The Job Story: Working, Yes, but Worrying About Washington

Mon November 25, 2013 - National Edition
Giles Lambertson



Construction workers like to work. Oh, they like to go home, too, and play and tinker with their computers or jumpshots and otherwise bring some balance into their lives. But putting on the hard hat and going to work is one of their pleasures.

The official word in November was that more construction workers were working the previous month than any time in the last 50 months. About 5.8 million men and women were at job sites in October, an increase of just 11,000 people. The jobless rate for construction fell to 9 percent. November’s and December’s numbers are expected to show similar creeping growth or stagnancy.

These clearly are not the best of times. The fear is we will have to get used to them, to a new norm of relatively high unemployment in an economy that jerks us around in fits and starts. Some economists are suggesting this is the new reality, not that economics is a science or anything. Still, the situation is worrisome.

Some remain hopeful, however. During a conversation the other day, an equipment manufacturing company executive voiced confidence that the building industry will continue to take up its slack—“unless Mr. (blank) screws it up.” Yes, there is that.

It would be impolitic to say which federal policymaker the executive scolded in his frank comment, but it doesn’t much matter. The villains are fairly numerous. There is a general failure in D.C. to reach across the aisle and up and down Pennsylvania Avenue to forge compromises that will unleash the economy.

An old carpenter friend once advised me across a fire bucket on a cold day that if I didn’t like the situation, I could leave. “You aren’t married to the job, you know.”

In 2013, job security feels like a good marriage and those actually employed don’t want to mess up the workplace relationship. Their concern is that something Washington does will wreck it for them. Such worry can take all the pleasure out of working.