Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Statistics: what unemployment numbers mean to me

Every week in the news, we are bombarded with more economic statistics. One week, the unemployment percentage looks favorable. The following week, more people are filing for unemployment claims than was anticipated. One month the manufacturing index signaling growth ticks upwards; the next month it dips downwards.

Productivity goes up; productivity goes down. The reported inflation numbers show that inflation is negligible, yet my food bill is significantly higher than it was a year ago.
What are we to make of all these confusing statistics? What do they mean? How are you impacted by them?
For the next several weeks, I’d like to identify an individual economic statistic, define it for you, and let you know how I (as a business owner) use it in terms of making business decisions.

This week, let’s focus on unemployment numbers.

The unemployment rate is a measure of the prevalence of unemployment and is calculated as a percentage by dividing the number of unemployed individuals by all individuals currently in the labor force. I went to the US Deptartment of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics site and their May 1, 2013 posting said this: “Gross job gains decreased and gross job losses increased from June 2012 to September 2012”.

I think this is a roundabout way of saying that the amount of people that have jobs decreased from June 2012 to September 2012.

What the unemployment statistic doesn’t take into account is that people are moving out of the work force. Some are losing hope and quitting the job search; people are retiring (some feel they have no option but to take early retirement); others are moving from full-time to part-time; some are taking jobs at lesser pay (the so-called underemployed); some are on disability.

This is called hidden unemployment and many believe this is a huge problem in the US and our unofficial published unemployment statistics are much higher. Some published sites (Shadow Stats) believe that unemployment is well north of 10%.

The Human Element:
We all know someone who has been unemployed – either for a short period or for an extended period. The human pain cannot be quantified. Underlying these statistics are real people who are experiencing real hardship and economic restraints.

Here at TranzAct, a talented man left in January for his dream job. He worked with us in customer service and he wanted a job in internet marketing (we didn’t have any open positions in that area). He was at his new job for 4 weeks and was terminated in a mass lay-off. As of this date, he is interviewing but does not yet have a job.

I have a close friend who has been out of full-time work for two years - taking odd jobs here and there but nothing sustainable. She is very discouraged and does not have much hope for her economic future.

Haven’t we all seen the pictures from the 1930’s of the lines of unemployed people outside soup kitchens waiting just for something to eat? Could this again be a reality in our country? It’s a frightening concept and hard pill-to-swallow after we got used to the economic booms in previous decades.   Some would argue that we’re currently in an economic correction - but what about before we’re finally corrected?

What unemployment means to me:
When unemployment is high, we have more applicants vying for the same job. We can find employees with skill sets we are looking for. We can be more patient in taking the time to find a qualified associate.
When unemployment is low, we may not be able to find an individual with the exact skill set we are looking for. We may have to hire individuals and train them in the skill sets we are looking for. The hiring cycle is much shorter, as a potential candidate may be talking to several interested companies. Simultaneously; if you wait to 
make an offer, they may take another job.

What this means for job-seekers:
Just as the mantra in purchasing real estate is “Location, Location, Location”, my advice in finding a job is to select the right company. What does this mean? Look for a company which values its associates. Look for a company which values associates just like it values its customers. Look for a company which invests in its associates.

The bottom line is that there is hope! Get creative. A close friend of ours just landed his dream job by taking a few days off of work to attend a conference here in Chicago where his dream company had a booth. He invested in the travel and time to meet these people face-to-face. Just a few weeks later, he nailed the job and moved to Austin.

More Advice:  Go above and beyond what most job-hunters are doing (sitting on their computers sending out virtual resumes).  Use your network, call friends and relatives. 

This is all a cycle our country and many others have gone through before. Hold tight and know that it will, in deed, get better.

Friday, May 3, 2013

De-cluttering for Dummies

The sun has really started to shine in Chicagoland and with is, energy levels are starting to rise. I think this is why Spring Cleaning is such a natural concept; we’re ready to get out from under the clutter and dust of the winter hibernation. 

Personally, I’ve taken up a de-cluttering project at my house. It’s amazing the things we hold onto: old magazines; too small clothes; too big clothes; wires; gadgets; cards…it’s time to stop kidding ourselves and know that we don’t actually need these things. Though it may seem hard to throw them out, the second they thump to the bottom of that trash can, you’ll feel just a little bit lighter.

If de-cluttering seems overwhelming, here are a couple of strategies to get started:

1. Get 4 large boxes and label them: Keep, Give Away, Repair, Trash. (If you have a vacation home, you could add a fifth box of things to move there).
2. Pour out boxes, empty cupboards and closets. Things need to get worse before they get better!
3. Put on some music or your favorite TV show and start sorting! 

When it comes to clothes, the basic rule is: if you haven’t worn it in 6 months, it can go. And if you need a little guidance, go through your closet and turn EVERY hanger backwards on the rod. When you wear the garment, put the hanger back the way you usually hang it. Six months from now, you’ll be able to tell right away what you’ve worn and what you haven’t. 

Need another trick? Some experts say to go “shopping” in your own closet; if you wouldn’t buy it now, it can go.

De-cluttering and organizing can be fun. More practically, it can make a huge difference in your productivity. Though some people say that a messy office or house means that you’re actually working, I would argue that all that clutter bogs you down! When the space around you is clear and tidy, so is your mind and your motivation. A change of scenery can do wonders to kick-start productivity or turn a bad mood around. But there’s no need to pick up and move to a new office, kitchen, bedroom or closet, just make it look better and it will feel brand new. 

Psychologically, when our surroundings are a mess, we tend to feel overwhelmed with the amount of work that needs to be done. In the back of our minds, we know that the unorganized state of our space means that our lives, our to-do lists and our schedules are also hectic. There are many things over which we don’t have much control (the time of that meeting, the kid’s school party…) but the state of our homes is completely and wholly our own.

So, why not start a de-cluttering project of your own? Get rid of everything that you don’t need; there’s no need to hold onto things that we may someday have to use. Use the kick-start of energy the sun brings to make a difference in your home or office and you’ll feel much better about rising with it to start a new day.