De-jobbing America: Unraveling the Employment Economy

There’s just too much emphasis on “getting a job” these days.

Okay, so we’re at nearly 10 percent unemployment nationally (if you believe the Federal numbers), so many people are without a steady stream of bi-monthly paychecks. Yet, 90 percent of Americans who had a job when the economy tanked, still do. But for some that means being a wage serf, cubicle clone or working in the Dilbert world of dysfunctional corporate America – working hard to make someone else richer (and often, with ecological impacts). There’s too many CEO bonuses and none for the employees who clean the counters, work on the assembly lines (ideally making hybrid vehicles), or take care of customers. The vast majority of education system continues to be committed to helping people find jobs, not make a sustainble life, especially one that doesn’t destroy the planet or exploit people (though more are starting “sustainability curricula”).

What we need is less of an emphasis on transforming less-green jobs to more-green jobs for the plethora of job seekers. There’s nothing wrong with getting a job (there are a few great companies, some that even offer employee ownership and stock, in addition to addressing the development needs of their workforce).

But if you want to gain an upper hand on life, more self-employed or self-owned enterprises are discovered that you can keep more of your hard-earned money by working for yourself. As I write about in ECOpreneuring, doing so allows you to also reinvest our profits in ways that either restore the planet and/or improve the well being of people living in our community, nation and planet. These businesses have a triple bottom line and many have ditched the commute to some office, working, instead, from a home office.

Here are a few of the basic tenants of de-jobbing America:

Thrive in an ECOpreneurship Economy

According to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, between 1996 and 2008, about .3 percent of all adults started a new business every month (roughly 320 out of 100,000 adults in 2008). In 2008, this represented about 530,000 new business owners a month who are taking charge over their livelihood and responsibility for their employment. Read: no required extension of unemployment benefits; no expanded role of government to provide more jobs; no involvement on the part of the U.S. Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (created in 1974 by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974) left with the bill for ill-funded pensions of major corporations. The Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation currently protects the pensions of nearly 44 million American workers and retirees in more than 29,000 private single-employer and multi-employer defined benefit pension plans.

Like most entrepreneurs, ecopreneurs look to our enterprise to meet our financial needs. I lack much confidence that the Social Security program will be anything near what it is today when people who are paying into the system think they’ll be getting something back out of it when they’re retired. Since many ecopreneurs love what they do and the sense purpose the enterprise offers them, many, perhaps like myself, don’t see ever retiring. Contrast that with those today, with some retirees scrambling to find any job just to make ends meet.

Interestingly, according to a recent Kauffman funded U.S. Census Bureau study, small business startups are key to job creation in the U.S. “Job growth is essential for our economy to rebound, and this study shows that new firms have historically been an important source of new jobs in the United States,” said Robert E. Litan, vice president of Research and Policy at the Kauffman Foundation. According to their study, micro enterprises, companies with one to four employees, accounted for about twenty percent of the new jobs in any given year, from 1980 to 2005.

So we need entrepreneurs, not companies subsidized to add more people to their payrolls with shovel-ready tasks.

Innovation and Ideas Driven, not a Culture of Consumption Growth

The green tech or clean tech sector is growing at double digit rates, attracting venture capital funding and private capital all targeted at cleaning up our environment, operating more efficiently, or in myriad other ways solving the most pressing issues facing our planet.

But you don’t need to be high tech to make things better. For example, our simple, two room Inn Serendipity Bed & Breakfast generates about 4,000 kWhs more electricity than we use annually with a wind turbine. We also serve our guests local, seasonal, fresh, organic vegetarian breakfasts. We’re on course for a record-setting year, financially (despite that we’ve never had sales objectives for the thirteen years we’ve been in business).

Follow Natural Cycles and Offer Experiences

It’s no secret that the American manufacturing sector has precipitously fallen in importance to the U.S. economy over the past several decades. Many of the corporations that are household names have moved their factories off-shore where regulations and working standards are minimal at best. Foreign counties also provide labor at a fraction of the cost, and as long as oil remains cheaper than a gallon of Dasani bottled water, shipping things around the world remains “cost effective,” but hardly efficient or ecologically benign.

Green businesses recognize the natural cycles in nature and work with, not against, them. They strive to create products or services that are needed but offered without petroleum based plastics or other synthetic chemicals. Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm in Virginia has created a completely natural system for his sustainable agriculture operation: good for his land, animals and us; Salatin refuses to sell his products outside his bioregion. Steve Job’s Apple Computer has helped revolutionize how we listen to music and, with the exception of the device you need to listen to, avoided all the waste associated with CDs, packaging, etc. Just download what you want. It’s a completely different “ownership” experience. Apple, too, is finally cleaning up their computers and making them less toxic.

Focus on sustainability

How can we thrive on Earth and improve the general quality of life for all life? Permanence, making things locally and selling them locally, and with an eye toward how our products and services can help restore human relationships or heal the land has become a driver for some of the most prosperous enterprises these days, many of which, like us, are choosing to NOT scale up. Instead, we remain focused on becoming better at improving the health of the soil, livability of our community, or energy security of our nation.

What I found most interesting in talking with ecopreneurs is that nearly all of them define wealth in ways other than (or beyond) financial: control, freedom, happiness, meaning and purpose, and well being. Many live richly without being rich.

If we all start our own, place-based business, it will fundamentally redefine Gross Domestic Product and move America away from its requirement of infinite growth and consumption. It might even result in the US government shrinking in scope and scale, finally spending only what it brings in through taxes and operating in ways that better serve We the People, not the corporations, while stewarding planet Earth as a priority of national security.

Photography: John D. Ivanko/www.ecopreneuring.biz

  1. russ

    You don’t believe the federal unemployment numbers?

    Small business has always been a big driver of employment.

    This local stuff you go on about works good for the dropouts as long as the rest of the world goes on as normal.

    Reminds me of a hippy girl in Portland, OR in the 60’s. She was happy occupying an abandoned building someone else owned and was happy to have nothing to do with industry.

    If she needed water or electricity for some reason she just used her neighbors (her working neighbors). Hitchhiked wherever she wanted to go – again using the resources of others.

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