Monday, March 5, 2012

1920s, Fords & the American Consumer

I was interested to read that in 1914 Ford implemented a new pay for his factory workers: $5 a day. At the time that was unheard of. This was unskilled labor, and about three times the going rate for an unskilled factory worker. But Ford wanted his workers to be able to afford the cars they were helping to build.

In 1914 the entry level Ford car went for about $550 for a Touring. That meant about 110 days of the unskilled factory worker's pay would cover a Ford vehicle (of course they had installment plans just like we do). Today Ford's new employees make about $14 an hour. That'd be about 147 days to buy a new Ford Focus. Then again, I don't suppose workers in 1914 had too much in the way of used car options.

By the end of the 1920s 1 out of every 5 Americans owned a car. Now we average more than 2 cars per household. Of course the 1920s also experienced unemployment under 5% for the most of the decade. The 1920s also saw the introduction of many new debt and credit plans for the American consumer who began financing things that would previously have been unheard of.

(Photo via wwarby)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Resumes: Not hip but a good start

I know writing resumes and using job boards is not the cool thing to do these days. Pretty much any person giving you job advice in this "new economy" will tell you to network, network, network. But I'm actually a little tired of this advice. Ramit Sethi of I Will Teach You to be Rich fame was on one of my favorite podcasts this last weekend, Marketplace Money. Sethi was clarifying some comments he made on the week previous about it being essentially a waste of time to send out a bunch of resumes:

Now, let's take Person B. They say, "You know what, for the first two weeks I'm gonna do a little bit of homework. I'm gonna really figure out what company I want, what job title I want. I'm gonna do a little networking. I'm gonna take some people out for coffee for informational interviews." And by the time I send out my first 10 resumes, they're going to be highly targeted. They're gonna use the language that the hiring manager himself or herself uses. And I'm going to have an inside connection to that job. So, this person who sent out 10 resumes, odds are they have a better chance of getting a job than the 80 resume submitter.

I agree with Sethi in principle. But I do think a resume is a good way of organizing your own life's bullet points. It's also very necessary as social lubricant.

Over at Ask a Manager this last week many of the commenters focused on what they felt was the scam of job sites. I feel like it's worth pointing out that's how I got hired at my current company. I found the job on one of the major online job boards (Monster, CareerBuilder). I can't remember if I applied there or I went to the company web site, but I did send my resume into a black hole, was called later for an interview, and was eventually chosen for the job. Granted this was pre-recession, but honestly the job market was not fantastic at this particular time either.

So will networking and targeting your resume probably give you a better chance at getting a job? Of course. But sometimes you just don't know anyone. Sometimes you are a fresh college graduate coming from a family background where your family members do not have professional connections. There's also no way that I as a young college graduate could have networked my way to my first professional job. I just did not have the confidence for it or the experience to even talk with folks. So I don't blame anyone for going the 100 resume submission route. We just hired someone this week and he was not a referral. We got his resume in a bin with thousands of others and now he has a job. Turns out it's a small world and he knew quite a few people in my department, but that's not what got him on our radar to begin with.

Now I like to help people. If I know a qualified person I would love to get them a job at my organization. But if you know my beefs with folks trying to network with me than it won't surprise you that very little initiative on your part will not inspire me to help you. If you ask me about jobs, and I know folks in the department you would be a perfect fit for, I am going to need a copy of your resume. It's awkward to contact someone with the intro, "I worked with Joe on a project and he is very intelligent and capable. I would recommend his work and if you are hiring suggest you consider him." The hiring manager if they are so inspired by my introduction is going to turn around say, "great, send me his resume." Will he look at it for more than 5 seconds? Probably not. But I need it to get things started. So definitely network with me and ask me about what you might want to do or who I know who you can talk to. But please don't neglect the resume.

(Photo via El Caganer)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Unemployment and an Aging Population

If you look at the unemployment by age graph I posted yesterday you'll see a trend. The younger you are the higher your unemployment rate. But, I wondered, was this what was really happening? Was it possible people were dropping out of the workforce? I looked at two age groups in particular: 45-54 and 55 and older and their respective populations and employment to population ratio.
The 45-54 graph paints a pretty obvious picture of what we might expect to see. After the recession the employment ratio drops significantly. Fewer people in this prime working group have jobs. The 55 and older is a little more tricky. They naturally have a much lower employment ratio since many are post retirement.

Still, it's interesting to see the aging demographics as the 45-54 population growth peaks in about late 2009 and that starts dropping a little. The 55 and older demographic is steadily growing. But looking at these two graphs doesn't tell you whether the unemployment rate is only dropping because people are dropping out of the workforce. To see that you'd want to compare the employment to population ratio with the unemployment rate.
Again it's expected that the employment to population ratio would take a dip in 2009 and the unemployment rate climb significantly. But we can see in late 2011 as the unemployment rate is dropping that the employment to population ratio is staying pretty steady. Let's zoom in...
Unemployment going gradually down and the employment to population rising a bit in December 2011 and January 2012. That would seem to dispel the idea of people dropping out of the labor force. In fact given the climb in the ratio it would seem to imply the opposite, that more people are getting back into the workforce.

Why don't the two follow each other in an obvious way? In October 2010 there's a significant drop in the employment to population ratio but the unemployment rate stays mostly flat. I'm guessing that's because a lot of people dropped out of the workforce here, gave up, stopped looking for jobs, etc. So the unemployment rate did not go up significantly (though did bump up a little).

None of these graphs will really be encouraging though until we can see an obvious month over month trend. Overall unemployment peaked for most age groups around late 2010. But it didn't start immediately getting better after that. Those 55 and older have fared significantly better than their younger colleagues but that doesn't mean age discrimination isn't still out there. Older works might be having a problem that they are part of a very large and growing population demographic so while they are more employable than younger people with better experience they also have to compete with many other folks their age who also have great experience. What do you think, do these graphs capture a slightly improving job market or is there more at play here?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Young People & Job Hunting

There's were a couple of interesting posts up this weekend within a day of each other from two folks in their 20s offering advice for other, fellow young job seekers.

First there's 4 Ways to Defeat Job Search Desperation at the Daily Muse by Elise Marraro. Then over at 20s Finances Mrs. 20's writes 6 Tips for Young Job Applicants.

Both suggest expanding your search to more jobs or areas and both suggest not getting down on yourself if you've been searching for a while. For there is a slight difference in tone where Marrarro suggests you be "realistic" but "don't settle" as well as warns you to "use your time wisely". Mrs. 20's suggests applying for temporary jobs, moving to where you want the job,and  getting used to the idea you won't get your dream job.

I think Mrs. 20's tips are more likely to land someone a job. Not settling is such an arbitrary frame of mind anyways. Marraro talks about how one of the places she went to she realized would be "soul crushing". I think perhaps young college grads place too much emphasis on lofty goals of the organizations they want to work for. It's okay to work somewhere "soul crushing" for a few years until you get some experience under your belt. The idea that you are too good morally or otherwise for the companies you are checking out is not going to help you succeed in interviews or get a job. Of course if your primary goal is to change the world and you can live at your parents' house for the next 15 years than by all means be picky. But if you want a job and to gain some experience don't be afraid to give the corporate monoliths a shot: they may be less soul crushing than you thought they were with good employees and good learning experiences for you as a young professional.

(Photo via Jans Canon)

Unemployment: Young & Old

Just a sneak peek on some data I am working on this week. Looking at unemployment across various age groups.

This is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (seasonally adjusted) unemployment rate for each month for some select age groups since 2007. Why 2007? Well I wanted to have a good idea of where we were before the recession and where we are now. I don't think it's a secret younger people have a higher rate of unemployment. But it's interesting how it takes until age 35 for the ages to start nearing each other in unemployment rates. Could that have something to do with the way the government counts the unemployment rate or is it because younger, less experienced workers genuinely have a harder time finding employment? I plan to see if I can illuminate that a bit this week.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Leadership Qualities

I was listening to the first of Dave Ramsey's Entreleadership podcasts (h/t to Anna Runyan at Classy Career Girl for introducing me to this resource). There's a lot interesting stuff packed into the first podcast but one thing is of particular interest to me. They have an audio clip of Ramsey doing the introductory bit of his leadership training where he asks everyone to first think of a great leader they know (either personally or maybe a famous one they revere). The sort of ideal leader. I'll admit, my brain couldn't work fast enough to think of anyone at this point. And I had to admit to myself that of the three or four people up in my chain of command none of them would make the list of the one leader whom I have great respect for. Neither could the four or five previous bosses I have had. I'll get back to that in a minute.

So he says then to write down in one word character qualities what you would attribute to this great leader. Then he gets some suggestions from the audience. The first one (inspirational) was also the first one that came to my mind. And maybe if I had to pick my favorite that would be it. Ramsey goes on to elaborate on this quality a bit, that being an inspirational leader is both about inspiring and about enabling your team (he doesn't like the word employees) to be successful. But one other word he talks about quite a bit made me stop and think. Humble.

I think in Ramsey's mind or at least what he is trying and project is that a great leader is humble. Perhaps that there is some sort of correlation between great leadership and humility.
Again I had to think back to the folks who supervise me and to people I have worked for in the past. Seems to me the higher I get from my boss to the top guy the less humble folks really are. My direct boss is probably the most humble. And yet I would also characterize him as the least inspiring. Higher up the food chain is the person who I think best exemplifies being inspirational and enabling those below him to succeed. Yet he would be one of the least humble people I know. Does humility really make one a great leader?

I don't mean to necessarily disagree with Ramsey. I suspect he knows a fair bit more about being a leader and about communication and teaching than I do. But humility either does not directly correlate with good leadership, or possibly there is something in the corporate world that does not reward leaders who are humble. The Bing dictionary gives "arrogance" as an antonym to humility. I could see some of the folks above me arguing that it is not so much arrogance that is required, but confidence. However, what is the thin line between confidence and arrogance? Can one really be recognized and promoted without a certain level of arrogance?

And to that end, what does it say about me that I simply can not respect any of these individuals as being great leaders. I respect them as individuals certainly. Many of them have technical skills that far outweigh mine. All of them seem to be much better at being politically savvy than I am. They know when to speak up and when to stay silent and these are things I am still figuring out. But I can't really think of any of them as being great leaders. The one who comes closest is also the one who I would describe as the most arrogant. But really, if I can not respect any of them as leaders doesn't that they say something about me? That certainly must mean that I, too, have an overabundance of hubris and a lack of humility. I'm not sure I like this realization or that I know how to deal with it. But it gives me something to think about and work on at least. I think no matter how arrogant anyone is it is universal to want to improve and this is just one of many things I should stay conscious of.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Wrapping up the latest economic data

There's a lot of jobs, unemployment and economic data that gets released daily and weekly. Here's a quick look at some bits that interested me.

Mass layoffs included 145,648 Americans laid off in December 2011. An average of about 100 people laid off in each case. The vast majority of layoffs in 2011 affected temporary workers but food service workers and school transportation were also heavily hit.

Wages and salaries increased by 1.6% in the private sector in the year 2011. This compares to a 1.8% increase in 2010. In the public sector the wage increase was also 1.8% in 2010 but only 1.3% in 2011.

Number of employed persons is predicted to increase by 14.3% between 2010 and 2020. Industries with the fastest predicted increase are healthcare and construction. This indicates an average yearly employment increase of 0.7% compared to 1.3% in the previous decade. And another interesting fact, the baby boom generation will all be 55 and older by 2020. Manufacturing and federal government employment are predicted to take the biggest hits in employment.

Initial unemployment claims for the week ending in January 28th were 367,000. That's down 12,000 from the week before.

Productivity was up 0.7% in the fourth quarter of 2011. That's a combination of an increase in hours worked as well as output per individual.

Unemployment rate drops to 8.3% at the end of January 2012 with (nonfarm) payroll employment increasing by 243,000 persons in January. Long term unemployed stayed mostly flat. People working part time who want full time employment but are unable to find it also remained mostly the same. Professional services, accounting, engineering, food services, retail and health care all had strong gains in employment.

Average hourly wage at the end of January 2012 was about $19.62, approximately a 1.5% increase from the year before. Average weekly earnings were $663.

(1) Mass Layoffs Summary
(2) Employment Cost Index
(3) Employment Predictions 2010-2020 Summary
(4) Initial unemployment claims
(5) Productivity
(6) Employment Situation
(7) Average hourly and weekly earnings