The victims of bad journalism (5×8 – 4/19/13)

This message from an innocent man, why I don’t work, the new iconic picture of life in Minneapolis, fleeing the flood in Fargo, and are they taxes or are they fees?


(edit) So the two suspects in Boston just weren’t two young punks? The events overnight suggest they had military-level tactical skills, and the plot probably originated overseas (CBS reported). Follow the coverage with MPR here.

1) AND NOW THIS MESSAGE FROM AN INNOCENT MAN

“It’s the worst feeling that I can possibly feel… I’m only 17.”

That’s what happens when an out-of-control newspaper and the Internet team up to try to be better at detective work than detectives.

Salah Barhoun, 17,is the young man tagged by the New York Post yesterday as the person authorities were seeking as a suspect in Monday’s bomb. One minor detail: The authorities weren’t seeking him any more than they were seeking anyone else in the pictures.

Related: Five people the Internet was obsessed with who aren’t suspects. (BuzzFeed)

It may well be, as it’s turning out, that the biggest lead in the case came from the man in the most iconic photo of the tragedy. Jeff Bauman, the man being rushed from the scene in a wheelchair, provided authorities with the description of one of the bombers, Bloomberg reports.

2) WHY I DON’T WORK

The Minnesota unemployment rate, like other states, dropped slightly in March. But it wasn’t so much because the economy is zipping along as it is people gave up on it and stopped looking for work, economists said.

“How can people afford to stop looking for work?” I asked during my daily appearance on The Current yesterday. A listener sent me his story.

SHORT STORY

I’ve been unemployed for 3 years. I stopped looking for work for several reasons:

- lack of passion for what I had been doing

- difficulty breaking into a new industry or position

- the painful process of application, only to be (mostly) ignored

- generous severance package, PTO paid out, then unemployment

- our debt is low

- my wife has a great job

And the last reason is the key as to why I don’t have to work. My retirement assets (at age 51) are decent, and that should hopefully double by the time my wife is ready to retire. My wife has about the same amount in retirement assets. Our kids have college education funds established by grandparents, so we were spared most of that burden.

THE MEAT MARKET

The application process is arduous and depressing, with most employers never even getting back to you. Everyone seems to want so many specific things, instead of looking at an individual and their aptitude (or even abilities and track record). As an example, as part of my Managerial duties I managed dozens of projects successfully. I didn’t even know that you could get certified in project management, but is a requirement for many employers when looking at like positions.

And although the job market has come back, some positions do not. I had been an IT Manager in a ‘jack-of-all-trades’ position, which meant for a long time I was procurement, project, budget and staff manager as well as technician and trainer. That’s a pretty specific size company to target, and it’s difficult to beat out any competition that own specializations in those areas, especially at larger firms (where more opportunities exist).

LONG STORY

I was laid off in April 2010, after 14 years with that particular employer. And, they did it on my wedding Anniversary, which made for a very weird-feeling evening. Anyway, I got 6 months of severance, plus my accumulated PTO paid out; after (what felt like) working FT for 35 years, I was ready for a break. So I decided to take 6 months off before starting any search. That was probably a mistake. After that time, I was no closer to knowing what I wanted to do (same thing? change industry? or career path? start my own business)? I had a couple of interviews, but I quickly realized…it was going to be difficult to break out of the industry I was in (IT Manager, Insurance industry), and I had done a very poor job of keeping my skills up to date, at least from a certification standpoint.

After my 6-months of severance ran out, I still had the PTO money to spend. And then I was able to file for unemployment, and that lasted for about a year. Unfortunately, this income helped to dampen any incentive I had to find a similar position. And it wasn’t hard to get used to not working. When I did look for jobs, my search area was pretty narrow because I decided I didn’t want a long commute (I had been driving 20 miles each way to work, and many hiring companies are in Minneapolis and west thereof), and ideally I’d prefer to report to myself. Eventually I pursued personal opportunities, none of which worked out. As an example, I took a 3-month course on tax preparation in order to become a certified tax preparer; that was the first step to one day opening my own business (like a Liberty Tax shop). That didn’t work for several reasons. Although I had high score in the class, the owner made it very clear how jaded she had become from dealing with those that got the EIC (Earned Income Credit). Their entitlement attitude had converted her to a Republican, and I saw some of that first hand. And no one could tell me how a 3-month business could cover 12 months of rent and overhead, etc.

I know I sent out a resume here and there as well, and was not able to break into anything different. For example, I applied at our local community college to teach a business class, and was rejected; I do have my Master’s degree and had done some adjunct work for Concordia back in the 1990′s, but not even an interview, just a no thanks.

The “final” straw was a call from a headhunter, for an IT Manager position at (name withheld). It was close to my house, in an industry that sounded interesting (recycling and the like), but same type of position I had been in, which was worth trying again. After an interview was setup, he tapped me to provide some background to them as to why I had been unemployed for 1.5 years. So, I explained that I took some time off, and then I pursued some other opportunities (like the tax business). The interviews I had to date were informal (usually at restaurants), and my previous employer didn’t require a suit, so I had nothing ‘suitable’ for the interview. I went out and bought a new suit and accessories. After about $1,500 I had a new suit, shoes, socks, ties, suspenders, everything I needed to look sharp and modern. Then he contacted me the day of the interview to tell me they were going to postpone the interview; they weren’t happy with the candidate pool, and he’d get back to me. Last I ever heard from him. I never wore the suit, and regret the $1,500 I spent.

I didn’t even try that hard to find a job (as many others would have in my position), but became jaded fast enough by the usual crap anyone faces getting a job…long applications, copies of transcripts, interview questions to study and think about, constant resume re-writing, non-responses from employers and the whole’ sales’ process. So I decided I never wanted to never work for anyone again.

How? Both my wife and I work(ed). We didn’t live lavishly. We bought a small condo right after college, then bought a starter home 2 years after that and have been here ever since – by just upgrading things here. We drove decent (but not lavish) cars and invested in our 401k’s. We also had the good fortune of grandparents setting up college education funds for their grandchildren, so we didn’t face the burden of paying for our (2) kids’ college education. We paid off the house (sans Home Equity LOC) right when my unemployment ended), and I also paid off my car at that time. So our debt was low, and my wife was enjoying having someone having dinner ready for her every night, as well as not having to do any chores.

My wife’s career has continued to go well. With the kids out of the house and our debt low, money seemed to accumulate in my wife’s account, since we just needed to cover bills and her car payment.

So she decided to buy us a cabin up north last year! I know it almost sounds obscene, since I am still not working. But, she was comfortable working another 15 years to pay off the cabin, and we have been enjoying that now for the last 6 months.

One last thing on the job front…since we have the cabin now, and the winters around here can get pretty boring, I thought I would look for a low level job that would be fun and supplement our income so I could buy some cabin toys. Since I didn’t want to commute, I looked locally, and applied in my home town for an open IT Support position. Even unemployed for two-plus years, I felt my experience was more than adequate and I more than met the criteria. After submitting my resume and completing the lengthy application, I was asked to complete a 20 question history and ‘test’ of sorts. They wanted explanations of school history, and job transitions – more for creating a timeline and whether everything seemed normal I guess. I don’t have anything to hide there…and then there were 5 questions related to the position, like, “A user is at an airport and cannot connect with his iPhone via VPN; list troubleshooting steps and even describe what you would say to the client.” These 5 questions required quite a bit of time and effort, and once again, I never heard boo from these folks. Seriously?

I believe there is a HUGE bias against ‘older’ folks in the workplace (I’m 51 now), compound that with being older and unemployed , and then being older and unemployed for so long. Am I looking for work? No. Will I work again? Perhaps. I tell people today that I am retired. The only thing I miss is the respect – there’s a lack of it if you’re not employed. But I’d still prefer to do my own thing, and I just haven’t figured that out. And that’s OK for now, because the cabin is a fixer-upper, and I look forward to the lake life, which will consume most of my time for the next few years.

RATIONALIZATION

The work life is consumed with so much bologna, from political posturing to long hours to lack of appreciation for your efforts. The only good side is the money and benefits. Sure, it would be nice to pad my Social Security (they look at top 35 years of earnings), and contribute again to my 401k. But at least half of any marginal income would go straight to taxes. There would be additional expenses, from wardrobe to car to food and maybe parking, etc. So how much would I really be earning?

I’ve always had decent luck in life, so I felt something would find me, eventually. After 3 years I’m less certain about that , but there is still plenty of time. If you told me a year ago we’d have a lake cabin up North, I would have told you that you’re dreaming. So maybe that right opportunity will appear in the future…like starting a water ski school on our lake!

SUMMARY

There’s no one reason I’ve stopped looking for work…there’s some bias, some lack of credentials on my part, some personal requirements – like most IT opportunities are too far away and the process sucks. Then add to that a financially stable and supportive spouse, a decent retirement base and little debt (OK, the cabin is now a debt, but there’s already quite a bit of equity there). We also try to keep expenses low, like not eating out a lot. I would admit I miss the money, but not as much as the hassle.

3) A PICTURE OF MINNEAPOLIS

We’ve seen several iconic photographs that well depict the city in which they were taken. What about Minneapolis?

We’ve got one now:

push_bus.jpg

Brian Hart took it yesterday and posted it on his Facebook page. It’s gone viral, which is good because we need the world to see our misery.

For the record, he says he tried to get in there and push the bus at Nicollet and Grant. But there was no room. “It’s like there was big curb party and I wasn’t invited,” he said on his Facebook page.

One lesson the picture well conveys: Wear a belt. Always wear a belt.

A caption contest is in order.

(Photo: ©Brian Matthew Hart 2013)

Related: Snapshots from the cold front (Pioneer Press)

“Visiting Phoenix from Minnesota makes you question every decision you’ve ever made in life.” (Duluth News Tribune)

4) FLEEING THE FLOOD

oak_creek.jpg
(MPR Photo/Nate Minor)

It seems unlikely now that residents along the Red River are going to be able to avoid one of the worst flood threats in history. Nothing seems to be going right for those who’d hoped the annual threat would take another year off.

The Red River has hardly budged in the last few weeks, and it would have to rise an astounding 26 feet to set a flood record. Officials say there’s a pretty good chance it will.

In Fargo, the threat is so bad that at least one resident, who thought he’d be able to stay in his home while others around him were demolished, was told he has to go, too.

In just seven days, the neighborhood will be gone and a levee built.

5) FEES OR TAXES?

Remember when Republicans were in charge at the Legislature and raised taxes by calling them “fees” so they weren’t raising taxes? It sparked a big debate about what is a fee and what is a tax? DFLers are in charge now. They’re raising fees.

Bonus: The competing religions of baseball. (Hardball Times)

WHAT WE’RE DOING

There’s a pretty good chance a lot of these will be pre-empted for coverage from Boston.

Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: Roundtable discussion on the impacts of the Boston bombing.

Second hour: The anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing.

Third hour: The Texas fertilizer plant explosion.

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): James Fallows, speaking earlier this week at St. John’s.

Science Friday (1-2 p.m.) – A look at Utah’s paleontological treasures.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) - In his new film, Robert Redford plays an attorney being chased by a reporter who is chasing that lawyer’s hidden past. Redford talks to NPR about his upcoming role as a former member of the radical Weather Underground.