Saturday, June 28, 2008

Do You Remember Where Your Career Was 28 Years Ago?

It looks like Big Picture is my favorite blog of the day today. In a post he mentions the 28 year low on sentiment, or I guess 1980.

If you are old enough, do you remember where you were in your career 28 years ago?

I graduated high school in 1979, and my age cohort was the largest of the baby boomers. Birth rates increased until 1961 and then they started to decline, so I entered the job market with a double whammy against me, the largest numbers of entry level workers ever, and the lowest job sentiment in years, and going into what turned out to be fairly hard economic times, at least here in Vancouver the economy was very bad, also hit with massive government cut backs.

Writing and looking back at my own personal history has really helped me to understand things that were completely out of my control, and to actually be quite shocked about what the economy was for me. For example, not a single business that I worked for between 1979 and 1986 is around today. What are the odds of that? I knew that my work references seemed to be dissolving almost as quickly as I moved on to another job, but I never considered how utterly shocking it is to have a 7 year work history at several companies just disappear.

The working environments were not pleasant, you knew the businesses were in trouble and it meant that I faced declining wages pretty much while I was still an entry level or very early level worker. I was making more in 1981 then in 1985. And, this was happening in an era where you were negatively labelled for job hopping if you didn't have a reasonable length of employment time with a business, yet when I look back, the nature of the economy left you lucky to have a job and moving kept you one step ahead of being laid off or coming to work and seeing a sheriff's "closed" sign on the door, and that did happen as well in my job history.

It was awful, and something that was never recognized for the extreme challenges that new young workers of my generation faced. I remember far more sentiment that "today's youth was lazy and unwilling to work," yet I also remember every job competition for low paying jobs had dozens of applications for each job.

The media was sympathetic to "age discrimination" against older workers, but what a farce that analysis was. Older workers were being replaced with workers willing to work for less. There was no age discrimination there what-so-ever. Any older worker willing to work for 30% less, wages equal to what younger workers were getting, had a job. Employers obviously did not value the "experience" to the degree that the older workers valued it.

I truly see the economy going into the same kind of scenario, only on a much, much bigger scale. Only this time the older workers have already been working with less disposable income and less wealth building ability so it isn't so easy for employers to just slash wages by 30%. So, today's older workers, while better off than those climbing the economy chain below them, are already below the economic security level of workers above them. The wage cuts will be less because there is less padding and their tighter economic situation means they will be more motivated to continue working.

It's going to be very, very ugly for younger workers. The least that the rest of us can do is not blame them for their unfortunate position in the pecking order in the economic food chain.

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