I remember the early 1980s, when the country was struggling through an economic slump and President Reagan tried to put some positive spin on the situation by holding up a newspaper in front of reporters and displaying the "help wanted" ads. He was trying to show that plenty of jobs were available and what Americans needed to do was grab their bootstraps and stop believing the doom and gloom attitudes of liberal politicians and the news media.
It was a classic Reagan gesture, simple and visually compelling. You need a job? Look here, look at all these employers who need help right now! It definitely resonated with me because I've been scanning the employment ads for years just to see what sort of workplace opportunities popped up as the economy rolled along, or didn't.
It was a hobby that usually took about five or ten minutes. Until last summer, the "Employment- General" section of my local daily, The Oregonian, took up about 10 to 12 pages. In the March 22nd issue, it was down to slightly more than one page. Blink and you might miss it altogether.
The 'N' section used to have five or six openings each weekend for "newspaper delivery." Those jobs aren't for kids anymore. Grown-ups in cars drive around in the pre-dawn hours, the delivery areas are vast, and right now all those carriers seem to be holding onto their routes with an iron grip. The only N-business seeking help in last Sunday's paper was a local nursery.
The ads for "Computer, High Tech, Financial, Insurance, Health Care, and Social Services" filled about three-quarters of an additional page.
Part of the classified section that HAS expanded is "Cheap Stuff." A lot of people now are trying to pull in a few extra dollars by selling items they might have taken to the Goodwill or dumped into a re-cycling can in better times. One ad that caught my attention was offering empty egg cartons, 36 of them for 5-cents each, along with a coffee table for two dollars.
Where are the business growth areas when the economy gets this bad? I heard on NPR recently that fortune tellers around the country are reporting a big upswing in business. For me this is definitely not an option. I vividly recall predicting to friends many years ago that A) Kareem Abdul Jabbar (then known as Lew Alcindor) would be humiliated in the NBA once he faced off against great players like Bill Russell and B) wine coolers in bottles would never sell because it's easy to make those drinks at home.
You want to know what else seems to be booming? Or perhaps I should say boom-booming. I was perusing Craigslist not long ago when I scrolled down to the section labeled "Gigs," clicked on the word "adult," and discovered a world that brings a whole new meaning to the term "X Factor."
Opportunities abound for anyone who wants to play Disrobing for Dollars. Some producer was seeking "Hot Girls for Shows." There were also listings that seemed to require basic business acumen ("Sexy personal assistant") and janitorial skills ("Topless Maid"). I was tempted to inquire about "Upscale Beautiful New Girls Needed (TOP PAY)." What is top pay in this field, and would a girl qualify if she was upscale but not new, or vice-versa?
That's something I'll leave for the television people to chase down. I'm giving you all you TV investigative reporters a free story idea here. "Porn in Times of Economic Peril." Your ratings during the May sweeps will go through the roof, and I won't even charge a finder's fee.
For the moment, I'm still looking at the "Cheap Stuff" section from last Sunday's paper and those 36 egg cartons for sale. If the companies that make paper containers all go bankrupt and shut down, empty ones that haven't been thrown away might become really valuable.
Should I throw caution to the wind and risk $1.80 on egg carton futures? Any investors out there want to join me?