May 13, 2010

The return of Human Signs

Back in 2005, I pointed out that the proliferation of people standing on street corners in Southern California jiggling big arrows pointing to real estate open houses personified the Cheap Wage / Expensive Land economy:
The real estate salesperson's commission, at six percent, on a $600,000 house is $36,000. That pays for a lot of sign twirlers.

But it also raises more questions than it answers about the long-term prospects for our economy and for our once solidly middle-class society—in a 21st Century where the well-off increasingly make their living selling houses to each other; and the less lucky make their living, such as it is, jiggling signs.

Then, Human Signs disappeared for awhile when the economy crashed.

Lately, though, they are back. Human Signs are less often advertising real estate now and more often advertising cellphones or what not, but they're back. Obama should give a self-congratulatory speech on a street corner in front of a bunch of newly re-employed Human Signs twirling big arrows that spell out "Mission Accomplished."

32 comments:

RandyB said...

Those sing twirlers (primarily young) are going to spend their entire working lifetimes paying high taxes to support the baby boom's social security and medicare.

We ought to ease their budgets by using the recent construction boom to make their housing cheap. Get employers to move jobs to housing bust places like Las Vegas, southwest Florida and to empty cities in the rust belt. Being able to raise a family in a $200k house is the least they deserve.

Dahlia said...

Ever since I read your article five years ago (I can't believe it's been that long!), I get a little depressed every single time I see a kid doing it. Especially when it's a boy and he's going crazy twirling it out of boredom.

Anonymous said...

Real estate isn't nearly so expensive any more but, for some reason, cell phone service still is.

You ought to write more about human signs. I suspect that there's a lot of good ore in that vein.

~Risto

Anonymous said...

Even sign twirlers can be replaced by technology.

Check out Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm-Flailing Tube Men:

http://www.flickr.com/groups/93073157@N00/

Richard said...

I see sign twirlers almost every day where I live.

Almost every day I drive past a Little Caesar's pizzeria.

rob said...

God, what a depressing future we got. No jobs traveling thru outer space, lots of jobs doing things that machines should be doing.

Roomba: good
Mexican maid: bad

Anonymous said...

Here in VT,NH a lot of guys who are doing this were doing okay painting houses and landscaping during the boom. They had a pretty good run during the boom. W/ the slowdown, these are the guys who become severely underemployed rather than outright unemployed.

quasi-Day labor and odd jobs are still fixtures of the Northern New England economy amongst low-skilled whites.

Anonymous said...

The people doing it in my area aren't that young. I assume they have to do it because the town doesn't allow people to stick signs ups.Whenever there is a going out of business sale, they always have these sign people.

anony-mouse said...

Bring back dance marathons.

They shoot horses, don't they?

Anonymous said...

The real estate salesperson's commission, at six percent, on a $600,000 house is $36,000. That pays for a lot of sign twirlers.



There seems to be a failure of the market system in this area. How can they make so much money without other people underbiddng them? There must be somebody out there who'd be happy to sell that house for a mere $30,000.

chicagopeasant said...

Bring back the old factory jobs. This will happen when our hourly pay drops to about $2 per hour. There are too many young people without jobs. I predict a lot of problems in the not too distant future.

Melykin said...

Why don't you all just refuse to buy anything from China. Then they will open the factories again--if there is anyone left who remembers how to actually manufacture things, that is.

Mr. Anon said...

"The return of Human Signs"

Like the Sandwich Board Men of yore - always an indicator of a healthy economy.

cs said...

In a nameless town I visited in the South, a black teen was holding a home made sign. I was impressed by his entreprenurial spirit. The only problem, as I drove by him at 5 mph, I could not make out a word on the cardboard he was holding. Possibly something was written with a pencil, but for all purposes it was blank. Wish I had taken a picture. What's worse than getting paid to be a sign? Not getting paid to hold a blank sign.

I wrote a letter to the school board, demanding to know why the black students were not getting enough art class instruction, as I could tell Southern racism was at work.

OneSTDV said...

You're probably the only journalist covering this story.

Anonymous said...

There are too many young people without jobs. I predict a lot of problems in the not too distant future.

Have you heard about the I Need A Freakin Job movement, or read their manifesto?

The collapse in housing prices was an easily [and obviously] predictable consequence of decades of dysgenic fertility, but the soaring unemployment rate among young people strikes me as highly counterintuitive.

It seems to me that going on 40 [or 45] years past Roe [and Griswold] now, employers ought to be fighting tooth and nail for any prospective young employees with IQs >= 100.

The fact that those kids can't find jobs suggests to me that Mother Nature [as She manifests Herself in macro-economic trends] is very, very angry with us.

Either that, or else those kids were all humanities majors.

PS: If you think that the prospect of carrying a sign is depressing, then keep in mind that the biggest growth industry in the next 15 years [as the Boomers head into retirement, and then into nursing homes] will be changing old peoples' diapers.

Literally.

Welcome to your dysgenic future...

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised rickshaws haven't caught on in LA given the huge reserves of unemployable, unskilled people. This mode of transportation is environmentally friendly, provided the pullers don't defecate in the street.

Anonymous said...

Either that, or else those kids were all humanities majors.

College for all? Experts say not necessarily
Alan Scher Zagier, Associated Press Writer
Thursday May 13, 2010
finance.yahoo.com

Slashdot discussion here:

Too Many College Graduates?
news.slashdot.org

Jack Aubrey said...

Either that, or else those kids were all humanities majors.

Humanities majors don't do grunt work, Sport. They're busy saving the world, taking trips to Haiti to teach peasants how to run goat farms.

Got that? Kids who never worked a real day, who spent their entire lives playing Ninetendo and Xbox, who couldn't change the oil in their car, grow their own tomatoes, or fight their way out of a wet paper bag, teaching rural people how to run a farm.

It's all about burnishing their resumes. Two months in Guatemala looks way better on a job application than a summer spent flipping burgers at Burger Town.

And who pays for it? Why, we do!

Geoff Matthews said...

I'd always assumed that these 'human signs' for developments were harvested from temp agencies, or were related to the builders in some way.

For mobile phones/restaurants (I've seen them with Jiffy Lube, holding '15% RIGHT NOW!' signs), it was the most junior employee, or whoever got the short straw.

Dutch Boy said...

If the job's in China, it ain't here - QED

Anonymous said...

In other news, Wall Street fatcats skipped out on a $50,000 a plate fundraiser featuring Barack Obama and Sarah Jessica Parker.

I would gladly pay the Democrats $50,000 not to have to see Sarah Jessica Parker. Ever.

Nicholas Heller said...

Thank goodness we have Americans to do the sign-twirling jobs Mexican immigrants won't do.

asdasdfasdf said...

Well, it beats the human centipede, though our tax system resembles that.

dafadsdfasf said...

My favorite human signs are at tea parties.

Funny how we see most human signs during times of boom or bust.

StephenT said...

What I don't get is: Most of the time these guys are spinning these signs and flipping them in the air so energetically that you can't read what the sign says. It seems self-defeating.

rast said...

"it beats the human centipede"

So Steve, you gonna review this any time soon.

Truth said...

"Humanities majors don't do grunt work, Sport...."

Sport?

not a hacker said...

Yeah, how do you explain Sarah Jessica Parker, anyway? In 1998, I could have found 10 women more attractive than her on any floor of any randomly chosen big-city office building.

Dennis Dale said...

I used to find myself visiting the same semi-rural area twice a week for work; the sort of place where new development is to be found.

Two or three times I noticed the same eccentric along the road, a young man dancing and singing. If he caught your eye he would get more animated and gesticulate at you, with that white-froth bracketed smile of a harmless and mildly retarded man.

Then one day I see him, getting his groove on per usual--and he's holding the big arrow directional advertising a nearby development.

It was as if somebody just walked up and hung the sign on him where he was.

But what of the economy that so seamlessly integrates this guy? What the hell does that say about said economy?

Here's a local eccentric doing precisely the same thing he's been doing obsessively for recreation for Lord knows how long, only he's getting paid and damn if he isn't the best human directional money can buy--animated and enthusiastic.
Here's one vote in favor, if they can just keep him from eating the ballot.

Spark Check said...

@Nicholas Heller I see plenty of Hispanic sign twirlers in my area.

David said...

Cigar-chomping blowhards growling about the worthlessness of humanities majors don't quite get the point of this post, do they?

Wait till their pensions run out of money...