Making that pink slip sound better

Marketplace Staff Aug 19, 2008
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Making that pink slip sound better

Marketplace Staff Aug 19, 2008
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TEXT OF COMMENTARY

Kai Ryssdal: PPI is the shorthand for the economic number of the day, Producer Price Index. Figures like that one tell us a lot about the state of economy. It goes hand in hand with monthly statistics on retail sales and manufacturing. And the big one that people have been watching lately: unemployment. Commentator Megan Hustad says economic numbers are important, but so are the words that go with them.


Megan Hustad: A friend of mine told me last week that he decided to leave his boring desk job behind and “go freelance.” But this venture into self-employment wasn’t entirely his idea. Truth is, he’d been fired.

The anecdotal evidence is mounting: Severance packages are being negotiated that allow the injured party to claim publicly that they’re leaving of their own free will. The temptations of this deal are obvious. Say you’ve “gone freelance,” and you avoid the embarrassment of the pink slip. You also sound proactive. You’re no victim of tough economic times! You’ve simply made an alternative lifestyle choice!

When the book “Free Agent Nation” came out in May 2001, the W2-less were hailed as everyday heroes who thumbed their noses at regular paychecks, and dove into the exhilarating waters of self-determination and 1099’s. This rosy vision was always too gleeful for my tastes. I’m self-employed, and I can testify that doing double-duty as my own IT help desk hardly makes for a carnival atmosphere.

So I’m hopeful that this conflating of “freelance” with “You’ve been fired” will put an end to romantic free-agent rhetoric. It seems to be already. Picture this: I go to a cocktail party and tell people that I’m a writer. They’re usually impressed. But tell them I’m a freelance writer, and they reflexively take two steps backwards, as if to escape the aura of failure.

But whether this trend presents more substantive problems remains to be seen. Sure, Orwell would quibble with the language, but could claiming full responsibility for your own joblessness be a force for good? Could it bolster your sense of being the captain of your soul? Or, would Kubler-Ross merely recognize it as Stage 1 — Denial.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, payroll employment decreased by 51,000 this July. Call me old-fashioned, but I’d prefer people that felt comfortable saying, “I was fired.” After all, these days — no job? You’re in good company.

Ryssdal: Megan Hustad is the author of “How to be Useful.” She lives in New York City.

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