Friday, December 31, 2010

Some End of the Year Cluelessness

So here we are on the last day of 2010. Because New Years Day is on Saturday this year, a lot of people have the day off, joining all of us who are members of the long term un/underemployed in watching the world go by. I have the Kentucky-Louisville game on in the background and all I will say about that is "Go Hilltoppers!"

But I can't let the day go without highlighting a couple of end of the year news dump articles in today's NY Times. First up is this article on discussions on creating an Ethics Code for Academic Economists. After opening the article with a short list of some fairly well known political economists who also are in the university world and their undisclosed conflicts of interest the article goes on:

Academic economists, particularly those active in policy debates in Washington and Wall Street, are facing greater scrutiny of their outside activities these days. Faced with a run of criticism, including a popular movie, leaders of the American Economic Association, the world’s largest professional society for economists, founded in 1885, are considering a step that most other professions took a long time ago — adopting a code of ethical standards.

Now from my vantage as a professional in the field of Software Quality Assurance, the types of disclosure that are being discussed are an absolute bare minimum of an ethical code. I always go back to my first meeting with my new supervisor when I was just starting in the QA program at the Defense Contract Administration Services Plant Rep Office (DCASPRO) who said straight out "If it appears to be a conflict of interest, then by definition it IS a conflict of interest."

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Jobs, Long Term Unemployment, Economic Recovery, and Reality

As I wrote yesterday and the day before one of the big things missing in the discussion of the long term un and under-employed is the human reality and face of the individuals facing the problems.

Other people are trying to draw attention to the problems using their own personal stories, from the commenters on yesterday's post which was cross posted to MyFDL to the personal diary from commenter/diarist Margaret on "The Never Ending Job of Being Unemployed" many people are telling their personal stories, trying to draw attention to their own plight as well as the problems faced by the millions of us who are in the long term ranks of the un/under-employed. Yet for every column such as yesterday's from Bob Herbert at the NY Times, there are two or three columns or blog posts such as this one from Casey Mulligan at the Times Economix blog down playing the effects of any stimulus as just regular seasonal fluctuations in employment due to the holiday season and that the recession didn't really affect things.

You might think that Christmas became smaller during the recession, and that change offset the purported extra impact of each dollar of Christmas spending. It is true that almost all kinds of spending are lower during a recession, but I adjusted for that by measuring the seasonal data in percentage terms.

The retail sales data show that, in percentage terms, the holiday spending surge was not much different from 2007 to 2009 than it was in previous years.

My bold. Notice how he "adjusts" to make his point?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Human Factors (cont.)

Yesterday afternoon I wrote a quick diary at MyFDL on Human Factors. It was basically a rant about how so many of the pundits, politicians, economists, etc see everything about the world except for the actual living breathing humans who inhabit it.

The reality is, I started this blog as an attempt to draw attention to the millions of us who are un/underemployed. It seems that the only thing that often penetrates the consciousness of folks in the media who report is the personalization of the story. Of course with all the millions of people in the same situation of being un/underemployed it is difficult to penetrate the noise. An example of this is an article from Gretchen Morgenson of the NY Times from Sunday (12/26). While the article is talking about a couple, their bankruptcy and the problems they had getting a mortgage modification, it is related as:

After months of no progress, in the spring of 2009, a reporter called Litton to ask why the Ahlemans’ loan modification was stalled. Litton responded quickly and later made the couple a compelling offer: It said it would cut the interest rate on their first mortgage from a variable rate of 9.3 percent to a fixed rate of 4.59 percent. Litton also offered to waive $38,332 in arrears on their loan, which included late fees and legal costs that had accumulated while the loan was in default.
My bold. "A reporter called and asked... "

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Economy for 2011 Still Screwed - Or Is It?

When I was surfing through the news this morning I came across this article in the NY Times from Sewell Chan about economists thinking the economy will be growing during 2011:

WASHINGTON — Eighteen months after the recession officially ended, the government’s latest measures to bolster the economy have led many forecasters and policy makers to express new optimism that the recovery will gain substantial momentum in 2011.

Economists in universities and on Wall Street have raised their growth projections for next year. Retail sales, industrial production and factory orders are on the upswing, and new claims for unemployment benefits are trending downward.

Despite persistently high unemployment, consumer confidence is improving. Large corporations are reporting healthy profits, and the Dow Jones industrial average reached a two-year high this week.

Given how often economists make wrong predictions and are then "surprised," my first inclination was to conclude that things will not only not get better but are likely to get worse.

Monday, December 20, 2010

As the Big Hand Giveth, the Little Hand Taketh Away

The past couple of days, as I've surfed across the news sites as always, I've seen a mix of articles about the extension of the Unemployment Compensation included in the Tax Cut extension bill. The good news was that the bill included an extension of the Unemployment Compensation for another 13 months (why they couldn't have matched the two year extension of the tax cuts is beyond me but that's another story). Of course, since it appears that one in three workers will see their taxes go up under the "tax cut extension," it shouldn't be that much of a surprise after all.

But then I saw this article via CNN pointing out that folks in a number of states won't even get to receive up to 99 weeks of Unemployment but are capped out at 60 weeks.

Here's how the system works: The jobless collect up to 26 weeks of state benefits before shifting to the extended federal program. Federal benefits consist of up to 53 weeks of emergency compensation, which is divided into four tiers, and up to another 20 weeks of extended benefits. The maximum is 99 weeks.

But not everyone can collect benefits for that long. Extended benefits, as well as the last two tiers of emergency compensation, are tied to state unemployment rates. So as their state job picture brightens, the jobless stop qualifying for long-term benefits.

To be eligible for the fourth tier of emergency benefits, which last up to six weeks, the average state's unemployment rate must be above 8.5% for three months. Similarly, states lose their eligibility for the third tier of benefits, which last up to 13 weeks, if their rate falls below 6%. Extended benefits have a more complicated formula tied to different gauges of unemployment.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Let's Play With Some Numbers

While I was looking at the news yesterday, I came across this from the NY Times Economix blog, where the author threw in a rather standard right wing theme that cutting the minimum wage would help the economy:

In my view, all flavors of Keynesian economics ignore the many mechanisms that permit markets to adjust to changes in costs and benefits. Although a minimum wage cut would be an effective and revenue-free way of raising employment, the proposed payroll tax cut increases the benefits and reduces the costs of employment and will result in more employment among people earning less than $100,000 a year — even among those earning the minimum wage.

Not that this will penetrate the bubble around economists such as Mr Mulligan but let's play with some numbers here.

Why Are Economists Always "Surprised?"

There I was doing my usual surfing of the news sites after my daily disappointment in the job search when I saw that the Weekly Report on Initial Jobless claims had been released as usual. And as usual, the "Economists were surprised":

NEW YORK ( -- The number of Americans filing for their first week of unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell for a second straight week last week, according to a government report released Thursday.

The number of initial claims fell to 420,000 in the week ending Dec. 11, down 3,000 from 423,000 claims filed the week before, the Labor Department said. It was the second lowest level of the year.

Economists surveyed by were expecting 425,000 new claims.

Now realistically, the difference between 425K initial jobless claims versus 420K initial claims is 1.2% which is probably within a statistically margin of error on the reporting. And I assume the faithful stenographers reporters are faithfully reporting and transcribing what they are told by the always faceless and nameless "economists," after all, we know they would never try to shade the facts on anything, right?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Giving Up Is Not an Option

This morning while I was surfing through the various news sites, I spotted this article from Fortune (via CNN) with the headline:

What happens when the jobless give up?

As one of the millions of long term un/underemployed I can only say that for myself, giving up is not a viable option. I search everyday for a position within my professional field of Software Quality Assurance and Testing.

I have written a few posts about my skills, both official (resume skills) and unofficial (not pertinent to the resume but job skills nevertheless). I have written about why I love my professional field and about being an unemployed human and not a statistic. I have written about how folks have it far worse than I do, coping with the job search as well as numerous times discussing the idiocies of our elected officials and the talking heads.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Smart Cities, DeeCee, and Kitchen Table Conversations

Last night as I was channel surfing between snaps of the Patriots-Jets bash in Foxboro, I was momentarily distracted when I reached one of the local, Tampa area stations. They had a graphic up and were talking about the "Smartest Cities" as determined by Portfolio dot com. Boulder, CO was number one, Ann Arbor, MI at two and Washington, DC was third. I can't say I found any of these all that surprising given the criteria Portfolio used: followed Census Bureau guidelines in designing an educational ladder. The following are the five rungs, with average annual earnings for all workers, both full-time and part-time, at each level (as of 2007) in parentheses:

* Advanced degree ($61,287), including professional, doctoral, or master's degree
* Bachelor's degree ($46,805)
* Associate degree or attended college without any degree ($32,874)
* High-school graduate ($26,894)
* High-school dropout ($19,405)

Portfolio has a pdf download available that lists the top 200 in case you're interested.

However, I would contest the declaration of Washington, DC as the "third smartest city" even though it probably does fit the description based on the stated criteria. Educated? Yes. Smartest? Not hardly.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

They Really Think We Are Stupid

Whew! A bit dusty over here. I hadn't realized it had been over three months since I last posted something here but with all the news this week I guess I figure it's time to throw out my 2¢ once again.

The official unemployment rate is now at 9.8%. Nine point eight per cent. And this is just the "official rate" reported by Labor is the "U3." The truer rate is probably contained in the U6 which is over 17%.

It is December 2010 and this is the longest sustained stretch of unemployment over 9% since the Great Depression. While ADP in their monthly reporting of jobs added for November showed an estimated 93,000 new private sector jobs for November 2010, the official Department of Labor report showed only 39,000 jobs added in total for November 2010. This is in an economy that needs to add 100k - 150k jobs per month just to maintain status quo. Now we add in that two million people currently collecting unemployment will be losing their unemployment insurance benefits during December 2010 and another uptick in initial jobless claims for the last week of November and it is going to be a horrendous Christmas season for a lot of people in the United States.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Cluelessness or Cognitive Dissonance?

My apologies for not writing any posts for a while but I do get tired of having to repeat myself so frequently.

Once again we see the cluelessness of the financial reporters in a couple of articles from the past few days. First up was an AP story (via MSNBC) which reported on an analysis from Fidelity Investments on people raiding their 401Ks due to "hardships." This came on top of the Weekly New Unemployment claims report showing (Reuters via CNBC):

New U.S. claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly climbed to a nine-month high last week, yet another setback to the frail economic recovery.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 500,000 in the week ended August 14, the highest since mid-November, the Labor Department said on Thursday.

Analysts polled by Reuters had forecast claims slipping to 476,000 from the previously reported 484,000 the prior week, which was revised up to 488,000 in Thursday's report.

But today's (Sunday, August 22) NY Times really steps in it.
Renewed economic uncertainty is testing Americans’ generation-long love affair with the stock market.

Investors withdrew a staggering $33.12 billion from domestic stock market mutual funds in the first seven months of this year, according to the Investment Company Institute, the mutual fund industry trade group. Now many are choosing investments they deem safer, like bonds.

If that pace continues, more money will be pulled out of these mutual funds in 2010 than in any year since the 1980s, with the exception of 2008, when the global financial crisis peaked.

Small investors are “losing their appetite for risk,” a Credit Suisse analyst, Doug Cliggott, said in a report to investors on Friday.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Running Out Of Adjectives for the Economy

I've always had a pretty good vocabulary. I read above grade level pretty much from the beginning. In high school, we had to learn vocabulary words every week, increasing from fifteen to fifty words a week and I usually did well on the tests. I didn't score all that well on the SAT (though I did on the ACT) so I chalk the SAT score up to a bit of cultural bias (as a proud son of the South, sometimes the word usage might not have been as pristine as the educators who write the tests might have wanted.)

But I am running out of ways to describe the levels of idiocy associated with the economy and jobs situation today. From the reports themselves to the "surprise" expressed by the pundits to the "analysis" done by reporters there are so many mis-statements, specious reasonings, and outright cluelessness that I'm beyond dumbfounded.

First off was this article from Wednesday, 8/4, on ADP's monthly report of private sector jobs combined with a report from Challenger, Gray, and Christmas, Inc on planned job cuts from both private and public sources. ADP reported 42K jobs created for July while Challenger, Gray's report showed an equal number of planned cuts for July.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

ADP Jobs Report for July

Yesterday, I wrote about the idiocy of the cheerleaders who keep making speeches about how wonderful everything is in the economy so they're not going to do anything different. Then today, ADP released their Jobs Report on private sector job creation for July 2010.

Private-sector employers added jobs for the sixth month in a row in July, according to a report by payroll processing firm Automatic Data Processing (ADP). ADP said private-sector employers added 42,000 jobs to their payrolls during the month, following an upwardly revised 19,000 increase in June.

Forty-two thousand jobs sounds good right?. Well, when you consider the economy needs to add 100K to 150K jobs each month just to absorb all the new folks coming in, no it doesn't sound all that good.

Then you combine this with a second report out early today (from the same CNN story linked above)
In a separate report, planned job cuts rose for a third straight month in July, fueled by continued weakness in the government and non-profit sector, according to outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. Employers announced plans to eliminate about 42,000 jobs last month, Challenger said. That was up 6% from June, when job cuts rose to 39,000.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

They Really Are Insane, Part II

It gets somewhat frustrating to read the cheerleader stories on the economy, or from the supposed economic experts on the same day and in the same paper where there are other stories plumbing the economic problems of average, everyday, yes, real Americans.

First off, we have the somewhat ludicrous cheerleader opinion piece from Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner in today's (Tuesday August 3) NY Times titled Welcome to the Recovery. It's impossible for me to pull out a couple of points of idiocy from this piece as almost every line of it is a misdirection, strawman, or flat out untruth.

From there, we go to this piece discussing a speech Monday by Fed Chair Ben Bernanke:

While the United States has “a considerable way to go” for a full recovery, “rising demand from households and businesses should help sustain growth,” Mr. Bernanke said on Monday in a speech in Charleston, S.C. “We are maintaining strong monetary policy support for the recovery,” he said in response to an audience question, without discussing any further action the Fed could take to aid growth.

The remarks signal that Mr. Bernanke and his colleagues, when they meet in Washington next week, will stop short of making major changes in their policy statement or taking new steps to lower interest rates and reduce unemployment, said John Ryding, a former Fed researcher. Consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of the economy, “seems likely to pick up in coming quarters from its recent modest pace,” Mr. Bernanke said.

Yeah, who cares about nearly 10% official Unemployment and the Un/Underemployment nearly double that? David Dayen had a post at FireDogLake yesterday on a Krugman column on how this is the "New Normal" for employment. Looks like Krugman is correct (not that that is a shock mind you.)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Re-Claiming "American Made"

I haven't been doing too good of a job doing any posting here the last few weeks. It's not that my situation has changed appreciably for the better nor has the economic situation of other un/underemployed folks gotten better. But occasionally life does intrude, even when things are not going all that well.

That being said, there have been a couple of articles from the NY Times recently that I can only hope will penetrate the minds of people in power. (I shant be holding my breath mind you, but I can hope).

First up is this article from back in June on the possibility of rising wages in China possibly causing prices of Chinese made goods to rise.

Coastal factories are increasing hourly payments to workers. Local governments are raising minimum wage standards. And if China allows its currency, the renminbi, to appreciate against the United States dollar later this year, as many economists are predicting, the relative cost of manufacturing in China will almost certainly rise.

The salaries of factory workers in China are still low compared to those in the United States and Europe: the hourly wage in southern China is only about 75 cents an hour. But economists say wage increases here will eventually ripple through the global economy, driving up the prices of goods as diverse as T-shirts, sneakers, computer servers and smartphones.

“For a long time, China has been the anchor of global disinflation,” said Dong Tao, an economist at Credit Suisse, referring to how the two-decade-long shift to manufacturing in China helped many global companies lower costs and prices. “But this may be the beginning of the end of an era.”

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Laffer Writes a Laugher

As I tend to do most morning after I've checked the jobs sites in my attempt to find full employment, I came across this piece of gibberish written by Arthur Laffer for the Wall St Journal (via Google). For those too young or too memory impaired, Laffer was the "author" of the "Laffer Curve" which was used by the Reaganauts and subsequent Republican politicians to justify massive tax cuts for the rich.

It's hard to know where to begin in tackling the various strawman and out right fallacious arguments Laffer uses in this opinion piece.

On the face of it, the idea that higher unemployment benefits won't lead to more unemployment doesn't make much sense. Imagine what the unemployment rate would look like if unemployment benefits were universally $150,000 per year.

First off, few people are actually calling for higher Unemployment compensation, although with an average weekly payment of $293 per week, with only a few states maxing out their Unemployment payments over $500 per week, it surely would not be a bad thing to raise the compensation a bit.

Friday, July 2, 2010

It's Not Just That It's Spin, It's Bad Spin

A couple of days ago, I saw this headline from the AP (via MSNBC):

Layoffs of census workers will distort jobs data

I found the headline a bit dishonest but considering that it was the AP, I was not all that surprised since the AP has moved far from the days when it was a premier news gathering and reporting agency. Unfortunately for a lot of folks, though, as the AP has gotten worse, more and more newspapers and news sites rely on it because they've cut their own news gathering staff to a minimum.

Then this morning, I saw this article from today's NY Times where the reporter used the same dishonest framing in her lede:
The June jobs report, which comes out on Friday, will probably look very bad, reinforcing worries that the recovery is teetering. But first impressions might be deceiving.

Folks, the "distortion" in the jobs data was not due to the lay-off of Census workers. It was due to the admittedly temporary nature of the Census hiring in the first place. So when the economy loses 125K jobs and the private sector has created only 83K according to today's Jobs Report, that is a more accurate reflection of the official numbers.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

You Know They Really Are Insane

I went looking through der Google for the origin of the aphorism

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing in the same way and expecting to get different results.

Well, I found it attributed to Benjamin Franklin, Alfred Einstein and even one attribution to Rita Mae Brown.

Regardless of who first said it, we are witnessing it in operation in Washington, DC right now. We are seeing it in the current dance around another extension of Unemployment benefits (after having it killed last week). We are seeing it in the calls for fiscal integrity and "balance the budget" and the President's Deficit Commission (aka Cat Food Commission).

In May 2010, the economy created 431K jobs but the vast majority of those jobs were temporary Census positions. Today there are reports that the private sector has added 13K jobs for June after adding only 41K of the 431K jobs added in May. Yet, the Senate (and House) just seem to want to dance their little dances. They have to be operating under the belief that to do nothing is to do something because it all works out some way or another in the end.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Today Is a Full Moon. Now What Explains the Crazy the Rest of the Time?

Today is a full moon (exact at 7:30AM EDT) and it is accompanied by a partial Lunar eclipse. Scientists and researchers tell us that there is no correlation between a full moon and people behaving in a crazy fashion. I'm willing to wager that if you ask cops, emergency personnel, ER staff, bar owners and so on they will agree that however statistically insignificant the raw number of bad acts on a full moon versus the rest of the time may be, that the level of bad acts during the full moon has just that much more of an edge of the nuckin' futz than during none full moon days and nights.

What the full moon can't explain though is the level of basic nuckin' futz we see happening every day with our supposed elected representatives, not only in DeeCee but all around the world.

I found this article over at MSNBC earlier this week and it may offer one "excuse." It seems to me that a lot of politicians are probably vain enough to use botox in an attempt to think they are stopping the aging process.

A well-known side effect of Botox is the inability to fully express emotions. Now research reveals another side effect: the inability to fully feel emotions.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Rand Paul: Not Quite Ready for Prime Time

So there I was, surfing around the news sites yesterday when I came across this little nugget at where Rand Paul "counsels" the unemployed to suck it up and take a minimum wage job rather than collect unemployment.

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul on Friday urged Americans who have been unemployed for many months to consider returning to the workforce in less desirable jobs rather than continue relying on government unemployment assistance.

"In Europe, they give about a year of unemployment. We're up to two years now in America," Paul said on Sue Wylie's WVLK-AM 590 radio program.

Let's see now. A quick check shows that Kentucky's current Unemployment rate as of May 2010 is 10.4% (let the cursor linger over the individual states to get the rate for that state). That's the official rate and does not include those who are already underemployed. The current national rate is officially 9.7% for May 2010. Rand, that's not a good thing to be higher than the national average on this.

Let me present a scenario for you to mull over Rand. Let's say, you chose a career field that requires up to eight years of specialized training after completion of a bachelor's degree. Say something like Ophthalmology. And it requires even further training to remain certified within your chosen field.

Friday, June 18, 2010

A Modest Proposal for BP Shareholders

I am here today to offer a modest proposal to the shareholders of British Petroleum.

I'm sure you are aware of the "performance" yesterday of your current Executive Director/CEO Tony Hayward, as he testified before Congress on BP's actions before and since the start of the Oil Gusher in the Gulf of Mexico now 59 days ago.

For the record, I did not watch his performance directly as I tend to avoid watching things that are pretty much guaranteed to make me want to throw a shoe through the telly. I did, however, follow along with the live-blogging at (here, here, and here.)

That being said, after following the live-blogging and reading news stories today such as this from the New York Times, I would like to present myself as a candidate for your new ED/CEO.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

As One of the "Small People," I Can Use a Job

Is it a pre-requisite for senior executives at BP to be so gaffe prone? First we have Tony Hayward and his foot chewing now followed by the linguistic stylings of Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg:

I hear comments sometimes that large oil companies are greedy companies or don’t care,” he said. “But that is not the case with BP. We care about the small people.

The apologists have been out in force, attempting to find ways to explain this as anything other than arrogance and a true reflection of Svanberg's (and BP's) feelings for those who are not them. The most common excuse I've seen is that it's purely due to language difficulties, since English is not Svanberg's native tongue.

I will grant that English is a difficult language to learn and master and I applaud all those people around the world who have elected to learn the language, exceptions included. They've mastered something I've spent my life trying to master while I've not been able to master my few attempts at learning another language (Spanish was the one I attempted and though my instructors were not the greatest, it's still my own damn fault for not learning.) I have a reasonable knowledge of grammar and a fairly good vocabulary and for the life of me, I can not really come up with a phrasing or way that Svanberg could have said this without insulting others. Rather like Leona Helmsley's "Only the little people pay taxes" quip.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Time Passes

Tomorrow, June 8, 2010, I will be 58 years old.

I have been un/underemployed for over six years now. I was totally unemployed for the first three years and have had a part-time, barely above minimum wage job these last almost three years that has been a godsend since it has allowed me to keep my brain fully engaged, earn a little money and be able to answer honestly if asked if I'm working (even if it isn't working within my actual career field.) This probably is not enough to satisfy those firms that have proclaimed "Unemployed Need Not Apply" but if asked, I can answer honestly, which is extremely important to me.

I sit here some days and I can feel the tension buzzing inside me. I take the deep breaths, trying to calm myself down but it's a fight every time. I truly do not recall the last, totally restful night of sleep I've had.

I'm one of the lucky ones.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Jobs Reports for 3 June 2010

Well, the Weekly Report of New Unemployment claims is out and it looks like there has been a drop for the second week in a row. Of course, when the new claims are still over 450K for the week, that isn't all that good since the four week average is still at 459K.

Surprisingly enough, the problems of folks in similar straits as myself, that is, long term un/underemployed is beginning to get a little visibility. Even when the TradMed would apparently prefer we pay more attention to shiny object stories like the separation of Al and Tipper Gore or the hunt for Joran Van Der Sloot.

At the moment, I think that the BP Oil Disaster and the Gaza Flotilla attack have overwhelmed even the TradMed's abilities to distract folks.

With all of the critical news stories happening, it is still a bit of a surprise that TradMed folks are actually reporting on the long term un/underemployeds. At the MSNBC web site, Allison Linn has had articles yesterday and today on the long term un/underemployed. Yesterday she covered the "99ers" (those who have exhausted 99 weeks of Unemployment Compensation.) For those who are mathematically impaired, a year is 52 weeks so 99 weeks of Unemployment payments is five weeks short of two years. And these folks have exhausted that level of benefits. (For the record, I collected 26 weeks of unemployment in 2004 into early 2005). Today Ms Linn covers "older workers," that is, those of us who have worked most of our adult life, who bought in to the myths that by working hard we could earn a living wage and be treated with respect only to discover that instead of being appreciated for our knowledge and experience, we are actually too expensive to keep around.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Too Numb to Cry So I'll Try Laughter

Have I mentioned today that I NEED a FREAKIN' JOB?

Well I do and as I search for employment sometimes it's all I can do to stop myself from just curling up in a fetal position, cursing the fates and furies/Gods and Goddesses or any other entities or "supreme beings" that I can blame.

But now that I've gotten the obligatory whine out of the way, I'm going to talk about some of the folks who are in far worse straits than I am, as difficult to believe as that may be.

If you want to have your heart torn out, watch the video with this Seminal Diary from Michael Whitney. Or read this diary where Michael talks with some of the fishermen effected by BP's environmental catastrophe (it seems Tony Hayward decided to upgrade it from the moderate environmental impact he first called it).

I'm only without a job. The folks in the Gulf of Mexico that are dealing with this disaster are out of a life style. As Michael reports in the second linked diary above:

Now he has nothing but oil. Raleigh estimates that, since the oil sinks into the soil where the oysters grow, it will be at least 10 years before Grand Isle fishermen can harvest oysters again.

Ten years can flash by in an instant it seems, but not when you are waiting for the return of your livelihood. I'm six years into my unemployment/underemployment life now and can't imagine facing another four years of this. I never anticipated I could go this long; yet as I say, I'm blessed compared to what these folks are looking at. And there are thousands more who lived and worked along the Gulf who are looking at years and years of lost wages, lost lives.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Jobs and the Cat Food Commission

Have I mentioned recently that I NEED a FREAKIN' JOB?

Well, I do. As do many millions more of my fellow citizens. I'm feeling a bit too lazy to go get the official figures but just last week, the official Unemployment rate was 9.9% (roughly 15 million). Add in another few million for the Underemployed and a few million more to cover the folks who have given up, "self-employed," and the other groups not counted and the figure is probably doubled or more.

So what do we get? Scaling back of the so-called Jobs Bill to appease the Deficit hawks.

Under fire from rank-and-file Democrats worried about the soaring national debt, congressional leaders reached a tentative agreement Wednesday to scale back a package that would have devoted nearly $200 billion to jobless benefits and other economic provisions while postponing a scheduled pay cut for doctors who see Medicare patients.

Nothing about scaling back on fighting two wars of choice. Nothing about raising taxes on Hedge Fund managers who pocket Billions and pay taxes at the Capital Gains rate. (Parenthetically, why is "unearned income" felt to be so much more valuable than "earned income" that it is taxed at less than half the rate of earned income? Doesn't that fly directly against the traditional Horatio Alger effect that hard work is one of the primary positive attributes in the US and should be rewarded?)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Jobs, Unemployment, Firings

Yesterday, Digby hit on one of my favorite talking head idiocies about how folks collecting Unemployment Compensation are just lazy bums getting a free ride vacation. I like to call this the "Larry Kudlow School of Economics" since I've heard Kudlow spout this piece of uninformed gibberish multiple times over the years.

This post by Digby was brought about by Congress's dithering once again on passing a further extension of Unemployment Benefits, currently set to expire on June 2.

Yeah, these tens of millions of our fellow citizens are just a bunch of lazy asses who are living it up on 300 a week. There's plenty of jobs, these people just refuse to work because they like all this cushy free money.

I just don't know what to say about this. You have a 10% official unemployment rate which doesn't count all those who never qualified (small business owners, independent contractors etc.) and it doesn't count all those who have already fallen off the rolls. And yet politicians are buying this nonsense that there are plenty of jobs but people just won't work? That's completely ridiculous. These people should be ashamed of themselves.

This article is from 2/2009 and shows the maximum weekly Unemployment Benefit for each state. The payments range from $230 per week for Mississippi and $240 for Arizona (lowest two states) up to $628 for Massachusetts and $584 for New Jersey (the two highest). California pays a maximum of $450 and New York maxes at $405.

But it's not just the non-existent jobs. From yesterday's NY Times, we have the story on cutbacks to Child Care subsidies. More exercises in penny wise, pound foolish operations.
Despite a substantial increase in federal support for subsidized child care, which has enabled some states to stave off cuts, others have trimmed support, and most have failed to keep pace with rising demand, according to poverty experts and federal officials.

That has left swelling numbers of low-income families struggling to reconcile the demands of work and parenting, just as they confront one of the toughest job markets in decades.

This is the downside for most all of the various legislation passed by Congress that provides "subsidies" for poor individuals. We'll most likely see it with the subsidies from the Health Insurance Reform. In order to achieve some faux "bi-partisan" ideal against deficit spending, it is always the poor and least able who bear the brunt of these actions. Never shall it pass that taxes are raised for those who have the most of course. After all, only the poor people who actually need support are worthy of sacrificing.

We're not looking for hand outs. We're looking for the little bit of support to help us make it together as a society.

And because I can:

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Mr Bernanke, It Really Is Time For You To Do Your Job

What's that you say? You're already doing your job?

No, no you're not. Or at least, not that part of your job (pdf) that is supposed to

promote the objectives of maximum employment, stable prices,
and moderate long-term interest rates.

You see, the weekly Job Report (AP via NY Times) came out today and once again "surprised" the economists by showing an increase of 25k more initial jobless claims for the week instead of the expected decrease of 4K. That is 471K new jobless claims for the week.

(As an aside, is Economics known as the "Dismal Science" due to the abysmal record most economists have in their predictions? It sure looks like a group where getting one thing correct over the years allows an economist to dine out for the rest of his/her career on the accolades, no matter how p*ss poor every other prediction they make is.)

Now a quick check of der Google shows various news stories over the past few years (here and here for example) where Bernanke and others are talking about how "inflation concerns" are the driving economic force, even more than employment issues (you know, 9.9% Unemployment rate and such things).

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Jobs, Elections, Corporate Cluelessness, and Reading the Tea Leaves

Have I mentioned recently that I NEED a FREAKIN' JOB?

Whew. OK, now that I've gotten that out of the way, let's move on to the top stories of the day.

It seems there were some elections yesterday of the Primary type nature with the results being a confounding mess primarily to those Beltway Villagers who sit and talk amongst themselves about how wonderful all their fellow eaters of cocktail weenies are but have no clue about life out here in the rest of America.

So we get to read the "analyses" from the pundits who latch onto the easiest theme that reinforces what they already felt, regardless of reality (such an unreal concept reality is). Hint: the elections in KY, PA, and AR were NOT purges from the left or right.

Let me see if maybe a few headlines from today's news sites on the web can maybe explain a bit of the disconnect. From the NY Times we have this

Teaching Candidates Aplenty, but the Jobs Are Few
and this:
Clients Worried About Goldman’s Dueling Goals

From the Washington Post comes these gems:
Voters' anger at Washington may overpower any fixes

Dodd backs off alternative derivatives proposal in overhaul bill

Friday, May 14, 2010

I Can't Whine...

Well, I CAN whine but it doesn't do any good. The reality is, no matter how bad off things are for me right now (and I assure you they are bad) I know that there are many many folks in worse position than I.

A scary thought, that.

I have no job and few prospects. I've been looking for more than six years now. For most hiring managers, it doesn't matter that I might well have the exact skills they are looking for; the fact of my being out of work for so long makes me damaged goods by definition. Throw in the admitted holes in my skill set and my age and things look bleak.

But even when I see things at the worst, I still know that there are many many many others in far worse shape. Single parents with children losing their homes. Folks with life threatening medical conditions and no insurance or way to pay for the treatment.

I do have friends and family that will help me keep a roof over my head. My feline companion is pretty good about sleeping on my lap and allowing me to dissipate stress with the head and belly rubs. My health is generally OK (though I could use some dental work and probably need a new prescription for my glasses).

The official unemployment rate is 9.9%. The low end calculations of the Un/Under-employment rate is over 17%. I spend a lot of time at Firedoglake and there are many other folks in similar or worse situations. It does make it tough to whine about a situation when there are so many others in the same boat or worse.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Trying to Make Sense of it All

Where to begin? Wednesdays seem to have a dearth of stories on Jobs, Unemployment, Underemployment and all the various ramifications of these.

But Thursday seem to bring an overabundance of articles on these topics.

First off was this little gem of a story from the AP via MSNBC on an Indian IT firm outsourcing Call Center operations to a prison. I'm just not real sure how to deal with these issues (outsourcing in general and outsourcing to prisons in particular) without sounding like a racist or xenophobe. So, we'll set this aside for a while and return to it on a later day.

Then there's the Weekly Job Report. This from Reuters probably offers what I consider the best presentation (Best being most true to reality, that is):

The number of U.S. workers filing for jobless benefits fell only slightly last week, highlighting the challenges facing the labor market, while import prices pointed to tame inflation, according to government data released on Thursday.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits slipped 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 444,000, the Labor Department said, though the number was still slightly above the 440,000 expected by analysts in a Reuters poll. The prior week's figure was revised up to 448,000.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Most Thankless Job

I'm going to take a break today from whining about my un/under-employment situation and talk about what I consider to be the most thankless job in the country.

This is not the Most Stressful as defined by CareerCast. It's not even in the Top Ten (although, c'mon, Public Relations is?).

No, my candidate for the Most Thankless Job Going is Child Welfare Worker. My guess is that the reason Child Welfare Worker does not hit the Most Stressful list is because the folks doing the job burn out so quickly and move on to something a little less stressful. They most likely come in to the position as a committed idealist determined to make a difference for the children but often move on in only two or three years.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Bernanke Pontificates for The Graduates

So there I was doing my morning news surfing when I see this headline from the NY Times (AP content):

Fed Chief Tells Graduates: Don't Worry, Be Happy

Now the headline is a bit of hyperbole but I found a Reuters article on this same speech.
Economic growth is not an end in itself, but policy makers pursue it because richer countries are better able to provide health, jobs and a clean environment for their people, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said on Saturday.

It seems that in some ways, Mr. Bernanke may actually understand a bit of reality. But then I remember how Mr. Bernanke has responded when he's been reminded that job creation is one of the primary functions of the Federal Reserve. This from the Federal Reserve's own website (PDF):
The Federal Reserve sets the nation’s monetary policy to promote the objectives of maximum employment, stable prices, and moderate long-term interest rates. The challenge for policy makers is that tensions among the goals can arise in the short run and that information about the economy becomes available only with a lag and may be imperfect.

My bold. Now as I mentioned yesterday, (and has been noted by others such as Dean Baker), there is a long way to go for our economy to be considered even remotely "robust."

Maybe I just need to do some adjustments to my tin-foil hat, but when I see Mr. Bernanke using a college commencement speech to dampen down salary expectations and telling students they shouldn't go for the dollar, what I'm hearing is an admission that "life sucks, get over it." (Although not in those exact words of course.) Of course, the idea of Mr. Bernanke lecturing on how "richer countries are better able to provide health, jobs and a clean environment for their people" is just one of the jokes we will be hearing from the annual commencement speech extravaganzas.

And because I can:

Friday, May 7, 2010

New diary at The Seminal

I have a new diary up at The Seminal titled I Love Strong Women.

The Jobs Reports from 5/7/2010

I was looking at today's Job Reports in the NY Times that the economy added 290K jobs during April. A small piece of good news. But as I mentioned yesterday, the economy lost 444K jobs (presumably since there were that many new unemployment applications. Not quite as many as the week before, but still means there were 154K more new unemployment applicants in one week than jobs created for the month. And the overall unemployment rate went up to 9.9% due to approximately 195K people returning to the job search (according to the NY Times article. This CNN article says:

The rise in the unemployment rate is actually a sign of improving perception of labor market conditions. The increase was due to an uptick in job seekers who had previously been discouraged and dropped out of the job market. There was a jump of 805,000 workers returning to the labor force in April alone.

Part of the problem is it takes 100K new jobs just to maintain the status quo and accommodate the new jobs needed each month. According to the NY Times article linked above,
With revisions on Friday, April was the fourth consecutive month that the economy added workers (a revised 230,000 jobs were added in March, instead of 162,000). Besides March, February was revised from a loss of 14,000 jobs to a gain of 39,000. With a January gain of 14,000, the cumulative increase came to 573,000 jobs in four months.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Jobless Reports from 5/6/2010

So I was doing my daily surfing for news stories of interest to myself and some friends when I started seeing the current week Jobless Reports. CNN reported it with this headline:

Jobless claims down for 3rd straight week

But then the lede is:
NEW YORK ( -- The number of Americans filing initial claims for unemployment insurance fell for the third straight week, according to weekly government data released Thursday.

There were 444,000 initial jobless claims filed in the week ended May 1, down 7,000 from a revised 451,000 the previous week, according to the Labor Department's weekly report.

Maybe it's just me, but I don't see a whole lot to be cheering about with this, although it appears, the TradMed is reporting it as a sign the economy is getting better. I guess in some fashion, fewer folks being laid off is a positive but we're still talking over 440K people losing their jobs last week.

The numbers for continuing unemployment claims also seems to be nothing to brag about:

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Coping for the Long Term

I think I might have mentioned that I'm one of the long term unemployed? At least once or twice anyway. Back in January 2009, I wrote a diary at The Seminal titled I Am Unemployed but Not a Statistic. I wrote it in one of my bouts of frustration, the day one of the many news reports came out on the "Unemployment Rate" as reported by Reuters (link in the linked diary), back when the official rate was 7.2%. Now the most recent report I can find quickly online says it is 9.7% for March 2010.

Much as I may sometimes want to, it is impossible to live my life in full-on outrage mode, railing at the Gods/Fates/Furies all the time, everyday. It does absolutely nothing for me except raise the blood pressure unnecessarily. So I find ways to cope. As we all do.

One of my coping mechanisms is surfing the web, staying up on news from a variety of sources. Or laughing at the latest ramblings from some member of the beltway punditocracy. Laughter at absurdities is actually quite cathartic sometimes.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

I Do Love Software Quality Assurance

I've always felt like I got lucky when I fell into the Software Quality Assurance career field. As I've written previously, I completed a Computer Science degree while in the USAF but realized quickly that I did not have the patience to be a programmer. I can read code and follow the logic used and have done so on projects using a variety of programming languages; I just find it difficult to build programs myself. I don't know if it's a deficiency in me or I just never had an instructor present things in a way that made the light go on for me. My best bet is to take a block of code (such as HTML), play with it, see what the results are, tweak some things then look again. It's not efficient but it allows me to do some things and learn as I go.

I started in Quality Assurance through a nationwide Defense Logistics Agency training program. The DoD was in the forefront of implementing Software Quality Assurance programs and I liked the idea of being a pioneer. The DoD programs concentrated on controlling the process in order to control the product. For most QA "commodities" (textiles or hardware development for example), during the Engineering development phase of a project, QA is pretty hand off since there are always modifications to processes up until production. For Software though, if you wait for the production phase, all the software has been developed already so there's nothing to monitor for the most part. Software is nebulous, ephemeral even, as you can't pick up the bits and bytes that go into a program while it is being developed. So you use the things like Requirements reviews, Design reviews, Code inspections, and so on during the code development to monitor the quality of the product.

I was placed at a Defense Contracts Administration Service, Plant Representation Office (DCASPRO) at a GTE facility. I had occasional battles with the various GTE folks on most every program they had but knew always, that the processes and procedures they used worked. They had empirical evidence. I was told a few years later when the idea of the Capability Maturity Model was hitting the literature that this particular facility was one of the handful of organizations worldwide deemed to be operating at a CMM Level 3. Probably my biggest surprise after I left DLA was just how many firms continued to fight the idea of robust SQA programs and processes. Which goes back to the lack of respect often accorded to Quality Assurance within a lot of organizations.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Un and Under-Employment Ages 50 - 64

In my first two posts (here and here), I talked about my work skills, both "official" (skills that I show on the resume) and "unofficial" (skills that I have but do not list on the resume).

Today, I'm going to take a slight detour and discuss some of the statistics I found on a quick search of der Google on un and under-employment in the 50 to 64 year old age group. An age group in which I currently sit right in the middle. I will try to accurately identify both the source of my data as well as the date so you can evaluate things for yourselves.

Note: In order to save myself a little typing, understand that all figures I use will be rough approximations and are not intended to be accurate down to eight places or anything like that.

This little population estimate comes to us from the US Census of 2000. Obviously, since it is ten years old, it will soon be updated but does give us a starting point:

40 to 44 years...... 22,769
45 to 49 years...... 20,059
50 to 54 years...... 17,626

I started with the 40 - 44 Age Group from 2000 as today, they are the 50 - 54 age group. I'm sure there have been losses and gains in these groups over ten years but it does give a quick idea of just how many folks are in the group.

Over Sixty Million. Using a rough estimate of the total US population of 330 Million, we're talking about a group that is 18 percent of the overall total.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

So What About "Unofficial" Skills?

I'm fairly certain most all of us have "unofficial" skills that we've had training for or learned through the years. These are the skills that we don't put on our formal resumes but they are skills we've used on the job. Or maybe skills from jobs we had when were in school.

For me, these skills include the typing and data entry skills. Or going w-a-y back, skills from using old fashioned key punch machines (when I first got out of the Air Force, I listed "experience with IBM 026 and 129 Keypunch machines" on my first resumes - until I had a hiring manager quip "I thought all of those were in the Smithsonian").

We all have these skills but often do not list them all as part of the personal CV, whether due to space limitations or just the lack of relevance to the position(s) being applied for. For example, I've worked on numerous proposals in response to Requests For Proposals (RFPs) for Federal, State, and Local Government contracts. Sometimes, it was as little as revising my resume for submission with the proposal, highlighting where and how my skills matched the potential client needs or as much as being the Proposal Manager making sure the final proposal met all the stated criteria so that we could be considered "responsive." It sounds fairly straight forward but is often quite difficult. A lot of organizations put a page limit (excluding resumes) on the body of a proposal. The most stringent I can recall was for a DoD project one time for a multi-year contract for a communications system that was valued at, if I remember correctly, $25M. The page limit was 50 pages. Most of the time in DoD, we were limited to 100 pages so with only half the space to make our case, we had to be very succinct and straightforward.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

As I Explain Myself...

I'm assuming that if you are visiting this little corner of the web, you are at least somewhat interested in my plight and wondering just what the hell I'm doing.

I'm hip.

I am 57 years old, soon to be 58. I have been mostly unemployed since mid-April 2004. I've had a few small contract positions but they have been limited duration and small pay. During this period I have lived outside Tampa, FL and San Antonio, TX and am now back outside Tampa again. Each day, I check the jobs on Monster, HotJobs, and Craig's List. I don't even bother to apply if I don't think I'm at least a 90% match for the stated job requirements.

Here's part of my problem. I do have a couple of holes in my skill set. Although I have a Computer Science degree, I realized very early on that I did not have the patience and skills to be a programmer. The vast majority of Software Quality Assurance positions are looking for a "QA Programmer" or Automated Tester experience. I have had some training with one of the auto testing tools (SilkTest), but have not actually used it in real life (other than reviewing runs for regression testing). Another problem I have is because of the work I've done for various state and local government social service applications, I have not had much access to the most commonly used development tool sets such as Mercury and Rational. What little access I have had with them has been quite useful but few social service agencies have the funds to purchase the tools. Frequently, I joined a project as it was within a couple of months of starting formal testing with the instructions of "You're running the testing of this. We don't have a test plan, here's a document that is the closest thing we have to a requirements document. We don't have any defect tracking and oh yeah, testing starts next week. Have fun!"

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

So Here I am

Hello? Hello? Is this thing on?

Welcome to my little corner of the web. This is the place where I will tell people about things that move me, muse about life, and generally pontificate on whatever I find of interest as I go through the days