Although I majored in business as an undergrad — taking a number of finance, accounting, and economics courses — I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a financial type by any stretch of the imagination. However, I am naturally observant and most definitely pay attention to what goes on in the world around me, through local and national news, social media, and also via friends and acquaintances. As such, in recent years, I’ve noticed an uptick in discussion around the following money matters: the low unemployment rate, the gig economy, the retail apocalypse, and the pension crisis.
Again, I many not be the most financially astute person around but I am one of the more curious. And I wondered about the relationship between these themes: low unemployment and an economy filled with “gig” or temporary jobs seems good[ish]; the loss of thousands of brick-and-mortar retail stores coupled with attacks on retirement pensions, not so much.
I will not even attempt to make a correlation between these four items but I will make the following observations about the American economic state as we begin a new decade:
1. Low unemployment rate: Fair wages, consistent hours, and health benefits have long been features of what is considered stable employment. So when wage growth stagnates, and those fortunate souls with jobs work longer hours, and companies find ways to reduce their health care “burden,” and an increasing proportion of the workforce is temporary (see #2 below), is low unemployment really a political bragging point?
2. Gig economy: “Gigs” abound, so long as you don’t mind putting wear and tear on your own car, or entering people’s homes (ie, completely unknown environments) without the usual legal and policy protections afforded full-time employees.
3. Retail apocalypse: More than 15,000 retail store locations closed in 2018 and 2019. Where, I ask you, are all of those former employees working now?
4. Pension crisis: Folk with full-time employment can’t even have the peace of mind that they’re securing their own future, thanks to increasing threats to what used to be promised retirement income.
In sum, for those Americans like me who are not independently wealthy, the search for a suitable job or gig never ends, but you better not let the hunt for work make you sick because you may or may not receive health care at your new place of employ, which likely won’t be at a retail location because they’re closing by the thousands, so you better start saving money in your mattress because your pension may or may not be available to you when you decide to stop working.
Put plainly, life in this U.S. workforce and this particular economy is freaking stressful.