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.