Upsides of the downturn: My chat with Kurt Andersen

We’ve heard the cliches: “That which doesn’t kill us makes us strong;” “Something good will come of this;” “A blessing in disguise;” “Find the silver lining.” And when it comes to the impact of the current recession, they are the kind of empty words that don’t usually make us feel much better. But after reading Kurt Andersen’s book, Reset, I started to believe that once we come out what he calls this “economic emergency,” we may be living in a culture that is a lot more sane and healthy than the one that brought us down.

Andersen traces the crisis of the past few years to the excesses that began in the late 1980s — the increasing size of the average American house, the rise in consumer debt, the ubiquity of state-sanctioned and state-run gambling, even the expanded girth of the average American. He uses the vocabulary of addiction to explain how America needs to get back on track — “to teach ourselves to buy and sell and borrow in healthier, more moderate ways.”

I had a chat with Kurt Andersen, an acclaimed journalist (New York Magazine, Spy magazine, Vanity Fair, Time), novelist, and radio host (and a lot more), about what this all means for the future of work. Below is a condensation of our conversation: {Read the rest at Yahoo!}

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When your man (or woman) gets laid off

Since January I’ve been gobbling up the Love in the Time of Layoffs column by Deborah Siegel on Recessionwire. Siegel is an academic-turned-author/consultant (as well as a friend of mine) and the column was born when her newly wedded husband Marco lost his job as a graphic designer (full disclosure: Marco designed the logo on my personal website.)

The column is so readable because it talks stuff few people are talking about. Like what happens to a heterosexual relationship when a woman suddenly becomes the sole breadwinner, what happens when someone who’s used to office culture suddenly gets used to the rhythms of home life, how two people (one of whom is pregnant with twins) can avoid driving each other batty when suddenly confined to a 650 square foot apartment.

Like any good serial narrative, Love in the Time of Layoffs had a major plot twist this month: Marco is back to work, albeit in a freelance gig. Questions abound for interested readers. Will he keep the job? Will the couple inch back into their former patterns again? What will happen once the babies arrive in a few months?

Stepping away from Deborah and Marco and the column, their experience leads to the more general question of how to best support an out-of-work partner. For answers, I spoke to veteran career coach, Belinda Plutz, who speaks not only as a coach but from personal experience since her husband just went through almost year-long period of unemployment himself.

Below are Plutz’s tips (many of which mirror the themes from Deborah’s column): {Read the rest at Yahoo!}

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Does unemployment insurance keep people from working?

One of the best ways to find work is to work part-time in the hopes of it turning into full-time employment. Another strategy is to try to work for yourself as a freelancer, consultant or entrepreneur. But either of these have one giant downside — if you collect unemployment insurance and you earn more than a certain amount a week from work, you’ll jeopardize your unemployment earnings.

Here’s how it works in NY, where I live (it varies state by state, but most states have a similar system):

If you work less than four days in a week and earn $405 or less, you may receive partial benefits. Each day or part of a day of work will result in your weekly benefit rate being reduced by one-quarter. For example, if your weekly benefit rate is $100 and you work three days and earn less than $405, you could potentially receive $25 in benefits. If you work two days, you could potentially receive $50 in benefits. If you work one day, you could potentially receive $75 in benefits.

As I talk to people, I’ve noticed a pattern. Though almost no one could support themselves on the paltry sum they receive from unemployment insurance, many folks (especially at the lower end of the income spectrum) use unemployment benefits as a cushion that supplement with some other income until they find a full-time job. But in order to preserve their unemployment benefits, they look for off-the-books work.  Sometimes they do consulting or freelance work, again only if they can find clients willing to pay them on the sly. By doing this, they might be taking steps towards finding full-time work. But they are probably living in fear of being discovered (and facing severe penalties, including jail time in some states). {Read the rest at Yahoo!}

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Can unemployment become “funemployment”?

With the national unemployment rate at a whopping 9.5%, it has now reached the point where even if you’re working, you know plenty of folks who are out of work. And while it’s safe to say that the majority of the unemployed need and want to be working, a new attitude has arisen around a subset of the unemployed. It’s called “funemployment” and it’s taken hold among those who are working to squeeze some enjoyment out of their time off. The term is showing up on blogs and Facebook groups and has been chronicled in a few buzz-generating newspaper articles, like this one. {Read the rest at Yahoo!}

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How to help someone who’s been laid off

Last week, I had yet another coffee date with an acquaintance who was recently laid off. Before we met, I thought a lot about how I could be helpful to him without offering tired cliches like “It will all work out for the best.” Less than a year ago, I lost what I had thought was a dream gig — writing a regular column and blog for The New York Times. As I prepped for my meeting, I tried to remember how I was feeling during that time and which people made me feel good and which made me want to clock them. Here’s what I came up with.

When you reach out to someone who’s recently been laid off, keep in mind that layoffs hit people differently. The good news is that there’s little shame in being out of work today. Still, for almost anyone who has been laid off, it is a sensitive time; emotions can be unpredictable. So try to be gentle. Especially if you’re a member of the family. What might be considered a polite observation by a friend could easily be interpreted as offensive meddling by a mother, sister, or in-law. And now, a few specific tips: {Read the rest at Yahoo!}

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Career advice for grads, and the rest of us

Graduation speeches are long on lofty advice, cliches that ring true, and humor: follow your dreams, be authentic, wear sunscreen. But they are often short on career advice. So now that we’ve all watched videos of the best of the lot on YouTube and shared them by email or on Facebook, it’s time to get down to what new grads need to know about how to get a job and build a career. And since 50-somethings and 20-somethings are likely to be competing in today’s market, most of these principles make sense for the rest of us as well.

{Read the rest at Yahoo!}

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Retraining Michigan’s Workers for Careers in Film

A few weeks ago I set out to write a story for The New York Times about how people were were managing the financial side of making a career change. I put out feelers on Twitter, Facebook and Peter Shankman’s invaulable “Help a Reporter Outservice, and a few days later I was drowning in personal stories. One woman took in a boarder (a term I hadn’t heard since my grandmother’s stories of life during the Depression) who watched her children while she went to classes in the evenings. Another rented her home out as a vacation property in order to bring income while she did volunteer work overseas. Of course, many took on extra side gigs (slashing by necessity). Others decided to raid whatever was left of an almost depleted 401k. 

Then I stumbled onto an interesting program in Michigan, where Oakland Community College is partnering with S3 Entertainment Group to train laid off workers for new careers in the film industry. That program intrigued me so much that I abandoned my original story idea and just wrote about that.  If you missed it in yesterday’s New York Times, read it here: “A Hollywood Sequel for Michigans Workers.”

I’ll likely get back to that original story idea, so if you know someone doing something creative to finance a career transition, let me know.

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Now It’s Time to Say Goodbye

A closing post for the Shifting Careers blog.

Now It’s Time to Say Goodbye

A closing post for the Shifting Careers blog.

Farewell to My NYT Blog

Today is a sad day. I’ve announced on Shifting Careers that The Times has decided to cancel the blog.  This post, “Laid Off From My Non-Job,” describes what happened and how I feel about it.

Amid the sadness, there are quite a few things that I’m happy about. I am pleased that The Times allowed me to speak honestly about how I felt about the decision.  My editor agreed with me that the subject would be good fodder for discussion; and in light of the blog’s subject, it would be extremely odd were I not to address it. As the paper itself reported earlier this month, when companies blog about good times, it is a smart move to be as transparent as possible about the difficult times as well.

When people are laid off, one instinct is to hide. By sharing my news the way I did, I pretty much denied myself the opportunity to hide. And because I didn’t hide, good things have already happened. My inbox has been filling up with words of support from friends and colleagues. I’ve even received a job offer. I’m sure it will continue to be an interesting day.

Next time you run into someone who has been laid off, encourage them not to hide. And make sure to show your support.

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