Trump World Grab-Bag--A Collection

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Labor Day: America, the Overworked

The face of this Labor Day, for me, is Maria Fernandes, who died at the age of 32, in her car, overcome by fumes from her running car and spilled gasoline inside of that car, while she was trying to catch some sleep between the shifts of her four low-paying jobs. Four. Part-time. Low-paying. Jobs. How in the hell can four jobs be so crappy in pay and hours, that one can or even has to fit all four into their schedule?

Well, the Star Ledger story does explain:

New Jersey has tens of thousands of people working multiple jobs, said Carl Van Horn, director of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University in New Brunswick.

"These are are folks who would like to work full-time but they can't find the jobs," Van Horn said. "They wind up in these circumstances in which they are exhausted. More commonly it creates just an enormous amount of stress," he said.

Many people have been forced to work two or three part time jobs after losing a full-time position in the recession of 2008.

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 7.5 million people nationwide are working more than one job, Van Horn said, and those jobs still leave people with less income than their full-time work.

But this isn't just a New Jersey story. Millenials are liable to start out in low-paying service jobs and work at many jobs over a lifetime, and our economy has, since my generation (X) wandered out into the McJob landscape, mainly offered increasingly crappy pay, depressingly shabbier benefits, and it even looks like retirement has become a thing of the past for many older Americans--a past they didn't get to know.

It looks to me like we have a culture that values work, but doesn't value workers, doesn't pay them properly, doesn't understand why people need certain benefits and can't grasp the value of well-trained, loyal employees who are full-time there for the company because the company gives them the full-time status.

If we had any sense as a nation, we wouldn't be so apt to work any of our citizens to death. We would try to insure that working actually meant being able to pay one's necessary bills. We wouldn't have to subsidize major corporations by backstopping their employee's low-paid and expendable lives with benefits that wages should have covered.   And 20-40 hours of paid work, some paid sick time, and holidays should be way more acknowledged as a starting point for what wage-earners can expect. That the people who handle our food or our kids don't have paid sick time is just foolish. That we don't see time off as being sacrosanct for treating workers as simply human is curious. That we even debate whether a minimum wage should exist, a minimum to live on, is monstrous.

We can do better. The working class is everyone who needs a paycheck to make the rent and the groceries. Let's get honest about how we are all workers, and will all want to retire someday. We need to expect more. We shouldn't be so pressed that dumb choices and quick naps and car-living and wage-begging and even young-dying are just consequences of a low-paid life.

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