Finding Hidden Treasures

Both jobs and volunteer opportunities are valuable commodities.

September 13, 2013

I sailed the high seas of the Fox River last weekend aboard “Windy,” a replica of a historic schooner at the Tall Ship Festival in Green Bay—a fascinating event.

Those enjoying a sail were regaled with boating tips, pirate stories of the Great Lakes, and other educational discourse. I was intrigued by a discussion of pirates and treasure, initially centered on definitions of each.

Pirates are those committing crime on any body of water. They need not be plundering about the Caribbean—and parrots are optional. Treasure is not limited to gold coins and gems; rather, it consists of any commodity of great value. Value is determined to a large extent on issues and demands of the day.

We learned about three of the treasures on the Great Lakes: fur pelts, lumber, and rum. Indeed, timber piracy on the Great Lakes was a highly profitable endeavor, as swashbuckling lumberjacks found their niche in the forest products industry, which was a booming economic force in the 19th and 20th centuries. All in a day’s work…

We don’t hear much about pirates now. And we may not often acknowledge various circumstances, abilities, benefits, or situations as valuable resources, just as timber contradicts notions of traditional pirate bounty.

Employment can sometimes be valuable for the individual—treasured by some but not all—and its value may vary. How might different philosophies on employment impact our economy at large?

Research this week finds us swimming in employment issues.

‘If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.’—Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Roman philosopher

“We find that individual unemployment is the strongest predictor of default,” says the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta in “Unemployment, Negative Equity, and Strategic Default.” 

The data-rich paper reveals “individual unemployment increases the probability of default by five to 13 percentage points,” and “only 13.9% of defaulters have both negative equity and enough liquid or illiquid assets to make one month’s mortgage payment.”

Policy is impactful, and those “designed to promote employment, such as payroll tax cuts, are most likely to stem defaults in the long run rather than policies that temporarily modify mortgages.”

Why Are Fewer People in the Labor Force during the Great Recession?”  According to the Urban Institute, the percentage of Americans seeking employment in March 2013 dropped to 63.3%—the lowest level since 1979—and “well below the 66% percent level of December 2007, the start of the Great Recession.”

This paper reveals that, in part, some of the decline has to do not with increased job opportunities but a shrinking workforce.

“Decline in entry rates is concentrated among women, particularly young women, and among men ages 55 and older,” the paper reports. The report describes what some Americans value about employment situations and opportunities—and what they do not.

Part of the reason women lag a bit in the workforce is “a lack of family-friendly labor laws in the United States,” according to an article at CNNMoney.

“As of last year, America ranked 27th out of 37 developed countries for women’s labor force participation,” according to the article, and currently, “only 74% of women are active in the U.S. workforce.”

Per higher education guru Anthony J. D’Angelo, perhaps American women have decided it best to “Treasure your relationships, not your possessions.”

‘Each man in his way is a treasure.’—Robert Falcon Scott, Royal Navy officer and explorer

“More than three and a half years since the official end of the Great Recession, the labor market remains severely depressed. As of December 2012, 12.2 million people were unemployed: 7.8% of the 155.5-million-person labor force,” says “Who Are the Long-Term Unemployed?” another study by the Urban Institute.

Long-term unemployed people exhibit similarities to the newly unemployed and discouraged workers. Therefore, “solutions that remove barriers to re-employment for the long-term unemployed will also be beneficial for other workers facing some degree of labor market distress.”

All hands will remain on deck, according to Gallup, as “In U.S., Most Would Still Work Even If They Won Millions.” This survey shows Americans value their jobs for more than merely compensatory reasons as “Two-thirds of Americans say they would continue working even if they won $10 million in the lottery, while 31% say they would stop.”

That’s higher than in the past, Gallup reports. Reasons for this change in sentiment since the Great Recession are unclear, but “it may be that workers today have a renewed appreciation for the value of having a job—even if they were to become independently wealthy.”

Some part-timers are still missing the boat as they attempt to navigate to full-time employment. Why?

“Faltering economic growth at home and abroad, and concern that President Barack Obama’s signature health-care law will drive up business costs” are driving wariness about taking on full-time staff,” Reuters reports.

Despite recent robust hiring in America, “three out of four of the nearly one million hires this year are part-time, and many of the jobs are low-paid.” Employers like flexibility of part-timers but economists suggest a strengthening economy and greater understanding of Affordable Care Act implications will stem the tide in the part-time worker trend.

Businesses, however, are getting accustomed to lean operations and may not want to further rock the boat with employment changes.

Finally, the Center for Economic and Policy Research asks, “Does It Pay to Volunteer?” 

The answer is yes, and “unemployed persons may not be aware of the potential job benefits of volunteering… We estimated that persons who were not employed were, on average, 6.8 percentage points more likely to have found employment a year later if they volunteered.”

Those volunteering in lesser amounts of time were no more likely to have found a job.

We all have different motivations, and the value of a dollar may not always win out. Jobs are important economic drivers, but they provide personal benefits as well.

Policy may shape opinions and, consequently, the economy.

In the words of Norwegian swimmer Alexander Dale Oen, “Nothing comes sailing by itself.”

Anchors aweigh!






Lora Bray is a research librarian at CUNA.