People@Work: 'Freakin' Job' Website Seeks to Refocus Nation's Attention on Jobs

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To the frustration of many Americans, the debate over what to do about the nation's persistently high unemployment rate has taken a backseat to other matters of national concern. Two wars, financial bailouts and an exhaustive debate over health care reform have preoccupied Washington in the year since the U.S. jobless rate edged near 10%.

But Jeff Baker is determined to ensure that jobs once again become the focus of federal policymakers. Himself unemployed, Baker, along with the help of his brother, Scott, has launched the I Need a Freakin' Job website and companion Facebook page.

Building Community and Focussing

Not to be confused with Monster.com or other job boards, the mission of I Need a Freakin' Job is simply to build a community of like-minded people to express frustration about being jobless and to keep "jobs and the economy in the forefront of political conversation," says Jeff Baker, the site's main spokesman.

The Great Recession has resulted in the loss of more than 8 million jobs. It's therefore not surprising that the Bakers seem to have to hit a nerve. Not yet a week old, the INAFJ Facebook page had already garnered more than 12,000 fans as of Sunday. Jeff Baker says the comments left on Facebook are emblematic of the frustration many unemployed people feel. "It's certainly is an important issue to a huge percentage of the American public right now," says Baker, who until 15 months ago ran his own small textile business.

Serendipitous Billboard Placement

The efforts of the Baker brothers, who live in the Buffalo, N.Y., area, have been aided by a bit of serendipity. Though the initiative was months in the planning, a promotional billboard -- with the message: "Dear Mr. President, I need a freakin' job. Period." -- went up along a busy expressway just in advance of President Obama's Thursday visit to western New York to deliver a speech on jobs.

Jeff Baker says the two events were purely coincidental. An official with Lamar Outdoor Advertising confirmed that the contract for the billboard was signed April 20, well before news of Obama's visit was released, The Buffalo News reported. Still, the timing has created a perfect storm of media interest for the movement, with Baker appearing in news interviews on major news outlets such as CNN, MSNBC and The CBS Evening News, among others. The story has been covered extensively on Internet sites as well.

Beyond promoting the Bakers' own career aspirations, just how effective is the INAFJ site in helping to solve the problem of joblessness? Not very, says workplace expert Andrea Kay, author of Life's a Bitch and Then You Change Careers. Kay says it isn't clear what it is that the Bakers are trying to do. If the goal of those going to the INAFJ site and Facebook page is to get jobs, she says, "No, this is not helping you." Further, Kay says, though the site may provide a medium for unemployed workers to vent, their time would be better spent job searching.

The Value of Venting

But it's the very ability to vent and commiserate that gives INAFJ its value, says Marist College business professor Elizabeth Purinton-Johnson. "This kind of website gives exposure to the problem" and puts it in the forefront of people's minds, she says.

Further, while the Bakers have benefited from a bit of luck in promoting their site, the way in which they've framed the issue -- by targeting their message to a specific person -- is particularly potent, Purinton-Johnson says. "'Mr. President, I need a freakin' job,' is a very different sentiment than whining 'I need a job.'" Not only are people thinking about widespread unemployment in addition to their own particular situations, they're also starting to lay the blame in a particular area.

And while jobs, or the lack of them, may be be an important issue, a recent Gallup poll showed unemployment slipped to No. 2 among chief concerns of Americans, with "the economy in general" moving back into the top spot. Purinton-Johnson says INAFJ "is an attempt at reversing that trend."
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