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The Upside of Unemployment


Slack your way to an exciting new career.

For many a slacker, unemployment is the end of the affair. You can avoid only so many emails and take so many days off before the wrong person notices, and the next thing you know you're addicted to General Hospital – or worse, One Life To Live (I'll be damned if Natalie helps Rex find his father).

If you're in this boat, or fear you could be, you might be wondering how to cope. Lesson number one: Vandelay Industries has already been taken. You're going to need your own list of fake companies when speaking with the unemployment office. Lesson number two: don't waste time with Yahoo or any of the big banks; they won't be hiring any time soon. Lesson number three: use the down time to learn why being unemployed can actually help you, and the economy.

First, some background. Economists vary wildly in their ruminations on causes of unemployment. Keynesians point to a lack of effective demand for goods and services, while Classical economists blame government regulations like taxes and minimum wage.

A third school of thought alleges certain people are out of work voluntarily, because they're "in between jobs." Before you dismiss this breed of joblessness, called frictional unemployment, consider its close ties to the American dream. If you're in this crowd, dear slacker, you're in luck. Your laziness could translate into a boon to your career trajectory.

Here's why: Frictional unemployment is what allows individuals to find the job niche where they best fit. Let's say you're a budding hip-hop, jazz and klezmer fusion musician, but as fate would have it, you're stuck at your job at the coal mine. One day, you toss your shovel to the ground, and tear-covered face covered in ash, you tell your boss you've had enough of this hard life. You quit.

You're frictionally unemployed. You're poor. You face stigma. You even miss the scent of coal. But on the upside, you've got plenty of time to lay down those phat beats that sound so unexpectedly harmonious against the backdrop of vibraphones and clarinets. Next thing you know you get discovered, score a film, win a Grammy and go on to sell millions of records. Unemployment was the best thing that ever happened to you.

In December 2007, the US Department of Labor reported that "the number of unemployed persons increased by 474,000 to 7.7 million," and that the rate of overall unemployment was 5.0%.

Of the total number of unemployed persons, 798,000 fell into the frictional camp. A big number, to be sure, but more significant than its trail of zeros is what can be gleaned from it: 798,000 of your fellow Americans are pursuing their dreams. Starring on a soap opera is a great start.

If this sounds like you, slacker, keep your chin up. Times may be tough, but think of this moment as one rife with opportunity. Just because you're out of work doesn't mean you don't have a job to do.
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