Why you should care
Because the future of work isn’t as bright as we’d like. And some people are trying to change that.
Got a job? Count your blessings. Got one that uses your skills and pays you for them? Wow. The U.S. employment picture is definitely brightening. An unforeseen surge in jobs gained helped drop the jobless rate to 6.3 percent in April. Yet ignored as always in the monthly report: the continuing plight of the “sub-employed” — the vast population of workers whom the Great Recession demoted to jobs below their education, experience and skill levels. They’re the journeyman carpenters advising do-it-yourselfers in Home Depot, the bank-loan processers fielding customer-service calls for Verizon, the restaurant managers frothing milk for lattes at Starbucks. And they likely number in the millions.
Work hard, play hard? Not in the United States. A recent survey found that the average American employee used only half of his or her vacation/paid time off in the last year. That’s 50 percent of lost time that could have been spent at Disneyland — or binge-watching House of Cards during a staycation. Whatever happened to the Clark Griswolds of society? Surprisingly, it’s not like most employers have dramatically changed their policies. So what’s up? Some of workaholic vacationers claim that no one else at their company can do the work, some are brown-nosers, claiming they are completely devoted to their company, and some say they feel like they can’t be disconnected.
Meet Saket Soni, a 36-year-old immigrant who could be the architect of the next labor movement in the U.S. He has led guest workers to some of the ballsiest collective actions in recent history: welders, crawfish-peelers, student packers. The organization Soni directs, called the National Guestworker Alliance, focuses on immigrants with temporary work visas. Hundreds of thousands come to the United States each year. Despite their numbers, they’re difficult to organize: transient, for starters; vulnerable and risk averse, besides. Guest workers don’t come here to make trouble. Because their visas bind them to one employer, quitting means deportation or worse. Stories about abused guest workers once elicited sympathy, Soni says. Now they elicit recognition.
Remember when you could graduate from a decent college with a degree in English or economics, and get an offer for an entry-level job at an ad agency or a bank, or maybe even a manufacturing company? No skills? No problem. They’d train you and get you started up the corporate ladder. OK. Maybe it wasn’t quite that easy — especially if you were a woman or your skin wasn’t white (or both). But in our heads, that’s the job market we miss and hope will come back someday. Dream on. Five years after the trough of the Great Recession, here are the facts.