In this day and age, it’s tough to find a decent job for far too many people. I know what the job numbers say, but what’s the reality?
Since the early 1990s, the Federal government has changed the reporting data for unemployment. There are only two questions: “Are you employed?” and “Have you looked for a job in the last 30 days?” If you answer the first question “yes,” you’re counted as employed. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing. It doesn’t matter if you used to have a job as a machinist, making 30 bucks an hour, and now you’re scooping ice cream at Friendly’s for minimum wage: if you have a job, you’re employed.
And if you haven’t looked for work in the last 30 days, you’re a “discouraged worker,” and you are dropped from the reports. You are not counted, simple as that. That gaudy 3% unemployment rate that certain people in Washington like to brag about? Triple it, and you’re closer to reality.
Pensions, benefits, union protections
The number of people who have union jobs (with pensions, benefits, etc.) is even lower, much lower. By some accounts, the number of union jobs is at an all time low — under 10% nationwide. That’s over 20 percent lower than it was when I was growing up, and lower still than it was in the 50s and 60s when the middle class was expanding.
If you can get a government job, well now, there’s some real stability. I’m not talking about being an elected official, which provides decent benefits but terrible job security. I’m talking about working at the Highway Department or the Parks or Water Department. I’m not telling you something you don’t already know, and it’s not just here in Grand Island. It’s tough — nearly impossible — to get those jobs unless you know someone. Well, guess what? You, all of you, know someone — me, and I’m going to try to make the process of getting a job on Grand Island a little more fair.
You would think that all jobs are openly posted. They’re not. And I have been deferential to the decisions of our department heads. You see, most of the people who work for the Town do a very good job. Still, the process never sat well with me. There’s too much nepotism, too many related parties though blood ties or some other bond.
And so, when yet another recommendation to hire a former elected official came across my desk, I opposed it. I put forward a resolution requiring open hiring (by posting on the Town website and Town Facebook page) for all Town positions — no matter how small. After all, a small job to one person might a life saver for someone else.
It passed, but not easily. One councilperson voted no, and one fought it until the last second.
There is a problem — which I will fight till the end
The problem is that there is something to see. The system I fought against is creeping back. It’s a system that protects and coddles some and destroys others. It’s a system where if you’re in, you are way in, with pensions, attention, and praise. But if you’re out, stay out.
Now, you may point to my Deputy Supervisor (a man I first met three years ago) as a symbol of my reflection, but such a comparison denies good logic and common sense. My Deputy Supervisor works for free, although I have two paid political appointments I could, under the law, pay him. I never would, and he doesn’t want it. He does this work out of love for his Town. His partnership has helped bring millions in grant money, and his expertise is invaluable. He’s the best. If anyone else wants to work for free (e.g., cut the grass for free) I’ll take them too.
I will continue to tear apart the insider’s game. Open posting is just another step, as was passing a term limits law and inviting cameras into our public meetings. Both were the right things to do, just like every other decision I made as Supervisor. I tried to do what’s right, not what will get me votes. And if all this fighting the system means the system comes back to throw me out, so be it. I’m here for all of you, not just a select few.