Those who pick up skills along the way generally keep employed, or solving unemployment on the personal level…

November 21, 2013

I was looking for something to write about in this space and then I ran across an article about something like 38 people applying for each low-wage job (part-time at that?) at a new Walmart store opening up in Washington D.C.  I didn’t even finish the article (yet). What caught my eye was some statistics it was using about the unemployment rate among those with various levels of education, such as no high school, high school, college. And as you might expect, it said the rate is lower among those with higher educations.

And then there is always the ongoing argument or discussion about the worth of higher education, to include the fact that so many college graduates, already deep in debt from borrowing to finance their education, cannot find jobs.

At 64 years of age, I can safely say from what I have observed the key to employment is being willing and, more importantly, able to do what someone else needs to be done. Yeah, works almost every time. Regardless of your education (well most of the time) if you are able to perform work (manual or otherwise) someone else needs to be done you will have a job.

Simplistic I know. And yet so true.

As my dad always told me: you should learn a trade so you have something to fall back on if what you really want to do does not work out. I did not follow that advice to a tee, that is not directly.

His advice was not original. People have been advised that forever.

In my own life I just bumbled along. But somewhere in my late middle age I learned the truck driving trade (not my first pick of things I always wanted to do) and have not been without work since (save a bout of disability due to health).

Now I don’t for a minute suggest that is the key. No I would suggest a far better trade or skill. And yet, it worked for me.

Not all trades or skills require a degree or license or such. People just learn things by doing them on various jobs and find that what they learned comes in handy on other jobs.

Now the following is not exactly an example of what I am talking about but it comes to mind nonetheless:

Once another trucker and I arrived at a newspaper to deliver rolls of newsprint. But there was a problem. The lift truck the man at the newspaper dock was using would not work. Well my trucker friend in another job did some work on forklifts. He found the problem — it was something about a loose fuel line as I recall — and fixed it. Now there is a man who could get a job. He picked up some skills along the way. I guess what I am trying to say is that sometimes you have to be not too narrowly focused. It helps to be somewhat multi-talented.

What I am trying to say is that people who want to work and who in fact end up getting work are usually those who open their eyes to what is in demand at the time and also who pick up skills along the way. And that can start young. I am not a good example personally, and yet in my younger days I was certainly offered a lot of opportunities:

My dad was a newspaperman, but he grew up on a farm and there he learned some skills, such as carpentry and home (and farm) electricity wiring, and plumbing. He did a lot of handy work around the house. I should have paid more attention. But once when I was little he was wiring a light switch and said: “pay attention, you might need to know this some day”. Years later when I had a home of my own, that came in handy.

During high school and at times later I did some amount of farm work, driving tractors and such. On one occasion I worked for a farmer and he said if I stayed on through harvest he would have me drive a big truck from field to processing plant. I went on, though, and became employed in journalism. But wouldn’t you know it? years later I attended a short course in truck driving and went into driving semis — the earlier offer by the farmer could have come in handy later.

And here’s a real good one as far as I am concerned:

When I was in the army in Germany I was a crew member on a tank. As tank crew members we did crew maintenance. As part of that, when mechanics needed to work on our engines we undid various bolts to assist them in getting at the engine and transmission which was then lifted in one unit right out of the back of the tank. But I had a fellow crew member who was a black guy. I mention his race only because I’m trying to make a point. There is always the lament that unemployment is high among minorities. Well he went a step beyond crew maintenance. He learned how to undo the brakes, something the mechanics usually did. I had no clue. But he took it upon himself to learn. Now there is someone looking to build skills for future employment. I mean you never know.

And this holds true in all types of work — in the field, in factories, in offices, everywhere.

All of this is easier said than done, I know. Sometimes you are kept busy and not offered the opportunity to do anything else. But some people just seem to ignore that roadblock.

I don’t claim to be among those. But I will pat myself on the back for the following:

When the newspaper trade finally played out on me during that era of corporate downsizing a couple of decades ago I sought help through some public agency (veteran’s?). After a discussion with a counselor, the guy tells me:

“I could put you in a training program but I see you as someone who is just going to go out there and get a job.”

Really. He said that. I was discouraged, temporarily. I mean how much help is that? But then I did what he said. I was desperate for sure. And sometimes that’s what it takes.

I should add, now that I think about it, that tagging along with my dad as he made photos and covered various news stories, to include fires and floods, gave me a head start in journalism.

All this does not solve the lingering unemployment problem and the fact that there are way too many people and fewer and fewer jobs, due to the rapid movement of technology even more than economic conditions.  But when you’re unemployed it’s a personal problem that public policy and politics and such is not likely to solve for you personally. I was just making some observations from that personal point of view.


Hey check out my new video edition of Tony Walther’s Weblog:

The only way out of our fiscal hole may be to make more money…

January 4, 2013

With our aversion to raising taxes or cutting government spending there seems only one way out of our fiscal hole. Make more money.

I don’t mean roll the government printing presses.

What I mean is get more productive. I have written it and so have so have many others, but we must get the United States of America producing things in more quantity — real things that people need or even think that they need.

If there are barriers to starting or expanding business then they need to be removed. And I know that is the tricky part. Certainly I am not talking about removing reasonable health and safety and environmental  regulations. And tax breaks are problematic because they end up being tax shifts to someone else. Also I suspect tax breaks are often given out unwisely due to political pressure (lobbying). But in some cases tax breaks as an incentive might be appropriate.

One phenomenon we are facing within this context is mechanization and technological advances that are destroying jobs. That is probably inevitable but then again, if there was a labor force to handle things there in many cases would not be quite the incentive to do away with many jobs. Of course a whole host of jobs are gone forever too.

Why don’t we produce more textiles in this nation? We used to have a strong textile industry. We certainly have the resources for the raw product, such as cotton.

I presume the answer is cheap labor offered by other countries where the standard of living is lower than ours.

While we don’t want to bring down our own standard of living it would seem that it would make sense to find a way to offer employment to so many who are chronically unemployed. I don’t mean grab people off the street and put them at a sewing machine. But if work was the only way to get by, many people would opt for gainful employment.

The way it is now, what with unemployment payments and perhaps sometimes too liberal disability awards and the much-abused Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) siphoned off by adults, there is a large and I think ever-growing population of idle people.

And there is a large population of quite willing to work and talented able people for which there does not seem to be employment or at least adequate employment.

We need industry and we need to find a way to limit the restrictions on it to those that are really necessary and we need to cut the red tape.

Unemployment insurance and disability insurance are a must for a stable society, and certainly we do not want any children to go hungry (no matter the reason). And we don’t want to lower our standard of living. But we have to do something or we will go broke for real.

Sometimes prudent families take stock and figure out what lifestyle is acceptable to them and then they realize that the only way to pay for it is to — make more money. I think that is where we are as a nation.

Scrap income tax and current unemployment system…

December 8, 2010



Add 1:

I’m not a big fan of redistributing wealth via the income tax, which is what the progressive tax rates (the more you make the higher rate you pay) do. It’s not that I have any personal concern, having never been in the higher brackets, it’s just that it seems unjust. As for unemployment benefits from the government, no question that if you are out of work you need the help. But I’m of the opinion that the system as it is now amounts to an artificial block in the labor supply, allowing citizens to be unproductive, which in the long run only hurts themselves and society as a whole.


President Barack Obama has cut a deal with his adversaries, the Republican congressional leaders, in which the so-called middle class tax cuts would be maintained, and less whithholding would be taken out of everyone’s paycheck, and unemployment benefits would be extended, and the rich could keep their present tax rates (or tax cuts if you will — it’s all semantics) as well, and estate taxes would be held at bay — something for everyone.

While Obama is being heavily criticized by left-wing Democrats and right wing Republicans, it seems that he must be doing something right.  As I have written before, it’s just lke the journalist — when all sides in a contentious issue take pot shots of your account, you’re probably doing your job correctly.

But what I’m thinking more and more is that our current income tax system is too cumbersome and costly to maintain and unfair.

And as for unemployment insurance, there should be no question in congress that people need the relief, so the extension should have automatically gone through long ago. But on the other hand I’m wondering if the government should even be in the unemployment insurance business. As it stands now, though, the right of workers to collect unemployment benefits, under certain conditions, is an entrenched part of the system, and unemployment is at record levels, so why is there a hesitation in the congress? Pass the extension and then work on revising the whole system or doing away with it.

But let’s look at both items, the income tax and unemployment insurance.

First income tax:

While I’m not really a conservative, I have to agree that it seems unfair and unproductive to penalize people for earning money (and there is always the question of what constitutes “earning”). Yes, there is a responsibility toward one’s government and fellow citizens, but that is a shared responsibility among all, or at least should be.

Some have proposed a flat tax, which I take it to mean represents everyone paying the same rate, regardless of income. The argument against that is that ten percent of a poor man’s wages is a lot more than 10 percent of a rich man’s portfolio. The poor man needs every penny he earns to put food on the table and to provide shelter and clothing and the other basics, whereas the rich man already has everything he needs with a lot left over for luxuries and finer living, so he can better afford to pay a higher tax rate.

But since when is the mentality in the United States of America that born a poor man one must stay a poor man and that the rich life is only available to those who are to the manor born and bred?

There is supposed to be opportunity for all. But having more income confiscated from you when you manage to earn more money seems counter to the idea of upward mobility.

It is true, however, that many accept this and go ahead and make more money and improve their lifestyle, the threat of government confiscation notwithstanding — and there are always tax dodges and a million quite legal tax tricks.

However, the government spends an inordinate amount of the tax money it collects trying to make sure that people don’t cheat the system, other than legal cheating.

But why not have a relatively low flat tax, one that the poor man can afford and one the rich man sees no need to circumvent?

Better yet, why not scrap the income tax altogether and go to some type of national sales tax or consumption tax?

Of course that old argument rears its ugly head again. A tax on the poor man’s necessitates is harsher than a tax on the rich man’s luxuries (interesting enough, a tax on yachts some time ago hurt somewhat lower class workers who had fewer yachts to build and sell) .

I’m beginning to sound like the late William Buckley, minus the big 25-cent words, sorry.

But it seems to me a national sales tax would garner a lot of revenue but also offer everyone a chance to get out of paying a lot of taxes. If maybe food and some other basics were exempt from the tax, then each individual could decide how much tax he wants to pay by deciding whether he really wanted that doodad or service he (or she) was about to buy.

Sales of consumer goods would not likely come to a halt or even slow. People always want things and with no income tax they would have more disposable income.

I think the real problem is the way our government spends and allocates money. The legislature simply passes laws that almost always result in the spending of more money and does so with little to no regard as to where the revenue is to come from.

The president submits a budget, but has little to no control as to how the money is actually spent, other than a veto — but not a line-item veto.

Perhaps the president ought to have a line-item veto. While I hate to make a straight comparison between government and business (they do have different roles in society), when it comes to economics, I feel compelled to think, what if the CEO of a company had no control over how the company’s money was spent — disaster.

And now to unemployment insurance. I’ve been hearing a lot of discussion on the radio as to whether extending unemployment benefits discourages workers from actually looking for work. Quick answer: of course it does, at least to a degree. The standard line by many is why should I take that job when I can stay at home and collect more in unemployment and not have the overhead of the costs associated with maintaining a job? And there is some merit to that line of thinking. Indeed a rich man who has a knack for understanding money might well ask the same question were that he was in the same position.

But unless we all want to be at the mercy of the government and what it decides to pay us in unemployment benefits, we eventually have to move on or move off of unemployment.

Before there was unemployment insurance there was moving back in with mom and dad or other relatives and there is a lot of that again nowadays.

But our society for decades has substituted government for family.

It’s getting costly. It’s bankrupting us.

Government provides the structure for a civilized society and protection for us and it is vital as such for that role. But it produces nothing and eventually if not enough people are productively involved our own government will go bankrupt and will no longer be able to perform its function.

The only reason the federal government has not yet gone bankrupt is that unlike ordinary citizens it can actually print more money (the official economic spokesmen for the government deny this, but their explanations are wrapped in semantics. In fact the money being printed today has no underlying value, other than it is the currency of the world’s only superpower (for now) and people are still accepting it (that could change quickly). But the routine of artificially creating money can only go so far. I suspect it is about to run its course.

It might be better if unemployment insurance (that’s what I was writing about before I wandered) was handled more like private insurance or was privatized.

As it stands now, employees don’t even pay for their unemployment insurance directly, employers do.

In real world insurance, the insurance company tends not to pay for things that are not legitimate claims. If you had private unemployment insurance it would be just that, insurance against losing your job, not an option should you decide you no longer want to work at a job or an alternative to actually seeking work, or even an alternative to taking a job you think pays too little or is beneath you (since when is it government‘s role to maintain your preferred lifestyle?).

And then there are the industries that hire seasonal or temporary labor, a labor force only made available by the fact that workers can collect unemployment benefits when they are not at these seasonal or otherwise temporary jobs. In this case, unemployment is a subsidy taxpayers pay to private employers, the same employers probably who rail against government involvement in business. Go figure.

For now, I would think it best that the current tax rates stay in place and unemployment benefits be extended — this way business and workers know where they stand for now.

What the elites, and indeed much of the nation, does not seem to be able to figure out is what our role in the whole scheme of things is other than trying to get something for nothing.

The nation will only be able to deal with the government deficits when it gets back to being fully productive and quits trying to figure out how to rob Peter to pay Paul. 

Out of work? Change occupations (if there are any left)…

July 25, 2010

I’m not a jack of all trades by any means, not even close, but then again when I compare myself to some who have basically done only one job or one kind of work their whole life, then I feel like one.

And I bring this up because I have been hearing of late that there is a greater upheaval going on in this economic crisis than in those in the past, save for the Great Depression, or maybe even more than then. That upheaval is the phenomenon of the disappearing occupations — we’re not talking about no more need for buggy whip salesmen here; we’re talking about much of the work world as we know it going down the drain, what with automation — not just in factory work, but in office work. And even outsourcing plays into all of this.

The point is many many jobs are not only in the lost category right now but they are never coming back, or at least so we are told.

Well, if we have indeed reached that utopian stage where no one is needed for work, we really are in trouble, because, generally speaking, work is the only way most of us get those tickets called dollars that allow us to continue to keep having food and shelter and all the other things we consider life necessities and even luxuries.

But what I really wanted to write here, and as usual got off track a little, is that when I read or hear about someone out of work for a long period of time and not being able to find a job I automatically wonder if they have realized that they might have to change occupations and that they might not even make as much money as they did before. And then again they might actually find something more suited to them and something that pays more than they ever made before.

I suppose a lot have, thought about changing occupations — of course they have. I know from personal experience how hard that is to do. And if we really have reached the point of automation where huge numbers of people will have nothing productive to do, well I don’t know what…

The only bright idea I have in the employment situation is for the government to do anything it can to promote domestic production over consumption in order for more jobs to be created and maintained. People who are employed will consume.

And one crazy thing I read from time to time are those stories about highly educated people who cannot find work. What precipitated these words was a story about a woman reported to be a bilingual PhD who had a secure job at some university but took a chance on another job and then found herself out of work because the Great Recession hit and now she’s been out of work nearly two years and has exhausted her savings and has no prospect of work.

For one thing, she should not be too shocked. No doubt in her studies she has read some literature and history and should know that many famous and learned people spent years, sometimes whole lifetimes, in near poverty.

And for another thing, it would seem she could step down from her ivory tower to do some lower kind of work for awhile. I know there are barriers to that because employers don’t want to even speak to over qualified people. So what you do is you don’t sell yourself with those old qualifications (you might have to lie about your past — and I wonder, could you then later be fired for not disclosing that you were intelligent?).

Not quite the same thing, for sure, but when I was finally forced to leave my so-called career in journalism, I also had to hide the fact that I ever was a journalist – that’s a definite turn-off to most employers for a variety of reasons.

But this idea that many jobs will never come back has surfaced in the recent debates over extending unemployment insurance, the idea being that it may be pointless to hold out hope that we are just tidying over folks till they get called back to their old job — it ain’t coming back.

And we have to ask ourselves as a society how practical is it to have or force a major portion of our workforce to be forever on the move and forever unstable, not knowing how long any job will last and whether one will be able to pay the rent, much less a mortgage payment. But who asks these questions? — not the employers — the politicians (more concerned about their own jobs and retirement at taxpayers’ expense).

But, personally I still think there continues to be a demand for skilled workers in a wide variety of occupations, but many call for a whole lot more diversity these days, and I mean diversity in skills and abilities, not equal employment (although that too).

While in some lower level employment the trend has been to dumb down work so employers can get cheaper labor, the other trend is to make things more complex so it takes a higher level of skill and even variety of skills or skill subsets and understanding.

So education is becoming more vital than ever. But when we say education we may mean technical more than the standard liberal arts, although that standard study of literature and history and such continues to be vital for what I would call the thinking occupations, and Lord knows we need more people who can actually be creative and think.

Meantime, many of us are just left to bumble along.

In my work life my lines of work have included:

Soldier, wood products manufacturing plant worker, farm tractor driver, irrigator, cow milker, newspaper photographer, newspaper reporter, radio reporter, worm farm worker, newspaper editor, substitute teacher, big truck driver — and I may have missed a couple.

Currently I’m a truck driver (have been for 15 years). Could I, would I, go back to any of those previously mentioned occupations? Maybe not unless I was somehow forced to, and then only maybe, due to age and attitude and ability and just plan practicality or lack thereof.

So to displaced workers — I feel your pain.


The public school system needs to take heed. Students need two things: One, a solid education in the basics and liberal arts (I’m calling that one thing) in order to understand and appreciate the world around them and to be responsible members of society, and two, technical skills to enable them to get and hold a job in this modern ever-changing world.

Please let’s drop the everyone gets a participation ribbon and feel good training and get down to business.

I don’t think all young people are soft. I do suspect some of those in charge of preparing them for the world are, though.

American citizens will work at laborious jobs if that is what is available — but they might demand better conditions…

January 3, 2010

Politicians, particularly Republicans, are conflicted when it comes to illegal immigration. On the one hand they want to side with the populist uproar over illegal immigrants who  glom on to scarce jobs and on the other hand they want to satisfy their employer constituents and donors who want to maintain a cheap labor force.

My local newspaper runs  columns by some readers who signed up to write  on a regular basis. One, whom I often disagree with because she usually takes  the ultra conservative or pseudo-conservative-Limbaugh line, was right on, I think, when she wrote in her most recent column: “”The myth that Americans are too arrogant to take low-paying jobs is baloney.”

The subject of her column deals with some immigration legislation proposed by a Democrat. But that is not my concern here. 

What galls me is the truism that is not really true at all that Americans will not do labor-intensive, so-called menial work.   What is true is that Americans will,  they do now, they have  in the past, and always will if there is no other way out.  Of course all people will go for more comfortable and higher paying employment if it is available and if they are capable.

And there are always those among us who look for what seems to be the easier way, crime, to include such things as the drug trade. Even the children of hard-working illegal immigrants sometimes resort to this.

Crime and drugs are prevalent in the black ghettos because for some this illegal culture, as dangerous as it is, seems more attractive than conventional or menial work. But all do not see it that way. I’m a truck driver and I often note to myself that minorities are gainfully employed is relatively good paying jobs in warehouses, doing such things as driving forklifts and even managing the places. Of course many drive trucks too.

One of our major problems in employment in this country is our too easy to get on and too generous welfare system, and by welfare system I am referring to all the programs that throw money at those who could, but will not work.

Now if illegal immigration was to dry up suddenly there would likely be a temporary shortage of labor in some sectors, particularly agriculture. Farmers love cheap labor and will swear that Americans will not bend and stoop to pick their crops or shovel their manure or whatever.

But I think the truth is that they would if they had to. But the truth is also, as U.S. citizens, they would eventually — well rather quickly — demand better working conditions, just as the United Farm Workers did. Farmers and others like to threaten we consumers with the contention that if they had to pay their help higher wages the prices we pay for food and other goods and services would soar. While certainly there would likely be an increase in costs, what I think would really happen rather quickly is that new efficiencies would be implemented.

Back in the 60s I used to pick prunes off the ground with my mom (we did this for extra money — many poor white folks did it for a living). But by the late 60s that work was over, replaced by mechanical harvesters.

In agriculture and other areas some things might not be done in the same way or done at all if  the pool of cheap illegal labor dried up. For example, the harvest of iceberg lettuce requires a lot of back back-breaking stoop labor. Ths good news is that we could survive without iceberg lettuce. Those who grow it could move to other crops. And if the demand was large enough, if consumers were willing to pay more, then the technology would follow to enable the crop to be harvested differently — of this I am sure.

I agree and disagree with McCain (and Obama) on Afghanistan war policy…

March 29, 2009

Just watched Sen. John McCain on Meet the Press and had thoughts that maybe he should have been elected after all.  And maybe if his own party would have done more to support him, he could have won, maybe.

But while I agree with his contention that although he agrees generally with President Obama’s approach in Afghanistan, he, McCain, would favor an even more aggressive approach, I think even McCain is not aggressive enough.

And sorry for the previous awkward sentence; I’m writing this on the fly.

If you read my last blog (just scroll down), you will see that I would propose we either go all out or cut out. While McCain favors more troops than Obama, he suggested that we don’t need to move on Pakistan even though it is aiding and abetting, harboring if you will, our enemy.

I do give McCain credit for saying that Obama should warn the American people that we have a long and hard road ahead there and that there will be a high level of casualties.

And please don’t think I am some type of war hawk. Actually, I would prefer that we cut our losses and get out. But I know that is not going to happen. At least I don’t think so.

I actually think that Mr. Obama has another Vietnam on his hands. And unfortunately, much of the electorate now does not understand, or even care, about the history and legacy of  Vietnam.

It has always been my belief that we could have won in Vietnam, but we might have then been left with a burden.

Even though Vietnam was partly an insurgency, it was also a conventional war with regular North Vietnamese Army troops, pith helmets and uniforms and all, and even tanks, invading South Vietnam. We never effectively cut off the North Vietnamese supply lines, even though we could have, albeit with great cost. But we expended great costs anyway for no favorable result.

Late in the Vietnam War President Nixon did at least one right thing, but failed to follow up — the public mood had turned decidedly against the war by then. He mined Haiphong Harbor, temporarily preventing Soviet supply ships from delivering war materials to the North.  Even though the Soviets threatened directly or indirectly (I don’t recall) nuclear confrontation with us, they backed down, as they always did during the Cold War.

The only logical approach in Afghanistan would be to call up the military draft, throw as many troops in as possible, and support them with our new sophisticated weapons and go for all out victory, which would be complete control of the territory. If the enemy is hiding in the border areas of Pakistan, then we must attack there too.

There is a prevailing thought that in this modern day and age, facing a hard-to-find and even to identify enemy that seems to come out of nowhere and then disperse so we can’t find and kill them, that we have to employ smarter tactics with fewer forces.  I know, I don’t get that either.

Historically, down through the centuries, no one has ever been successful in conquering Afghanistan, not even the once no.2  super power of  the Earth the Soviet Union. That should be instructive.

So the choice is to try to win or realize we can’t and get out.

Obama claimed this week that we are no longer attempting nation building in or image in Afghanistan, but McCain seemed to imply that we should. That worries me.

The only nation we need to build  — or rebuild and maintain — is our own.

McCain seemed reasonable on his economic policy suggestions, but he is in the comfortable position of not having to take the heat as Mr. Obama must.

Again, while I really do not prefer the war option, I would suggest if we choose to stay and fight, then we must go all out with military conscription.

We could solve our unemployment problem overnight and ramp up our sagging industrial sector, which could then in a future peacetime be maintained to keep us self sufficient as a nation.

What we probably should do though is cut our losses over there and pour all of our resources into rebuilding our own economy — while maintaining a strong defense, as opposed to offense — and turn ourselves back into a nation of producers of things rather than consumers of the world who buy our way into insolvency.


The reason I doubt we could ever win the hearts and minds of the population in Afghanistan is that they are so backward that they are easy prey for the Taliban and Al Qaeda, who help them a little at times, but promise them that all will be better in the great Islamic after life.

After we won World War II, the Germans were more easily subdued because they were already a modern industrial nation with a culture a parrallel to ours. And even Japan, although Asian, was a modern western type industrial nation. And both societies were not broken up into tribes.

P.s. P.s.

Please check out my German-American blog where I’ve composed my own version of the Hansel and Gretel story with a suspect German translation at:


Some inconvenient truths about truck driving…

March 26, 2009

(This is a slightly updated version of a previous blog.)

People out of jobs are going to truck driving school, an article in my local newspaper said. Been there done that. In fact, a newspaper article is what led me to my more than a decade odyssey out on the road.

Things are not as bright out there today – while there has been a big demand for truck drivers for years, with the downturn in the economy freight movement has fallen off sharply.

But I just wanted to get something in here for anyone who might be considering going the truck driving route.

Most of the entry level jobs for big truck driving are in what is called long haul. You need to realize that the rules of employment are different in that field than most others. The normal laws of pay and working conditions do not apply.

Typically, long haul drivers find themselves waiting a lot, far from home, baby sitting a truck, as I call it.  For the most part, as a long haul driver you will only be paid when your wheels are rolling. Long haul pays by the mile, not by the hour or fixed salary. Some companies do pay a little something for layover or even wait time (but usually not total wait time and such pay is usually not much, often not even minimum wage). And layovers can last for several days. I was once laid over for nearly a week, some 2,500 miles from home.

And if you don’t like wait time, I’d advise staying away from hauling refrigerated or temperature controlled freight (such as produce).  I once logged in 40 hours of wait time in one month, not counting sleeper birth or meal breaks. And I was not paid for any of it, as I recall (and if  I was it was only a few dollars).

I would discuss that issue upfront with a prospective employer (they may string you on, though).

Employers often quote cents per mile, but what they either lie about or do not tell you is that you may well not get in enough miles to make a living. It costs the employer very little to let you sit out there at a truck stop, because the employer does not have to pay you. It costs you a lot. When I began truck driving I found that a lot of drivers really were not making any money. They were simply drawing on their pay for subsistence and when it was time to get their paycheck they had little to nothing left. In fact, some of them owed the company.

Now this all sounds kind of negative. But long haul driving conditions, I believe, have improved somewhat since I got into it and got out of it.

(And for those of you who have not read my blog before, I drove truck for more than a decade. I worked in long haul for most of that time. My last job was what you might call short haul LTL (Less than a load) and paid well, but I came down with cancer, and am not able to work now.)

But I just wanted to point out some things folks not familiar with over-the-road trucking need to know. Another thing you might not have thought of is your schedule. No such thing. While some long haul drivers may have dedicated runs (going to the same place each time), most do not. In the course of a week, you will work around the clock; your hours will vary each day. That’s because pickups and deliveries are made at any hour of the day or night.

I won’t go over hours of service and log book rules in total detail, but basically under the current rules, you have 11 hours driving ahead of you before you are required to take a 10-hour break. There’s no limit to the time you can do non-driving work, but once you have reached 14 hours in one tour, you can no longer drive until you have that 10-hour break (remember, you could get to 14 hours with less than 11 hours driving, due to wait times and even loading and unloading, which you might be called upon to do or assist in, and don’t forget mechanical breakdowns and flat tires – they happen).

If you were to drive solo across the United States (and I have done that) you will find that your start and stop times roll around the clock. It would be like working at a factory but doing a different shift each day. Remember, somewhere in there you have to eat and let nature call and maybe even take a shower (maybe).

Under current rules, if you have 34 consecutive hours off, you start a week again with 70 hours available on your log book.

Some companies or dispatchers or your own greed or all three may goad you into cheating on your log book.  Or you might feel compelled to because you notice that the first to get his or her load delivered is often the first to get a reload. Do not do it! You, not anyone else, are liable if caught or anything goes wrong. The most likely scenario besides you falling asleep at the wheel and killing folks is that someone will run into you. If this happens and your log book is not up to date and/or legal, you may well get the blame under the law, no matter who was really at fault.

Then there is loading and unloading. I will say for most of time I did not touch freight. But if you do not touch the freight, you or someone (your employer) will have to pay someone to do it. It is not uncommon for drivers to end up loading and unloading on their own time and not get paid for it.

Finally, there is weather. If you will be driving over the mountains, particularly on the West Coast, you have to be prepared to handle snow chains. If you are not up to that, you have no business on the road, because you will be a danger to yourself and everyone else (there’s no shame in not being up to it, but there is in getting yourself out there and not being up to it).

I only touched the surface of this road. Most of what I wrote was negative. Ironically, I enjoyed the work immensely (although not every minute or day of it). A lot depends upon your employer and yourself and the type of freight you haul. And some feel a sense of independence out there. It certainly is not like most jobs. You are not highly supervised.

And in this time of high unemployment to have any job has become a status symbol. Just ask any unemployed investment banker (right after you ask him what the hell he did with that bonus check paid by your taxes).

Oh, and one more thing, long haul is not for anyone who wants a home life (that’s why I did not enjoy it all the time). I don’t care what employers promise you, from my experience, long haul drivers have no home life. I have heard many a long haul driver lament: “I didn’t get to see my kids grow up”.

Good luck!

(Copyright 2009)

Jobs disappear, but so does the working person…

March 8, 2009

Went to a barbershop I never had been to before on the advice of a former truck driver co-worker. I went there for nothing more than a haircut and I got one that suited me.

The barber was just finishing up a customer as I walked in and I caught the tail end of their conversation.

I did not go there for conversation. I was glad I did not have to fake interest. I’m talking a traditional barbershop, a disappearing business in my area, replaced primarily by something called Supercuts, or a variety of phoo phoo hairstylist salons where the cutters are usually women and have no clue how to give a simple haircut without dipping your head in water. Don’t need the water torture.

My only problem with the traditional barbershops have been that the conversation often centers around sports and I have zero to contribute. Sometimes it’s politics. Now there I could contribute endlessly (just ask any of my siblings or other family members). But I would not dare spout off my opinions among the usual crowd – they have strange notions and are not all that open minded. Then there is the weather. But what can one really say? “Well we sure got a downpour. We needed it though.”

But the conversation I walked in on and then continued after the other man left was centered on the disappearance of the working class. We all know jobs have disappeared. But even before that, the working class, the men and women who were essentially folks who had a strong work ethic, an ethic that only asked for a full day’s pay in return for a full day’s work, has been withering away.

Sure the older generation probably has been accusing the younger generation of sloth since time immemorial, but things really have deteriorated. I hate to say it, but the problem may have had its infancy with my baby boomer generation. While the bulk of us, even ones who sowed their wild oats during the relatively harmless hippie revolution that turned into the insidious drug culture, found their way back into the mainstream, not all did.

Coincident to the sexual, hippie, drug revolution of the late 60s, there was the emergence of the Welfare State as it had never been seen before, even under FDR. With I presume mostly good intentions, President Lyndon Johnson introduced the Great Society programs. Interestingly, to play the idea up to a compassionate but somewhat skeptical public the dire poverty of white folks in the hills of Appalachia was featured as much or more than the plight of those in the black urban ghettos.

And forty years later we find that the desperate poverty remains in both places, with the added misery of the expanded drug trade and in the case of Appalachia (and all over poor white America) the introduction of prescription pain pill abuse. Since almost all of these people do not work and since the drugs cost so much, the only source of money is crime and what I generically refer to as welfare. It is government aid of various types. I’m not an expert, but I have eyes and ears and know that among the two culprits are Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) along with the program or programs that pay people who claim to be disabled, but whose disability is often self-induced alcohol or drug abuse or just an outright aversion to work.

The refusal to pay attention enough to even get a high school diploma adds to the problem (in California, until recently you only had to show up. There is some testing now, but it is usually waived when it is realized too many would fail). 

The fact of the matter is we have generation upon generation now of mothers who beget children to increase their AFDC take and rear new mothers who do the same as well as fathers who take no responsibility (they had none at home themselves as a role model or maybe they did, same difference).

Some of this is no doubt due to a normal distribution of a pathological brain disorder in a given percentage of the human race, with the only real difference being in how society handles the situation. And while it is far too easy to fall into the trap of using racial stereotypes and prejudice, my honest observation is this condition presents itself quite equally among at least black and white.

If you were to ask, but how do people get out of this cycle? I would say that blacks who simply move out of the ghetto and whites who move away from the depressed areas are often successful. It’s kind of like when your folks said don’t hang with the wrong crowd.

For the truly mentally diminished there is not much we can do, other than to make sure they get the care they need, but we should not be forced to finance their bad habits or their fecundity.

Even in this time of high unemployment, 15 percent now in my county, the previous customer (we’re back to the barber shop) said he was actually offering jobs for his house cleaning service. He said the work is hard (and I can be sure the wages low – although I suppose there might be tips) but he has to please his customers. He has a hard time finding, first, anyone willing to work, and, second, anyone who can pass the legally required drug screen.

(I add one cautionary note, however. There is unfortunately a segment of employers who like to exploit vulnerable workers and not allow them the same minimal rights you or I would take for granted.)

In my last job as a truck driver the pay was excellent and until a year or so ago the demand for drivers growing. But it was quite hard for my employer (and for all truck driving companies) to find drivers who could pass a drug screen.

And then there’s the guys who claim to work a certain trade and won’t work below that. But they are often imposters.

I watched one of my brother- in- law work construction all his life. He was a skilled carpenter and as such drew top wages, but he did it al, all phases of construction, and in all weather if required.

And he told me the other day. “You know us carpenters are hard workers. And if there wasn’t carpenter work, we’d do something else.”

And the barber told me that his son was lucky enough to be in a skilled trade but that he, the barber, always told his children: “if you’re out of work, you take what you can get”.

So what is left is the dying breed of the worker, the new pretend worker who wears his construction duds and drives down to the welfare office in his super-sized pickup (kind of like the old drug store cowboys my uncle used to tell about), and the strictly non-worker.

Until I came down with cancer I was a worker. In fact, at heart I still am.

World, you’re goona miss us.


As far as social programs such as AFDC, I do not propose that they be dropped. The too obvious answer is that current eligibility requirements need to be enforced along with monitoring for abuse. While I am not a big fan of government intervention into family life, if we are going to run an aid program that is designed for the welfare of children but is drained to satisfy the drug and alcohol habits of adults as well as used for funds in place of work, then there is a role for the Child Protective Service.

P.s.  P.s.

Stopping welfare abuse will not solve our economic problems, but it will control the inevitable erosion of support for costly, but needed social programs and hopefully deprive the likes of know nothings such as Rush Limburger Cheese of too easy fodder for making propaganda to eliminate humanitarian programs and discredit liberals or progressives or open-minded conservatives (and I hope that was not an oxymoron).

(Copyright 2009)

Who to criticize: Obamaphiles or fake capitalists???

March 7, 2009

Anyone who has followed my blog, which began somewhat less than a year ago, saw that through the presidential election campaign I made observations but tried to give both candidates the benefit of the doubt. Okay, I’ll come clean. I leaned toward Obama all the way in my mind. But even so I tried to keep an open mind for my blogging (I’m not into preaching to the choir). In the end, as a voter I made my decision and was quite satisfied with it.

Am I now? Too early to tell for sure. He seems reasonable, much more able to see the broad spectrum of the issues and from all appearances more concerned about society as whole instead of just an elite monied class, whom under the previous administration we were supposed to look up to and ask for their benevolence. Oh Please anointed ones, may you prosper and trickle down upon us!

To be sure, the Rush Limburger Cheeses and his ilk warn us of being lured into class warfare by a special liberal elite snobbery who only want us to be dependent so that they then can control us. In reality they claim if we all had any self-respect and confidence in ourselves we would throw off the yoke of socialism and all be rich. Sir Ronald Reagan is the great dead prophet who invented Trickle Down. But if we were all rich whom would we trickle down upon? And why pray tell would one even want to be rich if he could not trickle down upon someone lower. And isn’t the notion that everyone can be rich false? The correct word to express it escapes me, but basically being “rich” in the terms of money is a condition that’s definition depends upon a comparison. For someone to have more depends upon someone else to have less. But I certainly agree with my blowhard brethren on the right that dividing things up equally neither works nor is fair. Communes reward those who do not work as much as those who do and that approach stifles innovation and just is all around kind of dull.

And isn’t this kind of strange? I actually started off this blog with the intent of asking one thing:

“When will the love affaire between the mainstream media and Barack Obama end?

Some folks near and dear to me ask me if someone has a better idea of what to do than what Obama is trying to do.

My answer is no, apparently not. But while no one knows quite what to do, some things should begin to be apparent as to what not to do.

Throwing out money to the Wall Street banking industry and the dinosaur that is the domestic auto industry is as good as lighting a match to it.

What if all that money had gone to relief efforts for displaced workers and medical care for the needy? At least it would have done some good.

If the interests who preach the philosophy of Laissez faire (government keeping its hands off business) believed in what they preached they would run in horror at the notion and the shame of accepting money from the public trough, made worse because it requires further indebting ourselves to Communist China.

No I am not anti-Obama. But he is not above criticism, just as the phony capitalists who do not have the courage to support their supposed convictions are not either.

And the biggest conundrum of all is that Communist China resorted years ago to capitalism to save itself and prosper, but on that fateful day that Capitalist Sir George W. was told he really had no clothes (okay there was no money in the counting house) he socialized the debt of the Wall Street bankers, reserving their right to eventual profit.

But in so doing, Sir Bush once again sought to cover his nakedness by cloaking himself in the imaginary wardrobe as Savior of the People, willing to take drastic, distasteful measures to save the economy. Giving money to his base, a group of moneyed elite may have been embarrassing if he had any feeling of self respect, but not really so distasteful.

If the wave of business failures and unemployment along with bank failures along with endless bailouts in which no one has a clue where the money is going continues, Obama along with all of the politicians in Washington could face more than voter disapproval. They may well face an ugly backlash that could lead to a failed state.

Alarmist you say? How many of you even thought it would ever get like this?

(Copyright 2009)

Both people and business need recovery…

March 5, 2009

(Copyright 2009)

If you’re a baby boomer like me, you grew up with the notion that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) put people back to work with government make work programs, saving individuals and families from starvation, and just as importantly restoring dignity to the unemployed.

Now the revisionist line is all of FDR’s efforts did nothing to stop the Great Depression.

That seems a little overreaching, but that mixes apples and oranges anyway (which by the way, if you’ve ever watched documentaries or read The Grapes of Wrath you know food commodities were thrown out to protect prices while people went hungry).

There are two problems faced in any economic emergency and the methods we use to deal with them may or may not work in tandem.

In my opinion, the first problem in real emergencies is to provide relief to the populace. This does not mean handing out money to those who do not need it or do not need it yet or who have no intention of working, despite their ability to do so. There will always be malingerers (it must be biblical), but we don’t punish ourselves over it, that is cut off the nose to spite the face.

The second problem is to get the economy going. That is probably more difficult, because the business cycle is somewhat mysterious in that no one, not even those who study it (not even uneducated, but self-taught radio blowhards such as Rush Limburger Cheese) fully understand it.

This time around, we do know many of the things that caused our present economic emergency, to include the dropping of Great Depression era regulations on the markets. I remember for years before all of this, learned experts as well as the common folk considered it a truism that something like this could never happen because markets were regulated and there were so many “safeguards” .  Apparently a lot of people did not pay attention while a lot of those “safeguards” were dropped.

Visiting British Prime Minister Gordon Brown put it quite succinctly when he said that the financial instruments that were created to spread risk instead spread a contagion.

Also, anyone can see there was a lot of looking the other way by financial institution management because no one likes to argue with something that makes money. And if you were a CEO of one investment bank and your competitor was doing dangerous but technically legal business and you refused to take such imprudent risks, you’d have a lot of explaining to do to your board of directors as to why you were not making as much money as the other guy. You want your bonus too.

And I doubt neither Republican nor Democratic administrations in the past were too keen on bureaucrats who were supposed to be auditing books upsetting anything that was making the economy tick and thus making their respective administrations look good. Hear no evil, see no evil.

I think morality and the market are much like the biblical quote of Jesus that it would be easier to thread a camel through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into Heaven.

Be that as it may, the markets have to be restored. So the safeguards have to be restored and of course their needs to be more oversight. I doubt that throwing bad money after bad money (I heard someone say it that way the other day) into institutions such as AIG is not the right approach. Perhaps some entity needs to replace AIG – but AIG and maybe Citi-Group and other so-called too big to fail institutions need to go bye bye along with the present management.

Eventually there will be a major taxpayer backlash, and that may be why inside plants in both the outgoing Bush and now the new Obama administration have been so insistent in throwing as much public money as possible to their financial brethren.

I realize many will call it a chicken and egg situation or will say you have to get the economy going first so jobs will both be restored and created.

But human morality and the fact roving mobs are never a good idea means the people have to be helped first.

Helping people that need help now and then concentrating on creating the best possible business environment would be far less costly than piling debt onto debt.

The United States will never be out of economic danger until it deals realistically with its debt.

Even when the economy recovers,  our trillions of dollars of debt will be like an anchor dragging on the economy, and it could eventually pull the whole boat under.