5 x 8: The part-time generation


It was a sobering report on Marketplace last evening that described a generation to which anyone over 40 or so cannot possibly relate — a generation without the freedom to plan for the future. As the economy adds jobs, Adriene Hill reported, it’s important to note that in many cases they’re part-time jobs and jobs without benefits. They won’t last that long, not long enough to give the generations living in the economy the ability to count on it. And if you can’t count on your job, you can’t really make a future.

I spotted an ad for a part-time job at Lowe’s that “requires morning, afternoon and evening availability any day of the week.”

It’s happening across the economy. Just in reporting this story, I talked to a phlebotomist who can’t afford to live on her own, a zoo employee whose hours are too low to qualify for health insurance, a shoe salesman who has to upsell customers to earn more hours. Some of my colleagues are on contracts.

“Labor avoids being a fixed cost and can be shifted around depending on the employer needs,” Kalleberg says. But these tenuous jobs rarely meet employees’ needs.

“It creates a lot of uncertainty and insecurity; it may lead to a situation where they don’t have health insurance, because they don’t have enough hours. So it creates a very unstable and uncertain existence.”

Related: The Beginning of the End of Unpaid Internships (Time.com)


The Census Bureau gives us a little bit of the future with its release that death exceeded births for white non-Hispanics in the U.S. for the first time in about a century. It says by the end of the decade, the decline of the white population should be well underway.

The transition will mean that “today’s racial and ethnic minorities will no longer be dependent on older whites for their economic well-being,” Dr. Frey said. In fact, the situation may be reversed. “It makes more vivid than ever the fact that we will be reliant on younger minorities and immigrants for our future demographic and economic growth,” he said.

The viability of programs like Social Security and Medicare, Dr. Frey said, “will be reliant on the success of waves of young Hispanics, Asians and blacks who will become the bulwark of our labor force.” The issues of minorities, he added, “will hold greater sway than ever before.”

Asians were the fastest-growing major ethnic or racial group, the survey said. It also noted that the median age in North Dakota — a state that once exported its youth — has declined.

Related: Minnesota's minority population fuels state's modest growth – TwinCities.com.


The Star Tribune documents our ability to reach new lows with its report of the woman (apparently) who’s running around the Linden Hills neighborhood stealing people’s plants.

Flowers, bushes, trellises and statues have been taken from at least a dozen boulevards and yards, causing losses of thousands of dollars and putting local business and homeowners on high alert. To thwart the as-of-yet elusive thief, some are taking elaborate steps — establishing an e-mail alert system, installing motion detectors and keeping watch at night.

“It’s just a mystery,” said Jeanne Long, whose garden was raided three times last year and again last week. Long has lost plants and artwork, including a watercolor painting and a collection of antique pitchers displayed on her front porch.

It’s clear this is the work of a light-fingered green thumb who has an eye for the finer things.

“They know what plants they want — whatever is unusual,” said Abby Rutchick, who has been hit multiple times, losing about 20 ornamental bushes from her boulevard. “It really dampens your spirits.”

And the thievery isn’t confined to easily accessible flora in front yards. “The person actually came into our fenced back yard and took a 5-foot hibiscus out of the pot,” said Shari Davis. “How brazen is that?”

The money line: “All of the targets are impatient to catch the thief.” Get it?


Why so angry, Lego person?

A new study says Lego characters released since the early ‘90s are proportionately more angry. The authors of the study figure the increase in anger may be related to theme sets.

“We cannot help but wonder how the move from only positive faces to an increasing number of negative faces impacts how children play … The children that grow up with LEGO today will remember not only smileys, but also anger and fear in the Minifigures’ faces,” the report said.

It’s only a matter of time before an alleged criminal invokes “the Lego defense.”


This ad for a Civil War commemoration in a town west of Rochester did what it was intended to do. It motivated me to find out more about the “boys of Wasioja.”

Sixty-eight men from Dodge County would serve in Company C with the 2nd Minnesota, the Rochester Post Bulletin reported a couple of years ago. Only one came back to Wasioja.

Bonus I: More on the tragic story of the young child left in a hot van in Moorhead (wrote about it yesterday): The Fargo Forum says changes in routine seem to be the common these of these sorts of tragedies. And a Grand Forks mother relives the day it happened to her.

Bonus II: Today in the the ongoing surveillance story: Why "I Have Nothing to Hide" Is the Wrong Way to Think About Surveillance reports Wired. Why it’s so much about nothing, writes Thomas Friedman.

Bonus III:
Big game tonite. It’s the Congressional Baseball Game. Roll Call has the coverage. (h/t: Michael Stalberger)

Bonus IV: A pitch for bone marrow donors from 1,800 miles away (KansasCity.com). A young man threw out the first pitch at last night’s game in Oakland, even though he was in Kansas City.

What is the best live musical performance you’ve experienced?


Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: TSA screening practices.

Second hour: Playwright Judy Juanita joins us to talk about her autobiographical novel, ‘The Virgin Soul,’ which follows a young woman who joins the Black Panther Party in San Francisco during the Civil Rights Movement. She’ll also discuss what it means to be a black woman writer, and the ways in which black literature gets pigeon-holed into ‘urban lit.’

Third hour: Anna Badkhen’s career as a foreign correspondent has taken her to Mali, Iraq, Chechnya and Russia. She has reported from war zones and conflict areas. But her newest book took her back to Afghanistan, where she has visited many times since September 11. In this book, Badkhen recounts her time in Oqa, a remote Afghan village, exploring the tension between Afghanistan’s violence and poverty and its incredible beauty.

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): A debate from the Intelligence Squared series: Does America need a strong dollar policy? Steve Forbes and three other finance experts debate the value and integrity of our money.

Talk of the Nation (1-2 p.m.) – At a two-day summit described as “unique, positive and constructive,” President Obama and Chinese president Xi Jinping agreed to work together on North Korea, and talked around the thornier issue of cyber-security. Guest: Rob Gifford on the U.S. relationship with China.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – – Pilgrim Baptist Church in St. Paul was founded in 1863 by a group of African American men, women and children who traveled up the Mississippi River from Missouri to Minnesota on the Underground Railroad. The church is still a cornerstone for social justice. MPR’s Sasha Aslanian has the story.

NPR considers the best music albums of the year.

  • jon

    #1) I don’t know that people over 40 wouldn’t be able to relate… many of them didn’t have an inability to plan for their future, but they simply choose not to plan. To be honest that is part of what is driving the unemployment rate. Baby boomers aren’t retiring like they were supposed to… we have more people in the workforce then we can deal with… When I question why baby boomers aren’t retiring the answer always seems to come back to a lack of planning when they were entering the workforce. Doesn’t apply to all boomers of course, but there are a great number of them who can’t afford to retire yet… so they don’t.

    This is the Just in Time (JIT) business model being extended to labor force. Keeping people around when you don’t need them there is expensive. Not having people when you need them is detrimental too. Businesses have learned how to have their materials on hand for manufacturing, and even food in the foodservice industry, in exactly the quantities needed. They are doing the same for labor now. Only catch is that it’s hard to order 10 perfectly trained employees this week, but only 8 the next week, and 12 the week after… so instead they higher 12-14 people with flexible schedules and play scheduling games to make it fit their needs (fast food places have been doing this for a very long time) and as a bonus they get out of giving them benefits because they are part time! This used to fall apart when you started working with skilled labor, but as more and more layers are being put in place in the workforce the number of transferable skills is becoming greater and greater.

    • http://blogs.mprnews.org/newscut/ Bob Collins

      It’s true, boomers haven’t been able to retire, but we nonetheless got to dream and plan and have a future. We got to have kids if we wanted. We got to buy homes. But the heartbreaking part of the Marketplace story is near the end when the woman says, “I could’ve been a great mom.” She’s given up on the future.

    • John Peschken

      I was fortunate to have had an employer that encouraged retirement savings early on. I am 60, and ready for retirement except for one thing. I have a “preexisting condition” and a wife who works for a nonprofit that does not offer health insurance. No carrier will touch me as an individual. I am working for the insurance. I assume I am not alone, so if the Affordable Care Act provides reasonably priced insurance for people like me, we could see a surge in retirements that might make labor a little less of a buyers market.

    • John O.

      My wife and I are amongst the youngest boomers. We have been fortunate in that we have modest savings, investments, a house, raised two kids that have left the nest, etc. We planned, but did it our way. As a young man, I began investing with the help of a broker at a large, national firm that no longer exists.

      What I learned the hard way (in other words, too late) was that my investments through him and his brokerage actually became *his* retirement fund because he made a ton on the commission and the funds that he steered me into were crap. Today’s online resources allow us online research opportunities about stocks, bonds, etc., providing a variety of viewpoints and data that did not exist in that era or was difficult to obtain. In those days, “research” consisted of slick fact sheets and booklets with really cool charts and graphs. And the Wall Street Journal. The problem at that time was trying to verify those rosy claims independent from the brokerage pushing their products.

      Finally, like Mr. Peschken, I have a wife living with stage IV cancer. Even if I wanted to retire, she needs the benefits my employer provides so we do not lose everything we have ever worked for. If we ever find ourselves having to pay for treatments on our own, we will be wiped out financially in a short time.

  • MrE85

    1) That is disturbing news. While some of us Boomers are guilty of poor retirement planning, others are in a financial bind due to no fault of our own. One illness, one unexpected job loss, a couple of kids who want to go to college and BOOM! there goes the retirement savings. Also, there are plenty of employers out there making it nearly impossible for their workers to every get ahead, while they reap record profits.

  • Tyler

    Regarding #1 – sounds like an opportunity for the return of unions. Or more social welfare.

    Regarding #2 – Republicans, you are hosed.

  • Jim G

    #1- This began to happen as more and more corporations stopped thinking of their employees as assets you train and retain so they can assist with the growth of the company and started to think of employees as expendable cost items which will be cut at the drop of the hat to enrich bottom lines. Bottom lines which enrich corporate officers whose compensation packages are tied to share prices.

    • Jim G

      It’s time to bring back the acronym F.U.B.A.R (see: The Greatest Generation’s WWII experiences) to describe our current economic system.

  • Sam

    It’s no coincidence that the appalling lack of decent employment options, even for highly educated individuals, has coincided with American unions reaching their lowest ebb in over a century. Americans have increasingly turned our backs on collective bargaining, instead buying into the mythical virtue of rugged American individualism, and as a direct result, our right to pursue meaningful and gainful employment has been trampled by the collective power of big business and its bloody-minded obsession with profit. No unions = longer hours, lower pay, fewer benefits, and employers who feel empowered to run roughshod over their employees. That’s not my opinion – that’s documented fact.

    Want better (or even marginally less terrible) jobs? Want a future that might allow one job to lead to a better one? Want to have kids and retire someday? Unionize. It’s the only way you’ll ever have a voice in the debate or a seat at the table. Those with the money and the power in this country aren’t the least bit interested in making your life better, and they’ll continue to turn the screws on American workers until you put them in a position where treating you badly is bad for their bottom line. And you’ll never be able to do that on your own.

  • Me

    #1) I am just over 40 and have been talking with a lot of my contemporaries. A few of us have come to the conclusion that there is no longer any thing that resembles a “permanent” position. Granted part of that is my chosen field or work, Architecture. I know many people in my field that work 2 jobs. With the latest down turn in the economy I have a lot of fear of taking the plunge into the American Dream of how ownership. I can not guarantee that if I buy a house now that in 1 or 2 years or less, that I will still be employed and able to make a house payment. Even with all time low interest rates and house prices. Not that I could even come up with the down payment. I have had to use up what savings I did have while unemployed for an extended period of time. I gave up a while ago on thinking about getting married and having kids and a home. Not that time to do all that has passed and for me and I am guessing a lot of people my age who are not already married homeowners and many of the generation coming up behind me, that dream is nothing more then that, a dream.

    I am willing to bet that the people a few years younger then I am have a better shot at getting and keeping a job in a down turn then I do. Their pay is less then mine, so in a bad stretch of the economy they are kept as workers and us with experience and higher pay are out. Not that the pay they do get is enough for them to make that dream come true either.

    I have no idea what I will do when it comes time for me to retire. Low pay in the early years of my career and sporadic employment have left me with out much of a 401K. I have a lot of making up to do now if I want that decent retirement and still I am not counting on the future to be any better then the past has been.