Working the Workplace
I joined the workforce officially for the first time at sixteen. I was excited to have my first job as this signaled independence, cash flow, and a level of entry into the adult world. I was excited. It was 1994. I was a dietary aide in a nursing home for the elderly. I washed dishes and scooped lumps of mostly unidentifiable food onto plastic trays, production style many times a day. This was all summer long, for an hourly pay of six dollars and sixteen cents an hour. I was unaware then that in 1994 this was a wonderful hourly wage, but for the amount of work and stress and hours I was putting in, the pay did not match my value. I lived in a high demographic area. I drove to work in my parent’s sports car and only had a job because I was quarrelsome and required to learn a sense of “responsibility.” Little did I know my rebellious nature would lead me down a treacherous path of defiance with my family, but I digress.
Mike Rowe Presents: The War on Work. TED Talk
I was unaware at the time that I had entered the “loop.” I have been there ever since I set foot on the floor that day and punched that clock. Circa 1994 to current my circumstances have changed little. I bought into the idea that if I were a standard American, that went to work every day and worked hard, that in time (a time far away) “rewards” would shower upon me and I would be happy. These rewards would come in combination with seniority and passing of time because getting these said rewards could not be “easy” but they were attainable. You know the rewards. We have all heard them. Dayshift. Educational Reimbursement. Managerial opportunities. Earned time. Weekends Off. Merit raises (my favorite one, has anyone ever received one?). The list goes on. Time passes and you keep your nose down working odd shifts and long shifts, covering shifts for others. Missing family items and before you know it, your youth is gone, and your son is a man and everything you ever wanted to do with him is no longer possible because that time is no longer possible. You work harder and longer because slowly the economy is changing and you need to make the money of two people, but you are only one person. Your company is making money and is screaming for more demand, and you show up to work those hours. You grow old, waiting. You watch and realize the opportunities are gone. The people who made “manager” are all friends and relatives of your managers or younger people who walked through the door ten years after you with double your education level. You also realize, you are now ignorant. While the rest of the world is watching Game of Thrones, reading actual books, learning about “Bitcoin”, travelling, worrying about immigrant children and the possibility of Mexican border walls… you… are working. Probably sixty hours a week, add travel time with days off spent playing catch up on housework and trying to look like you know what is going on in your teen son’s life when you really don’t. So you drink and write sci fi stories no one will ever read. You cry and report to work and do it all again on Monday. Slowly you hate your job because you know it better than the twenty-two-year-old manager with an MBA they hired. You shut up. Because….. you need the money.
So like me, you may have found yourself in the “loop”. Constantly working to live and missing out on life and opportunities. I want to make two cases for all “unskilled workers” and the general workforce here. The first point is unskilled workers are necessary. I know proponents may argue that a “machine” could do the jobs of most menial workers. That may be a true statement one day. Please consider many menial and unskilled jobs require actual people to do them. Do you want a robot or machine to nanny your child and swaddle diapers? Some menial jobs like, customer service, require an actual level of people skills and make our own lives easier over all.
“But another kind of teamwork is at the heart of the skilled economy: More skilled workers also create more less-skilled jobs. That kind of teamwork is less obvious, so it’s worth thinking through. How can that MBA launch a new product? Only by depending critically on a small army of essential low-skilled workers. She needs someone to clear the table after a client lunch, empty the garbage at her office, and run the lot where she parks. She needs someone to pick the vegetables she eats and resurface the road she drives home on. She might need someone to care for her child, or grandfather, so she can work late. All of that is just the beginning.
This other form of teamwork is less obvious because it’s often invisible. Apart from the care workers, this MBA might never meet or only briefly glimpse the rest of these less-skilled workers. Yet every step of her daily life critically depends on them as much as it depends on her skilled co-workers. They make her more productive, and she them.”
Second, I would like to advocate that the Federal Government take the leap and raise the minimum wage so that people can live a possible modest life with their skill level. The rent to income gap is outrageous. In the land of plenty, even the most humble of people should have “some.” Raising the minimum wage presents a flurry of counterarguments and in this place I will use my favorite one “it will make business impossible! We won’t be able to keep up financially! We will have to close our doors and fail!” I call this the fear response, I believe the company would not go out of business. What would happen is that CEOs and Owners would have to make marginally less money? According to smallbusiness.com less than two percent of the recorded American workforce are being paid the Federal minimum wage rate.
“The goal of the minimum wage law is not to raise or lower unemployment, nor should it be because evidence suggests that it really can’t. Its purpose is social. It is meant, just like many other laws, to protect those who might not have the power or resources be able to protect themselves. And there’s little doubt who is the in need of protection in this context.
Comedian Chris Rock said once on Saturday Night Live, “You know what that means when someone pays you minimum wage? You know what your boss was trying to say? ‘Hey if I could pay you less, I would, but it’s against the law.’”
Imagine if we start the workforce at a pay-rate they can actually live on instead of giving them a history of false promises? We would empower them to live happier lives. To spend more time with their families. Watch their children grow. When we tell Americans the only way to change your lives is through education, then the workforce dangles this educational stipend over their heads as a benefit, it is almost impossible for the average person to cash in on it. The secret here is, we are all pretty much average. Some slightly above, others slightly below. Most of us fall in the line of mediocrity. That gives us something unique. Capabilities. We can take that educational stipend and get “ahead” in life, but we can’t do it if you keep our noses in the dirt of your work sixty to seventy hours a week while being underpaid and worrying about our next rent or light bill. You know those stories about people doing remarkable things? Working a hundred hours a week, going to an ivy league school full time, making honor roll and raising six orphan kids? You know those people. We aren’t those people. Those are subhuman people far beyond our comprehension. We are just mere mortals. Don’t compare. We are the workforce, we make miracles happen every day but we have no time for that.
So how does this apply to my degree? As a Communications major I have many plans for myself. Some so broad and fantastic I don’t know if I have enough life span to accomplish them. This is a persuasion piece so I hope you are still with me. One of my life goals has been the Peace Corps. With a Degree I can teach or dig ditches in various parts of the world and do my part because I care about people. When I return I have a two-fold plan here. Phase one is to get loans using my new status as an educated well traveled person of service to open my dessert and coffee “Shoppe”. Phase two is to also journal and write and to be an activist of sorts for the working class.
When I hire someone it will be at a fair and livable wage. Two, I will also have a part-time “redemption” program for female felons. This is off-topic but one issue felons face is getting jobs. In a nutshell my program will be one year of part-time work in a Shoppe. They will do dishes, sweep, etc. In return they get what they desperately need to make their first step back into society, I will help them write a professional resume and give them what they need the most a skill and reference (skill as in barista and cake decorating). Why females you ask? If you know about the prison system, it is mostly male dominant and most educational and program funding goes to male prisons leaving female prisons isolated and lacking. Female inmates and felons actual have a far less success rate than their male peers. I also plan to journal and write about the American workforce someday. You may see my articles and rants of persuasion far and away and say to yourself….’I was in a class with that woman, she was a nutter, but man could she write….’ None of it pertains to my degree now, but it will later. All of my experiences led me here to this degree.
I would like to acknowledge what I call the ‘trickle down effect’. Will the world raise the minimum wage or acknowledge and respect the menial worker just by reading this persuasive argument alone? No. Change happens with many voices, arguments, and counterarguments through a series of time. We all know that. I won’t see it in my lifetime. I hope that my son watched his mother work to the bone until it tired her. That she put food on the table and loved him the best she knew how. And when terrible things happened to her at work and the world told her she wasn’t enough, she then did what the world told her to do. She made herself better. Even though she felt old and tired, she quit her crappy job and lived off scraps and put herself first to get the education the world told her she needed to have so she could dig ditches and get loans to own a business from a bank. I hope my son carries this with him. Trickles it down to his children. Working to the bone is not living when only scraps are given. I hope he is proud. I want to tell the world about it, but unless I have these credentials behind my name, they won’t listen. That is the power of American Persuasion.