On Unemployment & Who Gets Work

Flickr photo by gtorelly
Just like many of you, yesterday I read that the U.S. unemployment rate went up from 8.1% to 8.2%. 69,000 jobs were added in May. While the number is low in terms of changing the unemployment rate, it's huge in terms of each of those lives, their families, and their communities. Each of those newly employed people has a ripple effect on those around them. Especially if it's a well-paying job for where they live. If each of these people starts spending more money, that helps everyone.

What were those jobs? Did a 21st century job displace a 20th century job? Did a new social media manager job replace a cashier job that is no longer needed because of self-serve checkout?

We need to add hundreds of thousands of jobs per month, preferably millions of jobs each month to truly attack the problems of unemployment and underemployment in this country.

Yesterday, I dug into the archives of On Point with Tom Ashbrook and listened to a show from October 2002 called Jobless in America. Almost ten years ago. Unemployment was a problem back then for many people and has only gotten worse. It was interesting listening to the guests predictions for five to ten years in the future.

The guests were David Leonhardt, from The New York Times; Barbara Ehrenreich, who wrote Nickel & Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America; and Kevin Murphy, George J. Stigler professor of economics, University of Chicago, and co-author of Current Unemployment Historically Contemplated.

One thing they couldn't predict was how the rise of social media would change the world in such surprising and enormous ways. Not just political uprisings, but the kinds of work that are available now because of it and other jobs that are on their way out because of it.

Blogging was still in its infancy in 2002. Very few people were doing it. Heather Armstrong aka Dooce, only started her blog in February 2001. She was fired for blogging about the people she worked with in February 2002, which spawned the term "dooced" and brought the idea of blogging more into mainstream conversation.

Facebook wasn't launched until early 2004 and Twitter wasn't launched until 2006. While so little has changed in those ten years, so much has changed.

I just read about a new feud between established food writers and, as Dianne Jacob calls them, emerging professionals, who often happen to be food bloggers. It's a shame that it's come to this. But what it comes down to is what I mentioned earlier. Social media is opening up opportunities to new people while shutting it down for others.

Those who were lucky enough to be in a very small closed circle of people who could earn a nice living writing about food, developing recipes, and speaking about food now have to compete with more people for the paid work. The work is changing and the pay is often lower.

The Annual International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) Conference prompted an established food writer to write an opinion piece on her blog called Faking It. She vents her frustration with what she sees as not all, but many unqualified food bloggers getting the paid work that she and her peers should only be privy too. The IACP also posted her piece on their blog. The writer appears to have have made some edits on her own blog since the IACP posting. Below is a portion of her post from the IACP blog.
It shocks me that some of our industry’s biggest and brightest companies are willing to farm out this kind of work to home cooks, whose skill in recipe development and writing haven’t been proven–and, at least in the case of the examples discussed at the seminar, without any control over how well the recipes have been tested. The bloggers are, essentially, faking it. And then marketers are sharing these recipes with the public—and paying hobby cooks for the kind of skilled work most of us have spent a career developing. I also can’t help but question to what extent do the companies check to ensure the resulting recipes aren’t plagiarized from professional sources. The most important message I got from the seminar was that we, the professional journalists, researchers, home economists, recipe developers, food stylists, and photographers are getting aced out of much needed work in our chosen field by stay-at-home moms and accountants with a cooking hobby."
Hmmm. Not surprisingly, many food bloggers had a field day in the comments. I didn't come close to reading them all, but people are not happy. I'm in agreement with them.

There are too many things swirling around in my head to address them all, but one of the first things that comes to mind is the old saying that you have to fake it until you make it. What's wrong with that? Nothing. When I think about the idea of reinvention and creating a new career for yourself, the only way to do it is to make it up as you go along. Nobody can do it for you. We all have different paths to follow and are trying to find our way.

It's wrong for a field of work to be closed off to everyone, but those chosen established few. If we love to cook and write about it and want to get paid for it, shouldn't we have a chance? Isn't this called job creation? Something that we need very badly in this country.

It's a shame that most food bloggers are working for free or are getting badly underpaid for their work, but only now are some rates being discussed openly. The way the economy looks, it's very few people who have one job for 30 years, then get a nice pension that they can live on in their golden years.

Our life spans are growing, so our working lives are longer. Jobs are scarce and there are few pensions at the end even if you do have one. Many of us are weaving together a patchwork quilt type of career. A little of this, a little of that. Hopefully we can make a living by putting our skills to use doing many things. And most of all, if we can do something we love, we might catch some happiness in the process.

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Good and plenty said…
This is a very good and important post. This new economy and new technology is like everything else - a death knell (sp?) for some and ripe with opportunities for others. I see lots of work that needs doing as I go through my daily journey but getting paid to do it is another matter. Figuring out how to make money through social media is challenging for me. I do understand both sides of the issue in terms of "amateur" and "professionals" "hobbyists" and "specialists" "emerging" and "seasoned." I often see it in design. I use professional graphic designers when I can. There are lots of people, however, with no training who do graphic design all of the time - some quite good, some good enough. But if you've seen really good graphic design by someone who was trained to do it...there's a difference.
In terms of food - I prefer recipes from food bloggers because I feel they are more on my level. Sometimes the professionals are intimidating and precious and assume a level of technical skills that I don't want when I'm just trying to make a delicious - but different - meal for myself and my family.
Thanks for the post.
Lisa Johnson said…
good + plenty - Thanks for your feedback! It seems that there should be room for all of us. We all have a variety of skills for different audiences. When I teach my baking classes, I'm very open about being a casual home baker. I only bake fairly simple things and make it very easy on myself and my students. Some might disagree with my style and method as being "hobbyish," but as long as it works and people are happy with what they learn, that seems fine to me.
Wow! This is really an interesting topic. I can see the authors point, but I think social media has done more good by creating more opportunities for dialogue and free expression than stifled opportunities for others. Plus, I think people need to find ways to create additional means of income in uncertain economic times.
Lisa Johnson said…
terri - Glad you piped in! I definitely agree that people need the freedom to add income where they can. The economy is in flux and I cannot even imagine how things will be in 10 years. It seems like we all need to get creative!

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