Sunday, July 19, 2009

Involuntary Part-Time, Part 2

One of the dangers of covering the news of a particular place at a particular time is that the reporter doing the coverage may wind up being part of the news himself if he stays too long in a place where news is happening. I'm not a professional journalist, but I have been trying as best I can to give an accurate account of the unfolding economic collapse that has resulted from the passing of the worldwide peak of crude oil extraction. Now it seems that this collapse is about to touch me personally.

Our company's local office has been shrinking steadily over the last several months, as departments representing various design disciplines have run out of work. Some parts of our leased space are now more than half empty. The office management has offered to put the remaining employees of several departments on part-time schedules in order to avoid further layoffs. Within the last two weeks, our department's turn has come. Even though we get to choose whether or not we want to work part time, it seems to be a Hobson's choice, as the likely alternative is to be shown the door.

This comes at an interesting time for the engineering profession nationwide; it seems that employment for electrical and electronic engineers is shrinking, and that many EE's are being shown the door during this economic downturn. (Source: Of course, if any engineering jobs are being created, they are increasingly to be found in “low-cost centers” overseas, or they involve significant overtime and extensive, mandatory travel.

This trend in engineering job availability brings up an important question for those who are collapse-aware. Given what we know and the trends we see, should we take the disappearance of our employment as a signal to jump clear of the breaking system of the official economy? If you were laid off tomorrow, would you take it as a signal that you should start your own business or make some of the other radical readjustments commonly known to collapse-aware people? Or would you try as hard as possible, for as long as possible, to cling desperately to the official economy, in order to continue meeting your needs via that economy?

To cling to the official economy when one knows that it is breaking seems unwise to me. There is an opportunity cost involved, if one is working 60+ hours a week and traveling one or two weeks a month for a paycheck in order to prolong, for a little while, a certain lifestyle. One who lives such a life has very little time to prepare the necessary adaptations of self-reliance for the day when the official economy breaks. If my office shows me the door, there are some jobs for which I will not apply.

But I have a friend who has taken an engineering assignment in a faraway foreign country for a few years. The pay is very, very good (although the country itself is not the sort of place most tourists would like to visit), and my friend needs the money because of a large mortgage. I only hope his company doesn't go out of business while he's overseas. Such an event might make it extremely difficult to get back to the U.S. again. Such a possibility should not be taken lightly; much stranger things have happened within the last couple of years.


gaias daughter said...

For many, the decision to hang on to the formal economy for as long as possible may be motivated by the benefits it provides, most importantly, health insurance.

My son and daughter-in-law are self-employed and live in Portland, too. They have no health insurance. They cannot afford the premiums and do not qualify for low-income benefits because of the money they have been saving towards a house.

My daughter-in-law was in California recently and became quite ill. She ended up in the emergency room. It turned out to be a kidney infection -- no surgery involved, no overnight stay. They just got the bill -- $10,000!! For a kidney infection!! What concerns me is that the next time they need medical care, they will do without.

These are some of the quandries we face as empire slowly collapses . . .

ha1ku said...

I hope that whatever transition your employer is going through, that the impact to you is as minimal as possible.

I have been following your articles for several months now, and have made been making my own living adjustments in anticipation of the worse-case scenario. I don't know if it's enough, but I feel better for having tried.

TH in SoC said...

Ouch! You bring up a very good point about health care and its ties to the official economy. Obtaining quality health care without being tied to that economy will be a challenge.

TH in SoC said...

ha1ku, thanks for your comments and your readership. I'm glad this blog is proving to be useful.

Stormchild said...

Oh my. I missed seeing this post earlier today. I'm sorry this is happening, TH. I hope you're minimally affected by it... that the most it does is give you a springboard into, for instance, starting your own green engineering company, or some other highly positive outcome.

You'll be in my prayers.