Do Numbers Have Arms and Legs?

So much economic news is wrapped in numbers that it is easy to forget that behind the parade of figures – percentage rates of this, new filings of that, sales of the other – are individuals. Each datum is someone’s life at the moment, for better or worse. This was the stark reality at a job fair in Charlotte earlier this week as a few hundred people trudged into a hotel ballroom built for dozens. By the way, employment figures may not be all that they appear to be, to the point that the jobless rate itself is arguably less credible than the typical five-day weather forecast. 

Attendees ranged from those not working to part-timers to fully-employed (though presumably unsatisfied) people. Happy people do not go looking for jobs, right, at least not at this sort of event. The crowd included people barely out of school alongside others whose own children have likely graduated; a collection of wingtips and loafers, mules and stilettos, even a few flip-flops (apparently, some were more motivated than others). One entrepreneurial woman walked the waiting line hawking an Internet travel business – get great discounts on trips by having others book vacations through your website.

First impression: pent-up demand for meaningful work is pegging the needle. Second impression: women under a certain age do not look comfortable walking in four-inch heels. I’m guessing too much time in flip-flops but that’s another matter. The point is, an economy is not a compilation of dry statistics; it a living organism fueled by the productive efforts of individuals, each on some rung of Maslow’s hierarchy.

It was impossible to ask everyone what he/she was looking for and some were not entirely sure. A handful of colleges had booths to help the undecided. A few businesses, mostly in sales and almost all of those 100% commission-based, hoped to add clarity. One regional GM was looking for “two or three money-motivated” people who he is sure can earn six figures with modest effort. (If it is that easy, I wondered why those two to three people were ever needed.) Another sales manager is trying to grow a territory for a product whose name you would recognize. And a home-health agency is battling with persistent turnover.

Meanwhile, a flier in the lobby touted driving jobs. Lots of driving jobs. Page after page of driving jobs. Enough of them to lead you to believe that a CDL is the new BA. Class A licensees are apparently at a premium; Class B holders less so. Husband-wife teams or solo, HazMat or no HazMat endorsement, over the road, tankers, dump trucks, from home every day to home most weekends, immediate hiring, sign-on bonuses available. Curiously, no trucking companies were actually represented in the fair itself.

I couldn’t tell you if anyone got hired or not as a result of attending. I suspect a few people got or will get callbacks. It’s impossible to know how many of those will be hired, how many will stay hired, and how many will enjoy what they do. What is certain is that another job fair is scheduled for next week and many of the same people are likely to show up again. And there will be more numbers: another percentage rate of this, more or fewer new filings of that, increased or decreased sales of the other.  How reliable those numbers will be is anyone’s guess; the reality of individual situations less so. 


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