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Posted: May 01, 2012

Rundles wrap-up: Barbie for president

Jeff Rundles

illustration by drew thurston

The news on the jobs front is either good or bad depending on where you fall on the political spectrum or, indeed, whether or not you have a job. I suppose it is also bad news if you are among the millions of Americans and thousands of Coloradans underemployed, employed part time out of necessity, or employed in a job that, well, could be better.

The economy, apparently, has added some 858,000 jobs since December, a clip of just over 200,000 a month, except for a dip to 120,000 in March. It is heartening to note that manufacturing has picked up some 34,000 jobs in that period – a very good sign – and that restaurants and hotels picked up nearly 40,000 jobs, which I guess aren’t great jobs but may indicate more willingness in the populace at large for increasing discretionary spending.

The unemployment rate – which, at best, is a shallow approximation of reality – officially stood at 8.2 percent at the end of March, the best official rate since January 2009. The real unemployment rate is probably closer to 13-15 percent, and keep in mind that 4 percent is generally considered to be "full employment" because some people just don’t like to work.

At the same time there is news concerning more layoffs – at Yahoo, for one, and more importantly for Colorado at CenturyLink, the behemoth telecommunications company from Louisiana that acquired Denver-based Qwest pretty much promising no changes. At the same time, the Colorado General Assembly passed a bi-partisan bill to extend job retraining programs for laid-off workers, focusing on retraining them for jobs in the renewable energy sector.

The truth is that just about everyone – those with a job, those seeking employment, and those who consider themselves underemployed – really needs some renewable energy, so to speak, to weather this economy and, for that matter, the economy to come. On the political front the candidates keep talking about a "return" to a great America, but clearly what’s ahead, whether it’s great or not, is certain not to be a return to anything. The future, economically speaking, is a whole new gig.

What we are in the midst of in this country is a complete economic reinvention, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the period immediately following World War II. Nearly every person out there, old and young, is going to experience multiple "adjustments" to their working situation time and again and again. Pensions and IRAs are not guaranteed, Social Security secures very little, and that great job you land could, and most likely will, vanish in a moment’s notice.

Like the economy, each one of us is going to have to reinvent ourselves all the time, even while employed.

We can take a cue from Barbie. Our little Barbara Millicent Roberts, 11 ½ inches tall but larger than life, just announced she was running for president – for the third time. Since her birth in March 1959 she’s had multiple careers – waitress, cashier and nurse, to astronaut, surgeon (plastic surgeon, presumably), architect, news anchor and many more. She’s been an inspiration to generations of girls who not only imagined they could be anything they wanted to be, but really everything they really wanted to be. This may explain why the unemployment rate for women is generally lower than for men: Young boys wanted to be G.I. Joe or a baseball player, while their sisters played at being career women.

We boys, of course, thought Barbie was dumb, which is why we blew her up with firecrackers. Little did we know that she foreshadowed a future where career change and constant retraining wouldn’t be a choice, but a necessity. A toy, maybe, yet a real role model. I know: I had sisters who played with Nurse Barbie, Attorney Barbie and Rock Singer Barbie, and daughters who had Advertising Account Exec Barbie, CPA Barbie and Organic Farmer Barbie.

Perhaps Barbie should be president. I know a lot of career women who would vote her in.

Jeff Rundles is a former editor of ColoradoBiz and a regular columnist. Email him at jrundles@cobizmag.com.

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