Monday, March 30, 2009

Recession! Unemployment! American Economy Failing! - Been There, Done That - Still Here

I have it lucky.

I was born during the Truman administration, and lived in an upper Midwestern city with three colleges: Fargo-Moorhead. I still miss having access to the NDSU architecture, agricultural sciences, and main library collections; Concordia's library, and the library at what they're calling MSU-M these days. It was "Moorhead State" through several of the name changes.

Students went to those colleges, of course: enough to fill the small town I live in now, several times, if memory serves.

So, when I started looking for work, I was one of the horde of older teens and twenty-somethings doing the same thing.

An employer looking for someone to take out the trash could chose between someone who would be an architect in a few years, a grab-bag of liberal arts majors - - - you get the picture?

These weren't your stereotype pencil-neck geek intellectuals, either: so it wasn't a question of picking whoever might be able to lift fifty pounds without snapping.

And, there were an average, at some points, of about a hundred applicants for each job.

I'm Not Complaining: It was an Educational Experience

It didn't help that I graduated from high school in the spring of 1969. My timing, for the next several decades, was impeccable: That's a lot of recessions, isn't it? Different people will say it's George Bush's fault - either one; Clinton's fault, Reagan's fault, or the fault of a Bourgeois Capitalist System's oppression of the proletariat.

Oddly, I think that last bunch has a point. It does seem that a boom-bust cycle is part of economies where people are allowed to make money, and keep some of what they make. It's rough: but I prefer it to the systems that look good on paper, but tend to fail when someone tries using them on a society of human beings.

Five Recessions and an Oil Crisis

And I was looking for work in all but two of them. Three, if you count the current one: but I'll get back to that.

I've quit one job, and been let go from one because I wasn't what the employer was looking for: and had the job - or the company - disappear so many times, I've lost count.

It's been a good experience. With each new job, I learned new skills, and that:
  • A job is a job - not my life
  • Jobs end - life (so far) doesn't
  • My next job probably won't be the same as my last
    • This certainly is not a problem
The last job I had, working for someone else, lasted just over 20 years. It ended in the spring of 2006: and I've been working for myself every since. I'm a lousy employer, by the way: I don't pay me anywhere near as much as I'd like. But that's changing.

Whaddaya Mean, the Place is Closing?! I WORK Here!!

I ran across a news item from Michigan today. Wayland, Michigan, is having hard times. They're tied up in the American auto industry - apparently more so than some other places. And, a car dealership closed.

Some of the (now former) employees sprang into action: they got drunk and started fights. One of them explained the logic of his actions:

" 'Does it matter how hard you work, because there is somebody a little bit above you that has the right to control every decision and every effort you put forward, don't you have a right to be a little bit mad when somebody says hey we're all done,' ... 'It's terrible, horrible.' " (WWMT)
Change Hurts, Change Happens
I understand the emotions, I think. It feels bad, losing a job. There's a loss of security and stability. I've gone through it, quite often. Losing a job really, sincerely, doesn't feel good. Even when it wasn't a particularly nice job.

But, I think I'm lucky. During one of those recessions - I think it was around the time of the 1980's one - I had a job in a state-run employment agency. Part of what I did was interview people, find out what sort of work they could do, what they were willing to do, and then connect them with employers.
Caution! Middle-Aged Guy Reminiscing
It was one of the best jobs I had. I'd be doing something like that now, but I looked at numbers then: and there was no way I could make a living at it, working independently, without moving to a larger city. Which I did not want to do.

Back then, talking with someone new every few minutes, I got a pretty good look at what was happening. Everyone was hurting, economically. There were a lot of people for each job, and only one could have it.

And, some of the people I talked to had only had one job in their life.
Don't Like Change? It Happens, Anyway
Applying what I learned in an upper Midwest city to the coastal culture, I suspect that there are people today who are experiencing the same thing. All their lives, they've worked at one job, and been rewarded for sticking to that unwavering routine.

Now, things are changing.

In my younger days, a typical victim of change was the WWII GI. He'd done his tour of duty, gotten started with GI benefits, and for decades been paid for showing up at the factory and doing his task on the assembly line. Nothing wrong with any of that. It was a good life.

But, when things changed, things changed. America's steel industry went through changes, automation had hit middle management (that's a whole different story), and was moving in on assembly line jobs.

It seemed so unfair: You do what's expected of you, and the factory closes anyway.

Or, in the Wayland incidents, the car dealership closes. And about 30 people are out of work.

I've been there: so often that I've started to understand that change happens. That's hardly a new idea. About two dozen centuries ago, Heraclitus said: "Nothing endures but change." today, you're more likely to hear, "the more things change, the more they stay the same," but the idea is about the same. ("The more things change..." is attributed to Alphonse Karr. What he actually wrote was "Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.")

So, Change Happens: What Can You Do?

When your employer goes out of business, there are quite a few options:
  1. Go out, get drunk, and start a few fights
    • Spending time in jail and getting a 'drunk and disorderly' charge is close to a best-case scenario here
  2. Set fire to your former employer's place of business
    • Really stupid idea: Arson is frowned upon in most states
    • Social ostracism may be a result
    • It's illegal, too
  3. Give yourself time to feel sad, then:
    • Take a deep breath
    • Run around a bit
      • Or do something physical (and legal) to work off the emotional energy
    • Start thinking.
      • You've got skills, and experience
      • There are other jobs
      • Kinds of jobs that use the same, or similar, skills
All things considered, I think that of these options, #3 makes the most sense.

Option #3 includes starting your own business. Particularly when you open a sole proprietorship (like I did), in effect - you're hiring yourself.

I've had some interesting worker-management meetings with myself. One problem with the sole-proprietorship arrangement is that you can't storm out if the meeting doesn't go your way.
Oh, No! More Reminiscence!
Back in 2006, when the small publishing company I'd devoted 20 years to went through a radical downsizing, I didn't feel all that good. I'd been an advertising copywriter and graphic designer for ten years there, and list manager for another 10. I'd gotten carpal tunnel in both wrists, with all the keyboard-and-mouse work (the insurance company came up with an anonymous Ivy League study that said that repetitive motions don't cause the problem - but that's another story).

*sob* I feel so abused! - NOT! I'd picked up quite a few skills in those two decades.

And, on my own time, had learned about the Internet and the World Wide Web. I had a large website of my own developed (Brendan's Island) by the time the boss decided to use the Web. I ended up building a website for my employer, too (Vocational Biographies). Neither one was the best of its kind: but I do think the navigation's decent in both. If you noticed that the two look a lot alike: There's a reason for that, and that's all I'll say.

Around that time, I went into business as a free-lance website designer. Quite a few other people were doing the same thing: and most of them were commercial artists. Their work generally looked anywhere from competent, through professional, to fabulous.

My 'website designer' business didn't too at all well. I learned that the population density in Central Minnesota wasn't high enough (still isn't) to support it. Being more of a Web architect than a Web artist didn't help: There just aren't that many outfits around here that need websites with a hundred or more pages.

No problem. I still had a day job then, and: I'd tried. I started developing ideas for websites that people would like to visit. I figured I had between ten and fifteen years to make them into something that would be a self-supporting retirement hobby.

Then, I lost my job. And, my schedule changed. "Ten to fifteen years from now" turned to "last week," and "self-supporting hobby" to "household-supporting business."

One more thing: by that time, I couldn't feel my hands. Which was an improvement. The stage before that was 'sincerely distracting pain in both hands.' Carpal tunnel syndrome will do that, apparently. And, one finger on each hand had started locking up at odd intervals.

I could still use a keyboard: thanks to learning 'touch typing' in the sixties, my fingers knew where each key was, whether I could feel them or not.

After getting laid off, I had surgery done on both hands (one at a time), and was convinced by my wife and doctor that now was the time to get my hips replaced. They were right. So, one at a time, I had my hip sockets swapped out.

For most of 2006, I was 'in the shop' for repairs.

That gave me time to think - or would have, if the happy juice we used to control the discomfort had let me. I did have time to chew over what I was doing, and why.

Today, I'm still getting A Small World of Websites launched - one piece at a time.

It's slow going: but I got another check today, for advertising: and am learning about publishing 'real' books - ink on paper - on demand. I've got concerns about quality control - and I have yet to produce something worth printing - but I think it'll work.

Change Happens - What You do With it is Up to You

I'm no paragon: I'm just a middle-aged guy in a small central Minnesota town with a checkered job history and a few ideas.

And, I'm certainly not 'earning $40,000 dollars a week in my spare time.' (A whole other topic.) I've looked into those envelope-stuffing things from time to time. A general word of advice, for those interested in pursuing such 'opportunities:' Don't.

But I've gotten pretty good at losing jobs - then picking up the pieces and moving on. It can be done.

In the news: Background:


web designer said...

nice post

Brian, aka Nanoc, aka Norski said...

web designer,


I'm getting interested in these ultra-brief, generic, comments with a commercial link, though.

Good Friday sms said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Brian, aka Nanoc, aka Norski said...

Good Friday sms said...

Such a brief information.nice collection of info

Good Friday sms,

Thanks for the good words, but you caught me at the wrong time: I've had a number of spam comments lately, and that link looked dubious.

Brian, aka Nanoc, aka Norski said...

Besides: "Such a brief information."


This post is anything but "brief" - 'nuf said.

Anonymous said...

Incidentally there is an interesting website that is specifically dedicated to recession victims.It offers help and discusses all issues related to It’s worth a visit!

Brian, aka Nanoc, aka Norski said...


Thanks for the heads-up.

(As usual, with everything that I don't produce, I don't necessarily support or agree with content on the other side of links.)

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