The Job of Survival

If America had a pause button, we could push it. But it doesn’t and we can’t, so we’re constrained to figure out some other way to deal with exceptional circumstances. And whether the coronavirus pandemic constitutes circumstances so exceptional as a health crisis may be subject to some debate, what is undebatable is that the Senate passed a $2.2 trillion stimulus bill by 96-0 (which will almost certainly pass the House and be signed into law) and there were 3.3 million new applications for unemployment.

Remember when the gig economy was the newest, coolest thing ever? Remember when being an independent contractor gave people the freedom to pursue their dreams in whichever way they chose? These choices might present a problem now that unemployment is the new black. The stimulus package says they might be eligible for federal relief, but saying so and being so aren’t the same, a point many people just can’t wrap their heads around when reading headlines that make them feel better.

In a weird confluence of events, both the New York Times and the New York Post, the bookends of the New York press, have editorials about jobs.

They appear to regard mass unemployment as an unfortunate but unavoidable symptom of the coronavirus. “It’s nobody’s fault, certainly not in this country,” President Trump said Thursday. The federal government’s primary response is a bill that passed the Senate late Wednesday night that would provide larger cash payments to those who have lost their jobs.

But the sudden collapse of employment was not inevitable. It is instead a disastrous failure of public policy that has caused immediate harm to the lives of millions of Americans, and that is likely to leave a lasting mark on their future, on the economy and on our society.

You shut down a nation, an economy, and it’s almost as if there are consequences. The argument is that our lack of preparation caused this, or at least exacerbated the shutdown, but there is no basis beyond speculation that it could have been avoided even with better anticipation and action, and that once we found ourselves in the position of having to choose between potential pandemic and economic collapse, the latter was the better choice.

Preserving jobs is important because a job isn’t merely about the money. Compensated labor provides a sense of independence, identity and purpose; an unemployment check does not replace any of those things. People who lose jobs also lose their benefits — and in the United States, that includes their health insurance. And a substantial body of research on earlier economic downturns documents that people who lose jobs, even if they eventually find new ones, suffer lasting damage to their earnings potential, health and even the prospects of their children. The longer it takes to find a new job, the deeper the damage tends to be.

Apparently, no one on the New York Times editorial board every studied Maslow in college sociology class, because no one who’s starving gives a damn about their self-esteem. Then again, the Times editorial board can work from home while still getting direct deposit, which means they have their finger on the pulse of a nation.

But it’s almost as if nobody at the Times grasps that jobs aren’t free-floating things that exist in the ether independent of these other, evil things called employers. If businesses fail, then they can’t have employees, which means they don’t have jobs.

A record-setting jump in jobless claims is what you get when you instantly shut down much of the economy. Worse is ahead.

Good-bye to 113 straight months of job growth that boosted US headcounts by 22 million, bringing discouraged workers back into the job market and fueling wage hikes.

Cross your fingers we can get back to that soon. But millions are left wondering if they can make ends meet for the duration of the crisis. And if their jobs will return on the other side.

The Post, on the other hand, recognizes the need for employers in order for there to be jobs. But then, the Post glosses over the only two salient points, whether the stimulus bill will accomplish what it purports to do* and the unfortunate reality that employers have abused their employees en masse since the Great Recession, taking advantage of their need to eat on a regular basis to maintain a sub-sustenance workforce until they can be replaced by robots and autonomous over-the-road trucks.

Here we are, in the midst of what is clearly a national crisis one way or the other, and instead of pulling together to overcome it, we’re at each others throats over who can seize the upper hand and win.

To work, our economy must be symbiotic, where employers need employees, and both need people who spend money and buy whatever they’re selling, and for businesses to sell whatever people want to buy. It hasn’t been that way in a while now, with each side trying to win at the expense of the other. Employers too often pay less than what a human being needs to survive because they can. And employees forget how paychecks end up in their bank accounts.

Everyone ignores the fact that goods and services aren’t a human right, but the product of someone willing to put some skin in the game and provide them. There are no elves in the back of Santa’s workshop cranking out iPhones.

For all the cheap talk, we need each other to survive. Instead, we’re at each other’s throats to see who gets over on the other, as if one side winning will somehow make this turn out better in the end. You can’t be an employee without employers. You can’t be an employer without employees. We won’t survive without both. There is no pause button.

*There are many things in the stimulus bill of dubious relevance to the extant emergency. But if you’re unemployed at the moment and lack sufficient savings to tide you over, as are a great many people who worked for subsistence wages, what do you plan to do to eat until your check (or direct deposit, for those pedants who just can’t tolerate anything less than absolute precision about secondary details) arrives? But the Kennedy Center will gets its slice of the pie, unencumbered by any requirement that it continue to pay its employees.

27 thoughts on “The Job of Survival

  1. Rojas

    Employers with under 500 employees are facing additional obligations coming from changes to the Family and Medical Leave Act starting on April 1. While the act provides for reimbursement through tax credits, there is no concrete time for employers to be reimbursed. This uncertainty has created significant incentive for employers to cut the workforce and preserve cash.

  2. delurking

    We are by far the richest nation on Earth. We set our poverty line at the 90th percentile for world income. More than half of working Americans are 1%ers in the world income distribution. And somehow an unholy combination of the politicians and press has convinced the nation that everything sucked even before this pandemic, and it is the other guy’s fault. Yes, we need each other to survive. Yes, there is a lot of yelling back and forth. On the other hand, we have worked together, for at least the last 100 years, better than any large society in the history of the world.

      1. Black Bellamy

        We really should ruin it for them. Like just totally stomp on it and maybe stab it couple of times, same way if you accidentally leaned against a Harley on East 3rd St to recover from the beating you got three blocks away when you said precisely the wrong thing to the bouncer.

        1. SHG Post author

          They don’t know any better, even if they believe they know everything. As annoying and arrogant as they may be, it’s still our job to be the adults.

  3. John Barleycorn

    So many math-s left undone in this here post, esteemed one.

    So many math-s…

    Oh well, perhaps a few commodity traders left to their own devices at home, pondering out how to make a pie cruse, will finally figure how much:

    Water
    Milk Protein Concentrate
    Colombian Coffee Extract
    Calcium Caseinate
    Soluble Corn Fiber
    Cellulose Gel
    Sunflower Oil
    Cellulose Gum
    Salt
    Acesulfame Potassium
    Carrageenan
    and
    Sucralose

    It takes to float the “vitamins and minerals” in a protein drink and make a few moves that will finally make them “rich” enough to become “philanthropist” and get there name in a few Kennedy Centre programs underneath the divas, after the “stimulus money” runs out….

      1. John Barleycorn

        My apologies… I guess Bob is still writing music after all…

        This one ought to cheer you up:

        [Ed. Note: Much as I appreciate your concern for Bob Dylan’s new song, it nonetheless falls under my new music vid rule.]

      2. Sgt. Schultz

        I assume Barleycorn has pics of you blowing somebody and that’s why you let him comment at all, right?

  4. grberry

    A) Consumers want to buy their necessities/wants for less money so they can get more stuff/do more things. So they price compare and buy the cheaper alternative.
    B) Companies know they have to sell cheaper products, so they keep costs down by automating more and paying labor less, possibly by outsourcing to 3rd world cheap labor zones (e.g. China lately).
    C) Worker getting paid less or automated out of working hours don’t have as much money to spend.

    A causes B which causes C which causes A which …

    Where do we get off this spiral? And why is it that blame only gets pointed at one part of it?

    1. Rojas

      An alternant point via anecdote.

      [Ed. Note: Your story was absolutely fascinating. Start a blog and tell it all day long. Not here.]

  5. delurking

    Yep, you’ve nailed the reason behind the continued shrinking of the employment rolls over last ten years.

    1. SHG Post author

      The job market is in constant motion, being reinvented all the time according to Newton’s Third Law. Had it shrunk, expanded or just changed? I don’t know, but nobody seems too happy with it.

      1. delurking

        1st, sorry, I screwed up the “reply” to grberry, probably because of the server hangup.

        It is an undisputed fact the total employment rolls have expanded continuously over the last ten years. The fact that people seem unhappy with it, I believe, has a lot to do with that unholy combination of politicians and the press. I don’t even know how many people are actually unhappy with it, because I rely on the press to learn about them. I only hang out with happy people.

        1. SHG Post author

          The employment rolls have expanded, and yet, they haven’t expanded quite the way they used to. Many find they’re not quite employees, not on salary, limited to fewer hours than would be required for certain benefits, not on promotional paths, paid less than the “job” used to pay, etc. Jobs? Yes, in a generic sense, but not quite jobs as we used to think of them.

          1. delurking

            The federal reserve keeps track of some of this stuff. For people classified as employees (full and part time) by the IRS, average weekly hours have been between 34.3 and 34.6 for ten years. That is a <1% variation. Total hours worked annually, for full and part time employees, rose linearly from 222B in 2010 to 254B in 2018 (2019 number not out yet). That is a 14.4% increase in hours worked and a 5.5% increase in US population in that time. I'm sure some people wish that work in their particular area of expertise had evolved differently, but I haven't seen evidence that the current period is any worse than any previous period.

            1. SHG Post author

              I could explain to you what’s massively problematic in those numbers, which follow upon the Great Recession of ’09, but you would probably write another comment that would miss the point, just waste more space here and nobody but you would give a shit.

  6. Pedantic Grammar Police

    The more things change, the more they stay the same. Another crisis, another excuse for the .01% to loot the treasury. The taxpayers have nothing left to steal, so now they will print money. Don’t worry, there will be plenty of jobs, for the robots.

    1. SHG Post author

      The House today, without debate and by voice vote, passed the stimulus package in under one minute. Amazing what they can do when we’re in a crisis.

  7. Jake

    How I pine for the days when stimulating the economy focused on the creation of demand. It’s like the current cohort of leaders missed the day in history class when we all learned about President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Make America Great Again!

  8. Joseph Masters

    Impressive–the massive forever-funding mechanism to put 4.675 trillion USD into U.S. corporate entities through $425 billion from the stimulus package and another $4.25 trillion from the Federal Reserve represent a massive injection of funding into the business sector (plus an additional $300 billion allocated for lending to small businesses), but the impotent ravings of a few writers at the NYT somehow indicates the collapse of the producer side of the ledger. Excuse us that believe that the Coolidge description of America in the 1920s still is the national, bipartisan motto.

    The Fed is now pumping trillions directly into subclass-c corporations…won’t include a link because of your rules but several publications (mostly rags like the American Prospect) mention that the stimulus specifically authorized a Fed investment and lending vehicle to the tune of $4.25 trillion to be inserted into corporate America without first going through the financial sector as is customary, with $425 billion of the $500 billion corporate bailout in the stimulus thrown in for good measure (the other $75 billion goes directly to airlines and other businesses classified as “essential”).

    One could go out on a limb and speculate the $4.975 trillion that is now pouring into the non-financial sector is enough to keep most American businesses afloat through the coronavirus crisis and for a considerable period afterwards, though a mass consumption of the small business sector afterwards seems likely given the disparity between the two bailout funds ($300 billion for small business, $4.675 trillion for large entities, plus the big-business bias of the financial sector that is swimming in cash).

    Watch for a new buyout binge, and a newly resurgent stock market as it becomes increasingly impossible for American corporations to run out of cash unless the company in question is cut off from both financial (private) and Fed funding. But the NYT will still run impotent economic op-eds, so…

  9. losingtrader

    Where is the money in this bill for the 325 million copies of “The Andromeda Strain ” played on a continuous loop?
    It’s better than watching the John Hopkins map as a screen saver.

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