No, everyone cannot just go get a job

I’ve been trying to figure out precisely how many jobs are available in the US at any time, but I think that information is not tracked. I guess it would involve employers letting someone know, “We’re hiring a new [position]” every time they decide to do so, and nobody in the government would take the time to keep up with that.

The reason I wanted this stat was: I bet it’s a smaller number than the number of adults over 18. But then, not every adult over 18 needs a job.

I’ve been hearing a lot of people default to the old Reagan era standby when confronted with the Occupy movement: “Oh, shut up and get a job.” But it’s not that simple, and I wish I had the stats to show why, but I can’t find them. So here’s the anecdota.

Getting a job is not equally easy for everyone

  • Most of the people I know who’ve recently been hired are fresh out of college. Few employers want to hire workers who have experience and have already commanded decent salaries and know their rights. It’s like the desire to fuck virgins in hopes they’re so ignorant they won’t realize you’re lousy in bed.
  • Even when employers are happy to hire older workers, workers who are 50+ cost them a lot more on health insurance, if the job provides that. It sadly does not really make business sense due to how healthcare is handled in this nation to hire people over 50, so that group is really, really screwed when they lose a job.
  • Lots of employers buy into the totally bogus idea that fat people automatically cost more on health insurance than skinny ones, so they won’t hire people who are even a little overweight. Ironically, several recent skinny hires I know have fairly big health issues, and all the chubby people I know happen to have good health. And you know what else? Weight is absolutely no indicator which employees might need thousands of dollars’ worth of psychiatric medications and/or therapy sessions. But the prejudice persists.
  • Employers don’t want to hire people with “gaps” in their “employment history”, so the following groups are always lucky to find part time minimum wage employment: the currently unemployed, someone who’s been staying home to raise kids, and people who have taken off time to nurse ailing relatives. Are those your idea of “bad people” who are “lazy” and just “don’t want a job?” If so, I sincerely hope your family sensibly refuses to take time off to care for you when you’re old and ailing. Wouldn’t want them to be “lazy”, would you?
  • The disabled are always at a severe disadvantage. While they may have much to contribute, most employers, like most people, just assume it’ll be a lot of trouble and don’t even really consider hiring them. I have worked or temped at probably 100 different offices over about 15 years on the west coast, and you know what? I’ll let you know the instant I see a physically disabled person at one. It hasn’t happened yet. That should tell you something.

Jobs aren’t the cure-all

And none of this even touches the fact that “getting a job” does not equal “getting a job that anyone can actually live on. Again, no one has stats on this, but a huge number of jobs in the US don’t come with insurance or even paid sick time.

  • Most waitstaff at restaurants
  • Most retail workers (some corporations provide it IF the employees work X hours a week, and then only let a very few ever have that many hours)
  • Delivery personnel, other than the USPS (as with retail, some companies provide it with a certain number of hours, but many employees aren’t given that number of hours)
  • Fast food workers.
  • Telemarketers/call centers.

Start counting the number of workers in those fields you encounter every day. It’s a huge number of people. And many of those people – most, in my experience – do not have a spouse whose insurance they can be included on, because people tend to marry similarly employed folks. Meaning, a professional who has health insurance will marry another professional who has health insurance rather than marry someone who works at a call center.

What the real problem is

When you hear people “whining” about the income gap, they’re not talking about younger workers not being as well off as older workers. That’s a normal function of seniority and everyone knows it. The problem is this:

  • [Whelton PDF link] shows that in 1970, in the US, the average CEO made 11 times what the average hourly worker made. In  2000, the average CEO made 531 times what the average hourly worker made.
  • Globally, in 2004, the average CEO earned  to 10 times what average workers earned. This is a trend specific to the US.
  • The rising CEO salaries are not in proportion to profits earned.
  • Some individual CEOs earn more than the president, vice president, Supreme Court and Congress PUT TOGETHER.

That’s a Ponzi scheme, folks. It is not sustainable. That means, it can’t go on forever like a more stable economic system. It means that executives are draining more not just from the overall salary pool, but the company profits. Of course we can’t expect CEOs to be urgent about changing it – it’s designed to benefit them. But if you are not a CEO, and you’re just holding onto the idea that any decision made by people in authority must be brilliant, and anyone not in authority complaining about it must be defective, you need to exercise your brain. You should be very, very worried. I know loads of people who have good jobs and work hard, and they are worried, too – because they have enough sense to realize they could be next. And if not them, someone they care about.


  1. Raeka says

    Mostly I wanted to comment to say YES, and to show that there are people who actually read this sister-blog.

    And also that that CEO-to-hourly worker salary ratio frightens the crap out of me. It makes me wonder if there’s any way we can, as a country, limit that ratio. Does it count as limiting freedom if you can still technically pay your CEO eleventy billion dollars, you just have to ALSO pay your lowest employees a higher wage?

  2. Jennifer Kesler says


    I would wryly counter that by asking, does it limit freedom if we allow corporations to:

    –Create (through hype) a seasonal buying frenzy (the winter holidays) solely because businesses weren’t making profits for the first three quarters of each year?
    –Get government welfare every time their most inept business practices fail on them, like a 5 year old couldn’t have seen that coming?

    Basically, I doubt that a free market, in which supply and demand determine prices and production, has ever existed. Big business has always used government to manipulate the market into working for them instead of honing their own practices to work for the marketplace. This is why I roll my eyes when Hollywood says, “Oh, too bad, we have to follow the dollar.” Really? How quaint, because every other industry in the US has created artificial bias (soy heals everything! except for all the cancer, allergies and estrogen issues it causes!), artificial scarcity (sorry, folks, the only plentiful item is pasta, so the poor get a 100% carb diet), etc., to make the market work for it rather than the other way around.

    So yeah, I’m thinking limiting the ratio would make sense: the CEO can make X times as much as the lowest paid worker. I’m sorry, but if something like 11 to 20 times minimum wage isn’t enough to get you out of bed and into your office, then maybe you’re just so fabulously wealthy that you should just gracefully exit the work force and leave it to those who actually need to earn a living. I’m all for executives being rewarded for making tough decisions and taking on certain legal liabilities, but:

    –Minimum wage in L.A.: $8, with time and a half for hours over 40/week
    –Let’s say the average CEO works 60 hours a week.
    –At minimum wage, that would be $28,560 (that’s for 51 weeks/year, because min wage workers are forced to take a week’s UNpaid “vacation” each year)
    –20 X $28,560 = $571,200

    We’re being told that’s not an enticing enough salary for a qualified CEO. Really? I bet I know hundreds of small business owners who really know what they’re doing, and would leap at a chance to be a CEO for that kind of money, instead of being a jack of all trades for a lot less. Who ARE these people who won’t condescend to come to work for less than several million?

  3. Lisa says

    ” And many of those people – most, in my experience – do not have a spouse whose insurance they can be included on”

    I had to put in my two cents here, because I work in a field where a two-income household should be a requirement – early childhood. I am perpetually single. I don’t wanna whine about that fact, but I fantasize about being able to work in this field because it is what I truly love, and am so passionate about (and really good at, if I do say so myself), and be able to make ends meet with only one job…I usually have three. And benefits!?! Pfffttt! I have horrible health insurance, so I avoid the doctor at every turn. Health insurance is a really good reason to get married in my book.

  4. Lex says

    Thank you for addressing this! I’ve been volunteering for ROC United (Restaurant Opportunities Center United) ever since I found out that the minimum wage for tipped servers has been only $2.13 for over a decade! With this recession, these workers often don’t get paid livable wages, (or anything close to it) even if they work tripple shifts.

    I’m not a resteraunt worker myself, but I did work retail when I first got out of high school, and I remember having to beg Old Navy for more hours so I could pay rent/eat. Though I won sales contests so often that the area supervisor showed up to meet and congradulate me, I was never given enough hours to recieve health insurance, sick days, or a livable wage. Two of my coworkers were fired for having second jobs, because “company policy” stated that we had to be available at all times, even though we were not guaranteed any work hours at all in a given week.

    It’s not that the 99% are adverse to hard work (In case some of you are under the impression that camping on cement in the middle of winter is easy); the problem is that hard work does NOT pay, and we demand that that sad fact changes.


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