Visualizing Free Labor

Visualizing Free Labor

In a haunting reprise of last year, Tuesdays's State of the Union speech is likely to focus on one thing: jobs.

"My principle going to be making sure that we are competitive, that we are growing, and that we are creating jobs," Obama said in this preview video of the speech sent to supporters on Saturday.

A "job," of course, is generally assumed to be labor for monetary compensation. But even in these recessionary times, many people continue to work pro bono, whether for family members, the benefit of experience, or the thrill of an altruistic act. In this visualization, designer Jessica Hische takes a tongue-in-cheek look at the question: Should You Work for Free?

Follow the the arrows from the central hub, and you'll find the answers, accompanied by Jessica's wry rationale: "Are they a start-up?" ---> Answer: "No" ---> "Do they promise lots of future work?" ---> "No" --->"Did they promise you "exposure" or "a good portfolio piece?" ---> "Yes" --->"This is the most toxic line of bullshit that anyone will ever feed you."

As you may've anticipated, the lines almost always lead to "No." According to the chart, you shouldn't toil for free—unless, that is, you owe your employers a "proverbial kidney," your employer is your mom, or quite simply, you are masochistic.

Tuesday night's speech on Capitol Hill will likely see Obama walk a tightrope between jobs creation and another looming economic issue: the burgeoning federal deficit. As part of its broad new "competitiveness" initiative, the Administration is pushing for vast improvements in the American education system, and it hopes to link those improvements to creating new jobs. Better schools and better teachers, however, implies more spending—something that Republicans say they won't stomach in a time of rising debt.

More astute commentators, of course, point out that the choice between job growth and controlling the deficit is a false one. Drastic spending cuts, of the sort Republicans want, might help shrink the national debt, but would destroy jobs. By the same token, allowing the debt to swell even further could precipitate a recession, endangering even more jobs on a longer horizon. In essence, jobs and debt must be tackled together, and timing is critical.

As important as it is, the deficit isn't something that's easy to grasp — and from a media standpoint, it certainly isn't sexy. On Tuesday night, we can anticipate far more limelight on what the First Lady is wearing, to her guest of honor, and to the fact that, for the first time in Congressional history, some Republicans and Democrats will be sitting together (listen to an amusing Brian Lehrer Show, asking "Who Should Sit Together?") .

That media commentary will be amusing for a few minutes, perhaps even for the evening. Lucky are those of us who can wake up in the morning and have jobs — paid jobs — to go to.

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