.

 

Hunger

“Hunger can change everything you thought you knew about yourself.”

It’s Thanksgiving weekend, a good time to think about this. Ever been hungry? Not “man, when is dinner?’ hungry, but the kind of hunger that comes from not knowing when, or if, dinner is EVER coming? I haven’t, but I can readily understand what the quote is saying. Peel away the veneer of civilization, chip through the cushion of the societal safety net, turn a deaf ear to the bleatings of the entitled as they moan about “hunger” on an iPhone, and think about what real hunger exposes.

There was a time in America, not too very long ago, when the country was plunged into a Recession. Terrible, unthinkable weather patterns caused crippling drought; people sought to blame mankind for it all. Government was tapped out, reeling from the costs of war and the economic devastation of unemployment and stagnation in private business. People of all ages, from all walks of life knew true hunger for the first time. Real hunger. Clothes falling off your skeleton hunger. The Great Depression.

I have not known hunger, not like the hunger suffered by the denizens of the Dust Bowl years. In our Western world we see this hunger so rarely that it is front page news when we do. No, our hunger is less elemental, more venial than mortal. Embarrassingly skewed to the ‘want’ side of the want/need continuum. How, then, would we behave in the face of true hunger? What would we learn about ourselves if we had no hope for a next meal?

Who among us would save Tom Joad?

 

 

Economic Stimulus. A True “Shovel-Ready” Proposal *

It’s the jobs, Stupid. That’s what should be on the office wall of every legislator at every level of government across America. Say what you will about Bill Clinton, but did anyone ever get it more than that first Clinton presidential campaign? A simple signsign in their campaign war room reminded everyone of the central message: “It’s the economy, Stupid!”

It’s more than that, of course. Now, you could say, “It’s the jobs, Stupid!” What can you do to stimulate the creation of jobs now? Sure, you can take a page out of Rahm “Never Waste a Crisis” Emmanuel’s book and combat our crushing unemployment by pumping money into grand public works. Who doesn’t agree that our bridges, roads, sewers and subways are in dire need of repair? But everyone was enticed by President Obama’s promise of “shovel ready” public projects into which stimulus funds could be pumped, followed instantaneously by the hiring of willing hands to man those shovels. Stimulus I didn’t really turn out that way, so why would we embark on Stimulus II? Or III? Return on this investment was pretty much zero.

Nothing will get our economy moving faster and restore our national spirit than employing more people, and at a higher wage. Let’s take a quick look at the kind of job sector that would be most desirable.

Any industry into which we might pump money should have the ability to ramp up employment at the first dollar of public investment, or the first loosening of a needless regulation. OR BOTH.

Any sector targeted should be able to create and fill jobs across a broad range of salary, experience, and skill levels, and it should be relatively gender-neutral. It should reward achievement and educational advancement. Any jobs created should be domestic, although any hard products created must be attractive for export. It should be an American business sector that is expanding now, and poised for additional growth.

Pretty ambitious list of criteria, huh? Where will we ever find an industry or economic sector that could fulfill all of these criteria without some new genius discovery or mega-bureaucratic mischief?

Easy. Healthcare.

Think about it. Right now our country is fixated on cutting the money flowing into healthcare businesses such as hospitals, nursing homes, and doctors’ practices. Government regulations make it more and more difficult to make a profit while providing healthcare. Perhaps more frightening is the fact that similar regulatory agencies make it nearly impossible to bring new medical products to the market or build the sales of existing products.

 

Despite that, healthcare and related industries (pharmaceutical manufacturing, medical device manufacturing, health insurance administration and sales) continue to grow in all ways that we can measure, except the most important one: jobs.

I know your reaction. “We’re gonna go broke paying for healthcare as it is; how could we possibly pump MORE money into that?”

Hear me out before you dismiss my theory out of hand.

Every new regulation, every new requirement, every cut in payment for an office visit or a medicine or a hospital stay results in a net LOSS of jobs. And worse, pretty much no one in the entire healthcare and medical sector is hiring now, partly because of declining pay for services and products, and partly by the gloom caused by an assumption that the future holds nothing but more of the same.

We should try to identify regulations to remove. Start with removing the prohibition on drug companies marketing so-called “off-label” use of prescription drugs when it is clear they are beneficial. More sales of existing drugs means more jobs. More sales of existing drugs — along with fewer barriers to approving new drugs — means even more jobs.

People in healthcare and related businesses make a good wage, and there are jobs available across a broad wage scale. These folks buy houses, employ skilled trades, go out to eat and the like. As they advance, they earn higher salaries, and then they do the American thing: they spend it!

Pump more money into healthcare rather than less. Stop all of this talk of cutting payments to hospitals and doctors and instead index fee increases to inflation. Stop reducing Medicaid rolls and give doctors and hospitals an incentive to care for these people by increasing Medicaid payment to the levels of Medicare. That would create more jobs.

Education matters in all things medical, whether you are a doctor or someone working in a pharmaceutical factory. Generally, the more education you have, the better you fare economically. There is no systemic gender or race discrimination in healthcare. With doctors, nurses, hospital administrators, academicians, the only requirement is to be good at what you do. Same thing in related industries like medical device manufacturing; ambitious people of all types, men and women, young and old, can advance in their careers. Advancement means more job openings.

And guess what? More jobs means generating more income that can be taxed! More jobs create more spending and more sales that can be taxed! You could even encourage more of this by decreasing income taxes on those people most likely to spend that money, which would then create…wait for it…more jobs!

Oops. Sorry. Politicians are involved. Decrease taxes? That’s just crazy talk.

The next thing you know someone will propose some really crazy thing, like increasing the money we spend on healthcare.

 

*Credit for the idea to William J. Petraiuolo, M.D.