What $1 Trillion Means: The 2013 U.S. Job Market and Beyond
A lot of people are speculating as to what type of job market growth we are going to see in 2013. Most predictions coming out of the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics show some reason for optimism across most sectors. In the tech arena our company works in, projections generally seem good, even showing rapid growth in certain areas such as big data (of course, companies still have to find the right talent for these positions, and this talent may not be here in the United States).
Although I see these predictions of at least short-term spurts across the U.S. job market, I still can’t help but warn our clients to be cautious. (Our motto for ITtechExec is “Let’s Be Real.” We want to see our clients be successful, and the best way to do that is to paint the most realistic picture of the markets they serve.)
For although everyone is hung up on quantitative data when it comes to job creation numbers, there is a looming qualitative issue that I believe we are going to have to face sooner or later.
And it isn’t necessarily the quality of the jobs created. It is the quality of life we are going to have here in America.
If you listen to the news at all, or are even mildly paying attention, you should have some idea (I hope) that the U.S. federal government speaks about spending and deficit in terms of trillions of dollars. In 2012 alone, our government overspent its earnings by $1.1 trillion, leaving us with a national debt of more than $16.4 trillion. Now, in 2013, the federal government is projected to continue to overspend, this time by slightly less than $1 trillion, which if you’re keeping up, means our national debt will grow.
Now, as I heard a TV commentator somewhat stupidly say the other day, “that’s a very big number.” (I should say so.)
It is not my intention here to get into a political debate about who’s to blame. Both sides are crazy, in my opinion. Let’s face it: anyone who can look the American people in the eye and say that overspending by $1 trillion in one calendar year is good for us is just nuts. (If you don’t believe me, do a small-scale test with your own finances; keep on overspending and then pretend it’s good for you. Eventually reality will come knocking.) And anyone who thinks it is bad for us, but keeps on voting to do it anyway, well, he or she is even more nuts.
(Furthermore, I think we are way past arguing about Keynes versus Hayek. Neither one of them imagined this amount of spending and this amount of debt.)
My main concern is the lack of understanding of what $1 trillion means.
It is certainly more than just a “big” number. And it is way more than just an IOU that we have to China and Japan.
Here’s an illustration I’ve heard tossed around that offers some perspective:
If you owned a company starting in 1 AD, and that company lost $1 million a day, what year would it be when your company finally lost $1 trillion?
Answer: The year 2737 or 2738…give or take.
And that’s only $1 trillion. Our country owes 16 times that amount….
That means we are now living in a time when we will never see our national debt be paid off. Sure, we might pay it down a little, but it is more likely we will continue to see it grow.
Why? Because the qualitative understanding of what a trillion means is lost on our culture.
A talk show radio host I heard the other day was all upset about our children and grandchildren, and the debt we are leaving them, but I think he needs to check his math. This debt will go many more generations past our grandchildren and even great-grandchildren.
And yet here we are with hope in our eyes that the 2013 job market is going to have some miraculous turnaround, spurring on an economy with high growth. The problem is that we are better served by preparing ourselves for job markets and economies that are backed by a nation with a debt it most likely will never pay back (and backed by a dollar that is losing its significance, not just its value, but more importantly, its significance).
We can certainly have moments of temporary prosperity, sectors that show stability for a time, and businesses that boom for a season, but behind it looms an economy that’s way past overspent.
And just like with our personal finances, eventually reality must show up.
Now, whether it comes in 2013, who knows. But I do think there will be some type of reckoning, depression/rapid inflation (take your pick), and it’s not likely that far off, especially considering that $1 trillion is just a “big” number to us now.
So what does this mean for job seekers? It means you need to get real. Be vigilant about the industry/market you are in. Get better at reading the tea leaves, so to speak. Stop being shocked when companies lay off one minute and hire the next.
Expect some instability in your career. Even more than what you’ve seen so far.
I know that this may not be the most upbeat message, certainly not at the beginning of a year when many analysts are predicting some growth (jobs, housing, etc.). I also know that it sounds a bit fatalistic, and it is. Again, it isn’t to say that some brighter skies might shine here and there, but we live in an age where we expect nothing to ever change. In the United States, in particular, we suffer from a normalcy bias (the idea that bad things don’t happen here) that we need to snap out of.
For the truth is that change is inevitable (you know, that whole death and taxes thing?), and if we want to maneuver through the days ahead, we need to expect it.