UNEMPLOYMENT / JAN. 29, 2014
version 5, draft 5

Cost of Living vs. Careers and Job Market Realities- No Winners so Far

In the past, careers and cost of living weren’t destructive issues for most people. Steady employment was normal, living costs were much lower, and human beings weren’t just bill paying machines. The fact that the career paths, living costs, and the job market are now totally different appears not to have been noticed by economists and policy makers.

The actual situation is a bit less than functional:

  1. The modern career path is basically a trapeze act. Career goals are very much moving targets. Modern careers evolve rapidly, diversifying and in some cases disappear altogether, with dazzling speed.
  2. The job market, in which a sometimes brutal percentage of working life is spent in unemployment is now the norm, is no great help to careers, either. It’s a patchwork of old style jobs, new style jobs and an exploding nova of ever more part time jobs.
  3. Costs of living are defined by prices relative to actual incomes, not theoretical incomes, or averages. Theory doesn’t mean a damn thing if you can’t pay your bills. Real money pays these things, and theory has nothing to do with it.

The problem is that these three blades in the blender are now defining people’s lives in the macro economy. That’s particularly so for careers. Where getting ahead was the motive force in the past, keeping your head above water is now an overriding issue for a huge segment of the workforce.

A raft of added costs, for health care, day care, commuting, and other essentials, is eating up wages much faster than they grow. That’s if they grow at all. The institutionalized insult somewhat euphemistically called the American minimum wage has never even pretended to keep up with real costs. In other Western countries, you’d get arrested, and jailed, for paying American minimum wage.

A career is still possible, but you may need to be a financial Houdini to make your costs work while trying to make your career operational. One significant added expense can sink the noble KFC bucket of career hopes, instantly.

Economics? What economics?

The economics of careers, jobs, and businesses are supposed to be on the same page to some extent, at least in basic capitalist economies where a few people actually can read and write. People are supposed to be able to pay for things like services and products. If they can’t, businesses suffer, and perform way below their optimum levels.

Arithmetic vs. policy

The other theory- this is a scream- is that people with careers, educations and a hope of a decent life are more productive than The Working Dead. Apparently, this is because they have lives, and can afford to think about them.

You’d think that decent wages, viable career models, and sane prices would be no-brainers on that basis. No money means less business. Not good for anybody, and not hard to fathom, is it?

Now consider this-

In California, the biggest US economy, the poverty rate is 24%, effectively one in four people, according to the Census Bureau. Governor Brown says that a hike in the minimum wage to $10 in 2016 is going to happen.

That extra $1.50 is sure going to make a difference to nobody. The average American spends about $40 an hour, according to current figures. That means that it will take 27 hours’ work for the increase to pay one hour’s average living costs for people on minimum wage. If you work 10 hours a week, it’ll take you just under 3 weeks to pay for that hour.

Now consider-

What are your chances of paying for tuition or anything else on that basis? A few fries you could buy, if you save up long enough, perhaps. A career, paying bills, forget it. All someone has to do is increase bus fare, and you’re back to square one, living on good intentions.

How far out of touch? This far

This is the kind of alien logic that’s managing costs of living which are sabotaging careers, jobs, and lives on a routine basis.

A few relevant points:

This is no longer 1950.

  • Dreams are expensive these days.
  • College degrees can no longer be paid for by paper routes.
  • People cannot eat bills for decades. (Jenny Craig would have noticed.)
  • A nation of waiters isn’t going to be building the economy of tomorrow.

You’re no longer a loser if you stick to a job for 5 years. You’re a miracle worker. You’re not an average person if you have a working career. You’re a person who beats Vegas odds on a regular basis.

It’s about time somebody with some clout figured that out.

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