Our nation is still struggling with creating enough jobs to restore our economy to health and our families to some sense of economic security. Our confidence was not boosted by unemployment hitting 9.1% in May, against a backdrop of rising food and gas prices. Of course, America’s cold continues to be black America’s pneumonia, with unemployment for African Americans topping 16%. Young black males ages 16 to 19 face a 40-year high of 45% unemployment.
Who can save us? Not government, which is facing record budget challenges at federal, state, as well as municipal levels—especially the urban centers with significant black populations. And don’t count on corporate America to bring back every job they’ve eliminated—and certainly not with the same levels of compensation and benefits. While government and major corporations both have roles to play, they do not hold the key to your economic destiny—you do.
Instead of relying on a single job to provide financial security, fulfillment, and a predictable career path, embrace the realities of our current economy. Underemployment is the new normal. The pursuit of multiple income streams is an economic necessity for all, not the privilege of an intrepid and entrepreneurial few. Your ability to supplement your compensation (including benefits) from a traditional job with entrepreneurial endeavors, temporary employment, freelance opportunities, and other ways to brand and market your skills and knowledge, will be key to riding out income disruptions and career changes such as pay cuts, furloughs, layoffs, reassignments, and company mergers and sales. You can no longer afford to be totally dependent on a single job or income source.
In fact, the future of America’s labor force depends not on the ability of major multinational companies to restore the millions of jobs they’ve shed or shifted overseas during the past decade, but on the ability of you and people like you to create more small businesses—already the source of half of America’s jobs—that can hire more people and drive the innovation we’ll need to keep our economy globally competitive. You must make your preparation for and pursuit of entrepreneurship opportunities just as high a priority as gaining higher education and training to pursue career opportunities. For you, and especially for your children, business ownership and professional career are no longer either/or propositions. You’ll have to be prepared for both, and to pursue them simultaneously.
It is also your responsibility to gain the financial literacy necessary to effectively manage your income and other resources to meet your needs and those of your dependent family. Ignorance about money is now not only unacceptable, but untenable. You can no longer afford not to follow the basic rules of money management and wealth building. You must create, and stick to, a budget that calls for you to spend less than you earn. You must be diligent in saving and investing the difference. And you—not your employer and not the government—must aggressively plan and save for your retirement. It’s up to you to finance your future; woe unto those who rely on others to do it for them.
The bottom line: It’s up to you to be proactive and flexible about your prospects for earning income and creating the opportunities you’ll need to thrive now, and for the foreseeable future. Hold both government and the private sector accountable for what’s in our best economic interests, but do not rely on them to save you. Don’t look to be rescued. Take responsibility for your own survival and flourish.