August 15th, 2020
Our son, Stefan, came to our house one day after working a long shift at a job site. He complained bitterly about the mandatory overtime that he was getting. Stefan is part of the Iron Workers Union. He erects buildings and other structures. He is often up on a lift, 100 feet in the air, trying to weld steel beams together. Stefan’s activities on the job are generally difficult and dangerous, and he is often exhausted by the end of his work day, He is well compensated for his efforts, but he doesn’t want or need the overtime pay. After working outside for eight to ten hours, Stefan just wants to go home.
We talked for a while about the his work, and I mentioned all the people who are currently unemployed. Stefan shook his head and said,
“There are jobs out there. People just need to get up, go out, and find them.”
The July unemployment rate in the U.S. is 10.2%. That translates to about 16.3 million people without jobs.
I talked with our other son, Hans, on the phone a few days ago. He pumps concrete for a living down in Texas. He also gets massive amounts of mandatory overtime. Last week he worked 24 hours straight. That is an extreme case, but it is not unusual for Hans to be at a job site for twelve to sixteen hours at a crack. It is not unusual for Hans to rack up 70 to 80 hours of paid time in the course of a week. For him, this sort of thing is normal.
Hans complained to me about all the overtime that he was getting. Then he mentioned another line of work that he could try.
“Yeah, Dad, I could get myself a tow truck and become a repo guy. That would be easier work, and I could make some decent money doing it.”
Hans replied, “Oh yeah, those guys are busy right now. There is a repo truck in this neighborhood most every day.”
“Sounds like people are hurting.”
“Yeah, a lot of the apartments are empty around here too. People can’t afford the rent.”
So, is the economy booming or is it trashed?
It’s hard to tell. From the vantage point of our two sons, the economy is kicking ass. From the perspective of those folks getting their vehicles repossessed, it’s not good at all.
Are there jobs out there? Apparently so, but they are not necessarily jobs that match the skills of the people who are currently unemployed. Whole segments of the national economy have collapsed (airlines, hospitality, restaurants and bars), while others are red hot (health care, construction, some manufacturing). Can a person who worked as a cook in a restaurant immediately transition to a job operating a crane? Will a laid off airline pilot drive a forklift? It’s not like the people who lost their jobs in the pandemic can find new ones within the same industry. Some industries are basically gone, or they are on life support. Some people will find new employment quickly. Some will have to take the time to be trained in new skills. Some will never work again.
I remember, back in 1986, when I got out of the Army. I had certain capabilities as an Army officer. I could manage people. I was qualified to fly helicopters. I knew a foreign language. It still took me five months to find a decent job. I know how it feels not to have the specific skills that an employer wants. I know how it feels to possess the needed skills, but then be unable to to explain to an HR person that I actually have them. Changing career paths is never easy. It’s extremely stressful, and it takes time.
Now we have 16.3 million people all trying to do that at once.
I’m glad that I am retired.