Embracing the “Informal” Economy for the 20% Unemployed Men

Newunemployment image Orleans Somehow the columnists are finally noticing that there are a lot of men (and most of them are still men) who are woefully out of work.  Both the Times’ David Brooks and David Leonhardt have commented on the fact that 20% of American men are out of work between 25 and 54.  Brooks points out that according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics 35% of men without a high school education are out of work.   Once these things are noted, the train is pretty much allowed to pass unnoticed to destinations unknown.

A friend recently in Vancouver joked about the “portfolio” economy speaking of a similar situation, ignoring any age limits or supposed lack of qualifications for handling the “new” economy, in which many men – and women – are working.  The smaller number of jobs in every sector and the persistence of the recession has squeezed professionals as well, particularly many of the baby boomers who are being squeezed out for cheaper, younger, hungrier workers, especially if they have lost a half-step and fallen back in the race.  By doing “portfolio” work he meant essentially cobbling together a living and a livelihood from a series of smaller jobs and smaller paychecks, sort of a professional odd jobber.   These people are not on the unemployment rolls, but there seem to be an awfully lot of them and in my reckoning they seem to have joined the informal economy full time, though they may have a tie knotted at the neck.

Looking from the bottom or staring down from the top, I don’t see the solutions being performed by the “pretend” new jobs being created from the low wage service sector, temporary employment, or “new” industries.  I think we need to train workers on both sides of the unemployed and underemployed divide to embrace the “informal” economy.  I think rather than wasting money on resume writing courses and exercises in “social networking,” we need to help people structure budgets and skills that can be salable and quickly implemented in the informal economy, which frankly is the kind of survival adaptation that lower income working people have always had to adopt both in the USA and around the world.

The argument I’m advancing here is that we ought to stop pretending there’s a big fix out there in the future, and start specializing in how to produce successful and sustainable livelihoods from the small fixes that we understand and can implement on quick timelines with low investments.   This is my general point.  Tomorrow we’ll look at more specifics applications.

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