The gag economy

They say the economy is better, but better for who?

OK, I know that subhead should say for “whom” but this way I can use one of my favorite jokes: “Whom cares?” (Wrote that all by myself and plan on using it at every possible opportunity.)

And now that we have my linguistic failings out of the way, let’s talk about the “gig economy.”

First time I heard this term I thought it had something to do with catching frogs which you do with a gig; a long pole with what amounts to barbed spikes on the end.

Damn, things are so bad people are out in swamps gigging frogs for a living?

My dad would go out at night with a light on his forehead like he was working in a coal mine, look for the light to be reflected by some poor frog’s eyes and stick Kermit with a gig and bring him and a few of his relatives home for supper.

If you’ve never eaten frog legs I can report that you’re not missing a damn thing. Anytime someone says, “It tastes like chicken” I think maybe I ought to just go right ahead and eat chicken and not take any chances on a frog or a snake or the armadillo somebody hit with their Buick Regal on the way home.

But it turns out the “gig economy” has more to do with my high school band than the swamp things I was forced to eat as a child.

A “gig” is what you call it when you show up and play at an eighth-grade dance and get paid, but don’t get any benefits unless you count all the cupcakes you can eat and the beer you’re going to buy with the $25 you just made playing Creedence Clearwater Revival cover songs to twelve-year olds.

So near as I can tell the economy is better for the people who have figured out everyone else is so desperate for work they’ll do jobs that pay like crap and don’t include health care.

Meanwhile…

According to at least one article on the internet (and that’s all I need to make my point) the median compensation for CEOs increased 9 percent from $7.11 million in 2018 to $7.72 million in 2019. I’m guessing that if I was already making $7.11 million and picked up an extra $610,000 the next year I’d think the economy was pretty damn good myself. 

Meanwhile, in the state of Missouri the minimum wage is $8.60 an hour, so work 40 hours a week for 52 weeks and you’ve made a grand total of $17, 888 before taxes take a good-size bite out of it.

The already rich people take more cream off the top; the rest of us can hunt frogs.

But what about the low unemployment rate?

Glad you asked.

If you’re thinking the unemployment rate has fallen in our new and improved economy there are numbers to back you up, but where do those optimistic numbers come from?

According to Investopedia (hey, don’t blame me…I didn’t come up with that name) the unemployment rate is calculated monthly by the Bureau of Labor Statistics by using the ultra-modern and accurate method of calling 60,000 households and asking questions and as we all know none of us ever lie when being questioned by strangers over the phone.

And 60,000 households don’t seem like all that much when you consider there are 329 million citizens who live in the U.S., but once again, it wasn’t my idea so take your complaint to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, get in line and take a number.

If it’s anything under 329,000,000 count yourself lucky.

When they call you up the first thing the BLS people want to know is how many people in your house are also in the labor force and that means people who have a job or are looking for one. If you have been out of work so long and been turned down for so many jobs you’ve given up looking, congratulations – you are not officially unemployed.

You are officially shit out of luck which you’d think would be a Bureau of Labor Statistics category, but it’s not, even though it would seem to be highly informative.

If you’re so depressed you quit looking for work and are currently standing on a chair with a rope around your neck wondering if that ceiling fan will support your weight, according to our government you don’t count as unemployed because you’re not part of the labor force.

According to the Business Insider (another website) those unemployment numbers are getting even further skewed because Uber and Lyft drivers sometimes tell the BLS people they’re employed when they don’t actually have an employer or benefits.

Apparently our government is happy to count ‘em anyway.

And how about if your job sucks?

Let’s say you worked for a company that was doing well and then fell on hard times, so the company started firing people (They call it being laid off, but having been laid off twice I can tell you it feels exactly like being fired.)

So through absolutely no fault of your own you go from being a well-paid executive with an expense account and healthcare and all that other good stuff to working at the local McDonald’s handing out Quarter Pounders at the drive-through window and your new boss is younger than two of your kids, has a GED, a basketball moustache (five on each side) and an attitude.

Congratulations!

You too are part of this new and thriving economy where the people at the bottom get screwed over so the people at the top can take home a little something extra in their paycheck and buy that new BMW they’ve had their eye on.

According to the economic expansion and unemployment numbers, this country is doing great.

McClatchy goes bankrupt

I started thinking about all this stuff when I heard the news that McClatchy – the people who own the Kansas City Star – filed for bankruptcy.

In more ways than I can count, I got lucky.

I started working for the Star back when they actually had pensions and needed cartoonists and got invited to leave the premises just as all that was ending. Kinda like stepping off the Titanic and getting a seat in the last lifeboat.

That’s assuming this McClatchy bankruptcy doesn’t screw up my pension.

I’m hoping the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation who will now get involved doesn’t decide to hold some type of Hunger Games-elimination-contest to reduce the number of us still receiving pension checks.

Frankly, if I live as long as my 94-year-old mother – and I’m planning to – it would be way cheaper to hire a hitman to take me out than pay me what they’ll eventually owe me in pension checks and I’m hoping the PBGC gang doesn’t do the math and reach the same conclusion.

As far as I can tell, I’m gonna be OK, but I’ve got friends who haven’t been so lucky.

If you’re 15 years younger than me and missed the pension lifeboat you might be treading ice-cold water and Kate Winslet won’t make room on the piano.

Probably a CEO in a previous life.

Anyway, I’ve seen some very good people have a very bad time and I think they’re all sick of hearing how the economy is awesome.

Not for them it isn’t.

Let’s end where we began, “The gag economy” and here are a couple useful definitions:

Gag: 1. A joke. 2. Choke or retch.

In this context either definition will work so take your choice. And while you’re trying to decide, just in case those Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation people screw things up, I’m going shopping for some frog gigs.

Kermit better watch his ass.