Underutilisation and Side-hustles

What does it take to earn the equivalent of a full-time income these days? The simplest answer, of course, should be possessing a full-time job. But especially in a post-covid world, I don't think the answer is actually so simple anymore. Even disregarding Covid, though, forces like automation have been, for a long time, changing the nature of work at a rate that most of us have never experienced before.

There is a bit of jargon coming in this post, but it will all come together in the end, so hold on!

Let's talk about unemployment facts and figures. Any "unemployment rate" quoted needs to be unpacked a bit in order to be understood.

The Unemployment Rate, generally, is the simple proportion of a population who are able to work, but currently are not employed at all.

The Underutilisation Rate, on the other hand, might be just as important, but is also less understood. Think of it as the proportion of the 'total hours of labour' potentially available to be hired by employers, that actually is being hired. In other words, assuming each person 'able to work' was able to work full-time, what proportion of those people actually do, and to what extent? So for example, an underutilisation rate of 20-25%, like what Australia reached during and after its Covid lockdowns and their aftermath, means that Australia as a whole, on average, across industries, is only engaging 75-80% of its total available labour. Crucially for workers, this means that on average, workers are only being a) offered that amount of labour, therefore b) being compensated for that amount of labour, too.

So the higher the Underutilisation Rate is, the less paid labour is occurring. Keep in mind, too, that the national figures are an average. Some industries, age groups, demographics, professions and work types suffer significantly more from underutilisation, than others. Think about Covid as a simple example; hospital workers were most definitely not underutilised in the globe's fight against the virus. On the contrary, they were overworked - a subject for another post . Hospitality workers, though, were another story altogether.

For two words so similar as hospital and hospitality, the two industries were starkly different labour environments, thanks to the pandemic.

Those few hospitality workers that were able to remain working, saw their hours cut drastically - to the point of very often, and suddenly, representing unliveable incomes. Still, these people did not count towards the Unemployment Rate, due to the position they still held.

Ok, that's the jargon mostly done!

What does all this have to do with anything? Well, in the same way that unemployment demands solutions, underutilisation does too. The danger is, though, that the awareness and conversation around underutilisation is much less developed in general, than that around unemployment. We have been taught to assume that once someone is locked into a job, they are out of the woods - but the case is becoming sadly, only less and less true, it would seem.

I believe that one way to combat underutilisation is through training in survival entrepreneurship. The more accessible self-employment - even partial self-employment - is as a viable employment solution, the less danger there is that someone will ever be left entirely vulnerable, with no form of liveable income whatsoever. Having the capacity to earn your own income, however small that income might actually be, is like carrying a tent with you. Perhaps you hope you won't need it; or perhaps you live for the nimble, agile camping lifestyle. Either way, though, you are prepared. You are prepared for a situation in which the hut you had booked to stay in collapses, or even your own house is unliveable for a short time.

The bottom line, really, is that stability is a myth. This is something I think Covid exposed in many peoples' minds. In a lot of peoples' minds, the idea that it's possible to create a concrete 5-year plan for how your life is going to look, for example, was shown to be tragically naive. Anything can happen. Pandemics happen. The world literally can stop. Your world can stop.

Might as well be prepared. Just in case.

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