man in gray hoodie and black pants holding brown cardboard box

I was privy to a phone con­ver­sa­tion this week — my step-daughter’s part­ner is apply­ing for jobs after her recent col­lege grad­u­a­tion. It took me back to 30 years ago when I was in the same boat. Sure, I want­ed to find a career-start­ing job in my col­lege degree field, but I also had to pay rent and cred­it card bills, so any­thing with a pay­check was on the table. 

After grad­u­a­tion, I worked as a cashier at Kroger and a serv­er in a lunch bistro. Then I moved to North Carolina on a whim and land­ed a 3rd-shift bell­boy job at a beach resort, as well as a cook at Honeybaked Ham. While doing all that, I vol­un­teered at the local pub­lic radio sta­tion (my degree field), and nine months lat­er, a staff job was cre­at­ed for me there and I earned my first salaried paycheck.

The recent issues of work and labor in our coun­try which have uncov­ered inequitable prac­tices in aspects of wages, hir­ing, tax­es, loop­holes, and bot­tom lines, among oth­ers, have me, again ask­ing the ques­tion — why do we work? If you ask sat­is­fied work­ers that ques­tion, you’ll hear answers relat­ing to ful­fill­ment, engage­ment, auton­o­my, and discretion. 

But accord­ing to Gallup polls, more than 63% of the American work­force are “active­ly engaged” in their work. Only 13% or so can call them­selves “sat­is­fied and engaged” on a broad lev­el. We work to pro­vide for our fam­i­lies, pray­ing that one job might actu­al­ly be enough, but find­ing that to be but a pipe dream in this coun­try. We hope that work will stim­u­late our minds and hearts, make a dif­fer­ence in our com­mu­ni­ty, and help us learn new things. But, sad­ly, very few of us find this to be true.

My son, a first-year col­lege stu­dent, just had a sum­mer of restau­rant work — his first real pay­ing job. He learned a lot, met new peo­ple, and tru­ly enjoyed that work. He’ll go back to that restau­rant over Christmas break. 

My child­hood fam­i­ly of six lived in a small house with one bath­room on my dad’s salary as a man­ag­er at General Electric bring­ing in the only income. Outside of reg­u­lar house­hold chores, I was encour­aged — prob­a­bly expect­ed — to get part-time jobs as soon as I was able. I mowed lawns, deliv­ered papers, babysat, coached at the Y, life­guard­ed at my church sum­mer camp, land­scaped, cooked at Arby’s, and cleaned up at a car repair shop. During col­lege, I was on-air at radio sta­tions, installed car­pet, and worked at a liquor store.

While a nice trip down mem­o­ry lane, I am ful­ly aware that I am a prod­uct of American white priv­i­lege, and nev­er had to wor­ry about the next job, or health insur­ance, or a roof over my head, or my next meal, or not hav­ing some­what of a finan­cial safe­ty net. 

So many of my fel­low Clark Countians are not in that same boat. We are all see­ing this renewed strug­gle over work and labor and hear­ing all sorts of solu­tions, good and bad. I have a few ideas, but no real answers. Perhaps all I have are prayers and thoughts, along­side the right to vote, con­tact­ing elect­ed offi­cials, choos­ing how to engage in com­mer­cial cap­i­tal­ism, and car­ing for my neigh­bor as best I can.

A Prayer for Commerce and Industry, and Vocation in Daily Work
(from the Book of Common Prayer)

Almighty God, be present with your peo­ple where they work; make those who car­ry on the indus­tries and com­merce of this land respon­sive to your will; and give to us all a pride in what we do, and a just return for our labor. Make us mind­ful of the right­ful aspi­ra­tions of oth­er work­ers, and arouse our con­cern for those who are out of work. Deliver us in our var­i­ous occu­pa­tions from the ser­vice of self alone, that we may do the work you give us to do in truth and beau­ty and for the com­mon good.

  • Jim Trimble

    Jim Trimble is a priest serv­ing Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Winchester. He grew up in Louisville, grad­u­at­ed from Murray State University, and worked in a vari­ety of roles at pub­lic radio sta­tions for 12 years. After sem­i­nary and ordi­na­tion, he served church­es in Kentucky and South Carolina. Married to Nancy Gift, a Berea College pro­fes­sor, he has a son and two step-daugh­ters, along with a num­ber of dogs, cats, and chick­ens near College Park.