Good Burger – Going Into the Grinder

Dexter needs a summer job after wrecking his car, but he is unable to keep his first job at Mondo Burger because of his incompatibility with his boss. In an all-hands meeting, Dexter makes multiple wisecracks that cause his boss to fire him and have him physically removed from the premises. Fortunately for Dexter, he will find an employment opportunity with the local competition, Good Burger. Frictional unemployment may also occur if there is a mismatch between employer and employee.

Thanks to Amanda Mandzik for the clip and summary.

Adventureland – Summer Jobs

It’s the summer of 1987, and recent college grad James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) can’t wait to begin his long-anticipated dream trip to Europe. Unfortunately, James’ plans come to a screeching halt when his parents announce that they are unable to subsidize his trip and he’ll need to get a job.

When an individual is actively looking for work, unemployment can be categorized as frictional, structural, or cyclical. James is thrown into the job market early, but finding a job does not happen immediately for James. He is turned down for a restaurant job and an asphalt mixer driver because he lacks the skills necessary to do the work. For classification purposes, James is finding that he is structurally unemployed. If there were jobs available in other areas that needed his skills in comparative literature, economists would consider him frictionally unemployed.

Thanks to Amanda Mandzik for the clip suggestion!

The Way, Way Back – There You Go!

Duncan, the main character in the movie, The Way, Way Back, is an example of someone who wouldn’t be considered unemployed, even though he does not initially have a job. To be officially classified as unemployed, an individual from the labor force must not be currently working but must be available to work and actively looking for work within the last 4 weeks.

Not only is Duncan only 14 years old—making him too young to be a member of the working-age population—but he also is not looking for a job. In this scene, he is spontaneously offered a job at a water park by a new acquaintance. For classification purposes, he was not part of the labor force and then switched to employed.

Thanks to Amanda Mandzik for the clip and summary.

The Office — Frictional Unemployment

Frictional unemployment comes from voluntary transitions within an economy and is naturally occurring, even in stable/growing economies. It’s healthy for workers to choose when to leave their jobs in search of new (and often better) ones or when people enter the labor market in search of work. In this scene from The Office, Michael Scott quits after being annoyed by how his company has treated him over the past 15 years. Michael is comfortable quitting, even after it seems that he will get what he wants because he believes there is more out there for him.

Thanks to Allison Anthony for the scene suggestion!

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer — Island of Misfit Toys

The Island Of Misfit Toys contains a number of toys that have some sort of defect, like a polka-dotted elephant, a train with square wheels, and a Jack-in-the-Box named Charlie. The job of a toy is to entertain children, and until they can be matched with a child, they could be considered unemployed.

A lot of the toys seem to have given up hope for finding a match after being on the island for so long. As they anxiously await Christmas Eve it’s clear that some of the toys are on the brink of becoming discouraged workers. A discouraged worker is someone who has not actively looked for work in the past four weeks because they don’t believe there are any jobs available.

Thanks to Mandy Mandzik for the clip recommendation. Check out her working paper, All I Want for Christmas is an A on My Econ Final: A Holiday-Themed Review Class, for more Christmas-themed economics examples.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer — Dentist Dreams

There are numerous characters in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) that experience some sort of job loss challenges. Hermey is an elf that doesn’t like making toys and would prefer to be a dentist. After talking with the head elf, Hermey proclaims “they can’t fire me, I quit” and leaves the toy shop. Despite being a skilled toymaker and possessing dental knowledge, Hermey is frictionally unemployed as he waits to transition to a new job.

Thanks to Mandy Mandzik for the clip recommendation. Check out her working paper, All I Want for Christmas is an A on My Econ Final: A Holiday-Themed Review Class, for more Christmas-themed economics examples.

History of the World — Unemployment Insurance

For someone to be considered unemployed, they must actively search for employment and not be currently employed. In this scene from Mel Brooks’ History of the World, the unemployment officer asks two key questions of citizens looking for their unemployment payment:

  1. Have you worked (killed) last week?
  2. Did you try to work (kill) last week?

She also warns that their unemployment is about to run out and that they need to make sure that they find work, which is similar to how many unemployment systems are setup.

Thanks to Alex Marsella for the clip submission!

Adam Ruins Manufacturing

A lot of the recent discussion on the manufacturing industry has framed the loss of employment as a reduction in manufacturing capacity. The US manufactures more physical goods than ever, but it’s using labor as the primary input. In this segment of Adam Ruins Everything, we meet Hank who has recently been laid off from his job at the factory. In an earlier segment, Hank and Adam discuss major economic measures like GDP and Unemployment. In this segment, they discuss some of the misperceptions about manufacturing.

Adam Ruins Everything is a half-hour informational comedy where host, Adam Conover, debunks popular myths. Each episode is divided into 3 segments with some common themes. In the Spring of 2018, James Tierney and I sat down to go through all three seasons of Adam Ruins Everything to pick out examples in each episode that could be used in an economics course.

In the Summer of 2020, the paper was officially published in The Journal of Economics and Finance Education, which you can read online.

The Simpsons — Day Laborers


In this scene, Homer and Bart are loading construction materials into their car at Builder’s Barn (a Home Depot-type store). Bart isn’t sure his dad is capable of handling the word himself when a group of immigrant day laborers offer their services. The day laborers have come from nearby Barleyville due to a recent “Barley Bust.” Homer accepts their offer and welcomes them to his home. He now feels superior because he’s able to hire workers to do jobs “we don’t want to do,” but then a hoard of laborers rushes the town of Springfield.

For a deeper look at economics and The Simpsons, check out Josh Hall’s book Homer Economicus.

Get a Job — Ironic

Our main character Will Davis is searching the internet for job listings. He has just been let go from his internship because there were no available paying jobs and his time had run out. He is looking for the right fit, or really any fit that would make sense for him, but he’s realizing that he lacks the skills for many of the job postings he’s finding online. His friends joke that the skills he’s good at can’t get him paid.

Clip submitted by Kate Lecea

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