While I may be a bit older than the younger workers Jeffrey Tucker was addressing in his article titled “Advice To Young, Unemployed Workers“, in the most recent issue of The Freeman, I found myself nodding along throughout the entire piece. Tucker, as always, spells out his points and brings them to life with clarity and brevity. As someone who found themselves swimming back and forth between the waters of unemployment and the shifting ground of any kind of employment from 2007-2011, I can only agree with Tucker that it’s awfully tough for the young to find meaningful employment, and that the system that produced us leaves us wholly unprepared for the realities of economic life.
Tucker gets to the point immediately, when he decries the fact that the majority of our youth are kept from useful work from the ages of 6-18 and beyond.
“Even if it were legal for you to work when you are capable of doing so – from the age of maybe 12 or 13 -,” Tucker writes, “the government has imposed the wage-floor laws that price your services out of the market. Then you are told that if you stay in school, you will get a great, high-paying job right out of college.”
I, for one, fell for this particular myth in many ways, although there were plenty of times during my college years, (2000-2005), where I deeply thought about leaving school in order to work. But I didn’t, and stuck it through to the end. And while I may have been lucky and found a job in my selected profession right out of college, the experience of falling into the miasma of the ranks of the unemployed for the better part of four years had a lasting effect on me, to say the least.
Another point that had me nodding my head and saying, “Exactly!” is when Tucker wrote “the fear that such work, whatever it is, is somehow beneath you is a serious source of personal undoing,” as he discussed that the most important step, for any young worker, is to find and take that job, no matter what it is. Having fell prey to that particular bit of arrogance that seems to be deeply embedded in my generation’s psyche, I wish I had moved past it much quicker. For about two years, I wouldn’t apply to anything other than a reporter/newspaper job, because I didn’t go to four years of school to flip burgers, dammit!
And then, the lack of a productive life finally caught up to me, both financially and mentally, and I found making myself making $9.00/hr or so manning a ticket booth at a Seattle tourist attraction. Tucker’s wisdom continues when he writes “You learn from every job you have.” This particular job taught me another set of customer service skills, and also gave me a brief glimpse at the odd world of non-profits. Additionally, it let me walk through downtown Seattle on a regular basis, often at times when the city was mostly silent. I still miss those mornings, sometimes.
I followed that job up with a variety of others, including a portrait photographer for church directories, Verizon Wireless customer care agent, and running an inventory control system for a large retail chain’s regional warehouse. At each step of the way, I was exposed to new and different people, and learned how to more effectively communicate with those people. I also picked up other odd skill sets, mostly technical, that help me to this day.
The one area where I depart with Tucker in some respects is his point about “thinking about two possible paths forward, each of them equally viable: advance within this one firm, or move to another firm.” While it’s certainly good advice, I think, at least for my generation, we need to flex our creativity and entrepreneurial spirit. As someone who is being awoken to the thinking of the world through economics and liberty and how they mesh and create beauty, I’ve found myself thinking of various means to find more ways to be productive and profitable that don’t fall within a normal employment framework.
Just today, I noticed my sour apple tree is producing apples a bit earlier this year than normal. For the five years my family and I have lived at this house, we’ve just let the apples fall to the ground, usually to be eaten by the dogs. But now, I find myself thinking of how my family and I could possibly benefit financially from those apples, instead of just letting the dogs have their seasonal treat.
It’s also why I spent the time to figure out how to get setup mining for bitcoins. While I don’t ever expect it to be a hugely profitable enterprise, I do hope to have it be just another income stream, away from all the old structures that have made my generation’s ability to generate income so difficult.
In closing, the bit of advice I’d give to younger workers is pretty simple : Believe in yourselves. You and I were taught that certain things had to be a certain way, that the keys to a good life were to be found in being a good kid, staying in school, and graduating from college. Well, we know how that turned out. Now, let’s believe in ourselves and figure out how the hell we make our own life, and hopefully make it a bit better for everyone else, too.