Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Rehab as an Employment Opportunity

Whether we are talking about goods or services, layoffs come from companies that are providing supply in areas where demand is decreasing (if not vanishing). If we want to think about creating jobs, we should think about where demands need to be met. The recent emphasis of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) on areas such as education and infrastructure not only see to the needs of the general American population but also should provide a significant number of opportunities for employment; and, if Barack Obama is still shy about being perceived as "too progressive," he seems to be willing to embrace this part of the CPC agenda. However, opportunities beyond that agenda are beginning to take shape, some of which may well amount to making lemonade from the lemons of the current economic crisis. Consider the following story the Claudia Parsons filed for Reuters this morning:

Experts say more and more people in finance are seeking treatment for addiction as the global economic crisis sinks its teeth into a high-stakes industry where confidence is the name of the game and nobody wants to admit to a weakness.

"We absolutely do see more people coming in naming either a job loss or huge financial reversals or big investments with Bernie Madoff," said Sigurd Ackerman, medical director at Silver Hill Hospital rehabilitation facility in New Canaan, Connecticut.

"They're being admitted with depression or increases in substance abuse, or both."

Ackerman said there was a high concentration of financial professionals in the town, 40 miles from New York, whose main streets are lined with high-end boutiques catering to the well-heeled wives of hedge fund managers and bankers.

"You're supposed to be a master of the universe, you're supposed to be on top of everything," said one financial services executive who began alcohol rehab in August.

At a time when most businesses are imploding, rehab could become one of the major growth industries behind economic recovery:

Robert Curry, founder of Turning Point for Leaders, a coaching and consulting firm in New Canaan that creates treatment programs for senior executives, said the financial crisis was a factor in more drink and drug use.

"We've got more than 50 homes in foreclosure in this town and that's unheard of," Curry said. "Domestic violence incidents have spiked, and that is very closely tied to substance abuse."

Struggling with a divorce, the Connecticut executive sought help at Turning Point. A residential rehab program will be just the first step in a program that would last at least a year and include follow-up counseling, therapy and support groups.

Curry is a former financial executive who started working with substance abusers two decades ago, around the time his alcoholic father died and he realized he had a drinking problem of his own. Despite the recession, demand is growing.

"Companies are downsizing," he said. "Budgets are being trimmed, and yet we're seeing an increase in our business."

For those who might doubt that there is serious money in this opportunity, Parsons concluded her report with a few figures:

A month in rehab costs from $25,000 at Caron [Treatment Centers in Manhattan] up to around $60,000 at high-end private facilities. Curry said most of his clients pay out of pocket for privacy reasons.

The Connecticut-based executive was paying his own way.

"It's more than I'd like," he said. But "it's less expensive than losing your job ... less expensive than losing a client or losing your family, or losing your home or getting in trouble with the law."

Irony is clearly at work here, but there is also a message for those wondering what sort of knapsack of skills will be most suitable when entering the job market. The best answer may be found in the grammar of our language. Ten years ago it seemed as if the providing of both goods and services depended on having the right skill set for manipulating objects, frequently through some form of technological mediation. Rehab is not about manipulating objects (concrete or abstract). It is about engaging with subjects, dealing with people as if they were people rather than entries in a database. We have sustained at least of quarter century of work practices that have tried to abstract away such a need to engage with subjects; and those work practices persisted even when they provoked such catastrophes as the mismanagement of the aftermath of Katrina. Perhaps Jean Baudrillard's "chicken" about the infantile preoccupation with objects is finally coming home to roost. If you want to be a gainfully employed provider again, your skill set had better include the ability to engage effectively with other people!

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