Archive: April, 2009
The sheer adrenaline-like rush of creating NovaCare in the 1990s created a tight-knit corporate crew of in the company's King of Prussia headquarters. After a change in Medicare regulations in 1999, the whole thing, with 50,000 employees and nearly $2 billion in revenues, collapsed in a matter of months. Pieces were sold off, along with the name, and the headquarters staff lost their jobs.
Over time, some work friendship erode, but this group stayed tight -- so tight that ten years later, they reunited for a party on a lovely rooftop deck overlooking Independence Mall. You can read in today's Inquirer about how the strength of their network and their friendships helped them get jobs and gave them emotional support.
I have to admit that a press release I received today really annoys me. I'd use another phrase, but I'm trying to retain a modicum of professionalism.
It's all about creating "happy" workplaces. Cut me a break!
Job interviews -- the horror, the strain, the stakes. How easy it is to blow it! That's why you are going to love this video: According to his Twitter profile, Steinar Skipsness is a search engine marketing guy from Seattle. For fun, Skipsness posted a pretend job opening on Craigslist, rented an office, set up some cameras and videotaped some job interviews. The result is some pretty funny You-Tube videos and 22 pretty good interview hints. The hints are nothing that someone with any social skills whatsoever wouldn't come up with after three minutes of thought. But it is always good to be reminded.
My interview at the Inquirer in 1982 was actually pleasant. I did many things wrong, including making jokes. At one point, the "decider" and I ended up singing together during the course of the interview. Very strange. Very fun. Can't even imagine that now. Tell me your weird interview stories. I'll tell mine tomorrow.
Forgive me for being so into the arcane aspects of unemployment insurance. Of course, it is only arcane until you need it. When you need it, every detail matters.
Today, an advisory group is figuring out how to resolve problems with Pennsylvania's unemployment benefit trust fund. You can read about in today's Inquirer. But, of course there's more.
Sitting here in Philly a mile or so away from the Delaware River and New Jersey, it is interesting to contrast how the two states handle the idea of benefits for part-time workers -- at a time when more and more people are working part-time and not necessarily by choice.
Part of the debate on whether Pennsylvania should accept $270 million in federal stimulus money to beef up the state fund that pays unemployment benefits has to do with the existing condition of the fund. In a word -- it's not good. Like other state funds, Pennsylvania's fund is now borrowing money from the federal government to make the payments and there's a current discussion in government, business and labor circles about how the fund should be replenished from state businesses and employees.
Here's one idea being promoted by Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industries. People who get severances wouldn't be allowed to tap into unemployment benefits until their severance weeks run out. The thought is that with luck and determination that person would get a job quickly and not need to tap into the fund. Meanwhile, why should the taxpayers and businesses pay, especially in the case of an executive-level "golden parachute?"
I can tell you someone who would not agree with that idea -- even though I haven't asked him the specific question. A college graduate, Keith is a laid-off insurance manager who lives in Cheltenham Township. Until January, he worked at Prudential Insurance in Horsham. Two days after he was laid off, he and his wife enrolled in a project management certification course at Penn State Abington and he paid their tuition with his severance. They think project management is a skill that will keep them in the middle class. Her thought is that she wants two of them to be qualified. (She's been a stay-at-home mom.)
Today I'm working on a story about unemployment benefits, specifically about whether Pennsylvania could/should make the changes to capture some extra money for its unemployment insurance fund from federal stimulus money. The changes would make it easier for more people to get unemployment insurance because it would ease eligibility standards and there are also improvements for part-time folks. So far I've talked to representatives of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry and the National Federation of Independent Business's Pennsylvania group. They are both against it. Their argument is that the $300 million the state would get from the feds would be quickly in a few years by payments to an increased number of people, which would lead to increased taxes to employers to fund the fund, which would in turn contribute to an unwelcoming business atmosphere.. A couple of states, including Louisiana, have also talked about turning away this money. Virginia has already done so.
On the other side, obviously, is the fact that people are suffering. One problem is that the workforce is different now than it was when unemployment insurance was created. That was based on the idea of a full-time job. Many people now work a series of contract projects with gaps between projects. Lots of low-wage workers don't have steady employment and so don't readily qualify for benefits.
With any luck and enough call backs, I'll have the story for tomorrow's paper. If anyone has any thoughts or experience on this, please comment. I'd like to hear from local businesses about whether they are having problems paying the tax and also from unemployed people, perhaps people who didn't qualify because they hadn't worked enough months in the past year to be eligible.
What is a green job anyway? I'm completely confused. If my newspaper uses recycled paper, as it does, then do I, as a newspaper reporter, have a green job? How about a high school biology teacher? Is that a green job? Guess the poor American History teachers are out of luck, unless they include a unit about the environmental movement, or maybe a lesson about Earth Day. Maybe that "counts."
Then CareerBuilder goes on to list the following jobs as green jobs, noting that it has 10,000 postings for these jobs right now.
1. Hydrologist: The median annual income is $64,604.
2. Environmental Engineer: The median annual income is $63,673.
3. Pollution Control Technician: The median annual income is $47,403.
4. Biologist: The median annual income is $53,665.
5. Science Teacher: The median annual income of kindergarten, elementary, middle and secondary school teachers ranges from $41,400 to $46,991.
6. Fund-raising Director: The median annual income is $79,762.
7. Urban Planner: The median annual income is $55,365.
8. Economist: The median annual income is $82,628.
9. Forester: The median annual income is $48,110.
10. Environmental Attorney: The median annual income for attorneys specializing in construction, real estate and land use is $90,146.
11. Community Affairs Manager: The median annual income is $57,359.
12. Environmental Health and Safety Technician: The median annual income is $47,403.
13. Landscape Architect: The median annual income is $53,241.
14. Waste Disposal Manager: The median annual income is $31,572.
15. Environmental Chemist: The median annual income is $48,850.
It is in this cynical, or at least skeptical, spirit that I question CareerBuilder executive Rosemary Haefner's use of the word "new" when it comes to green careers. It seems like these are the same jobs, but with a different focus. So where is the opportunity that will really dig us out of this ridiculous hole that we're in with employment? We need 150,000 new jobs a month just to accommodate newcomers to the labor market. Instead we're in a deficit of four times that amount each month. Do we have 150,000 new and different green jobs?
"Green jobs have increased in popularity over the last few years as companies take continued action to become more environmentally conscious and reduce their carbon footprints," said Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources for CareerBuilder. "The economic stimulus plan is expected to spur an increase in the number of green jobs by creating investments in alternative energies. There are a variety of positions that fall under the green category that could present great new career opportunities for job seekers."
On Friday, I'm planning to attend a reunion of people who were all laid off from the same company in 1999. More than 300 headquarters folks lost their jobs when their company was sold. They scattered. Now one of them is organizing a reunion and at least 65 are planning to attend. To me, this is fascinating because it shows how important our work "families" are. Obviously, we often spend more time with our co-workers than with our spouses.
Last summer, the Inquirer had a reunion of people who worked here years ago, when Gene Roberts was editor. It was amazing to see so many colleagues, people whom we knew so well. And those were people! Even this building has a powerful grip on me. Of course, our newspaper is owned by local businessmen, but I consider it my newspaper and when I say "we," I mean all of us who work here and did work here, especially in our Inquirer newsroom. The reunion over the summer was a powerful emotional moment for me and many of us, especially since the former Inquirer reporter who organized it, Carol Horner, died shortly after the party.
Of course, I'm using "family" in a positive sense, like the Inquirer newsroom family. We all know plenty of dysfunctional workplace families -- the ones where any intelligent person runs, as fast as possible and screaming, in the other direction. You'd attend a reunion in your hearse, maybe!
Look, people are willing to eat beans and rice forever if it helps them handle two things -- keeping the house and keeping health insurance after they lose their jobs. Both are obviously tremendous concerns and we don't need a survey to tell us that. Still, a survey by Peter D. Hart Research Associates conducted in November, before things got really bad, found that a third of the unemployed workers contacted lost their health insurance when they lost their jobs. Less than half, 45 percent, had health insurance and some 46 percent said they were postponing medical and dental treatments.
Yes, there's COBRA -- the employer sponsored health insurance, but that can be a bucket load of money and it carries risks. Even if you can afford to pick up the tab for the monthly premium, what if you are still unemployed after 18 months, the time you are permitted to continue under your employer's health plan? What if you start out healthy, but halfway through, you get, God forbid, cancer or diabetes? How easy is it going to be to buy your own insurance on the other end? You'll have to hock your first born and your gold fish.
Now here's some important news, courtesy of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, aka the Obama stimulus package: Employers who offered health insurance are required by federal law to send all their former employees a letter telling them they are eligible to now buy COBRA with a 65 percent subsidy for nine months. The letter could come from your employer, or from the administrator of your health plan. Those letters are supposed to go out now to anyone who has been laid off since September 2008. If you don't get one, call your health plan administrator or call the U.S. Department of Labor at 1-866-444-3272. You will get a benefits counselor who can explain it all and may help with some dicey situations. An example of dicey situation? What happens if you weren't actually laid off, but took a buy-out?
Sometimes I wonder about the wisdom of building an economy on gambling, but then, similarly, who could have predicted a thriving business in expensive coffee a la Starbucks? Latte or lotto, I guess they are both addictions in their own ways. These days, the gamble on gambling seems even less advised as New Jersey's employment in the hospitality and leisure category sector fell by 5,900 in March, outstripping business services and manufacturing. These numbers come from the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
Overall, 17,200 jobs were lost in Jersey in March, bringing the unemployment rate up to 8.3 percent -- still below March's national unemployment rate of 8.5 percent.
Two more interesting numbers: I always watch the category that, oddly, combines administrative support and waste remediation (I wonder if this means that secretaries are doing waste remediation when they cover for their bosses -- probably yes!). Anyway, I digress. This category includes temporary workers. As long as this category continues to fall, it means that the job market is not coming around. When the economy starts to come around, employers will begin to hire temp workers, because they are too nervous to commit to a full time relationship. (Ladies, do we know guys like that?) So, that category grew by 3,000 from February to March. That is an optimistic sign, despite a year-over-year decline of 29,000 jobs.