My Grandfather's Advice

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My grandfather had something to tell me.

After his graduation from college, he got an engineering job with the Federal Government. The Depression soon followed, and he and his fellow Park and Building employees were given a stark choice: 20 percent layoffs or five days work for four days pay.

Grandfather said they took the work. They knew by working full time, they would keep building job skills. Besides, many were sole breadwinners housing extended families. But what grandfather said next was most important to him -- that had he been laid off, he would have gone off his career track.

Grandfather's last job was chief of the General Services Administration in Washington -- a job that put him in charge of more buildings than any in the world, including the White House. So if the president did not like the soap -- and he did not -- grandfather got the note.

Looking at how we responded to our current financial crisis, grandfather's warning rings true. Don't layoff millions and consign them to long-term unemployment.


But that is exactly what we did in 2008. Instead of offering wage reductions -- something the free-market was telling us to do -- we were quick to lay off millions. And now, they cannot find jobs and may not be able to find regular work for years to come. It is a tragedy.

It is time to rethink what we are doing in America. We need to embrace flexible wages, for wages need to rise and fall with the economy. We need to oppose layoffs and take the work and the pay cuts, for they are temporary. We need to keep building job skills and stay on our career track.

In tough times, we want to keep life for ourselves and for our families as normal as we can and avoid the trauma of unemployment. Tough times are temporary. What we learn from those tough times are not.

With a Perspective, I'm Charley Marsteller.