When Real-Time Economics Hits Home

I live for teachable moments and the unfortunate reality is that larger macroeconomic issues do hit here within the household.  Such is the case with Eldest, who’s forking away as much into savings as possible for the coming year.

The larger issue is obviously the transition from a sustainable living wage economy to one of predominantly part-time jobs.  According to the government statistics – and I’ll admit to believing that a fair portion of the government reporting structure is rigged – there have been millions of jobs created within the past several years yet the majority of them are only part-time, sans the benefits which many of the previous generations received.  The scenario simply beggars the imagination and I recently asked Middle, the AP economics student, to explain how we could a record number of Americans both on food assistance as well as out of the workforce yet have what some economists might consider as full employment with a rate of – at that time – 5.4%.  To his credit, he did identify ask whether the jobs were full-time and that led to some conversation and explanation about employment statistics…most especially that once a person had any kind of job, even a part-time job at 15 hours weekly, they were no longer considered as unemployed and therefore out of the unemployment rate calculation.  And this is where the problem lies: that we’re now reaping the globalization policy effects as sustainable living jobs for the typical person have been outsourced to other nations.

It was a short conversation with Eldest the other morning about when she was working over the next two days, since the body count is always a factor in dinner plans.  She updated me on her hours and expressed frustration with one of her employers.  I have to give her credit since she’s willing to work and puts in time at two separate jobs, one within the restaurant business and the other within retail.  She successfully schedules her hours and is able to routinely work more than 45 hours weekly and on some weeks has surpassed 55 hours of work; it was the same last summer when she put in similar hours albeit only with the restaurant.  The difference that she’s finding however, is that as a non-server employee at the restaurant, she was paid hourly instead of wait-staff rates and the hours that she garnered – because she routinely picked up every other employee’s shift request – meant that she made significant overtime.  So significant that when the management finally reviewed their records late last August, they found that labor costs had risen beyond budgeted because of all of her overtime pay.  Their conversation with her was actually gentle since they recognized that they had a keeper as a hostess but the message was clear – no overtime for you!.  That carried over into their hiring for this current summer as they hired sufficient numbers for hosts and hostesses that the ability to garner overtime would be simply impossible.  It’s crazy, Eldest commented, since there are hosts who might only work for one or two shifts each week…I mean, it’s stupid.  I went to the question of why they might do that and once she got past the irritability of it’s perceived stupidity, we got to the meat of labor costs.  They have a budget within which they have to keep and the unfortunate reality is that it’s presently a fully-blown employer’s market with a surplus of available labor to meet needs; that it’s not at all uncommon for employers to now have an excess number of employees available so that fewer shifts can be given to many and any possible overtime avoided.  That paid benefits might only go to those few who actually work more than 40 hours weekly makes it a two-fer as almost nobody hits that mark and that aspect of labor costs is dropped from the bottom line.  Her bottom line is that she’s seeing how the same number of hours worked at two jobs leads to less money because the overtime differential is gone.  The conversation petered out as she prepared to leave to meet with a friend but she did take the commentary in and I suspect that she’s processed it.

There’s been a recurrent point that bothers me.  We live in a society that’s been parsed and segmented and all of the various news media play to their own fan base.  MSNBC, Fox and CNN all have their various segments and much of the commentary goes to the notion of them, that others are either the cause or the effect of one policy or another.  But the simple truth is that what’s occurring around us isn’t happening to them, it’s happening to us and in many cases, the us is our children since they have to live with the effects of the various corporate policies as they play out.  It’s not your kids or my kids, it’s our kids.  The more that we can recognize the larger issues within our own daily lives, the more that we can teach them and help them learn to navigate this system of ours.  And hopefully create the template for change that’s more positive because it’s sometimes the little things that cumulatively make a larger difference.

Like a college kid’s willingness to work overtime.

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