America's Big Speed-Up: No Wonder the Jobless Rate is Staying at Depression Levels
My wife Joyce and I were renting a car for the week this morning at a Hertz office just outside Philadelphia. There was a line of people either waiting to pick up a vehicle, or to return one.
The harried clerk behind the counter -- the only guy in the office -- was fielding calls while trying to serve the first guy in line, who was trying to rent a car for a vacation trip with his wife to North Carolina’s Outer Banks. No sooner would the poor clerk sit down at the computer to start typing in the information from the man’s driver’s license than the phone would ring -- a phone that was located on a desk in a cubicle behind him, requiring him to get up and run around to the back cubicle.
The man at the counter, and others in the line, sighed audibly.
The clerk rolled his eyes in apology as he explained to the caller that he was backed up in the office, and would have to call her back. There was a pause, and he said into the phone calmly, “Within the hour. I promise.”
Then he came back to the counter, apologizing. The phone rang again. He ran back to the phone and fielded this second call, again saying he’d have to call the person back.
The man at the counter, likely a college professor judging by his baseball cap, which had embossed on the side “Penn Relays Official,” observed to no one in particular, “Here it is: the New American Economy.”
I said, “You got that right!”
Later, after four people had been taken care of and it was our turn, as we were inspecting the vehicle for dents and scratches before signing off on the rental, I asked the guy why the office was so short-staffed. “They cut us back to one person on Saturdays,” he said. “But there’s way too much work for one person.” (He had just had to leave four people in line in the office to run out across the parking lot, wearing his crisp office uniform, with its long pants, in 90-degree heat, to retrieve a sun-roasted black car for us and bring it to the front of the office.)
I asked him if he had some wall that he could beat his fist against when he got home. “I go straight to the gym after work,” he said with a wry laugh.
This incident happened on the same day that the local paper, the Philadlephia Inquirer, reported on its front page that Merck, the pharmaceutical giant, is planning to lay off 13,000 of its employees over the next four years.
That’s one-sixth of the company’s total global workforce, and you can bet that the vast majority of those laid off will be workers in the United States.
The announcement of the layoff plan comes as the $46-billion sales company announces second-quarter sales rose 7 percent to $12.15 billion, and that net income had nearly tripled to $2.02 billion over the year-earlier three-month period.