What Is a Job, Anyway?

With the economy ailing, the US presidential election in full swing and surveys showing cuts in next year's IT budgets, get ready to hear more and more about jobs. People will lose jobs. Evil corporations will export jobs. We will need more jobs. We will need better jobs. Not McJobs.

People will become unemployed and underemployed, and they will drop out of the workforce. They will go back to school with the hopes of obtaining better jobs. The government will try to "create" jobs using tax policy, environmental policy, fiscal policy, trade policy, labor policy, research funding, public works and a healthy dose of prayer.

The discussion will be endless. But it will skip one important question: What is a job, anyway?

The word has become a central part of the lexicon of personal finance and career development. For most of us, it's the primary source of family income. But do we really know what it means?

I'm not an expert on employment history, but it seems to me that 50 years ago, the meaning of a job was relatively clear.

If you were a man, you joined a company for an indefinite period, usually assumed to be life. You worked full time and drew a steady salary, and the firm repaid your loyalty. When you retired, you got a pension and maybe even health benefits.

If you were a woman, the meaning of a job was probably more flexible. It may have been a career or perhaps just something to do until you started a family.

But now, who knows what a job means?

If you worked for a company for five years and it decided to outsource your department, did you have a job, or was it just a contract?

If you're an independent contractor with an open-ended engagement with a full-time client, do you have a job?

If you're an employee of a staffing firm that will lay you off as soon as your project ends, do you have a job?

If you're a full-time employee of a company and you change from being a programmer to being a project manager, have you changed jobs?

The questions are endless.

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