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What You Don't Get About the Job Search: Voices of the Jobless (theatlantic.com)
108 points by mvs 2014 days ago | hide | past | web | 184 comments | favorite

Having no money is viciously hard to deal with, especially when you don't have any connections or a portfolio of work. When I graduated with my B.S.C.S in '06...

- I had no money to move. Any company that wanted me would have had to pay relocation.

- There are exactly 4 tech firms in the area, total employment of engineers is < 1000.

- I had studied general CS, generally trying not to be tied to a given TLA technology. This meant that I could not claim "years of experience with tech X".

- I had not had the time to do open-source work, I had been doing my studies. By the time I was aware enough to do interesting work, my studies were too intensive.

- I had had a bad semester immediately prior to graduation, and my GPA was not near 4. (over 3 tho).

- I had done academic summer research, not internships.

I played careerbuilder & monster.com like I was supposed to. No. Luck.

I janitored for 6 months and dug up some university jobs, then back to graduate school, where I cadged the internship -> full-time transition.

I think there was also a culture factor, I was making a transition from a blue-collar culture to a white-collar one, and expectations & knowledge of expectations are different, in many subtle ways.

To this day, I have a good deal of sympathy for people out of work.

Based on my personal experience, I encourage hiring managers and recruiters to look past the keywords to the possibilities that the candidate has. A good candidate can move into anything they need to be, if you give them a chance.

I played careerbuilder & monster.com like I was supposed to.

We need to have a How The World Works discussion with college students so that they understand that resume spray-and-pray is not actually how people get white collar jobs. Honestly I think that a good deal of the persistent unemployment problem is that people are doing cargo cult job searching and this checks their mental box for "making a good effort", when they should instead be making directed efforts to meet people with the authority to hire them and convincing them to make it happen.

Fully agree. I have recommended "What Color Is Your Parachute" to job seekers several times, but they were so exhausted from sending out dozens of applications every day that they didn't even have time or interest to read it.

Not that I have personally tried the strategies in that book (admittedly), but it sounded very plausible to me :-/ At the very least, what is there to lose. If 100 job applications didn't work, does it really hurt to try something else for a week?

they didn't even have time or interest to read it.

So one thing that counterindicates working alone at home is having poor discipline with regards to use of time. This sometimes bites me on the hindquarters: if you do a little work in the morning, goof off on the Internet for a while, and do a little work in the afternoon, it often "feels like" you worked that day. And if on a Tuesday you miss your morning, well, nobody yells at you. And why do the afternoon, when you've already missed the morning? And then that happens on Wednesday. etc, etc

Put it this way: let's say someone had voluntarily quit their day job as a result of, I don't know, achieving an exit. If they told me that, six months after quitting their day job, they were so busy with the three emails they wrote per week that they didn't have time to read a particular book, I would say that they merely have poor time accounting skills or that their revealed preference is that they have no intention of reading the book.

I hate saying "unemployed people are lying" in so many words, so I won't. But 6 months times 40 hours a week is a thousand hours. More if you previously had a commute or worked overtime. If you don't have 1,000 hours worth of progress on whatever your #1 priority is at the moment, you have to ask yourself why not.

To be fair, it is usually not just writing three emails. First you have to research the potential recipients, browsing job ads and the companies web site. You might even go so far as to taylor your CV towards the position.

Also, as you say, managing time efficiently at home is difficult. And they might just be tired of hearing yet another well meaning advice.

There might also be a factor of things taking more time if you don't have money. You have to go to the cheap supermarket that is far away rather than the expensive one around the corner. You have to go shopping and cook for yourself, rather than grabbing a quick lunch at your favorite Sushi joint. And so on.

But I don't really know - I actually offered to try to help some job seeker in my blog once, but nobody took me up on it. Of course my blog has no reach and I was also unsure of what I could really offer (except for computer skills, brushing up online representations and whatnot). I am actually very interested in that problem - figuring out ways to help job seekers could do a lot of good.

One thing I imagined was A/B testing for job application letters and CVs. If you are really sending out hundreds of applications, it might begin to make sense?

The A/B testing math for low numbers and low conversion rates is not attractive. You can work the numbers out, but my guesstimate at dinner is that if you get one interview per twenty and mail 100 per week, you'd need almost a year to get confidence on a 6th interview per week. I would A/B test your marketing site as a dev purely to communicate that that is how you think, but it would not provide value to the average unemployed person. (All devs with any desire to ever get a job should have a web prescence, by the way.)

The scenario is more interesting if you rep a lot of candidates. A LinkedIn oe what have you could test resummes or equivalent web views very efficiently indeed.

I wish a web presence worked. I have a web site, youtube channel, github, blog, linkedin, and twitter account. They all shows a track record of open source work I've shared.

I have no regrets on sharing my work online like this. However, the idea that it's likely to help land a job is just survivorship bias.

Honestly, I think OSS is overrated for career impact. ("There, I said it.") I'd also probably do your site a wee bit differently if I wished to get job offers from it. For example, I'd put a prominent notice on it that you're actually hireable. I'd also make your version of those little hire-me mini sites. Don't make people work (across six different places which are largely not connected) to discover how wonderful of a precious snowflake you are.

That said: just because you touch the Internet doesn't guarantee you a nice safe job for life, but you're a darn sight better off if the decisionmaker you influence either a) has read you in the past or b) is reading you right now than you are if you're in the spray & pray slush pile.

"A Junior-to-Mid Level Developer" ... Which is it? Pick one.

Also, "I've been out of work and on the job hunt for a year." This may be true but is not a selling point. Say instead, "I'm available for work, contract or full time, right now. Hire me."

Okay, I made the changes you suggested.

As for the matter of picking "junior" or "mid", I was hedging my bets by including both. I have no point of reference as to how good I am or if I'm good at all. I haven't worked around other developers for 2 years now. It's all been solo "side project" stuff. Feel free to shoot my an email if you want to continue this discussion. I do appreciate your critique.

Since setting up a portfolio of my work (http://mattmccormick.ca/portfolio), I have found it much, much easier to get work.

If I can offer some unsolicited advice, I would recommend organizing things better. Have one page that you can refer people to that highlight your accomplishments and links to your github or Youtube videos that you want to highlight. Your blog or website doesn't offer this capability at first glance. Make it easy for someone to see what you've done. Remember that a potential employer may only have 30-60 seconds to take a look so make it count.

You're forgetting about depression Patrick. That can really cloud the mind and hurt productivity. And what about job search? Job search can be full-time in and of itself.

Trust me, if you are married and unemployed (and once upon a time I was both), your SO isn't going to let you sit in front of the computer and learn a programming language for 8 hrs a day while the car gets repo'd.


One thing I am unhappy about to this day is my experience with the career search arm of my alma mater.

It went like this...

Me, senior in college, on the job prowl. I walk in to the career services office, and they direct me to a window desk. The man sitting behind it has an immaculately put together suit. Boy, I think, this guy's a somewhat. No one else around here wears a suit.

I say, Hi, I'm looking for a job, what can you do for me. Immaculately Dressed Gentleman (IDG) rises majestically and hands me a flyer for an alma-mater-branded subdomain of monster.com. "Go to this website, and create an account".

Shocked, I stare at IDG and mumble my thanks and confirm that yes, I did know how to create accounts and other Internetty things.

I've written about this before [1]. It's really not that hard to get a job as a developer. Companies are dying for smart, capable engineers, and it's just a matter of directing your efforts in the right way.

Two points I'd like to address:

- Experience beats GPA. I don't even include my GPA on my resume (not because it's bad, but because I don't think it's relevant), and, so far, no one has asked for it. Experience, on the other hand, has opened far more doors than college has.

- Direct your efforts. It's amazing how many more responses I get when I specifically craft a cover letter/resume just for that position that I do when I just send out resumes blindly.

[1]: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1809107

Edit: To be clear, I just graduated from college in May, and accepted an offer in SF two weeks after graduation (without sending out any applications). I also had no money to move and the area I'm from has practically no tech industry. I'm not particularly smart or talented; I just happened to do a few things that built on top of one another.

Right now it's very easy to find a job as developer but it hasn't always been that way. If you'd graduated in 1992 like I did or in 2001-2 you might have had a very different experience.

As a hiring manager, you've got to sell yourself. If you've got all these negatives and they're the only thing on your resume or in your cover letter, it's going to be difficult to give you some of my limited time to talk about how you really could be better.

Do me the favor and sell yourself - WHY should I hire you, of all people, when you're competing against potentially dozens or hundreds of people (who, mostly, just fire and forget resumes at monster and career builder).

Nearly anything you can do to stand out from the crowd will be in your best interests.

Network your ass off. Go to user groups, meetups, anything at all. I've never hired someone cold, from Monster or whatever. Why should I risk it, when I've got some similar with a personal recommendation from a known-quantity?

> I think there was also a culture factor, I was making a transition from a blue-collar culture to a white-collar one, and expectations & knowledge of expectations are different, in many subtle ways.

That happened to me, too, when I was 18. I had grown up in a white-collar family, but it still didn't occur to me that I could, say, take a taxi to get to work on time when I missed the train. Until my boss yelled the suggestion at me over the phone.

In the year before that, I'd been doing minimum-wage work and lazing about reading computer science textbooks and writing C++ in a local university computer lab.

This really hit home for me. All too often we view the unemployed as a statistic, but this article really put a human face on the issue. As pundits & politicians argue about various macroeconomics theories, levels of taxations etc. there are real life people out there trying to find a way to live, never mind advance in life. It's gut wrenching.

Not sure why you are getting downvoted, except that your comment may come off as rather sentimental.

I distinctly remember few years in my middle school, when my family business was not doing that well. I could still get pretty much anything I wanted, but just the negative vibe at home had an impact on me.

Bizarre to me to see this downvoted. Callous privilege of working in a booming industry while the rest of the economy is constipated, I suppose.

Yes, but I also feel that things are not going to get any better for most of the general population who got laid off.

Quote by Morgan Freeman from Shawshank Redemption.

"These walls are funny. First you hate 'em, then you get used to 'em. Enough time passes, you get so you depend on them. That's institutionalized."

I wonder if that's what's happening to people these days. They go through the institution of education through their youth, and then the institution of higher education. When they graduate they go through the institution of the job search and sending out resumes.

People are told this is how things work all their lives. They saw their parents doing it and now they are doing the same thing. When the process starts to break down, they don't know what to do. In some cases people are shackled by the institution of home ownership (unable to move to the jobs.)

As others are saying, contacts are highly important. My level is success is dependent on the size of my virtual rolodex. People need to get around the institution.

Personally, I'm a freelancer living in a foreign country. Currently I'm living in a cozy house costing me less than $200 per month (third world tropical paradise!) I can move anywhere and work from anywhere. I get jobs, salaries, contracts and one-off quickies in the same industry and they are all the same to me. The only difference is in the payment model. I think everyone needs to start thinking like this. Don't be an employee looking for a job, be a business making the same sorts of decisions the other businesses are. You are offering a service and you need to be mobile in offerings and locations to survive.

Completely off topic, but you brought it up so I'm going to ask: How did you manage an entire house in paradise for $200 per month? Do you have access to decent food, in relative safety, and have a good reliable internet connection?

I'm living in the Philippines. I feel very safe here.

It's Asia, so the market for food here isn't as wide as the market for food in the U.S. For example, there are Germans here who have setup their own shops for food which I have never seen and has little demand from the locals. You will never see that sort of food in the grocery stores. The Philippines isn't known for it's food like Thailand is. Certainly food is a big part of happiness in life, but I'm happy here for the most part. There are some things I miss but there are American resto's which do a pretty good job of bridging the gap. In the largest cities here, you can find pretty much anything.

My internet connection is reliable enough. I do have plans in place for problems which occasionally pop up, but my area is stable enough that it hosts a lot of BPO's (call centers.)

Housing is relatively cheap here. The standards are also lower, but if you have lived in Asia for a while then you get used to the differences. I could get a nicer house for a lot more money but I'm content where I'm at and the price is right.

And how do your kids feel about this lifestyle?

I don't have kids. My girlfriend has kids and they are locals. So they love it. ;)

I was being snarky and trying to make a point -- that it appears to be a young person's sport that would not work for many in the world like myself: married, mortgaged, middle-aged, multiplied, minivan'd.

edit: I wish I could do what your doing. In the meantime, I shall persevere in creating my solo startup in my "free time".

Personally, I'm a freelancer living in a foreign country.

When I see this, I always ask: what technologies do you work with?

Specifically, I'm a freelance web developer.

Because of possible brownouts and internet outages I try to stay as mobile and flexible as possible. I want to even be able to pop into an internet cafe to get work done if needed. Of course I have my own systems, but I may not always be able to plug in to a power source with a laptop.

OS: I build my work environment on Windows because if I need to grab a computer on the fly then it will be Windows.

Storage: For "on the go" I have a USB stick with everything I need on it.

Apps: On the drive I use portable apps because the package gives me access a lot of apps which have already been setup for portable usage without me having to research how to do this with all of them.

Truecrypt: I have everything except for the Truecrypt exe file stored in a Truecrypt file which I mount as a drive letter I know won't typically be used. This keeps allows for my portable apps to be associated with a drive letter without having to change a bunch of config files (if needed.) Of course the encryption means that I don't have to worry about losing my USB stick.

Super Flexible File Synchronizer: Also setup as portable and the only paid app that I use. This keeps my files synched between my USB stick, my Strongspace.com space and my other work stations. This also allows me to use the faster IO of local drives when I don't need to use the USB stick. It's easier to use on Windows than Rsync.

SCM: Msysgit portable.

Editor: Vim.

IM / Voice: Skype Portable.

Terminal: Putty

Dev server: Accelerator from Joyent which runs Solaris. This is where all my development ends up. I don't do development locally unless I really have to (Xampp etc.)

That's pretty much it. I try to keep it as simple and lean as possible. This makes syncs more bearable and I can copy my whole setup to other systems without taking up too much room. For example, a developer friend of mine has an office here decked out with workstations and he setup a space for me. I just use one of his stations and I copied my Truecrypt file to local storage. Then I fire up my sync app and fire away. If it gets accidentally deleted, no harm done.

I love the idea of being able to pack my workstation anywhere I go. It goes along with the idea of travelling light so that I can stay highly mobile.

Specifically, I'm a freelance web developer.

They all are. ;-)

Thanks for the detailed response. Sounds great.

I am willing to risk my karma by saying that people complaining about these things don't seem to get the following:

- Going to college doesn't mean you deserve a job more than someone else. Got an ivy league degree? A PhD? Get over it.

- America is still a country where one can post up signs on a telephone pole to help someone move boxes, clean a house, or drive a car. Not ideal right? Maybe, but these people can earn $200 a day paid in cash if they work hard. Putting up signs and actually doing the work is usually a psychological barrier to many people though.

- Being poor sucks, sure. But guess what -- learning to withstand it is a good skill to have. Perhaps one of the most indispensable ones a serious independent risk taking entrepreneur can have. If one can learn to be poor and deal with the associated social and practical problems, you'll have a fearlessness and sense of freedom that few office workers know.

- Having a job does not mean someone is successful. And not having a job does not mean someone is a failure. People often tie their self worth to their job title, and therefore every sales person is now a "vice-president", and data entry workers are "analysts" -- title inflation is easier than salary inflation. In many cases, having one's time to do nothing but reflect and self-improve is preferable to one of these jobs.

>Going to college doesn't mean you deserve a job

I think the point was that this is affecting a wide range of people including the educated and hard working. I didn't see the entitlement slant.

>America is still a country where one can post up signs on a telephone pole

Sure. 9% of the working population can post a sign on a telephone pole. Let me know how that works out for you.

>Being poor sucks, sure. But guess what -- learning to withstand it is a good skill to have.

Ah, the benefits of a calcutta education! Maybe we can start a charity to help to these people realise how lucky they are?

>not having a job does not mean someone is a failure.

People are saying that when they have trouble paying their bills, that effects their self worth. This is different than saying that they are worthless because they are not a vice-president.

My guess is you don't have a family and you have never had to go without.

If you want to change the world, empathy would be a good skill to acquire.

I don't expect to change the world. The occasional unsolicited advice is all I aspire to. I do have a family and have gone without, and I have posted signs on telephone poles to get work and make ends meet. This actually was a much better education than my ivy league college degree, or my employment as a computer programmer. Posting signs on a telephone pole to get work is of course not the solution to mass unemployment, but does get at the essence of how an individual creates value for others (by offering a paid service) in exchange for money.

Empathy is always a good skill. But I don't empathize with people who consider unemployment (in America) to be someone else's problem. While, people in America may not be happy with 9% unemployment, there are plenty of options for maintaining a quite good standard of living when compared to many countries where the median wage is much lower.

But you are not considering the cost of living in those same places. The anxiety of those letters in the article is very well justified. The probability to fall into homelessness is much higher than what we'd like to believe. Go help in a soup kitchen or a shelter and get your dose of reality before labeling all these people you don't know lazy and entitled.

I think you quickly reach a point where you can't move boxes anymore for health reasons. Hard work has a tendency to wear on the body.

Another problem is that while you are busy moving boxes, you can't look for a job that actually suits your skills. Sure, it beats starving, but "just do any job" might not actually be the best career advice in every situation.

Having a job makes it so much easier to find another job. Even if you are slopping out the John in McDonald's, your self-esteem and, most importantly, your <i> ability to get things done</i> is much higher.

Of course, there is the difficulty of finding time to apply for other jobs to weigh it against, but I think the balance tips the other way.

Speaking from experience? How do you interview at company X while you are flipping burgers?

Yes, speaking from a hell of a lot of experience, being both employed and unemployed.

I used to have a lot of appointments with the dentist when I was looking for a new job.

More recently, I just made them meet me outside office hours.

In fact, in a lot of professional companies they really would understand, "yeah, but I have a job to cover the bills so do you mind if I meet you at 6pm?"

You had dental insurance and "a lot of appointments with the dentist" while looking for a job? This was paid for by scrubbing toilets at McDonalds, or while on unemployment/just unemployed? Forgive me for being skeptical, but this doesn't match with my experience, nor the experience of anyone I know.

He claimed to have appointments with the dentists, but really he was meeting prospective employers.

I see. That still doesn't make sense while on break from a shift of cleaning toilets - that type of work makes it fairly difficult to break away from for any reason, and you're not going to be in the shape to meet up with a prospective desirable employer. Even low-level call center work, which I suppose you could call the lowest of white collar work, won't let you off for much - you'll get fired after accumulating a certain number of attendance points. Not to mention that someone in the position to ask for and accept these types of jobs can't really afford missing out on those hours of pay that come with.

Yes, the point is that I managed it.

And, no, I have never had dental insurance. I paid myself. I had a guy drill a tooth out raw (sans painkiller) for a much lower price once. That was quite the experience.

Don't worry, I don't have any sympathy for you, either.

And in an unrelated point, a good companion to this article is Being Poor:


Scalzi's article describes a fairly atypical poverty experience. It's a very inaccurate description for most American poor people.



People have been complaining about the horrible innacuracy of BLS statistics for quite a while now [1]. I wouldn't expect someone arguing open mindedly (as opposed to someone who already knows what he wants to say and only needs the reports that agree) to cite BLS.

[1] Just one example, google should turn up many more examples for you, should you actually be interested: http://www.businessinsider.com/trimtabs-heres-why-the-real-j...

I don't understand the criticism - the BLS preliminary estimates disagreed with "TrimTabs" estimates by 1.1%, therefore the BLS is horribly inaccurate? According to the article you cite, the BLS final estimates differed from the "TrimTabs" estimates by 0.5%.

Further, I'm not sure how TrimTab's "real time tax data" could possibly measure unemployment - how does TrimTabs know whether someone is looking for work?

I just showed one article and obviously didn't dig too deeply in it. I've been hearing complaints about BLS as long as I've known about BLS and my quick google search was a page of blog posts/articles complaining about it.

>how does TrimTabs know whether someone is looking for work?

How does BLS? By seeing how many people claim benefits? What about those who aren't eligible?

How does BLS? By seeing how many people claim benefits? What about those who aren't eligible?

You clearly have no idea what you are talking about. Please go educate yourself before further embarrassing yourself by expounding on this topic.


So their just asking people. You know that it's been demonstrated that people will even lie about their personal lives when they believe they are completely anonymous right?

Moved discussion to thread below.


> someone who already knows what he wants to say and only needs the reports that agree

:) Are you really saying you don't already have an opinion on this issue? Please assume good faith.

Of course I do: based on everything I've seen in my life and the people I actually know. Not based on some report that never seems to agree with actual "in the field" data.

My experience disagrees with your experience, again based on my own life and people I actually know.

The data, broadly speaking, matches up with my experience -- "some report" agrees with my "in the field" data, and with yummyfajitas' "in the field" data, and many others' "in the field" data. "Scalzi's article describes a fairly atypical poverty experience"; you and Scalzi are the outliers, not the norm.

Exactly. Speaking as someone who was at one point unemployed, the first thing you need to do is take responsibility for your situation, rather than displacing the blame to anyone else.

A lot of people just don't want to work hard. One of the people in that article was bitching and moaning about working a few hours on weekends!

Beggars truly cannot be choosers. It is really not that hard to cut costs and live within your means when the internet provides infinite entertainment for free, as well as comparison price shopping, etcetera.

I'm forced to assume you haven't seen much of the world if you think working hard has some correlation to financial success. There are many, many factors that determine success/failure and they all overshadow hard work by a large margin (that's not to say you don't need to work at all. Doing no work at all will usually make success much harder).

> if you think working hard has some correlation to financial success.

Hmm. Have you seen the BLS statistics showing the positive correlation between the number of hours worked and income levels?

The people who work the hardest (e.g. single mother, people with 2 and 3 jobs) are not getting ahead as fast people who don't work as hard.

Your confidence in these statistics strikes me as incredibly naive and self-serving. For example, how were these "hours worked" counted exactly? Did they get the people who work off-clock at Walmart to put down what they were really working? Did they get people working illegally (e.g. illegal immigrant, etc.) to clock their hours?

The economy isn't some lab experiment with double blind testing and so on. Any data you think you have is going to have some major fundamental flaws.

I'd like a calm discussion, if possible.

> The people who work the hardest (e.g. single mother, people with 2 and 3 jobs) are not getting ahead as fast people who don't work as hard.

Sure. But I think this comes back to relative vs. absolute.

You aren't disagreeing that if an individual works more hours at any given job[1], all else equal, they will make more money.

I'm not disagreeing that there are individuals with different hourly pay rates.

Where we might disagree is whether there is a genuine positive correlation between skill level/scarcity of skill and hourly wage rate.

Also, I might have close to $0 in my bank account, but I don't really care that there are rich people out there and am not envious of them. It's enough for me that as I work harder, I will see the returns of my personal effort.

If instead one is really concerned about other people, then you've set yourself up for discontent, no matter how hard you work! I can practice basketball all day long and work hard, but I will never glide to the hoop as effortlessly as LeBron. And most people can practice programming all day long but will never be capable of doing the work at Facebook or Google.

It's important to know one's strengths and limitations. Go for the best hourly wage you can get, by all means, but that won't necessarily be $500/hour. And sure, there will be someone out there who can command that wage and make it look easy. You can focus on the cosmic injustice of this and make yourself unhappy, or you can do what you can to make your own life better.

> The economy isn't some lab experiment with double blind testing and so on. Any data you think you have is going to have some major fundamental flaws.

Well, if you believe this premise then it's not possible to submit evidence supporting any position, either mine or yours. I do believe there is some objective truth out there.

[1] Yes, salaried jobs don't have this characteristic directly, but only indirectly in the sense of getting a bonus or promotion. But those are also pretty good jobs relative to hourly jobs, which takes us back to square 1.

>I'd like a calm discussion, if possible.

You're both implying that poor people are lazy and confusing economics for a hard science. The latter is annoying but the former is offensive.

>You aren't disagreeing that if an individual works more hours at any given job[1], all else equal, they will make more money.

Actually I absolutely disagree that working more hours at a job gives more money. I've been a career software developer for 12 years now and for me it is the exact opposite. The more I work, the less I make. I don't claim that working less means more money but rather that any correlation between the two is largely coincidental. The hardest working white collar workers I ever knew worked at the Walmart home office. They were (and still are) also the worst paid I've ever worked with.

By what mechanism would a salaried worker make more by working more? In my experience they either work more because the position requires it (i.e. it's expectation and you don't get performance raises for meeting expectations) or they are under the mis-impression that this will get them ahead. Usually in the latter case, several people get this silly idea and start competing with each other pushing team average working hours up and thereby making each other mediocre again. You can't give one guy a raise for working 12 hour days when the whole team is doing it.

From everything I've ever seen in my career; networking gets you ahead, not number of hours your butt is in a seat nor gallons of sweat you perspire. If anything, these two things get in the way of networking.

>Also, I might have close to $0 in my bank account, but I don't really care that there are rich people out there and am not envious of them. It's enough for me that as I work harder, I will see the returns of my personal effort.

It doesn't bother you that since '79 middle/lower class wages (inflation adjusted) have remained relatively flat while the top tear have around 4 times more wealth? [1] People who got rich by making their own business didn't hurt you, true, but that is a vanishingly small percentage of the wealthy. The CEO's are making megabucks and laying you off instead of passing on part those profits to you (the worker). As a workforce we've gotten vastly more efficient but most of the fruits of those labors are going to upper management.

>If instead one is really concerned about other people, then you've set yourself up for discontent, no matter how hard you work!

A good sentiment overall, but in this case not quite true. Politics got us in this mess and good politics could get us out again. Either that or if most of the workforce would just stop working for BigCorp Inc. and start their own small businesses, make a big Coop, whatever.

>You can focus on the cosmic injustice of this and make yourself unhappy, or you can do what you can to make your own life better.

You seem to have turned into an infomercial, but this touches on the whole point: what you can do to make your life better is not working harder. There are a lot of things you can do, but hard work will have the lowest (if any) yield. Networking will have the biggest effect if you're both lucky and good.

>Well, if you believe this premise then it's not possible to submit evidence supporting any position, either mine or yours.

I believe because it's not only true, it's obvious. That doesn't mean we can't support positions it just means you can't come out and say "see, it's the poor people's own fault, here's the proof". There is no "proof". There is only faulty data and antidotes to build assumptions on.

>I do believe there is some objective truth out there.

There are experiences of real people. Claiming something like "salaries go up with hours worked" just can't be proven conclusively any more than the weather man can tell you how much rain you will get on Tuesday, 3 months from now.

[1] http://tucsoncitizen.com/medicare/2011/02/24/the-rich-get-ri...

How old are you, and how hard do YOU work? It might simply not be sustainable after a while.

Some of the schadenfreude is directed toward struggling MBAs and Ph.D.s in economics, whose patronizing platitudinous advice to the millions of unemployed to become more competitive in the new globalized economy has neither been forgotten, nor forgiven. They helped facilitate the collapse, and encouraged the upper one tenth of one percent to win asymmetric zero-sum games against the middle class. Now they have to become more competitive in minimum wage jobs.

I never get tired of quoting Mike Konczal:

And speaking as someone who has taken graduate coursework in “continental philosophy”, and been walked through the big hits of structural anthropology, Hegelian marxism and Freudian feminism, that graduate macroeconomics class was by far the most ideologically indoctrinating class I’ve ever seen. By a mile. There was like two weeks where the class just copied equations that said, if you speak math, “unemployment insurance makes people weak and slothful” over and over again. Hijacking poor Richard Bellman, the defining metaphor was that observation that if something is on an optimal path any subsection is also an optimal path, so government just needs to get out of the way as the macroeconomy is optimal absent absurdly defined shocks and our 9.6% unemployment is clearly optimal.

-- http://rortybomb.wordpress.com/2010/06/29/blogging-and-the-e...

One more, from Philip Harvey:

There once was an island with a population of 100 dogs. Every day a plane flew overhead and dropped 95 bones onto the island. It was a dog paradise, except for the fact that every day 5 dogs went hungry. Hearing about the problem, a group of social scientists was sent to assess the situation and recommend remedies.

The social scientists ran a series of regressions and determined that bonelessness in the dog population was associated with lower levels of bone- seeking effort and that boneless dogs also lacked important skills in fighting for bones. As a remedy for the problem, some of the social scientists proposed that boneless dogs needed a good kick in the side, while others proposed that boneless dogs be provided special training in bone-fighting skills.

A bitter controversy ensued over which of these two strategies ought to be pursued. Over time, both strategies were tried, and both reported limited success in helping individual dogs overcome their bonelessness -- but despite this success, the bonelessness problem on the island never lessened in the aggregate. Every day, there were still five dogs who went hungry.

The thing about arguing about real-world economic problems based on incredibly loose analogies with completely made-up situations is that you can use it to argue for almost anything. But a made-up situation like this rarely bears any resemblance to the real world.

Unless you include the dog who keeps the other five bones for himself.

The economic point is that high unemployment is a product of insufficient aggregate demand. The insight dates back to Keynes.

The data doesn't really suggest this is a real problem. Production has recovered. Employment has not. That should not occur if the problem were AD.

Unfortunately, the real world is significantly more complicated than the Calc 1 models proposed by Keynes.

Production is not a measure of aggregate demand and no-one doing econometrics that I know takes Say's law seriously. Keynes pointed out some of the problems with it oddly enough, but to my knowledge he did NOT propose a "Calc 1 model", although I agree it would be worth looking at if he did.

If aggregate demand were anywhere near the point of full employment, we would see evidence of inflation. We do not. Some prices are rising in nominal terms as the dollar depreciates, but that is quite different.

You may be interested in this book:

"Economyths: Ten Ways Economics Gets It Wrong"


This book explores the idea that classical economics, despite its severe case of physics-envy, may be "flat-out wrong". The author has a PhD in non-linear systems from Oxford, so I don't think he is a complete crank! I certainly find his arguments to be pretty plausible.

The author has a PhD in non-linear systems from Oxford, so I don't think he is a complete crank!

This is an utterly wrong attitude, and the history of science proved it many, many times when scientists produced total bullshit when they were leaving their area of expertise. It's not always the case, but it happens too often to disregard it.

You mean like Feynman investigating aerospace manufacturing processes and engineering culture at NASA?

Of course, the author of the book is no Feynman - he isn't claiming to be. All he is doing is trying to evaluate the success of economics as a 'scientific' field.

Given the influence that that economics has I think a skeptical evaluation of how it actually performs is a rather good thing.

For example, Einstein was a famous supporter of socialism. http://monthlyreview.org/2009/05/01/why-socialism

Okay, and before I enrage anybody else, Einstein was one of my childhood heroes and inspirations, and still is. We can't say that, categorically, all scientists working outside of their realm of expertise produce bullshit, but it notably has happened.

You really read that essay and think "bullshit"? I don't happen to agree with most of the conclusions but I also don't dismiss an argument simply because it uses a single scary word.

In response to your edit:

> We can't say that, categorically, all scientists working outside of their realm of expertise produce bullshit, but it notably has happened.

Perhaps it has, but Einstein supporting socialism isn't an example of that. Coming out with "herb, derp, socialism is bad, m'kay" smacks of tea party logic. The question is vastly more complex than that. The US has quite a bit of "socialism" and has for a very long time.

Keep your tea party political nonsense off hacker news. Go somewhere like reddit if you want to spew ignorance.

Related: if you want to complain that the guy's argument is nonsense, just complain that it's nonsense. There's no need to bring a perceived political orientation into it. The only thing your "tea party" comment does is adds a level of emotional polarization, much like his "socialism" comment before. Please keep such emotional baggage off of hacker news.

>There's no need to bring a perceived political orientation into it.

People need to understand what they're saying. If this guy is going to come on here with an out-of-the-blue judgment on an abstract concept someone needs to point out that he's being simple minded. And in the group most likely to have this particular ignorant behavior are, in fact, the tea party.

>Please keep such emotional baggage off of hacker news.

He brought the emotional baggage here so I stepped up to say it's not welcome in clear and unambiguous terms. If people want to vote us both into the gray I'm good with that. The OP is not getting away with silent contempt from me. Not on hacker news.

> "He brought the emotional baggage here so I stepped up to say it's not welcome in clear and unambiguous terms."

Your post suggests that his version of emotional baggage is simple-minded and unwelcome, but your version of emotional baggage is OK.

In reality, neither of your versions of emotional baggage belong on Hacker News.

I wasn't trying to be political at all. And I don't want to get into a political debate here. So please, stop pushing this into bad territory.

Then why post a nonsensical stab at socialism? It screams of simple mindedness and heavy partisan politics (your comment wouldn't even make sense in most of Europe where the politics doesn't get to such ridiculous levels of rhetoric like it does in the states).

My first thought was: "Only ten?"

I dislike headlines like this. It's phrased as a challenge, or almost an accusation. Why are you accusing me of not knowing what it's like to be jobless, Mister Theatlantic? You don't even know me!

And what does it turn out to be that I don't know about being jobless? Well here's what I learned:

1. It sucks

2. It's hard not having much money

3. Getting a job is hard

4. Don't do a degree in Women's Studies

I'm not sure any of this was a particularly new insight.

I think the real insight is sorely absent from the article.

It seems that most people who undergo higher education do so with the expectation that it will lead to a "higher" job, and that's magical thinking.

Sure, higher education is pretty much a requirement for certain classes of jobs, but it's not the only requirement, and it pales compared to the most important requirement: contacts.

This is a human world we live in, and humans by nature are friendlier to someone they know than to someone they don't know.

I, too, once believed in the entitlement that an education "should" bring, until I looked back at all of the jobs I landed (and the thousands I didn't), and realized that every single job I successfully interviewed for was a direct result of a contact in my network.

This is even more important in times of recession, because you're up against a whole army of faceless job seekers, all flooding potential employers with pieces of paper and lamenting the lack of response.

If an employer can't put a face to your name, you stand as much a chance of getting in as winning the lottery.

> It seems that most people who undergo higher education do so with the expectation that it will lead to a "higher" job, and that's magical thinking.

It's also false advertisement.

"Get a degree from us and you'll get a job" is how it's sold to us from the age of elementary school forwards.

Degrees are expensive and this industry earns 100s of billions every year. There is only 1 way they can market a degree to you, and that's to connect it directly with a job.

College loans is one of the crummiest industries in the US.

By manipulating legislature to gain recourse status (even after a personal bankruptcy), accepting government money to finance such futile aspirations, and pushing up the overall price of higher ed, they're in a unique position to be disliked by both liberals and conservatives.

With graduate degrees especially the loan applicant should be required to cover a good portion of their education from their current job. Which will make them at least test the waters (i.e. internship offices and recruiting departments) to see what market applicability their current/future degree has, instead of finding the truth a few years later with a six-digit debt.

100% agreed.

I don't think it's really false, just misleading. You very well may land a great job because you were in college. But is so it will because of who you met, not what you learned.

I agree. But can you really blame people for believing what we're told our entire lives? Most of our childhood we're told to stop socializing and work hard so you can go to a good college and get a good job. When you become an adult you find out that those social contacts are more important than the degree you worked for.

It's not really a question of blame. It's terrible for all of these people to be trapped in a lie, but the fact remains that the only way out of it is to realize the truth of the matter and change course. Life never feels sorry for you, no matter how much you've been wronged.

Oh purlheez. It's not a "lie".

I don't know about you, but my career is based entirely on my university degree(s). And not because of the piece of paper, either, because of the crapload of stuff I learned at university which I never would have learned any other way.

Many of the people who proclaim that university is useless are programmers. No surprises there -- programming is one of the few marketable skills which you can actually teach yourself from a book. Aeronautical engineering? Not so much.

I don't think anyone would deny that a degree can sometimes help you attain a specific job.

The "lie" is the notion that without a degree, your job choices will be limited to burger flipper at McDonalds. With a degree, any degree at all, your dream job will fall into your lap and you'll be paid handsomely to do it. Obviously neither are true, but that is what pre-college aged students are regularly told.

If you have a love of aeronautical engineering, university is a fantastic place to study what you love. If you land a great job upon completion, even better. However, if you only have a love of money, studying aeronautical engineering is a waste of time. There are better and easier ways to make your fortune.

You misunderstand me. I'm not saying that a degree is unimportant; It is VERY important to getting a good job. Avoid a degree and you hobble yourself severely.

The lie is the belief that a degree pretty much guarantees you a job, which it doesn't. The degree is but one step along the way, but most people come out of school believing that it is the only step (followed by that magical "experience" that comes up with the rations), and so have a false sense of entitlement.

This is a lie that, though not always told directly, is nonetheless communicated to all students as they pass through the hallowed halls, as they complete difficult courses, as they don the robes and cap, as they "climb the corporate ladder". It's a false sense of security because they've only done part of what they need to do in order to be successful in life, and they don't even realize it!

So is it any wonder that uninformed and dispirited job seekers come at the world with plaintive cries of "I have a PHD in X and here I am flipping burgers!"?

In short, your CONTACTS get you the interview and a sympathetic ear, and your education, experience, references and personality do the rest. Without the contacts, you probably won't even get in the door to show off the rest.

Great points. I thought that if I stayed in the library and studied as much as humanly possible that I would be very successful. Then I saw all the C students that went to lots of parties have way more job opportunities than me. And they make much more money than me. It took me a couple years to get over the bitterness and sense of being stabbed in the back.

The two can be combined. Lot of jobs I've landed were due both to knowledge gained in college, and networking gained via college.

That's my point exactly. Always be networking.

This was a real shocker. As soon as I read that a PhD student from Purdue University couldn't find a job, it really shocked me. I too graduated from Purdue, but never had any trouble finding a job, but the truth is that we "computer scientists" are living in a bubble, while the rest of the people are having real trouble getting a job.

A PhD in education.

What is one supposed to do with a PhD in education anyway? Surely not become a teacher?

Get a pay bump if you are already employed as a teacher in most public school systems.

If you are not already employed as a teacher in the public school systems, it makes it harder for you to find a job as such (at least during a budget crunch) since you come with a higher price tag.

I had a teacher in high school who had her Ph. D in education. She was an immigrant from Greece, and did her Ph. D on ways education could help immigrants make the leap from immigrant to citizen based on her experiences (I don't recall the specifics - high school was a long time ago). For what it's worth, she was the government teacher.

I also have a friend who's getting his Ph. D in early childhood education largely because, after something like five years as a kindergarten teacher, he was astounded at how dumb the other teachers were (he tells stories of co-workers not being able to do basic arithmetic) and how much they depended on materials to actually do their instruction. He views the Ph. D largely as a way to get his foot in the door at someplace where he can design and produce early childhood curricula and help save kids from teachers who have no business in the classroom.

Then again, he also spoke frequently about how much he hated the professors when he was in college because many of them had literally never taught children. They got to college because they had good grades, went to grad school because they had good grades and got professorships because they did good research, but never had to apply what they were studying.

Honestly, it sounds a tremendous amount like computer science.

Become an academic in that field - that is pretty much what a PhD is - credentialing for academic research.

So a PhD in education educates me about to educate others about education?

Don't be obtuse. A PhD means you've done research towards improving the ability to educate others.

A PhD in Education certifies you to do research in education to potentially teach others about in the future. The intent is to generate new ideas and try new things, and the PhD is a qualification that you can approach that in (hopefully) a scientific manner, and that your results will be useful and relevant to your field.

tl;dr: No, to research about education.

No. It educates you to do ground-breaking research in education and advance the state of the educational art.

Having been through periods of feeling down and out before, one thing I've learned is that you're in a lot of trouble as soon as you start to feel like the system owes you something.

The writing is on the wall. If you're not working to automate other jobs out of existence then someone is working to automate yours. Minor exceptions given for occupations that exist primarily to offer a human connection.

When you were 8 years old, did you believe that, in the future, people in America would be frantically playing musical chairs with their lives, trying to put other people out of a livelihood before others can do it to them?

When did the future turn into a game of Survivor?

When did the economy become a game of musical chairs? If you don't have a seat when the music stops, just kiss your life goodbye.

> "When did the future turn into a game of Survivor?"

When we allowed 20% of the population to assume ownership of 80% of the wealth, forcing everyone else to scramble for scraps. When we've dismantled and made useless our social safety nets by a combination of poor policies and equally poor policing for abuse. When we've collectively moved to the right in economic and social policies, thereby not only disenfranchising the poor, but also make them hate themselves - the loudest complaints about "socialists" and "redistribution" seem to come from people who need it the most, but don't recognize it.

It happened when we started penalizing people for having anything less than perfect health. Have a chronic condition? Well, forget about entrepreneurialism and adding to the economy, pray for a worker-cog job for the rest of your days to keep the insurance flowing!

This may be a gross simplification of a complex issue - but it seems to me like the futured turned into a game of Survivor when we started treating everyone else like animals out to get us. The poor are lazy and out to game the system. The immigrants are out to steal our jobs. The unemployed are lazy and slovenly and want a free ride... etc etc.

The American public, IMO, needn't look much further than a mirror to see the cause of their woes.

The real question, I think, is when did news.ycombinator turn into reddit/r/politics?

When software entrepreneurs put 10% of the population out of work and then used social darwinism to justify the lack of a social safety net.

"When we allowed 20% of the population to assume ownership of 80% of the wealth, forcing everyone else to scramble for scraps"

Allowed? I suppose you mean we didn't tax them at 90% to "redistribute" it.

"the loudest complaints about "socialists" and "redistribution" seem to come from people who need it the most, but don't recognize it."

Or the people that have nothing and would rather have the government give it to them than try and earn it themselves. We do need some social nets, but if those social nets are too large, we create a system of people that feel entitled propped up by the people that are actually working. When that system starts to collapse, there are riots in the streets because there are too many people relying on it.

"The American public, IMO, needn't look much further than a mirror to see the cause of their woes."

There are many countries in Europe that are struggling just as hard (if not harder) than the US. They had all of these social nets that you speak of. What happened?

What is possibly the only coherent comment in this entire discussion is already being down-voted. Sorry Hacker News, but your "cultivated community" demonstrably fails to perpetuate very little more than a disinterested, self-serving, center-right frame of reference with a strong undercurrent of elitism.


I think you're missing a middle ground & the analogy with Google is pretty weak at best...

As far as school & healthcare go I think a lot of people just want access to "decent" healthcare & education, it doesn't have be cutting edge. No one wants mediocre, true, but there are many levels in between mediocre & elite. Often though many people don't have a choice where their kid goes to school or the resources to really know how good their doctor is.

While people may want the best or people may want to be the best, often people are realistic in what's achievable. Most of our society is kept together by people doing a "decent" job, no reason they shouldn't be rewarded with a "decent" lifestyle.

Not to pick on this too much, but elitism is a good thing.

Do you want 1000 random links from the internet or 10 ordered blue links on Google?

Do you want to send your child to a "mediocre" school or have them operated on by a "mediocre" surgeon, or do you want them to go to the best schools and have the best medical care?

If you are an investor, do you want to invest in mediocre companies? If you are searching for work, do you want to work at a middle of the road place? And if you are an employer/entrepreneur, do you want anything other than the best employees?

Everyone is an elitist when they are doing the selecting. Some people don't like it when they are on the other side of the selective filter. But let's not kid ourselves, elitism is not an "undercurrent" and it's not objectionable by any means. It's the whole ball of wax in any functioning society.

The thing that deeply troubles me about the best schools (and my son goes to an excellent private school) is that the ability to attend is primarily based on the ability of the parents to pay and perhaps to come from the right socio-econmic grouping so that your child "fits in".

Elitism based on merit is perhaps defensible, elitism based on inherited wealth and status is troubling for although it is entirely natural for the individual passing on benefits to their offspring I seriously doubt that it is the best thing for the long-term health of any society.

>Not to pick on this too much, but elitism is a good thing.

When calls someone/something out for being an elitist/elitism they are actually calling out a false sense of superiority. So no, it's not a compliment or a good thing. It puts you in the same group as Nazi's/racists/xenophobes.

Every example you give is in terms of an individualist view point, and yet understanding what makes a "functioning society" requires some conception of a common good. It is impossible for any significant portion of society to be treated by the very best doctors, or to send their children to the very best schools. To do what's best for society, the majority merely need access to good and decent services.

From the dictionary: Elitism is "the advocacy or existence of an elite as a dominating element in a system or society."

A society that favors the elite individual above all else is by nature hierarchical, exclusionary, and anti-democratic. Elitist societies by definition disempower the majority for the enrichment of a few. And as per the definition of "society" — "the aggregate of people living together in a more or less ordered community" — elitism is an absolute failure.

Your attitude epitomizes this online community, and that's not a good thing. Frankly, it's pretty repugnant.

> It is impossible for any significant portion of society to be treated by the very best doctors

Jonas Salk developed the polio vaccine, which was used to inoculate millions. Just about every medical procedure used in practice and documented in textbooks was developed by the best doctors, systematized, and then scaled out.

> or to send their children to the very best schools.

Take a look at ai-class.org, ml-class.org, db-class.org. Textbooks were version 1.0 of this concept, and also tend to be written by the best educators.

The point: different people in different areas have different talents. The key is to come up with models that allow the efforts of the talented in each area to scale out so that more can access them, and so that the less talented can benefit from the solutions even if they couldn't think them up in the first place[1]. This is a process of iteration.

But the iteration won't even get started if one rejects quality/elitism from the beginning.

[1] How many of the tens of millions of people operating browsers, iPhones, refrigerators, or automobiles can understand them, let alone improve them, let alone invent them? Civilization is based on finding the best, allowing them to amass resources, and rewarding them for distributing their discoveries to as many as possible. Denying that a technical elite exists is counterproductive.

Jonas Salk developed the polio vaccine, which was used to inoculate millions. Just about every medical procedure used in practice and documented in textbooks was developed by the best doctors, systematized, and then scaled out.

You pretty much sunk your argument with the very first example. Salk gave the polio vaccine away for free so that kids wouldn't have to die anymore from it.

Elitism states that only the best should have it. Altruism states that everyone deserves to have it.

>rewarding them for distributing their discoveries to as many as possible

If the 80% has no money, then the 80% cannot reward the elites.

Has there ever been an advanced society that did not have elites? That was not hierarchical or exclusionary? How do you propose that humanity rid itself of these troublesome qualities? It seems like you're just here to proclaim your own moral superiority.

The OP was obviously making a "wake up and think about what you're saying post". What did you contribute exactly?

Allow me to expand on my point. To me the OP was obviously engaging in a worthless semantic debate. The post to which he was replying said (paraphrased) "elitism is good, everyone wants to best for themselves and their kin." It was clear from the post what temphn meant by elitism.

Then scrod came in with the dictionary definition of "elitism". And my point is that people will always favor their family, their friends, people who have been through similarly trying circumstances. The formation of factions of people who cooperate is inevitable, and some will be successful. Furthermore the beautiful, the intelligent, the charismatic, the ruthless will always have an advantage over the masses. Does anyone really want to live in a society that's NOT run by people who are in some way "the best"? I understand that some people are against hereditary wealth and privilege, but in a meritocratic society it's just a different set of people who are the elite. Again I ask, where is the society which is not dominated by an elite?

At this point it's impossible to tell if the post was edited, but when I read it last night, I don't recall seeing the phrase "above all else". It's not implied by his dictionary definition, so that part of his statement is too strong - "dominating element" vs "above all else". It's clear that scrod has contempt for any society with an elite (which I again emphasize is every advanced society on earth right now).

And then finally the moralizing came in: "Your attitude is pretty repugnant", in an attack on a strawman!

> It happened when we started penalizing people for having anything less than perfect health.

It's my understanding of history that it wasn't until very recently that some societies started to mitigate some of the effects of being in "less than perfect health".

I thought the modern idea of welfare programs (old age pensions, accident insurance, medical care and unemployment insurance) originated in the 19th century in Prussia with Otto von Bismarck:


That doesn't strike me as "very recently" - even the UK "cradle to the grave" NHS is over 60 years old:


That's very recent in civilizational terms.

You're right - progressive societies are a relatively new invention, but is that really an excuse?

The history of the world is dominated by oligarchies because these ideas and systems didn't exist. We now have working examples of a better way - and in fact the USA's closest peers (in terms of economic output, political stability, etc) are practically all progressive socialist nations. And yet all I can see in this country is the poor cheering madly while the oligarchs trample all over their faces.

When did the future turn into a game of Survivor?

I don't know, but the past turned into a game of Survivor roughly four billion years ago. If it hadn't, we never would have developed cell membranes, let alone multicellularity.

I'm not just being glib. The struggle to survive and to thrive, against members of other species or against members of your own, is a constant feature of all life across the Earth and probably throughout the universe. I don't know why people seem to think they should be immune from it.

Wow, the "survival of the fittest" argument, and on hacker news of all places. The entire point of civilization is to escape "survival of the fittest". Do you know what we call people who still live by those rules? Uncivilized.

>I don't know why people seem to think they should be immune from it.

So when social leaders sell us in childhood on the idea that the future will be a disease free high-tech utopia, they really mean it will be that for an elite 20% and the rest of us can go die.

Social Darwinism is delightful.

That is the same system we have been playing forever, ever since the bronze age when the stone tool makers where put out of business by the metal workers.

Your error, and it is a common one, is to assume that no new chairs are created.

The trouble right now is because we have gone from trying to create new and fundamentally better things to making existing things cheaper (this is a good and necessary thing too, or else we would only have cars for the rich but it assumes that new technologies exist that can be made cheaper).

We have too many bosses and not enough leaders.

The chairs in this analogy represent access to food, healthcare, education, shelter, clothing. The necessities of life.

The game technically has more chairs than people.

The problem is that an elite 1% are occupying 50% of the chairs.

If you don't have a seat when the music stops, just kiss your life goodbye.

That's the natural order. Scarcity and all that yap. We're fighting to do away with it. As it turns out, its freakin' hard.

This Robert Heinlein quote is perhaps overplayed, but I'm gonna paste it in here anyway in case someone hasn't heard it or just needs a reminder:

"Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded — here and there, now and then — are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty. This is known as "bad luck.""

Care to list some societies that have failed for those reasons and in that way?

[Edit: Heinlein died in '88 so he can't have been talking about the Soviet Union and its empire, which anyway I don't think falls into that category].

Spain forced all jews to convert or to be exiled in 15th century, although they were the most succesfull bankers and merchants (perhaps because of that).

When all the gold from America arrive to Spain in the next century there were no one to use it wisely, so the Spanish Empire turn into an economic disaster.

I know it is a bit OT but another thing that depresses me that I suspect most people actually have pretty useless jobs. Like the one person wondering what she did wrong, living in a wealthy neighborhood. Yes, other people have nice cars and houses, but the reality is they are probably just doing some useless thing in their job. They just hacked themselves into the system somehow (the system is very ineffective). I don't think people do that out of a mean spirit, they just try to get by and work with the system. It just seems most of the world is fake at times, and it depresses me.

I've been briefly employed, underemployed, and unemployed for the last several years, supplementing it with freelance (writing) work.

It does take up all your time either searching for work, applying for work, or just worrying about work and the future. I know I can do good work, and I'm adaptable and humble, but the jobs just aren't out there for this 43-year-old....

If you can get freelance writing work, you're familiar with freelancing. Why not hustle that more, and look for freelance work, rather than a job? This is news.yc after all!

Fair enough - I can never quite seem to get up the momentum of contracts I need to make a go of it. I'm not a sales type...

While reading this, This particular simpsons clip came to mind.


especially when i was reading about the PH.D from Purdue working as a janitor.

Saw this in the article:

> "The most difficult part of the job search is waiting for permission to give up"

What exactly does it mean for someone to "give up" on a job search? Unless you have a significant other, won't you eventually starve and/or be kicked out of your residence? Or does "giving up" mean collecting unemployment insurance/welfare/disability insurance ad infinitum?

Genuinely curious here, do not mean this to be a loaded question.

I had a friend that was unemployed for a very long time and couldn't find work. She just stopped looking after awhile. To make ends meet, she borrowed money from friends, including me. After a few months, she found a new job and was able to pay everyone back.

Being jobless and desperate puts you into a deep hole emotionally. Sometimes you just need a break to get your head together again. Because you think that endless searching for jobs is your duty as an unemployed person, it often feels like you need "permission" from society to stop.

Just think how often people ask you what you do for a living. It happens all the time at parties and when meeting strangers. In our society, it is looked down upon to be unemployed. This circumstance is only a positive quality in the very wealthy (think how good "retiring early" sounds).

I was thinking that they might mean social pressures, waiting until they can give up without coming across as a complete failure or something like that.

Yes. But what do they do afterwards for food/rent?

If you live in the developed world you won't actually starve - that's what welfare is for.

It is actually pretty hard to get welfare and unemployment benefits in the US. I got laid off from a job in California a few years ago and it took weeks for the unemployment office to finally agree that I qualified for benefits. They make it extremely hard to collect benefits so that they can save money. There were times when I spent days calling only to have an automated voice tell me to try calling again later. I wasn't even allowed to be put on hold in a phone queue. It was very frustrating.

I've never had this problem. They've made it so easy that you only ever have to talk to someone once. The rest of the time it's all online and is automatically deposited into your bank account.

It may have been a problem because your ex-employer disputed it.

This was in California. You have to physically fill out forms every two weeks and get checks mailed to you. My employer was a huge tech firm that laid off 25% of the company. They were actually very helpful in the transition, but they can't work miracles on bureaucracy.

However, being ok and having skills to deal with unemployment gives you an important skill: Being able to openly say "Fuck you" to your employer or a client.

The part about desperation is not exactly right. I think those who are employed, unhappy and scared of unemployment are in a worse position. Unemployed are actually free, they have very little to lose. They have gotten out of zoo cages and roam the world, which while scary is much more interesting than a job.

If you wanna have an absolute security that you'll have food and a roof, go to jail or something.

I actually can feel this. I am looking for one myself in NYC/Nj area.

Are you a programmer?

If not, what do you do?

I can't imagine a world where a programmer in NYC can't find a job.

I have started looking fairly recently but my point was the looking for a new job, in this market is not easy, esp when you are not living in the area you are looking for a job in.

It depends on your specialty.

True. I am ready to work as a junior developer too. I have computer science background and have willingness to learn as well but that just does not cut it, in this market.

I am however working on my own apps and learning and trying to build a portfolio that way.

What open source work have you done?

I write Python scripts, write HTML and jQuery. I do not have anything concrete yet.

Let this be a lesson to anyone who happens to read this to have a public portfolio of projects rounded out before you graduate, or before you need your first programming job.

That's why I'm asking, finding a job in NYC and the Bay Area have both been the most pleasant and amusing job searches of my life so far.

I am a programmer but I live near DC. Finding something from here is difficult.

DC is still not a horrible market. What are your specialties? Would you consider living elsewhere to save your career?

I would like to be in NY/NJ area. A recent family tragedy makes me want to stay close.

Moments like this remind me I don't have much in common with most people.

Is my wanting to stay with family a rare thing?

It should be a common thing for his phrase to make sense...

The second comment...

I am over the bruises to my ego; I just ignore my mother-in-law completely now. The worst thing though is the impact on my kids. We were making $120K plus two years ago. Now, about $35K. Lost the house. Thankfully still in the same school. That said, the kids went from being respectably comfortable in their cohort to being comfortable if tattered (used clothes, battered rental, same old car, no summer trips, etc.). Thank God they are still young (just started third grade) but we're not having any sleepovers here no matter how much they ask. I am afraid for the social impact on them.

I have a very hard time sympathizing with this person. They ooze entitlement and crave validation in every sentence.

I didn't mind these folks so much. They're doing it rough, but they're working hard at taking care of their kids, at least they're not trying to blame someone else for their problems. I'm sure these folks will end up fine.

The folks who are shocked and disappointed that the universe has failed to reward them for all their hard work at a PhD in Womens' Studies, on the other hand, I fail to sympathise with.

What on earth are you talking about? This sounds like projection to me because I didn't read anything like that in there.

It sounds to me like this person grew up poor and knows what it means. This stupid idea that poor = lazy/bad is so entrenched in the US society (and was when I was growing up too) that it can ruin your social life from very early on. If I were in his shape I would do anything I had to to make sure my children's peers thought of them as at least middle class so they would have better social connections later in life.

Failing that, I would just let my kids know that when they get college age we're moving somewhere so they can start a new life.

"This stupid idea that poor = lazy/bad is so entrenched in the US society (and was when I was growing up too) that it can ruin your social life from very early on"

If you aren't mentally or physically unable to do something (which is the case in a small percentage of the population), you shouldn't be poor. There are many opportunities in the US. I've been poor, had many poor friends, and now I'm doing much better.

Poor, many times, can be changed, but people aren't willing to change their lifestyles.

Many people have free time after work (if you aren't working, you have even more free time). I chose to learn a skill during that time. Many of my friends, who still aren't going anywhere in life, chose to drink, have fun, and party with their friends. I sacrificed that time (for awhile at least) for my career.

Many people also don't understand delayed gratification. They need to have everything now and as a result, suffer financially.

"least middle class so they would have better social connections later in life"

When you have more money, it becomes difficult to stay friends with people that are consistently poor. Many times because your problems, outlook on life, and hobbies change.

You, sir, don't have the slightest fucking clue what you're talking about.

okay, tell me why. I'm just telling you my experience of seeing this first-hand many many times.

Your post was so arrogant, offensive and ignorant I don't even know where to start. I suppose I'll just say: don't judge someone until you've walked a mile in their shoes.

Maybe you've know (of known of) people you thought were scumbags. Maybe they even were, but it's the height of ignorance to assume that all poor people are the same based on that. I can tell you there really are people for whom everything they try just seems to go wrong. And the US is a lot more brutal to failure than most first world countries.

Yeah, me too. I spent a couple of years of my childhood living in a trailer while attending a parochial school (because the local public schools sucked.)

I had a similar childhood. I didn't live in a trailer, but in bad apartment complexes. The local public schools sucked, so my parents sent me to a parochial school with a very affluent student population. My parents didn't make much money, so I got to go for free. I always felt different there for some reason, but I didn't realize why until later: I was the "poor" kid.

I remember a friend's mother giving me a box of his old clothes once. When I was wearing a shirt of his the next day and told him about it, he got very pissed off.

I was usually the only student in my classes who got free lunches. I was too young to be embarrassed, but I think I was treated differently because of it.

So I think being the poor kid can have a stigma, but I still had sleepovers.

Please explain where you see entitlement or a need for validation anywhere in there? It feels to me like you copied and pasted the wrong quote.

Agreed. When will people realize that denying them sleepovers will have a far greater impact on them socially than used clothing?

(Actually used clothing is awesome, I wouldn't have half as many nice shirts if I hadn't bought them used. Oh and you can get suits, ties, utensils, etc as well).

They weren't denying them sleepovers. He was denying letting other kids come to their house. I'm sure they would be happy to have their kids go to other people's house. They just can't let it get out that their kids have poor parents. This can be a really huge deal.

These quotes sound quite a bit like my dating life. Especially since I spend so much time working...

It is a pretty one-sided negative article.

I always enjoyed being jobless, I finally get the time to catch up on things I want to do, and it is a good time to reflect and make life changes.

The general perception out there is that being jobless sucks, and this article reinforces that by focussing on negative reports. It would have been much more interesting to read a more balanced article.

I knew I could count on HN comments to give me a whiny out-of-touch yuppie.

Yep, nothing wrong with being jobless. It's being money-less that's annoying.

Let me guess, you're probably young, single, male, already have money and excellent job prospects. Hey, I'm in the same boat. I know I can quit my job, backpack around the world for a year, come back and find a new job in a week. And I have done that before so I speak from experience. I love being unemployed. 

But you know what? I'm thankful everyday for the fact that I have the option to do that. I'm privileged and I know it. I am not as naive as to think this is normal or good advice for the jobless. Tell that to someone with kids and a mortgage. Tell them to go use this time to party, pursue what they love, study, travel etc. That shit costs money and when you don't know when your next paycheck will come, that is a foolish waste of time and horrible advice. 

34, married, male, no money, one and a half kids, I rent.

However, the next best thing applies. I live in Germany. They pay me to be unemployed. In terms of total wealth, including time with kids, leisure, time to learn things, follow my interests and invest time in providing for my future, unemployment pays more than employment. (Financially it pays about 80% of employment, but apart from that employment basically puts personal growth, including preparing for a better future for my family, at a standstill.)

The article is written from an American viewpoint, about the USA. The imbalance you perceive is in the culture and politics of the USA, not just the article.

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