Two College Degrees Later, I Was Still Picking Kale for Rich People
March 19, 2016 5:45 PM   Subscribe

 
Fuck that company that allows their clients to abuse employees without penalty. In fact, fuck the whole idea of that company. (Or perhaps I should say, "go disrupt yourselves"?)
posted by sevenofspades at 6:11 PM on March 19, 2016 [23 favorites]


Yes, that plus the time-per-item business. Blech.
posted by Glinn at 6:14 PM on March 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


I grew up ashamed of the fact that my dad worked in food service. My mom, who worked the counter for Fashion Fair cosmetics, a beauty line made for women of color, at least had a glamorous association, and beautiful headshots that went with the job. (The beauty section at Dillard’s department store in Dallas was a magic emporium.) But my dad made pretzels for kids to eat in a mall. When I spoke of my dad’s job, I’d get tongue-tied and twisted up, like the elegant motion he used to contort pretzel dough.

I had a very similar experience. An experience that made me grow up and realize how narrow-sighted and disrespectful I was being with my father and my family. Up until the last five years, my father has always owned and operated his own business: convenience store, dry-cleaners, motel. When my father owned and operated the convenience store and then a few years after that, our dry-cleaners. I harboured a lot of resentment towards him. Being forced to work for the family each summer while my friends did whatever they wanted. It built up a lot of anger. I had these stupid ideas of what work should be and that somehow, because my father worked with his hands and worked in a service industry, that he was some how less worthy than a doctor or a lawyer.

And only years later did I realize how lucky I was, that my dad was putting food on our plate and keeping shelter over our heads. That he worked his own hours and wasn't beholden to any other person. I have a lot of respect for him now. It takes a lot of hard work to own and operate your own business. Thanks dad. You're a better man than me. I hope I can some day be as good and strong as you.
posted by Fizz at 6:36 PM on March 19, 2016 [140 favorites]


Speaking of the time per item business...

I worked as a cashier at a major supermarket that timed your transactions and posted everyone's average time per transaction for the past week like some kind of arcade game leaderboard. I thought the gamification of work was an awesome touch, as long as supervisors were aware that there was a lot more to serving the customer than just scanning and bagging as quick as possible. So were the weekly produce tests, where they would open up a box of random produce and see, for example, whether you could identify 5 types of apples they had in there. What was most important I think was how the company valued and respected your time: we were literally paid by the minute from the time we swiped in until we swiped out, so the supervisors were tasked to run the entire operation as a well oiled machine as any overtime would reflect badly on them, so you had this perverse relationship where your bosses primary goal was to give you as little work as possible...

(I realise this is speaking from a position of privilege from a country where casual pay rates are very generous and you have free healthcare and working less and being happy is a perfectly valid way of arranging your life. I wish that was the way it could be in the rest of the world, but maybe that never really existed and was just momentary blip at a certain point in time, at a certain place, for certain people.)
posted by xdvesper at 7:27 PM on March 19, 2016 [15 favorites]


Wow- that article really hit home a couple of points that I've been thinking about lately - about family and the generational transmission of experience and knowledge - about people struggling to create a life for themselves when the options given to them are murky and difficult - about the author seeing her personal struggle in the stories of her parents, grandparents, and grandparents.

I particularly liked this line:

I see my family’s work history, rendered briefly here, as a particular kind of ingenuity necessary for black Americans.

posted by ianhattwick at 8:24 PM on March 19, 2016 [5 favorites]


I was really struck by her feeling that "you could not cherish or value a pretzel — it wasn’t 'real' food." Because my immediate reaction to the big reveal that her dad worked at Auntie Anne's was, AWESOME. Those cinnamon-sugar pretzels were a holy-grail mall snack for me in my early teens, something I'd beg my parents for money to buy or save up to get. I can conjure up vivid memories of their taste and texture as if I'd just had one yesterday. Every time I walk by an Auntie Anne's, to this day (I am 30 now), I consider getting one, and sometimes I still do.

I sympathize with her. I understand not being that proud of how your parents make their living, and I understand that I had an emotional reaction to a throwaway line that was not at all the central point of the article. But lady, don't tell me what foods I cherish or value. I probably got a lot more pleasure out of the embarrassing pretzels someone like her dad made than any of her Instacart clients have ever gotten from the produce she's picked out for them.
posted by town of cats at 8:25 PM on March 19, 2016 [7 favorites]


[Couple of comments belated deleted; if you see people being jerks in the thread, flag it or use the contact form. If nobody's been a jerk yet, don't pre-emptively reply to jerkishness that hasn't happened yet.]
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 8:26 PM on March 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


I am reminded of The Winter of Our Discontent:

“Men don't get knocked out, or I mean they can fight back against big things. What kills them is erosion; they get nudged into failure. They get slowly scared.[...]It's slow. It rots out your guts.”
posted by alex_skazat at 8:37 PM on March 19, 2016 [23 favorites]


Notwithstanding your need for a flexible schedule, etc., what to do for the money job.

Not to be a pill but there is, underway, a massive tidal wave of boomer retirements in all fields. While it may seem daunting to find a job, re-frame the problem, have realistic expectations and look at job trends, demographics in other areas of the country where demand may be better.

In California, for instance, teachers are in extraordinary demand and the shortages are only going to get worse in the next five years. There will continue to be demand in the health care fields. Surely there are many other areas where retirees are going to eclipse qualified replacements.

Live in a "civilized state" absent thoseright to be exploited and used like a dog laws, states that still respect unions and defined and benefit plans with, god forbid, defined retirement plans and you're probably going to make some progress.

The contingent worker, no benefits, no pension revolution? Hope your saving 70% of your income for the future.

Again, not to be a pill.
posted by WinstonJulia at 8:47 PM on March 19, 2016 [5 favorites]


I think being a writer is something that is difficult for anyone right now, especially when you can get bloggers for free. My husband is a writer, he has a full time job to support his writing habit it seems :P
posted by Hazelsmrf at 8:55 PM on March 19, 2016 [6 favorites]


In California, for instance, teachers are in extraordinary demand and the shortages are only going to get worse in the next five years. There will continue to be demand in the health care fields. Surely there are many other areas where retirees are going to eclipse qualified replacements.

California is Ground Zero for the gig economy. We're already seeing the corrosive effects in the Bay Area.

The reason that we're facing massive teacher shortages? We, as a society, treat teachers like utter shit - a remnant from the days when the profession was one of the few open to educated women, and as such enjoyed a surplus that no longer exists. And as long as we continue to treat teachers like shit, those shortages will continue.

The "health care boom" isn't nearly what you think it is. There's actually gluts in a number of healthcare fields, because everyone got the same advice. Meanwhile, the areas where there are shortages are mainly due to a politically powerful guild (the AMA) putting up barriers in order to protect their position.

The problem isn't that young workers aren't looking for opportunities, it's that there has been a steady war waged on the working classes for several decades now.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:27 PM on March 19, 2016 [92 favorites]


Marginally attached "sharing economy" "work" is the new child labor.

The labor movement fought for rights for a reason, whether millennials remember or not.
posted by T.D. Strange at 10:45 PM on March 19, 2016 [21 favorites]


In my industry, they try to NOT replace retirees. My work is gonna be up shit creek in a few months because they refuse to replace our retiree this year and haven't replaced any others either. They don't CARE about the shit creekness because hey, less money spent!

As for the so called desperate need for teachers: all the teachers I know are pretty miserable, get laid off by default every year and are lucky if they are asked back. The ex-teachers are quite bitter. One friend of mine has just given up looking for teaching work entirely at this point. Also, note that that link says the pay is awful for the job requirements and they really need teachers at the places that are less desirable locations/a lot harder people to deal with. I feel for the CTA, but they are not the ones in power to fix the situation and those that are in power don't seem to give a shit.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:49 PM on March 19, 2016 [11 favorites]


My mother was a secretary/clerk typist/administrative assistant when she finally quit having kids for long enough to go to work, as she longed to do. She had a high school diploma and while the pay wasn't awesome, it was definitely a nice supplement to my dad's military checks.

I have a college degree and a certification in technical writing and I, too, am a secretary/administrative assistant. I get paid better than my mother ever did, but I must admit I am surprised all the time to be doing my mother's job.
posted by taterpie at 2:34 AM on March 20, 2016 [16 favorites]


I think being a writer is something that is difficult for anyone right now, especially when you can get bloggers for free. My husband is a writer, he has a full time job to support his writing habit it seems.

I'd be interested to know how many minutes of grocery picking the income the author got from this article replaced, but I suspect it would deeply depressing.
posted by Vetinari at 2:40 AM on March 20, 2016 [3 favorites]


My mom gave up a promising career to become a housewife, only to have to return to the job market when my parents split up. She was supporting two kids with a part-time office job, working every other day. I was maybe 7 and I didn't get why our lifestyle changed, but I do remember being amazed that she made fifty dollars a day, wow! I think that was above the poverty line, though, and she ended up staying at the same company for 25 years, so it could have been much worse.

I actually work in a similar setting to where she did, except I'm making less per hour because wages haven't risen with inflation. I'm not struggling because my partner and I both have incomes, but it's certainly something to think about: you could get the exact same job as your parent and wind up worse off because some jobs actually pay less than they did 25 years ago, while everything else has only gotten more expensive. That's depressing. This is the state of America in 2016.
posted by teponaztli at 3:39 AM on March 20, 2016 [18 favorites]


[One deleted. Let's go ahead and skip the blaming for choosing wrong major/choice of field; we've had a ton of in-depth discussions about this, and at this point it's just a guaranteed fightstarter leading to repetitive round Nth of the What's Wrong With Kids Today Wars that we've covered well and truly. And painfully.]
posted by taz (staff) at 4:36 AM on March 20, 2016 [17 favorites]


As a professor for lots of first generation college students, this is my greatest fear for them. Far too many finish their biology degree, can't find a job in a lab or don't get into the healthcare professional school they had planned on, and wind up right back at Chik-Fil-A or Publix with their friends from high school who didn't go to college (and their parents, in some cases).
posted by hydropsyche at 5:12 AM on March 20, 2016 [17 favorites]


As a professor for lots of first generation college students, this is my greatest fear for them. Far too many finish their biology degree, can't find a job in a lab or don't get into the healthcare professional school they had planned on, and wind up right back at Chik-Fil-A or Publix with their friends from high school who didn't go to college (and their parents, in some cases).

I don't know about your students, but nationally the percent is way too high of people who start that degree, rack up significant debt, and then drop out (often because of real life stuff like needing to help out their family, having kids, normal things like that), leaving them with no degree but all the debt. A lot of schools are focusing attention on retention because of this (and because retaining students is far cheaper than attracting new ones, so it makes economic sense as well), but particularly for poorer and first-generation students, this is a big problem. It is all part and parcel of dismantling the safety net and defunding public institutions (including universities), placing all the risk on the individual person/family. That's fine if your family is wealthy and can provide its own safety net, but obviously doesn't work out well for many people.

In theory these structural changes to the economy impact everyone equally, but that is self-evidently not the case. The article is talking about people in her family who didn't benefit from the boom times, and describes four generations of contingent and temporary work situations that did not create the kind of sustained social or economic capital that moves a family up the socioeconomic ladder. The author is trying to move herself up that ladder with her writing; I was most struck by how the rating systems of jobs like her food picking gig make the workers (or "independent contractors") vulnerable to the rudenesses of customers in more ways than happens with regular retail work.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:37 AM on March 20, 2016 [8 favorites]


I have found this. My kids have grown, left the house. Sell the house because too big and too much upkeep. Rentals are very very high. The young today can not buy houses and pay huge rentals and make crap salaries. Small wonder they now consider themselves not middle class but working class.
posted by Postroad at 6:30 AM on March 20, 2016


This story is so close to my own, it's ridiculous. My mother worked for Jewish families and cleaned floors, my mother works in a very similar job as the author's mother, and I've held these kinds of jobs before. It does feel like a "particular kind of ingenuity necessary for black Americans."
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 6:41 AM on March 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


This is a really beautiful piece of writing.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 7:17 AM on March 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


". . . and that somehow, because my father worked with his hands and worked in a service industry, that he was some how less worthy than a doctor or a lawyer. "

I am a surgeon, the first in my family, and I work with my hands in a service industry. I don't think I'm better than anyone else. I did have to work my ass off to get my job, and I still work 80-100 hours a week. Just like my dad did (and still does) when he came to this country to escape the war without any money or knowledge of English .
posted by ceterum at 7:26 AM on March 20, 2016 [8 favorites]


I still work 80-100 hours a week.

I'm sorry! This sounds just miserable. I think broadening access to the health care professions could make working conditions more humane. Maybe if we doubled the number of medical schools in the country over the next 50 or so years?
posted by mr_roboto at 8:09 AM on March 20, 2016 [9 favorites]


I have a really gifted kid. One of those kids the school pressures ridiculously hard to pass the mandatory tests, because they've moved the gifted kids to the least performing school, in their own academic track, so these kids make up for the esl kids and other low performing test takers.

Last week, the gifted kids were required to go to prep classes for The Test, that would have had my kid in school from 7am until 530pm. When I called the principal to say that a.) They could not legally require that, and b.) I was fully prepared to lawyer up if they tried, and he was all, "well, we really count on these kids, and after all, these tests will help him get internships in high school in a couple of years, and besides, didn't I want him to go to college, after all these tests would determine college placement in a few years", and he was gobsmacked when I said, "Look, not for nothing, but I have multiple degrees, and I fail to see how any of them are worth the $150k it would take to finance that education in today's for profit education system. Half the parents at this school are still paying off student loans, only the virtue of me being 20 years older do I not carry those loans because university was cheap when I went.

So, no Mr. Principal, I do not give a rat's ass about your school needing to pressure my kid to perform well so you get funding, I do not care about him working for free for some company in the hopes it will land him a job, I will not have you hold out university as some sort of end goal. I would rather he follow his bliss, and find something that makes him happy, be it electrical engineering or being an electrician, but 7th grade is too young to expect him to carry the burden of the school.

Education is a hot mess in America.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 8:10 AM on March 20, 2016 [74 favorites]


Of course, if you think things are bad now, wait until automation and big data obviate the rest of the jobs. We need to acknowledge that a society is more than just an economy, and now is the time to start organizing for Basic Income. Again, I'll recommend the many posts by kliuless, especially the ones on basic income.
posted by eclectist at 9:16 AM on March 20, 2016 [16 favorites]


Live in a "civilized state" absent thoseright to be exploited and used like a dog laws, states that still respect unions...

Yeah, people should live in Michigan, a stalwartly blue state where even the Republicans are afraid of the UAW...

Oops.
posted by Etrigan at 9:30 AM on March 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


"A lot of schools are focusing attention on retention because of this (and because retaining students is far cheaper than attracting new ones, so it makes economic sense as well), but particularly for poorer and first-generation students, this is a big problem."

See, whenever I have to hear about "we have to boost retention," the first thing I think of is, YOU WANT PEOPLE TO STAY IN? IT NEEDS TO BE CHEAPER. Because the number one reason people drop out is money money money money money. Followed by depression issues, or family issues, or other health issues, probably covers it 90% of the time. I'm not sure how the hell the school is going to help that stuff. "I'm going to drop out and take the remaining classes at a community college" comes up a lot for good reason. Check out this article for example. There's not enough money so that they offer enough classes for the population, which means that people have to stay longer and longer and their money runs out. Or they drop out and run into the same problem at community college, but at least they pay less.

I used to love college, but these days I just kind of feel like it's a requirement you have to get so you don't automatically get ruled out of jobs for lack of degree. It's a life requirement for that reason, but the financial investment is less and less likely to pay off in the future.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:08 PM on March 20, 2016 [12 favorites]


"Live in a "civilized state" absent thoseright to be exploited and used like a dog laws, states that still respect unions..."

Now the dues increase, has passed when will my dues increase?

"The dues increase went into effect the first regularly scheduled pay roll period in which dues are normally deducted beginning November 1, 2014."
posted by clavdivs at 6:41 PM on March 20, 2016


Because the number one reason people drop out is money money money money money.

The school I teach for actually called every single student that was stepping out for a semester a couple of years back, and every. single. student. said this. For some, there were other issues as well, but everyone said money.
posted by joycehealy at 7:57 PM on March 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


One of those kids the school pressures ridiculously hard to pass the mandatory tests, because they've moved the gifted kids to the least performing school, in their own academic track, so these kids make up for the esl kids and other low performing test takers.

There's a thing in the Netherlands right now where they give extra money to schools who form classes of gifted kids to give them a fast track to earlier graduation. The idea to game the system so that it's in the schools interest to drop gifted kids into groups who under-perform is abhorrent in so many ways...
posted by DreamerFi at 2:18 AM on March 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


They're not in groups that underperform -- they're in overperforming groups that are geographically inside underperforming schools, but separated from them.
posted by Etrigan at 2:44 AM on March 21, 2016


The "all the baby boomers are gonna retire and there will be jobs-a-plenty" thing hit the library field more than ten years ago, and the results weren't pretty. Not only have a lot of boomer librarians not rushed into retirement--because, like a lot of the aging middle class, they can't really afford to--but there have also been a lot of librarian jobs erased (they're a very tempting target for local governments looking to cut their payrolls) as well as some lost to automation. And library schools--themselves diminished by closures--marketed the degree to people who had previously worked at dot coms, or had planned to, and been left adrift after that bubble burst. The last time I changed jobs, in 2002, I had plenty of interviews, but when I started looking again less than a year later (toxic boss, who has thankfully left), they had dried up--it changed that quickly. We've done a few interviews in the last year due to some retirements, and there are some very well qualified applicants out there.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:28 AM on March 21, 2016 [13 favorites]


Not to be a pill but there is, underway, a massive tidal wave of boomer retirements in all fields .... Surely there are many other areas where retirees are going to eclipse qualified replacements.

That's something of an overstatement. From the article you link: "As today’s teens and 20-somethings enter the workforce, they will partly offset their parents’ exit. Indeed, for many young people, mom and dad can’t retire soon enough; some experts argue that boomers, by staying in the workforce longer than past generations, are essentially clogging the usual professional pathways, leaving few opportunities for people beginning their careers."

A tidal wave of boomers retiring means mainly that there are fewer boomers in the participating workforce and more retirees in the non-working population potentially creating a dependency burden on the generations coming after them, not that there are vast job openings created by their retirements. The article linked and the Census reports it refers to both make that point clearly. Indeed, from my anecdotal experience, as soon as a boomer retires, the job he or she filled goes up in a puff of smoke, not to be filled by anyone currently looking for a job.
posted by blucevalo at 8:06 AM on March 21, 2016 [5 favorites]


Indeed, from my anecdotal experience, as soon as a boomer retires, the job he or she filled goes up in a puff of smoke, not to be filled by anyone currently looking for a job.

That's going to be true in some sectors, but not universally. I work adjacent to HR in a U.S. Federal agency's "field office" (a.k.a. outside the DC area) and the number-one staffing issue for us is that 83 out of the 200 people in our two local offices are eligible to retire (and most of them will retire) in the next five years; these are jobs that will need to be filled and we're already constantly in hiring mode.

Working for Uncle Sam isn't perfect, but it's just appalling how the culture at large has denigrated an employer that provides a living wage and workforce protections to 1 out of 50 working Americans, as if the public sector is a place of shame.
posted by psoas at 10:00 AM on March 21, 2016 [11 favorites]


I'm a teacher in California. Half the teachers who start teaching in California leave within five years. I've made it 12. At eight different schools.

Despite there being a shortage, there is also a budget crisis that means many districts in my area release all new teachers pretty much every year. The schools that don't have budget issues are run by terrible people who count on the fact that they can find an endless stream of new applicants because it's a "good school."

We are the help. We are expendable.

Thanks for posting this article.
posted by guster4lovers at 8:26 PM on March 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


Working for Uncle Sam isn't perfect, but it's just appalling how the culture at large has denigrated an employer that provides a living wage and workforce protections to 1 out of 50 working Americans, as if the public sector is a place of shame.

Let's be blunt here and admit that it's not "the culture at large", it's a specific political group that has relentlessly vilified public employees as overpaid, lazy bureaucrats that leech off of tax dollars without providing useful services (to them personally, at least), while deifying the police, firefighters, and the military as being beyond any useful criticism.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:40 AM on March 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


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