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.