Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Under-the-Radar Careers

Just a quick post to bring your attention to a few under-the-radar careers that don't require a four-year degree: forensic artist, forensic animator, air traffic controller, and orthopedic technologist.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

On Harry Reid's Calling Men Abusers

On the U.S. Senate floor, while being televised on C-Span, Majority Leader, Harry Reid said "Men, when out of work, tend to become abusive."

Most unemployed men become abusive?! So, according to Reid, if we filled a room with a 100 unemployed men and 100 unemployed women, many men and far fewer women would be abusive.

What's his evidence? He had none but post hoc, his staff dug up a 2004 Dept. of Justice study that found merely that men who are unemployed are more likely to argue with their wives than men who are unemployed. Duh. But the percentage difference is small, the percentage of men who abuse their wives is small, and there's no male vs female comparison. In short, the study provides absolutely no support for Reid's statement that most unemployed men tend to be abusive.

In fact, when domestic violence does occur, a metaanalysis of 250 studies of domestic violence by California State University professor Martin Fiebert finds that women "are as physically aggressive or more aggressive than men in their relationships with their spouses or male partners. The aggregate sample size in the reviewed studies exceeds 365,000."

Instead of lambasting men, half the population, Majority Leader Reid would more wisely focus on identifying initiatives that would create good, stable jobs for men and for women. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment among men in January 2010 is 10.8% versus women's 8.4%, That is the largest gap since BLS started collecting the data, as David Brooks reported last week in the New York Times. 80 percent of jobs lost in the current recession have been to men. Indeed, the recession could be called a He-Cession. Yet 40% of the jobs expected to be created by federal job stimulus programs are targeted at women.

Other recent articles, for example, the March 2010 cover story in The Atlantic Monthly, How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America, and one in the New York Times, The New Poor: Millions of Unemployed Face Years Without Jobs, suggest that ever more people, disproportionately men, are likely to find themselves un- or underemployed.

Especially because unemployment is likely to remain high, if we are to reduce domestic violence, spouses must be more supportive. That's not easy--it's scary for a spouse to lose their spouse's income. So perhaps this is a time to encourage couples to work on their communication, perhaps abetted by counselors and workshop leaders. That and thoughtful private- and perhaps public-sector job-creation initiatives are far more likely to reduce domestic violence than unfairly blaming men.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

My Thoughts on Retiring and Aging Wisely

Most retirement articles focus on the financial. Many others presume you have as much energy and brainpower as in your youth. Here are some thoughts for folks that are slowing down.

Unrandom Acts of Kindness. Some significant unmet needs don't require a person with great energy or cognitive functioning. What's required is kindness, ideally abetted by the wisdom that usually comes only from having lived a long time. Applications: tutor a child or illiterate adult, phone or in-person fundraise for your favorite charity, regularly visit, phone, or SkypeVideo, a homebound person, perhaps bringing your sweet dog as a co-companion, speaking of which...

Adopt a dog. Save a life: the dog's and perhaps your own. So many loving dogs must be killed because there's no room in the shelter or because, after a while in the shelter, they've acquired a serious disease. If you adopt such a dog, you not only may save its life, it forces you into regular exercise--those thrice daily dog walks are the perfect exercise for older people, perhaps for all of us. And it's well acknowledged that hanging out with your pet (I prefer to call it "four-legged family member") reduces your stress and blood pressure, and gives you the unconditional love and fealty we all crave. Yes, owning a dog is a real responsibility--they need ongoing care and make travel more difficult but, as busy as I am, I find that having adopted my dog Einstein has been among the most rewarding things I've done. At, you can find the perfect pet for you. That site contains a nicely searchable database of the adoptable dogs and cats at pounds, shelters, and rescue groups nationwide.

Appreciate the sensory. My mom is old and has a poor memory but she certainly can appreciate the here-and-now. I encourage her to listen to beautiful music, look at photos, get massages, enjoy the beauty apparent when one takes a walk and is observant, and enjoy the wonders available on the TV and computer screens. My mom, fortunately, is still physically vigorous but even if you're not, you can enjoy sensory pleasures--of all sorts. Until recently, my mom had a boyfriend.

Friday, February 19, 2010

How I Could Live Decently on $20,000 a Year

Update 6/27/14: HERE is a little video I created that I believe both drives the point home and is quite entertaining--if I say so myself.

This article in The Atlantic, and this one in the New York Times, suggest that ever more formerly middle-class Americans will have to work for $10 an hour. That's $20,000 a year.

I honestly believe I could live and live decently on $20,000 a year. Here's how.

Core to learning to live well on little is recognizing that status is the enemy of contentment. Status costs a fortune (e.g., tony vs. okay neighborhood) and yields little real benefit. Making the decision to forgo status purchases and instead follow the practices below has enabled me to live far better than I otherwise could: for example, to pursue careers that are personally rewarding that I otherwise could never afford to have pursued: hosting a radio show on NPR-San Francisco for 24 years, being a writer, indeed, blogging as much as I do, while never promoting myself nor taking any advertising.

Here's what I'd do to live well on $20,000 a year. (I do most of these things now.)

Rent a small backyard cottage or a home's basement or attic apartment in a modest but safe neighborhood. Depending on where you live, it may take a little initiative and persistence to find such a place but they do exist, even in high-cost areas like the San Francisco Bay Area.

Drive an old, small, reliable car--e.g., 1995 Corolla. I drive cars 'til they drop. My previous car was a 1982 Toyota that I bought new for $8,000, drove for 23 years and 273,000 miles and only sold because my wife begged me to--it was running perfectly and looked fine. Buying long-term reliable cars and keeping them forever has, in itself, saved me a fortune over my lifetime without significantly hurting my lifestyle .Because car insurance rates vary so widely, I'd compare the best I could find on with well-reviewed providers such as Amica.

Get a high-deductible Kaiser Permanente health plan. If I weren't insured under my wife's employer's health plan, here's what I'd do. I'm healthy so I have low health care expenses but need to insure against a catastrophic event. A 59-year-old male in good health can get a high-deductible Kaiser plan for about $300 a month, and these days, Kaiser is attracting some of the best physicians so I feel I'd get reasonably good care. Here's a link to Kaiser Permanente's instant-quote website. 

Or if I worked for a corporation, even as a Wal-Mart greeter for at least 24 hours a week, my kids and I would get $1500-deductible health care coverage for just a dollar a day. And Wal-Mart kicks in another $500 a year for uncovered expenses.

Just being smart about those three--digs, heals, and wheels--should enable you to live decently on $20,000. These will also help:

Eat out only at places like Souplantation/Sweet Tomatoes. At home: fruits, veggies, canned tuna, oatmeal, nonfat milk, ground turkey, whole grain bread, are, ironically, the cheapest and the healthiest.

Buy clothes and furniture at consignment and thrift shops (Salvation Army, Goodwill, etc) , flea markets, and CraigsList. My wife always dresses beautifully and has never been averse to buying at consignment shops in upscale neighborhoods where, for example, she has bought designer dresses such as a $1,000 designer gown for under $100, usually well under.

Enjoy low-cost recreations: Forgo expensive recreations such as live concerts, clubbing ($8 drinks?!) and frou-frou restaurants (they're more expensive for smaller portions and often taste worse) in favor of taking books and videos from the library, taking hikes or walks, playing a low-cost sport (for example, basketball rather than skiing or golf) watching good TV shows, phoning or getting together w. friends--for example, inviting them over for dessert and to watch a video, or just hanging out with a romantic partner--Or find love by, for example, volunteering at a nonprofit, taking a local adult school class, or hanging out at a bookstore/coffee shop.

Save wisely. On $20,000 a year I would have little or nothing to save but if I did, I'd get a no-interest, no-fee checking account at a convenient bank and put my savings in one of Vanguard's All-in-One Funds.

This plan for living decently on little may sound simplistic but for most people, it really is as simple as that.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

I Have Deleted One of My Posts

My post yesterday touted a front-page article in the February 14, 2010 Sunday London Times titled "Earth May Not Be Warming, Scientists Say."

I've since received compelling emails from a "Cheryl H' and from an anonymous reader that convinced me that the article's author, Jonathan Leake, has a record of being biased in his reporting on the subject and that some of his cited experts are insufficiently credible. So I have decided to remove that blog post.

I remain an agnostic on whether the opportunity costs justify the massive but likely to be unsuccessful effort to cool the globe. But I've become convinced that that London Times article does not add to the quality of the debate.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The White Male Working Class Doesn't Have It Easy Either

I received this e-mail letter yesterday. I reproduce it here without comment.

Dear Dr. Nemko,

I appreciate your articles and maybe you'll find my story worth telling.

After working on a job for two years with no problems, a month after my wife's death, the regional manager (a black man) said I was going to be "let go" for breaking some small rules.

I didn't understand why he wanted to get rid of me and why he wouldn't lay me off instead of fire me. I found out why when I went to get unemployment--they denied me because they said I was fired--that way the employer doesn't have to pay.

I didn't have the energy or the money to fight it because I was still trying to catch up on bills from the hospital and funeral. Since then I have been eking by with a very part-time job ($50/month), food stamps, and the help of some very good friends.

Since all this has happened, I have had three lawsuits for unpaid credit cards (most were my wife's), my vehicle was repo'ed (and they are still trying to get me to pay it off!) and have been trying to find a job so I can get back on my feet. In the area I live in, Mexicans are working in plants and sending money by the thousands of dollars back "home". They are willing to work for less than minimum wage and are often paid under the table.

I have paid taxes, voted in elections, been a proper American, yet these situations are causing me to be unemployable. I soon will have to move out of my home of 15 years into a housing project apartment because I can't afford to live here anymore. I deeply believe that reverse discrimination is rampant but I can't do anything about it.

There are times I feel like I have become emasculated by the government. And the people that know me treat me as someone who is deserving of pity. I don't want pity, I want my life back!
(The author of this letter asked that I not use his name but state it as "DLJ from Georgia.")

Friday, February 12, 2010

"The Most Hated Man in Berkeley:" Outline for a Play

My play, The Sexiest Man Alive, is in production, the second one, Shark Soup, is complete and being read by Berkeley Repertory Theatre, and so it's on to writing my next play.

This one, The Most Hated Man in Berkeley is about U.C. Berkeley's last conservative professor's encounter with a Black leftist, which leaves both of them changed.

Here's the outline. Feedback welcome.

The Most Hated Man in Berkeley
a play by Marty Nemko


David: Professor of American Studies, 65. One of the last conservative professors at Berkeley. He is one year from retirement. His estranged daughter is dean of graduate school admissions.

Jose: Chair, Dept. of American Studies. Wants to prove to himself and everyone that he's not an affirmative action hire.

Yasmine: 21, bisexual, socialist, Black, senior, major in American Studies, president of the Diversity Alliance. Jose's advisee.

Amarika, 20,Yasmine's lesbian girlfriend/roommate, Black. Fiery! Tattooed, pierced.

Scene Outline

A few minutes from now, via SkypeVideo recorded in his office, David is to deliver his Last Lecture. Although it's a year before his retirement date, scheduling issues require him to record it today. Jose urges David to "be moderate for once in your life. Go out with grace." David is conflicted.

Outside David's office, Amarika convinces Yasmine to protest David's lecture. They hold signs such as "David Michaels: Nazi" and "David Michaels: Racist."

David begins his Last Lecture, "The Decline and Fall of the American Empire." all cylinders blazing. He outlines (in 2 minutes total) what he will talk about:

Government spending as oblivious to cost/benefit and probability--e.g., social programs. alternative energy, global warming, and its utter ineptitude-- e.g., Marin/Richmond water pipe, Napa trolley, Electric vehicle plug in stations. Yet the govt. is ever innovative in collections--parking kiosks eliminate time left in meter, traffic light cameras, fines so usurious they'd make a loan shark blush.

The unfair treatment, relative to their merit of men, especially white men.

The dangers of uncontrolled illegal immigration.

"Straight talk about race:" The failure of education including Head Start--the only reason the achievement gap has closed slightly is that all the attention to Blacks and Latinos has caused Asian and white scores to decline. Of 200 nations in all recorded history, there never has been a moment, anywhere, where Blacks haven't represented the lowest socioeconomic stratum. He calls for a return to tracking and an end to reverse-discrimination hiring.

Amarika bursts in. Yasmine, despite prodding, stays out. Amarika disrupts David's lecture, gets in his face, and David has a stroke. Amarika runs out. Yasmine decides to try and save him: calls 911 and gives mouth-to-mouth.

Yasmine discusses with Amarika whether she should visit him in hospital. Yasmine is filled with guilt, yet is scared of hospitals, disease, and death.

Jose visits David in the hospital. David is paralyzed from the waist down. Jose starts out kind but then reveals his true purpose: to get David to forgo emeritus privileges (e.g., the right to come back and teach.) Jose wants him to sign. David rips up the paper, balls it up, and fires it at Jose's face.

Yasmine visits David. She mentions that she's about to start her senior project: creating a small mural showing Blacks' struggles. David tactfully is critical. Throwing back at him his urging her to consider opposing viewpoints (but actually as a guilt-soaked olive branch,) she asks him to be the out-of-her-dept. committee member on the project. He needs something to keep him from worrying about getting another stroke so he agrees.

A series of three scenes between David and Yasmine, showing the evolution of her mural, their growing conflicts about it (each is resolved, replaced by a bigger conflict) their growing friendship, including her efforts to get him to try to walk. Also, she reveals her fear of hospitals, sickness, and death to him. That's an area of commonality, which brings them closer still.

Intersperse those 3 scenes with a series of scenes between Yasmine and Amarika. In the first one, Amarika convinces Yasmine to have a turkey-baster baby with her. (Amarika actually seduces Yasmine with a turkey baster.) Yasmine's inner conflicts about many things are given voice, opposed by Amarika's monolithic, passionate but less impressive views. Their growing apart parallels Yasmine and David's getting closer. In the third scene, Yasmine is pregnant with the turkey-baster baby.

Jose convinces Yasmine to apply to Berkeley's graduate school in art, specializing in African-American art. He artfully manipulates her to drop her objections re the practicality of that degree.

Yasmine asks David for a graduate school letter of recommendation to his estranged daughter: Berkeley's Dean of Graduate Admissions. After an empathic conversation about their estrangement (Yasmine is estranged from both parents) he agrees, she takes his hand in thanks, he kisses her , gets turned on, and feels her up. She pulls away and awkwardly leaves.

Amarika goads Yasmine to sue for sexual harassment. She refuses.

Amarika, with a letter of support from the Campus Diversity Coalition, convinces Jose to file a lawsuit--not just for sexual harassment/abuse of power against David but against the university for continuing to employ a professor who has demonstrated "a pervasive and persistent pattern of racism." The suit demands $10 million and David's immediate firing.

David reads the lawsuit complaint to Yasmine--It includes a diverse litany of politically incorrect things that David said and did--"It goes to character and shows his racist views, which is why he wanted to sexually assault an African-American woman."

Yasmine convinces the Diversity Coalition to call off the suit.

Amarika, furious at that and jealous of having been replaced, if only platonically by David, pulls David's respirator plug.. He has a second stroke, a minor one.

David is forced to resign. David and Yasmine, having grown very close and developed an appreciation of each other's views (e.g., about capitalism vs socialism) despite their remaining profound differences, they decide to continue their relationship. Yasmine tells David that she aborted the baby. It's ambiguous whether it will stay platonic.

With Yasmine looking on, David re-records his Last Lecture. The introduction is more circumspect and leaves the audience thoughtful. (The End.)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

America the Jobless

To keep clients from giving up, career counselors need to appear optimistic. And to avoid our feeling disingenuous, in reading the tea leaves, we unconsciously tend to overweight the positive.

But I just read the cover story of the March 2010 issue of The Atlantic: "How a New Jobless Era will Transform America." (Thanks to reader Scott Steinbrecher for emailing it to me.) After reviewing a wealth of research, it concludes that, especially for men and for people without a designer-label sheepskin, ever fewer people will be earning a middle class living.

The article's negativity somehow gave me license to, for this article at least, to replace my optimistic bias with a truly honest appraisal of America's job future.

My career counseling clients, especially the men, are having a helluva time landing a decent job. Perhaps I'm a lousy career counselor or my clients are a bunch of losers but I don't believe either. I think the unemployment rate and even the underemployment rate grossly underestimates how difficult it is to land a white-collar job that pays a middle-class wage.

The severity of the problem is made clear from an example cited in that Atlantic article:
Last spring, an organization called JobNob began holding networking happy hours to try to match college graduates with start-up companies looking primarily for unpaid labor. Julie Greenberg, a co-founder of JobNob, says that at the first event, on May 7, she expected perhaps 30 people, but 300 showed up. New graduates didn’t have much of a chance; most of the people there had several years of work experience—quite a lot were 30-somethings—and some had more than one degree. JobNob has since held events for alumni of Stanford, Berkeley, and Harvard; all have been well attended (at the Harvard event, Greenberg tried to restrict attendance to 75, but about 100 people managed to get in), and all have been dominated by people with significant work experience.When experienced workers holding prestigious degrees are taking unpaid internships, not much is left (for everyone else.)
And it's not surprising. Unless absolutely necessary, why in the world should an employer pay an American $50,000-$100,000 a year, plus benefits including health care, social security, disability, retirement, worker's comp, 12 weeks unpaid (and some in the Obama Administration want it to be paid leave.) unemployment insurance, fear of wrongful termination suits, etc., etc.? Increasingly, employers are choosing to get work done by automation, part-time/temp workers, and offshoring. The latter is becoming ever more prevalent even for the previously thought-to-be-immune knowledge work, as Asian universities are revamping their curriculum to emphasize creativity, entrepreneurship, etc. And all those Asian workers can be hired for a fraction of the cost of an American.

Too, the uncontrolled inflow of illegal immigrants exerts downward pressure on salaries. The average illegal immigrant has little education and poor English skills and so is willing to do low-level jobs, on which they pay little or no tax. That floods the market of applicants for higher level jobs thus driving their salaries down, and making it harder to land a job at all.

I don't believe there's a solution that won't require decades. In a previous article, I've touted using K-16 schools to create a nation of entrepreneurs, but that would require a generation or two. Until American wages and benefits decline to near the world average, unless you're a star, the main source of well-paying jobs will be self-employment (often risky) and the U.S. government. And those jobs will dwindle as there's less worker income to tax and the government must stop going deeper into debt and printing more money lest China and other lenders deem the U.S. utterly credit-unworthy and/or call in their existing loans to us.

For the foreseeable future, ever more Americans will have to settle for $10-an-hour jobs, living very modestly, paycheck to paycheck, with little or nothing saved for retirement. We'll work 'til we drop...if we're lucky enough to have a job. It's part of the decline and fall of the American empire.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Vivid Current Examples of Media Bias Against Men

Can you imagine this being aired if the genders were reversed? Should men boycott Chrysler? (Any thinking car buyer already does.)

And how about this one? Can you imagine this being aired if the genders were reversed? Should men boycott J.C. Penney?

I'm sure some feminists would say, "Where's your sense of humor?" Of course, those commercials are funny but just as feminists of the '60s and '70s recognized that the benefits of anti-female humor were outweighed by their subliminally exacerbating serious negative perceptions of women, we are in an era in which men truly are treated terribly unfairly relative to their merit as I've documented in my forthcoming article in Mensa's national magazine. In light of that, anti-male commercials are very inappropriate just as would be an anti-African-American commercial.

Monday, February 8, 2010

A Gen Y Woman Acknowledges Gold Digging's Resurgence

I received this email from a reader, who subsequently gave me permission to post it here.

Hi Marty,

What a refreshing blog! I'm a single 25/F. I appreciate many of your strong opinions, even the ones to which most women would likely take offense - regarding the stay-at-home mom/beast-of-burden epidemic. It's discussed all too seldom and maybe it's even a little taboo:

I know a number of women who seem to have little guilt in putting the financial burden solely on their unassuming husbands/boyfriends to establish and maintain
comfortable lifestyles. These women want a big wedding, children, and a house for those children all without putting in the time and effort to actually earn it. They leave that to their husbands.

I don't see a problem with a woman devoting her life to being a housewife (although I don't necessarily understand it either) so long as her husband can afford it (and wants to afford it) alone. However, the aspect that you touch on so nicely is what happens when the husband can't afford it and the wife refuses to make it any easier. Most of the 20-something men I know don't earn enough to support all the things that come with maintaining a comfortable lifestyle. For instance, to live comfortably on Long Island, a family should be pulling in close to six figures, and it's not fair to leave it all up to the man.

Before they receive their first post-college paychecks, these women want a house, an SUV, 2.5 kids, and the time to go back to school and pursue a graduate degree. Going back to school, as you said, is just a way for many to avoid getting a real job, although it is often disguised as a means to a better end. What it usually turns into is a bitter end, as college loans pile up on top of costly preschool tuitions.

It is unfortunate that so many women can manipulate this sort of existence from their men. I really feel that, despite what Oprah says, being a stay-at-home mom is not quite the same level of "hard" that's required to keep a decent paying job.

Lisa Green
Long Island, NY

Friday, February 5, 2010

Should You Be a Specialist or a Generalist?

I recently wrote a post on a similar topic, but your comments on it and further reflection have motivated me to write this second one.

Many people find it fun to be a jack of all trades a master of none. I'm certainly guilty of that: I've enjoyed being a pianist, medical researcher, teacher, school psychologist, professor, rose hybridizer, college counselor, career counselor, actor, director, and writer of everything from columns to plays to movies to proposals for reinventing education. Currently, my learning time is divided among career counseling, men's issues, increasing higher education's accountability, playwriting, theatre management, the life well-led, libertarianism, futurism, life extension, and encouraging an honest national conversation about race.

It's particularly tempting for intelligent people to dabble widely because they usually can progress from neophyte to good quickly. Alas, it typically takes a lot longer to go from good to great. And as Malcolm Gladwell reported in his book, Outliers, most significant accomplishers went deep for decades. I doubt that the person who will cure cancer will have dabbled at it.

And intelligent people can't rationalize, "Aww, even if I stayed at it for 50 years, I'm not smart enough to accomplish much." Intelligent people could.

So should we force ourselves to take the time to become a real expert at something? Answering that first requires us to address this core question: To live the life well-led,where should we strive to be on the continuum between hedonism and productivity/altruism?

Can we take the easy route and simply say it's a matter of personal choice? I don't think so. If everyone just pursued hedonism, most time would be spent eating, having sex, watching movies, hiking, etc. Soon, there'd be little food, health care, etc. Our sewers would never get repaired. In contrast, if everyone spent maximum time on productivity, we'd have more medical discoveries, better, less-expensive food, etc.

So I invite you (and me too) to take a look at the content areas in which you have some expertise. Is there one into which you feel you should go deeper? It doesn't have to be monumental--you could decide to become the go-to person on pricing widgets. After all, if you price a widget right, more people will buy it and hence benefit from it while ensuring that the widget company's employees have jobs.

Who knows? You may find that going deep gets you passionate about the field, even if it's mundane. I know people who, having become expert at some thing, became passionate about such prosaic products as accordion doors and tractor dashboards. It feels good to become an expert on something, almost no matter what it is. And going deep is likely to abet your career. Except at the very top of a field (for example, CEO), society rewards specialists, not generalists.

Of course, there's a downside of going deep: excessive narrowness. For example, we all know technical experts who are locked into lower-level jobs because they lack the leadership skills and organizational savvy to move up. Also, many such geeks lack the interpersonal skills to be good friends, lovers, and parents. But it seems wiser to start by becoming an expert in something and then learning those other skills than to start by dabbling in them all.

Candidly, I don't think I have the discipline to forgo my continuing dilettantism in favor of going deeper into one thing, worthy though that might be. For example, I believe I could make a bigger contribution by becoming truly expert in the career coaching of physicians, a niche of mine. But how about you, dear reader? Is there something into which you want to go deeper?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Men Don't Have It Easy Either

I've just written an article called Men Don't Have it Easy Either. I was tempted to call it: Men: The Screwed Sex but decided to exercise a little least in the title.

I believe it provides an airtight case for how the gender pendulum has swung so far that, except for the tiny fraction of men at the top, it's devastating the male sex.

The article will appear in the April or May issue of the national magazine of Mensa, an organization for people with high IQs.

I thought you might enjoy an advanced look. To read it, click HERE.

By the way, I've enjoyed my involvement in Mensa and recommend it. For info on Mensa's programs and how to qualify for membership, click HERE.