Business is good and has been getting better all year for me. My friend Jake is doing great. He was an anesthesiologist and several years ago became board-certified in geriatrics. He loves working with older people and his patients love him.
When I travel around the country, though, or catch up with old friends, I find that is not true everywhere. Others have been unemployed either continuously, or on and off, for a period over the 99 weeks of unemployment.
“People I know” is hardly a random sample, despite what your average sophomore seems to think, but I still thought it would be interesting to look at the people I’ve known for a decade or more and see where our paths diverged. Because these were all people I have known for 10, 20, or 30 years, we all were at the same place at one point. So, what happened?
I’ll tell you what DIDN’T happen. No one who I know that is long-term unemployed or under-employed is lazy. These are people who have worked construction, cleaned houses, loaded trucks, worked in factories and put in twelve-hour days as middle managers. Also, as you can guess by that list, they also are people who don’t consider manual labor “beneath them”.
None of these people are stupid. Some speak two languages. Some have two or three years of college.
Here are three things that did happen, though. One is that they just got old and for those who had spent a lifetime doing physical labor, they just could not do it any more. Their knees, shoulders, hips, hands, back – you name it – gave out and they were unable to do physical work. These folks didn’t have the skills to do a desk job. Even taking a six-month training course on how to use a computer, word-processing, spreadsheets and social media only got them up to where my eighth-grade daughter is already. There aren’t a lot of positions for people with eighth-grade level computer skills.
A second thing that happened was they settled down. They had families. They married. They bought houses. When they lost their jobs, they had a husband or wife who still had a job. They had a mortgage to pay. When the factory closed, they couldn’t just leave town and let the husband/wife watch the kids, work and pay the bills while they went somewhere else and got another apartment and a new job.
Here is the big, big difference between the two groups of people, though- the people who are unemployed quit their education. They got comfortable as a COBOL programmer, teamster, regional manager. When that job was gone, it turned out there was not a real demand for the person who knew more about the blueprint archive at General Dynamics than anyone else in the world.
Why I Won’t Be Unemployed Five Years from Now
I needed to capture some audio so I downloaded audio hijack and invested 10 minutes in learning to use that. I also needed a voice over so I fiddled with Garageband for half an hour. I’d used that before but not lately. Every time I use it, it takes me less time to remember, “Oh yeah, that’s how you do that again.”
I needed to output some mp3 files as ogg files. I don’t even remember why I had audacity in my applications folder. I don’t *think* it came with my new computer. To export as an mp3 file I needed lame, which I also needed to download.
Most of my career has been spent processing structured data, specifically doing what is now sneeringly called “frequentist” statistics. Looking to update my syllabus for next year, I’ve been looking into data mining, both with SAS Enterprise Miner and Statistica. I was able to download the trial version of Statistica and the On-Demand version of SAS Enterprise Miner.
So …. this is what I have been up to in the last month. Some of those things will not pan out. At one point, I was pretty good with Tel-a-Graf (graphic design software for plotters – yes, plotters), Foresight – another programming language which I don’t think is around any more. I used Lotus Notes and learned SAS FSP (for “Full Screen Product”). I’ve used a VAX, IBM, DEC, Franklin Ace, Lisa and Next computer.
I think I have identified the dividing line between those whose careers stayed on an upward trend all of these years.
Or, to be specific, it’s the idea of Johnny Appleseed. The way I see it, each new thing I learned is like scattering some appleseeds. Most of them will probably get eaten by birds, fall on rocks or be bought by Microsoft and killed off. If you toss enough seeds around, though, some of them will bear fruit and twenty years later, you’ll have people lined up to pay you for your knowledge of apples.