By Bill Wineke Special to Channel 3000
There's a fellow in Duluth who drives a truck. His name is Bob and he's got me thinking.
I spent an hour last week as a guest of the Joy Cardin Show on Wisconsin Public Radio. We were talking about the column I wrote that week about income disparity and how it might affect us in the future. Bob called in to share his experience.
Bob's experience is that he once had a good office job, but lost it in a corporate downsizing and, now, he drives a truck in Duluth, making less money and working harder. He said that's what he does to support his family, rather than relying on unemployment insurance.
There was something about Bob that I liked instinctively. I'd like to think that's what I would do if I couldn't support my family doing what I have been trained to do. I started work at 13 and I'm still working at age 69.
So, I admire Bob and I know that there are tens of thousands of people out there who are like him.
But I'm not totally convinced it is the best thing for society to have everyone just take whatever jobs might be available at any given moment.
Many of the men and women who lost jobs during the recession are people with education and technical training that contribute greatly to society. Now, they have to make choices.
If the jobs that made use of that training and education are gone forever, then they'd better try to find some job in Duluth. But if those jobs aren't gone forever, then both the individuals and society at large might benefit if these job seekers took advantage of unemployment insurance while they looked for positions that make use of their skills.
Every day one remains unemployed makes it a bit harder to find a job, but taking a job that doesn't make use of your skills might put in you a lower-skilled position forever.
The thing is that you just don't know what the future holds.
So, I'm not so sure as Bob seemed to be that people drawing unemployment are just too lazy to look for work. They may be making wise choices for them and for society at large.
Then, of course, some of us don't have much choice. At a certain point, trucking firms don't want us old coots driving for them. When dozens -- or hundreds -- of people apply for a tiny number of jobs, many of them won't be hired. We may have physical disabilities that keep us from manual labor. We may have spouses that have decent jobs and don't want to move to Duluth.
To be fair to Bob, he was pretty clear that he thinks people who are unable to work should continue to get benefits. He just thinks -- if I heard him right -- that those of us who can work ought to work.
This is a question that more and more of us will face in the future, I fear. Even aside from the recession, the needs of the American workplace are changing. Skills that were once in high demand are now irrelevant. One reason corporate profits are soaring is that companies have found they can increase production without hiring new workers. No one is going to hire extra help if they can do the job without that expense.
Add to that the fact that we're aging. Baby boomers are edging toward retirement age. But, if you lose your job when you are in your 50s or 60s, replacing it gets harder and harder.
These are not dilemmas that will be solved by electing Democrats or by electing Republicans. These are problems of a changing society and we're all part of that society.
So, emotionally, I'm on Bob's side. But I'm not so sure that there are really all that many people receiving unemployment checks who are unwilling to work.