Regular readers of this column know we try weekly (very weakly) to put a smile on your face. But the sad state of the American worker is nothing to joke about, so if you’re looking for cheap humor you’ll just have to skip to the end of this post. Right now we’re in a more sober mood. (Hey, no wisecracks.) A flurry of reports has crossed our desktop lately to indicate that the U.S. job landscape is not the field of dreams it was a couple years ago–and it never will be again. For example: a recent survey by CareerBuilder found that, while half of workers laid off from full-time jobs in the first quarter of this year were able to find new gigs, almost two-thirds of them took a pay cut. And they’re the lucky ones. Employment experts say a lot of full-time jobs with benefits are going away and never coming back. Indeed, the big employment firm Littler Mendelson predicts half of all postrecession jobs will be “contingent” positions. Indeed again: Monster.com reported a 46.2 percent rise in contract job postings in March compared to the same month in 2009.
Your new position: bent over. It’s discouraging, companies cleaning house at this rate. More discouraging: a lot of companies are laying off full-time people then hiring them back on a contract basis, paying them less while also avoiding the cost of health insurance, vacation time, etc. We haven’t had a staff position in years (go figure) but if a company pulled this trick on us, well, all we can say is they’d better lock up the Post-its and the Cup O’ Noodles. Because we’d be taking home some compensation one way or another.
Entrepreneur? Or on the skids? That’s the question posed by Robert Reich, secretary of labor under President Clinton. Reich looks at reports of a rise in small-business startups (hailed in most quarters as a great sign for the economy) and wonders how many of these new entrepreneurs are ambitious and enterprising…and how many are just plain desperate. He calls it “involuntary entrepreneurship,” explaining that “another term for entrepreneur is self-employed.” (Or, as our hero Kris Kristofferson put it, “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”)
Cheap humor here (as promised). We really need to spend less time on the internet. Because we keep coming across items like this one: “Five Lessons Every Small Business Can Learn from the Karate Kid.” Really. Excited by the release next week of a brand-new “Karate Kid” movie, a writer at Company.com named Duncan C. offers such useful advice as, “Respect and discipline win in the long run: Danny wins out because he and Mr. Miyagi have a mutual respect that the Cobra Kai goons and Kreese, their teacher, don’t have.” Well, we can’t argue with that. (Duncan might swan-kick us in the chin.) But we can share a few of the business lessons we’ve learned ourselves from “Karate Kid.”
Don’t go to work in your pajamas: unless you’re Hugh Hefner (or you write a blog for a living).
Don’t franchise a bad original (it only makes things worse): or maybe you didn’t see Hilary Swank in the “Next Karate Kid.”
Don’t take advice from anyone who actually knows who Cobra Kai and Kreese are: he’s watched “Karate Kid” way too many times.