The Eleventh Worker

I see a number of parishioners out of work. It’s dispiriting and disheartening. And it really p***es me off that various talking heads in the media and their dittoheads in the blogosphere don’t address this more often. Like every day.

I also read and hear whining from big business in the media. Too many regulations–wah! Taxes too high–wah! How about some simple math to address the biggest problem the US faces these days?

Every business should consider hiring one person for every ten currently on its payroll. It’s only the patriotic thing to do.

Any business owners out there who want to step to the plate? On the bright side, hire that eleventh worker and then tell your neighborhood. I’d do business more readily with any business, large or small, that dared to make a sacrifice, tighten its belt and hire number 11. Wouldn’t you?

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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25 Responses to The Eleventh Worker

  1. RAnn says:

    So, you are saying that a business which has ten employees, and is paying them an average of $40,000/year should hire an 11th? Where is the extra $50,000 going to come from (because a $40,000 employee is going to cost $50,000 by the time benefits and taxes are considered). Are the other nine going to be happy about a $5,500 pay cut? Oh, you were only going to make the owner take a pay cut? Businesses hire more workers when they have work for more workers; any business owner who forgets this doesn’t have a business for long.

  2. Todd says:

    “So, you are saying that a business … should hire an 11th?”

    Reading comprehension, my friend. I’m saying a business should consider it. My church is considering adding a much-needed position. We would need to make sacrifices in some of the non-personnel line items in the budget, but I think we could do it. If not this year, then next.

    Businesses need to consider expanding. And if you think that publicly traded companies are going to plow their stock gains over the last two years back into personnel, maybe you have hope if you’re a third world worker. But I don’t consider many of these companies good citizens.

    Businesses, even small one-person operations, should consider where and how they can expand. And do their patriotic duty–when possible–in getting Americans back to work. If for no other reason than to expand their clientele by 10%.

    What we need less of is business owners whining about politics and the economy and more taking a stand, manning up if you will, and doing something about it.

  3. Harry says:

    Todd, you can be so condescending at times. RAnn raised legitimate points against your overly simplistic idea, and your first words in response are “Reading comprehension”?

    Oh, but you are only asking them to “consider” it? Well, they consider it and decide they can’t do it. Are they now “good citizens”?

    And in the example of your parish, please consider your key words: “much-needed position.”

    That does not seem to match your original proposal to simply add one job for every 10 you have now, “much-needed” or not.

    And thanks for the short course on the benefits of “expanding.” But every business seeks to do that. Right now.

    And the people in charge are not without hearts. They are not going to expand merely for the sake of adding to their work force, then having to make the painful decision later which employee(s) to fire to save the business and the jobs of everyone else.

    As RAnn noted, they will add workers when they have work for them to do. Just as your parish is doing.

  4. Todd says:

    Harry, you seem to be overreacting to my patriotic suggestion.

    It’s a fact that businesses do not grow without research, hard work, creativity, and thinking (sometimes) outside the box.

    American businesses, especially the large ones, are sitting on trillions of dollars that could be devoted to research (some hires) and expanding their markets (more hires). I get the idea most of them are intent on squeezing remaining employees and whining about unfair tax and regulation burdens.

    I have no problem conceding I can be condescending, simplistic, and naive at times. I happen to think some other people are, at times, selfish, dense, and yes, without heart. Now that we’ve all agreed that we all have human flaws, let’s get to work putting people to work.

  5. Harry says:

    Step No. 1 should be to get off our high horses, set aside our own prejudices and stop calling the “other side” names while making rash, blanket presumptions about their motives.

  6. Todd says:

    All I know is that I write what I write. From there, people focus on their own interpretation. Sometimes that interpretation doesn’t follow from what I write. Commenters here are always welcome to drift from the original point.

    I understand that a citizen lecturing big business seems to do so from a high horse, so to speak. Corporations, in turn, seem to assume I want to drink beer, leer at women, and in general, insulate myself from the problems many of them have inflicted on my society and culture.

    I don’t understand why it’s so hard to get people back to work. And why so few media commentators seem concerned.

    I asked a few naive, but innocent questions at the end of my post. Harry and RAnn declined to answer them, as have all the other readers here. Should I interpret that as befuddlement? A disinclination to think outside the box? Everybody’s drunk the corporate Kool-Aid spiked with a soporific?

    This post was intentionally in-your-face, and you opt to criticize me for being arrogant? Is that the best you can do? rofl.Put a real idea out there if you have one, otherwise admit you’re just waiting for permission to be employed … Sheesh.

  7. Harry says:

    Sheesh, indeed.

    RAnn and I have both offered honest criticism of an idea you apparently think is “brilliant” and you resort to ad hominen to defend it.

    If you are this sensitive to criticism, perhaps you shouldn’t be blogging.

    As for me, there are lots of blogs to read.

  8. Eb Hurley says:

    Our parish has an Employment Research Commitee for anyone who is looking for a job. They support and guide job seekers in finding new employment. This seems to be helpful in returning power and confidence to the unemployed person – future employee number eleven. Re-reading Todd’s post, which I find thought-provoking, made me wonder if Christian businesses offering job eleven would compliment the employment ministry of the parish.

  9. Todd says:

    Brilliant? Far from it. But I see the pain and anguish in people’s lives, and hope there’s a better solution than to accept what our “betters” on tv and in the blogosphere tell us.

    I don’t think I’m as sensitive to your criticism as much as I was laughing at it.

    RAnn did offer a usual protest. But a restaurant open eight hours a day could add breakfast or dinner. Small businesses could hire a temp consultant or systems analyst to explore new markets and develop customer service or fine-tune inventory or such. My dad worked for a small business his whole life. He and his colleagues and boss each took a Saturday once a month to keep the store open to cater to a weekend clientele.

    I don’t think the solution is as cut-and dried as doing the math for a traditional full-time employee, seeing that it doesn’t add up, and declaring helplessness. A small business might well be able to invest a few thousand dollars to see how they could expand, and maybe they decide they can’t after all. But at least they 1. tried, and 2. contributed the gainful employment of others.

    If RAnn had shared her own experience in not being able to hire an 11th, or having tried to do it and failed–that would be helpful.

    And Harry, you are welcome to read other blogs. But I’ll point out your first comment on this thread was to comment on my being condescending, not on the topic at hand. So if you want to split the difference on your 12:47 post and start from scratch, I have no problem offering an apology if it makes you feel better.

    Any suggestions at this point to move beyond economic paralysis?

  10. David D. says:

    I am puzzled that you think the media underreports the current employment crisis. It seems that each day brings a story such as today’s announcement that over the next two years, Boeing will layoff roughly 900 of 2500 workers at its Long Beach, California plant. Since the 1990’s, Boeing’s total workforce has dwindled from 20,000 to 7,000.

    Although corporations are not always strictly rational actors and while directors and officers have been known to improperly put their own interests above the bottom line, profit nonetheless remains the primary motivator of corporate behavior. I doubt that many corporations are simply hording capital at the cost of legitimate profit making opportunities.

  11. Neil says:

    I think that this post raises an important issue. See also Charles Morris’ article in the current Commonweal here.

    Morris notes that Wall Street and big companies have made a “strong comeback” – for instance, the five biggest New York banks set aside $90 billion for year-end bonuses.

    Why aren’t businesses hiring, then?

    Many businesses – like Caterpillar – are making sales outside of the United States. They don’t need jobs here.

    Investors can borrow money at low interest rates here and invest them in fast-growing emerging markets overseas for high returns.

    Private-equity funds can borrow money at low interest rates on behalf of a portfolio company and pay it to themselves as a “special dividend.”

    Basically, you can make a lot of money without hiring people. Business can do well in a climate of high unemployment. The meaning of this is, as Morris says, “we may be seeing the economy of the super-rich finally decoupling from the rest of us.”

    That would mean that there is no common good for many prominent actors in the American economy.

    • David D. says:

      The Commentary article incorrectly links the $90 billion figure to bonuses. The $90 billion actually covers total compensation for JPMorgan, Morgan Stanley, Citi, BofA and Goldman for the first 3 quarters of 2009 although a substantial portion of total compensation is paid in bonuses whether that’s cash or securities.

  12. Harry says:

    Neil, that would be an interesting discussion indeed. Too bad it’s not the one Todd wants to have.

    He is talking about EVERY business employing 10 or more immediately “considering” adding 10 percent to its work force, as “the only patriotic thing to do.”

    Now he is coming up with careful study, research, expanding markets, etc., when he is told how silly his notion is.

    He’s not just talking about the big Wall Street firms. He’s talking about small restaurants adding breakfast or dinner. After spending a few thousand on research, of course.

    Here’s some news. Small restaurants open and close all the time. It is a very tough business. One of my favorites has just recently CUT its hours because it was doing virtually all its business at breakfast and lunch, and very little at dinner. While keeping everyone on the payroll.

    How unpatriotic of them.

  13. Neil says:

    Harry, you’re right that this is a complicated matter. But, in fairness to Todd, he said that businesses should “consider” hiring. (I assume that the “eleventh” number was arbitrary.)

    We might be in a situation – high corporate profits, renewed consumer demand (Morris talks about summer rental prices for the Hamptons reaching $400,000 for the season), and high unemployment, particularly of unskilled workers – where a number of businesses could at least “consider” hiring (or, alternaterly, avoid layoffs).

    Let me provide five examples:

    1. Businesses often layoff people instead of considering job-sharing programs that would keep people in work and “share” the pain.

    2. Some firms layoff people because their hierarchies are unstable and they simply don’t value long-term employee loyalty. A moral appeal might get them to reconsider.

    3. Some businesses might be able to afford to hire full-time workers, but, since this jobless recovery increases the relative power of employers, can “get away” with forcing existing workers to work harder or hiring temps. They might be able to resist the temptation …

    4. Some employers aren’t hiring because they have to think about the possibility that indebted households will means reduced future consumer demand. Hiring is a gamble that involves multiple factors. Perhaps a moral appeal can tilt the balance towards a reasonable optimism and away from dark visions.

    5. Perhaps some businesses underestimate the good publicity that comes from acting like a good neighbor and hiring when possible. That is, perhaps quite a few people are like Todd and willing to do business with those who “dare to make a sacrifice.”

    So, it’s at least possible, right?

    Thanks.

    Cheers,
    Neil

    • Harry says:

      Neil, we are still making broad presumptions about the way businesses operate without really knowing. And we are making all these presumptions about ALL businesses, presuming that they pretty much ALL behave the same way.

      I am sure that there are many businesses out there who have “spread the pain”, reducing hours and especially overtime and putting employees on unpaid furloughs, before they have to make the painful decision to reduce the work force.

      I am also willing to bet that businesses pretty much consider staffing requirements pretty much every day, and most of them right now are doing lots of things to keep what they have right now. If it made sense to increase their payroll, they’d do it. If arbitrarily expanding the payroll would put the business and the jobs of all who work for it in jeopardy, they won’t do it.

      But we are still (hopefully) recovering from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Jobs always lag behind. This will all work out in good time, if we have faith.

      • Neil says:

        Dear Harry,

        Thanks for your response. Obviously, not all businesses are the same. Furthermore, I have no desire to suggest that all or even most businessmen are corrupt or incompetent.

        However, we can say a few things:

        1. Some businessmen might simply not be aware of the possibilities of job-sharing or other flexibility measures that are more common in Germany.

        2. Some businessmen might be risk averse.

        3. Some businessmen might not be used to thinking about the long-term. (They might have been trained otherwise.)

        4. Some businessmen might have bracketed moral concerns that they take very seriously in other parts of their life.

        I’m somewhat skeptical of the idea that “If that’s a good idea, they’d already be doing it.” That seems to arbitrarily close off discussion.

        Thanks. Sorry about my slow reply.

        Neil

        PS Sorry if the Charles Morris statistic was wrong.

  14. Pingback: More on the Eleventh « Catholic Sensibility

  15. Harry says:

    Neil, I have no idea who “some businessmen” might be, but it is also possible that “some employees” might be unable to pay the mortgage if their jobs and salaries are cut by any significant percentage to part-time status just to maintain high employment.

    In which case, you have multiplied the pain. Hey, everybody is working. But not many are making a living.

    • Neil says:

      Dear Harry,

      Look, there is no solution that would work for all businesses at all times. I’m trying to make a rather modest point: We should have a more wide-ranging, creative discussion about hiring – one in which theologians might also participate.

      In Germany, if you follow my above link, the government makes up for some lost wages. Furthermore, some workers can make use of work-time accounts that let them “bank” overtime hours when the economy is good and take paid time off when the economy is bad. This lets businesses retain skilled, loyal workers.

      Obviously, not every business can make use of this. But why haven’t I read about ideas like this being considered by the American business community?

      Cheers,
      Neil

  16. Harry says:

    The reason we don’t “bank” overtime hours in this country is because labor unions shed blood to get wage and hour laws passed. This prevents the very problem you think you are solving. Businesses have to pay a premium to work their employees beyond 40 hours a week, and are thus encouraged financially to increase their work force in order to avoid overtime pay.

    “Look, there is no solution that would work for all businesses at all times.”

    Including the notion that all businesses should “consider” hiring one more employee for ever 10 it has on the payroll.

    • Neil says:

      Dear Harry,

      Well, as far as I understand, labor unions are more powerful in Germany than in the United States. In the Jack Ewing article, the work-time accounts were often “part of contracts with labor unions.” So, “banking” hours might not be impossible. Any such plan might not be automatic or uncontroversial. It might require valuing “labor peace” and “job security” as much as the Germans presently appear to do. But it is not impossible.

      But, look, I realize that arguing over abstract possibilities without specifics might be pointless.

      Would you agree with the following two statements?

      1. We should have a more wide-ranging, creative, urgent discussion about hiring – one in which theologians might also participate.

      2. Part of the reason that discussion hasn’t fully happened is that we are in a situation of high corporate profits, renewed consumer demand, and high unemployment, particularly of unskilled workers. For many prominent actors in the US economy, high unemployment just isn’t a real problem.

      If we can at least agree on these two things, perhaps we’ve discovered meaningful common ground.

      Thanks.

      Neil

  17. Todd says:

    “Including the notion that all businesses should “consider” hiring one more employee for ever 10 it has on the payroll.”

    It could be the worst idea ever, but it still has two distinct advantages over the field: no large corporation, no chamber of commerce, no small business has yet to propose, implement, and achieve a plan to increase the employment rate, even locally.

    And two, that even a consideration is considered “silly” shows either a) the lack of imagination in the business sector, and/or b) the Saviors are powerless.

  18. Liam says:

    If the heat is dampening on the flame fest here, I’d like to offer a different but related idea:

    A preferential option for the unemployed.

    HR gatekeepers and hiring managers in our culture have become increasingly burdened with a lot of self-serving assumptions, beliefs and – especially – rationalization that are at best circumstantially relevant but often not relevant to particular hiring decisions, and that, importantly, are morally questionable.

    For example, the taboo about hiring people who don’t have a job: it’s based on an assumption (which has roots less in particular evidence and more in a latent Calvinistic residue in our culture) that the unemployed applicant is necessarily damaged goods, so that one is justified in reducing one’s workload by filtering out the currently unemployed. This is not a moral thing for a Catholic HR gatekeeper or hiring manager to do as a general course of action. If anything, if one is to adopt a filter in this regard, it would be more moral to adopt a preference for the currently unemployed (subject of course to their ability to do the job).

    Likewise, HR gatekeepers may adopt filters based on networking connections (which have some value, but often not nearly as much as they are universally touted to be), appearance, and other factors that are not really about ability to do a job and be part of a team, but that we tend to rationalize (typically subconciously) as if they were valid proxies for relevant information.

    So, I would argue all Catholics (well, all people, but let’s start with Catholics, shall we?) involved in recruiting and related services should take a stern moral inventory of these assumptions, beliefs, blindspots and rationalizations, and scour them out this Lent.

    I also cast a gimlet eye on those who “service” the unemployed whose business is predicated on stroking their anxieties rather than empowering them to no longer need their services. So many people do this without realizing they are doing it; it’s a big blindspot.

    I read Catholics who complain that preachers rarely preach on things like contraception. When was the last time you heard a preacher preach about the moral duties of managers and other people in hiring? I am sure there are plenty of parishes in well-heeled climes of major metropolitan areas that have never heard a homily discuss granular moral issues facing the managerial and professional folks who dominate the pews there (because that might alienate them even more than a homily on contraception).

    • David D. says:

      I seem to recall several stories over the past year of wants ads explicitly stating that the unemployed need not apply.

      Perhaps the integration of Catholic Social Teaching into the MBA programs offered by our Catholic universities is overdue.

  19. Neil says:

    Perhaps a comment in a old thread isn’t very useful, but Joe Nocera just wrote a column that is relevant to our discussion. Read it here.

    Thanks.

    Neil

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