I come not to complain about employment problems, but to try to figure out why “everything is broken.”
Most of us worked sh*tty jobs coming out of college, or while in college, or just starting out if we didn’t go to college. This is part of the American work experience. It’s like living in the stupidly cr*ppy student apartments or starting homes. (I actually lucked out on those, which I suspect is compensated for by older son’s first apartment, where what should be a corner cabinet in the kitchen was just a space filled with dirt. We didn’t dig in the dirt. For obvious reasons. This was also the apartment where the doorbell rang if you flushed the toilet.) It’s a bragging point for older adults, including parents and grandparents. “Oh, lord, remember that apartment where if you touched the stove the smoke alarm went off?”
And the truth is, because of the culture, most people are really proud of their “I ate frogs” period. It’s America, not other places, mind you.
Yes, you do get snowflakes complaining that they have to work at all, but if you go back, you’ll see the same going back for decades. The snowflakes they shall always be with us.
But the nature of jobs itself has changed, which the culture itself hasn’t adapted to. This is normal. The culture lags reality by two or three generations. That’s why we’re still seeing movies and books where the “grandparents” (objectively about my age or a little older) disapprove of women working. In fact, by the seventies pretty much no one under forty disapproved of women working. By the nineties, when I could stay home to mind my infant and try to break into writing, I was looked at askance for NOT having a job outside the home. Also in the nineties, I shocked a younger woman when she found out I had a post-graduate degree, because SURELY no woman smart enough to have a degree would be a stay at home mom. (Even if I was trying to break into writing.)
So, culture lags reality. In the late eighties, when Dan was talking to a company near his parents, my MIL advised me if they were serious (they were, though we turned down the offer for various reasons) they’d want to meet me and have a dinner with me and the other spouses of people in the department. This was apropos of the fact I had brought no “good clothes” up, only jeans and t-shirts. Dan and his father worked at similar levels. Apparently 20 or 30 years earlier companies vetted spouses? Anyway, the whole concept was completely bizarre and I accepted that was her experience, but I didn’t even know what to make of it.
By the eighties we heard tales of corporations that “looked after you.” You were hired for whatever frog-eating position was available, and then there was a ladder. As long as you were decent, honest, and a hard worker you’d be promoted.
I’ll be honest, I have no idea if that was ever true. In Portugal it kind of was, but Portugal runs on Roman models, and it’s all patronage and vassalage, all personal.
If it was true, I suspect what changed it was the huge elephant of the boomer generation moving through the snake of the system. Because there would be a glut of employees, so it was a buyers market for employers and they would need to offer less and could be more demanding. (The laws of the market apply to everything, yes. More than you’d think. A glut in supply means the demand gets more finicky.)
I know our experience of the job market is you found something, and then if you ever wanted a raise or a change in status, you went looking. And then again. And for a while there in the nineties, when Dan worked for a large corporation, there were annual layoffs and you never knew who would be cut. So we’d spend a month holding our breath as the ax fell and fell and fell again.
The good side of that kind of job market was that while it was almost impossible to advance within a corporation (unless you had certain markers that had nothing to do with your competence) it was fairly easy to get a job just off the bat by applying. Oh, you still had to send out hundreds of resumes, but you’d likely get something.
This changed after the great crash of 01-03. Suddenly the only way to find a job is to know someone. Same as in Portugal, in fact. I’m not sure why, but I’d guess something about unemployment or laws relating to that has changed, so people are less willing to take a chance on a wild card. It’s usually what causes these dramatic shifts.
At the same time, we started seeing bachelors being required for the most trivial of work. We’ve all seen advertisements for managing a coffee shop: must have bachelors.
Now, we know perfectly well where that comes from. I mean, I have read essays from college freshmen that I would have been ashamed to turn in in first grade. But the thing to understand is that it’s not the kids fault. To get to the point of people being so completely unable to express themselves in writing, a LOT of effort has gone in to PREVENTING people from learning. This is yet another finger pointing at our broken education system.
And part of the problem here is if you get someone non stem with a bachelors, they’re not likely much better at expressing themselves in writing.
Also even if they are better, they have no way to let it be known. The fact that jobs are deathly afraid of giving competence tests for fear of lawsuits is causing this nonsense, and making it almost impossible to get a job, because employers can’t trust anyone to be competent, even with credentials.
Meanwhile those who are employed are working their behinds off. The best way to signal that you can do a job, is that you are already doing a job. And then everyone wants you. Almost everyone I know who isn’t a free-lancer — I know a lot of free-lancers — and who is a mind-worker has two or three jobs and another gig on the side, because they were given an offer they couldn’t refuse.
All this while the “”Scrabbling bottom” who are mostly young and without connections are … scrabbling. Usually in retail and food service. Where they are treated as having already failed, if they’re there, and are given ridiculous job hours, etc. And then called lazy if they quit that and…. go home to tend to their kids or whatever. Oh, and if they get promoted, they usually take sniping from above and below. Because retail is a crab bucket, as is writing, and other places where there are a lot of eager widgets for a smaller number of positions.
“But there aren’t enough people applying!” you’ll say. And that’s true, probably. Maybe. Absent HR monkey games. But again, culture takes a long time to change. And this was formed when there was a vast pool scrabbling to get in.
It is clear and obvious that whatever is going on in our work force, is not conducive to getting the best people hired, or even to getting the work done once you’ve been hired.
I’ve floated several ideas of why this is, including, of course HR games and our broken education and event he fact that our workforce is tipping increasingly female, except in a few select professions. (And that means that the social mode of female applies and females — at least those who haven’t been taught to act male in work — have their own social games, which interfere with modern workplaces (though they are amazingly well suited to serraglios or the harems of proto-hominids. Go figure. Possibly workplaces resemble more the friendly competition of the hunt.))
Over all of this is government and litigation nonsense. Certain people must be hired, due to characteristics that have absolutely nothing to do with their performance of the job. And the DIE (die, die die!) nonsense is just a codifying of that. I will say, yes, there are women and people of various shades who are as or more competent than the palest of the pale. I flatter myself I’m one of those. And this is why no good is served by hiring for “has vagina” or “can tan” because that only encourages the random hiring of people with those characteristics, not those who are as — or more — competent. Anyone with an ounce of competence at their job should despite the DIE nonsense. It is a poison pill to the work marketplace.
How do we change from that? I’m not sure. It’s only clear that we have to change. And again, the left’s crazy rush to cram even more of the “doesn’t work” down our throat will only accelerate the change. Because it will accelerate the crash. Right now almost all the workplaces I have visibility in to barely work, except for the heroic work of one or two out of a 100 or so employees. The exceptions are small companies, and tightly knit groups, where things still more or less work. (And I suspect those companies, like those individuals in the bigger companies, are pulling disproportionate weight.) Add more of the dross and staffing of “widgets that look like this” and a collapse will happen, which will hasten a rebuild.
What the rebuild looks like, I have absolutely no idea.
I will only say that no, I don’t hold it against anyone, young or old, caught in this mess who decides to “lie flat”. My own experience of a broken marketplace for labor, with traditional publishing — it was broken when I came in, and it kept breaking more. There was no ladder up. There was no ramp. It was a sinkhole, and I kept myself from sinking for twenty some years by sheer, stubborn will power and refusal to die — is that it breaks you after a while. You take too many kicks in the teeth, and you can’t get up. You get the football taken away at the last minute one too many times, and you just can’t motivate yourself to run for it once more.
But as much as I don’t hold it against people, work is a necessity to live or even “merely” to survive. Most of the problems we’re having come from the fact that young people aren’t getting their foot on the ladder. Can’t even see a ladder. And are burning out caught in the sinkhole, while the cost of getting into the sinkhole gets higher in education and time.
Again, I want to point out I’ve experienced this in publishing where by the time I came along breaking in could take a decade, but once in you were treated as a lottery ticket to be disposed of if you didn’t bring a disproportionate pay off. It’s a matter of supply-glut.
And yet, we hear employers are hurting for employees. But the way the market is behaving is “we have a glut.” Could be hangover from the boomers. Could be. Or it could be something else and I can’t guess what.
The problem with corrupted statistics at every level is that it gives a high confidence we know what’s going on, while we lack even minimal understanding into what’s actually going on.
At this point it feels like we’re on our way to losing vast portions of two generations to “failure to launch” which affects everything from marriage to…. well, another generation. And whatever the officials are seeing must be dire as they’re now insisting we need the open border so we don’t run out of people. Think about it. All while the market behaves like it has too many people-widgets applying for jobs.
Can I tell you what to do to fix it? No. I can tell you to get as many abilities and as much knowledge as you can, and keep pushing. I suspect there’s a big…. crash (an earth-shattering kaboom?) ahead, and we’ll need everything we have to rebuild.
But lacking a crystal ball I can’t even tell you the shape of it. Just to keep pushing. Yes, I know it’s hard. The times that (to quote grandma) my heart broke, so I fashioned my gut into a new heart and kept going are more than the fingers of one hand. I know. My hair didn’t get white all by itself.
However, I do know we’re going to need a lot of capable people in the future. Not just for us, but for civilization. Keep trying.