The Post-Employment Economy Makes Entrepreneurs Of Us All
The United States economy added 192,000 jobs in private industries in March, according to numbers recently released by the Labor Department. Unemployment is staying stable at 6.7 percent, down from over nine percent in 2011. Retail sales rebounded in March as well, jumping up 0.8 percent after the winter. Inflation is low. So why do we still feel so sluggish?
Along with all the good news that suggests a continued, though gradual, recovery from the financial crisis this spring comes the surprising fact that our country’s labor participation rate, or the ratio of employment to population, is now at just 63.2 percent, a low that hasn’t been seen since 1978. That statistic caused the Financial Times to publish the pointed headline, “U.S. Loses Edge as Employment Powerhouse.”
Perhaps this lack of participation is the cause of our malaise. Despite the incremental growth in jobs and employment figures, many of the long-term unemployed are giving up looking for jobs and dropping out of the labor force, padding unemployment rates since they no longer count as employed nor unemployed. And on the younger side of the labor force, we have another symbol of employment crisis: the unpaid intern.
The archetype makes for a potent image. Recent college graduates, fresh with enthusiasm about the world and their place in it, run up against cold reality as they find themselves unable to break into the desirable industry of their choice without working for free, and, saddled with debt, young workers take on less meaningful jobs to finance loan payments or a coveted internship. Even in that internship the scene is dismal: Tapping away at a keyboard on a low rung of a corporation designed to extract value from its employees rather than support them.
The internship paradox—find a way to float an unpaid internship or you won’t get a paid job—plus the low labor participation rates add up to a shifting landscape for career-seekers. Jobs simply don’t follow the linear, one-company path they had decades ago.