(This article continues and expands upon thoughts that were begun in Part 1 last night. If you haven’t read it yet, I recommend that you do so before proceeding with this part.)
I think it’s very important to realize that you’re not alone in tough times. There are going to be hundreds, thousands, even millions of people finding it just as hard as you are. That won’t necessarily make it easier to find solutions, but it helps to prevent you becoming obsessive over how badly off you are. There’s an old Arabian proverb that goes, “I wept because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.” Give thanks for what you have, even while you’re working hard to earn what you don’t.
(For an interesting back-and-forth discussion of hard times, economically speaking, see Sarah Hoyt’s latest blog post and read the comments [over 200 of them as I write these words]. They contain several rich threads of “lessons learned the hard way”.)
All right, back to practical steps one can take to protect one’s economic future. I think a very important element is one’s ability to move to where the jobs are. We’ve discussed this previously in reference to debt – if one owns a home that can’t be sold (because it’s ‘underwater‘, or the housing market is in the doldrums, or whatever) then one may not be able to afford to rent or buy accommodation somewhere else. This ties you down. As I’ve said before, I think that now is an excellent time to sell fixed property, because I expect the housing market to take a sudden and very pronounced downturn in the not too distant future. This may mean higher accommodation costs in the short term (i.e. rental payments), but it frees you to move as and when necessary in the face of changing economic conditions.
It’s not that there are no jobs available – it’s that there are too few skilled or trained people to fill them. For example, last year Money Morning reported that ‘Three million jobs in America are waiting to be filled‘. Trouble is, they’re for vocational or skilled trades that no-one seems willing to enter – which is ridiculous. When I looked at what an air-conditioning specialist charged my landlord this past week to fix our A/C system, I figured he’s making more per hour than I’ve ever done! Such jobs are well-paid, and in sufficient demand that no qualified person need ever be unemployed, provided he works smart and hard. Why are people reluctant to enter such fields when the alternatives are so dismal? Mike Rowe’s ‘Profoundly Disconnected‘ offers sponsored training opportunities for those seeking to enter such fields. It’s worth looking into.
Right now there are abundant jobs available in the shale oil boom states, particularly North Dakota. Even entry-level jobs (shelf stockers at supermarkets, burger flippers, etc.) are paying two to three times the mandated minimum wage, because there simply aren’t enough people to fill all the positions available. If you’re unemployed and willing to work in difficult conditions for long hours, you can make enough to support your family – provided you’re willing to move there to do so. You may also have to leave your family behind, because accommodation’s scarce and expensive up there. I know some people who adamantly refuse to even consider that, because they want to stay together: but if the alternative is penury for everybody, I respectfully submit that they don’t have a realistic choice in the matter. You do what you have to do to survive. If that means accepting unpleasant conditions and temporary separation, so be it.
This can even extend to emigration, if necessary. If you can acquire skills that are in demand elsewhere in the world, you can earn a living wage there while waiting and hoping for things to improve at home. I know several English teachers (and others with English majors who weren’t teachers) who are at present teaching English in foreign countries, particularly South-East Asian nations. Their salaries aren’t huge by US standards, but very fair by local ones, and they’re able to make enough to support themselves and their families. At the same time they’re learning new languages, getting accustomed to different cultures, and generally broadening their mental horizons by leaps and bounds. One lady I know has been over there for more than a decade, living in three different countries, saving her money, and enjoying life to the full. She says she’s having so much fun she may stay there for the rest of her life. I know others who’ve worked or are working in the oil producing nations surrounding the Persian Gulf. They’re making a great deal of money from their technical expertise.
Don’t ignore the opportunity to get into fields where you can be trained on the job. Fellow blogger Paul at Hawsepiper has an open offer to anyone willing to enter the merchant marine. You’ll be away from your family for weeks at a time, but you’ll spend just as long with them, and the money’s good because there aren’t many willing to put in the hours of hard work necessary to prosper in that career. I have several friends and former colleagues who went to sea in that way, and they all confirm that in fifteen to twenty years you can progress from entry-level deckhand all the way to a Masters ticket, if you’re prepared to work your butt off. You can also sock away quite a bit of money if you exercise discipline and don’t party in every port. If you can’t find local opportunities, why not take up Paul’s offer? You could do a whole lot worse.
I think all the above points illustrate that there’s no need to be without a job provided you’ve got the drive and initiative to seize opportunities whenever and wherever you find them. The reason so many are sitting around moping is that they can’t or won’t do so. If you’re willing to step outside of your ‘comfort zone’, accept temporary hardships such as possible separation from your family for weeks or months at a time, and work your butt off, then even in these difficult times you can still earn a good living. Furthermore, jobs in such essential fields are much less likely to disappear during hard times than those requiring less specialized training. Plumbers and mechanics will always have work to do!
I suppose it all boils down to this. If you think that the world owes you a living, you’ll probably starve. If you understand that you have to earn your own living, and do whatever it takes to earn it, then you’ll probably make it.