Monday, September 3, 2018

Labor and Work

Happy Labor Day!

I wanted to pontificate on work for a moment, since I've been talking about minimum wage. There is no job inherently undignified or beneath a person when it comes to work. I've worked many a minimum wage job in my life, from my first job cutting up chicken at a Japanese take out restaurant to cashier at Carl's Jr. All work can be dignified, and from my perspective, has inherent value.

I did these kinds of jobs for eight years while in school, and I look back fondly on my car washing, chauffeuring, word processing, process serving, chicken cutting, and security guarding. Bills were often late, I could never afford a full tank of gas (or a car without problems), and upcoming rent was often a motivator. Work can even have a spiritual dimension, with the Zen advice of "Chop wood, carry water," turning daily life into spiritual practice. With the right perspective work can be uplifting.

The problem with our economy is not work and wages, it's mobility. You can certainly cut wood and carry water in the intentional, simplified life of an ascetic, but that's generally a choice, if not a means to make misery more palatable. Most people in minimum wage jobs, once reserved for teens on their way to bigger and better things, are adults. Nearly half of American workers make less than $15 an hour, which is still pretty low, sometimes at poverty levels. It's one thing to work a low wage job while in school or while you write your business plan, or even in your small business, but it's another thing when you're stuck and mobility is out of reach.

It's no wonder people are hitting the road, living in vans and tiny houses, considering a move to Mexico as a retirement plan or actual retirement (that's me), while turning their backs on the economy. Over a third of adults have no savings whatsoever, and 78% are extremely concerned about retirement savings. Checking out of a no-win situation is a sensible alternative, even if it means your address is now a U-Store-It. We watch our expenses soar while our incomes stagnate.

I'm 50 this year, and my 50 year old friends and I have different means but often similar problems. We are all in various stages of considering retirement or semi-retirement. In all of our cases, work is a critical component of retirement, work by choice. Some could quit their jobs now, but then what? Retirement when your mind and body are still sound is literally deadly, so meaningful work becomes the answer. But if you haven't found meaning in the work you're doing now, finding it doing something completely different is a challenge. Still, that's a life of choice and good fortune, compared to those who must work just to get by.

Finally, making work out of reach and paying people to do nothing with an alternative income scheme is really only valuable to them if they have something better to do. If you want to become a productive artist or build houses for Habitat for Humanity (what President Jimmy Carter does at 93), I'm all for working a little harder so you can contribute and follow your bliss. If you want to sit on your Xbox all afternoon, I'm going to be less inclined. I already have one of those in my life.

No comments:

Post a Comment