The Dow Jones broke records and the unemployment rate found its way to a five-year low last week. Look around and you can tell the construction industry is perking up. Roofs are coming off and going back on all over town. Site prep is moving forward on some major development projects. “Under contract” signs are popping up like daffodils, signaling a turn in the real estate market. It’s tempting to think, as we teeter on the verge of a Virginia spring, that the economy is about to bloom again. But I’d be shocked if anyone really felt that way wholeheartedly.
The NY Times Economix blog recently pointed out that a new pattern has emerged over the past few years in which job vacancies remain high even as the jobless rate falls. The explanation for this adjustment of the Beveridge curve is that employers aren’t hiring new people full-time to replace jobs they cut in leaner times. Instead, they’re cautiously scaling up to meet demand with part-timers, hiring the occasional overqualified replacement at lower pay. The numbers show, according to Economix, that “if you include both part-time workers who want full-time work and people who have stopped looking for jobs but still want to work, the unemployment rate is actually 14.3 percent.” Meanwhile, closer to home, the sequester is likely to hit NoVA harder than anywhere else in the country. Much as it pains me to say, what’s good for NoVA, at least economically, is good for the Piedmont. And so while the economy may be turning around, the rattled confidence of the American worker, who doubles as the American consumer, hasn’t. With all dues respect to The Boss, it takes more than a spark to start a fire with damp wood.
O.K., now for some good news. Charlottesville’s unemployment rate is low and our city is still attracting people to jobs in emerging industries. According to our official unofficial jobs poll, most of you (72 percent) are happy where you ply your trade. This week’s feature focuses on people who found their vocation by listening to their whispers, from a horse masseuse to a newspaper editor, reminding us that landing in the right place to work can have more to do with the dowsing rod than the HR checklist. Which leads us to the lessons transmitted through our collective sojourn through financial adversity. Your house is a place to live, not an investment. Your job can’t be your primary source of self-esteem, because it might go away. Unions might be passé, but the idea that workers need to have a say with management in order to believe in progress is oh-so-current.