Despite record-high rates of unemployment and an overall sense that our government isn’t connecting with the ideals of the general public, there are still plenty of ways to enjoy a productive and fulfilling lifestyle; even without working 40 hours a week. If you’re apart of the segment of the American population that has experienced a significant cutback in employment rates, then hopefully this article will serve as inspiration for you to make the best of your current situation.
The Unfortunate Facts
The U.S. economy has gone down the toilet and the government has done a massive job of letting the American people down. For evidence, all one needs to do is look at the current Occupy Wall Street movement. What started as a group of young disenfranchised citizens protesting in the center of the financial capital of the world has grown into a nationwide movement. Similar protests have occurred at the financial centers of major cities such as Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia, Charlotte, and Atlanta. The message is loud and clear: People on both sides of the fence, liberals and conservatives, are tired of how this country has been run by the wealthiest one percent. In fact, members of the movement refer to themselves as the “99 percent.”
According to research studies, twenty-five million people in this country are unemployed, under-employed, or have given up looking for work. Forty-five percent of unemployed people have been without a job for more than 27 weeks, the highest percentage since the Bureau of Labor Statistics started keeping track in 1948.
However, corporate profits are at or above pre-recession levels, and the CEOs of the 200 biggest corporations averaged over $10 million in compensation in 2010- a 23 percent increase over 2009.
Less Work Equals More Time to Live
When I lost my full-time job a few months ago, I have to admit that I was pretty unsure of what to do next. I still have a part-time job that I’ve been at for nearly five years, so I was fortunate to still have some type of income. I stay with my folks so I don’t have to worry about certain expenses like many others my age in a similar predicament. I’ve applied to over 10 full-time positions and am currently working on an application for another one. However, I’ve come to realize that not working a full-time schedule isn’t such a bad thing.
The number one reason would be that my life is about 100 percent less stressful now than it was during the period I did have a full-time job. My last job was an interesting experience to say the least. My boss was not that pleasant and it was probably only the second time in my life (the first being when I worked at Domino’s Pizza back in high school) where I seriously hated going to work.
Today, I don’t have to wake up at 6 a.m. every morning and I don’t have to put upwards of about $50 in my gas tank every week (the job was a 30 minute commute). On top of that, I have more time to dedicate to the things I really enjoy such as writing. In essence, the quality of my life has improved greatly!
Since the 1970s, more Americans have been working longer hours. According to government survey data, the average working person was putting in 180 more hours of work in 2006 than they were in 1979. Today, more men are working schedules in excess of 50 hours a week. Not surprisingly, over the last 20 years, a large number of U.S. employees report being overworked. A 2004 study found that 44 percent of respondents felt they were often overworked, overwhelmed at their jobs, or unable to step back and process what’s going on. A third reported being chronically overworked. These overworked employees had much higher stress levels, worse physical health, higher rates of depression, and a reduced ability to take care of themselves than their less-pressured colleagues. I guess the old saying is true: “You really can work yourself to death.”
Making Your Own Way in Society
During this era of uncertainty about long-term job prospects, there are those who are finding a way to survive and even thrive in the current economic climate.
Naturally, when households spend more time earning money, they compensate in part by purchasing more goods and services. A French study found that households with longer working hours increased their spending on housing (buying larger homes with more appliances), transportation, and hotels and restaurants.
People with more time at home and less at work can engage in slower, less resource-intensive activities. They can hang their clothing on a line, rather than use an electric dryer. More important, they can switch to less energy-intensive but more time-consuming modes of transportation (mass transit or carpool). They can garden and cook at home (instead of eating out all the time) and meet more of their basic needs by making, fixing, doing, and providing things themselves (as opposed to buying everything).
This predicament also forces people to think in more “outside of the box” ways to earn a living. If you have a marketable skill or trade, then you could freelance your services out to those in your local community. Many local agencies look for people who could help them meet their bottom line. You would be surprised at what type of work you could find by calling around to some non-profit agencies in your own city. My local hospital offers a volunteering service where they match up prospective volunteers according to their strengths. Someone like myself, with a background in communications and writing, could volunteer my services in that capacity. They could even be impressed enough by my efforts to offer me a full-time position at some point.
There used to be a time when a college degree placed young graduates on the rungs of a stable career ladder, but high unemployment has left many young graduates unable to even find the ladder. However, this is the perfect time for young people to invent new ways of making a living.
Regardless of how long it takes for the economy to turn around, it’s possible to lead a productive work-based life. You could either spend all day blaming the government (and no offense at all to Occupy Wall Street; the voices of the public should be heard) for all your problems and fall into a trap of despair and hopelessness, or you can dust yourself off and start making your talent work for you. I choose the latter.
Some information and statistics from the Fall 2011 issue of Yes! Magazine were used in this article