For the most part my experience with labor has been varied, but mostly I am the person applying for positions. Occasionally I am the one helping people apply for positions, and a few times I have been on the interviewing side of things. What I have never been: someone who has created jobs. Except maybe I have been. Working at summer camps for so many years where every child (and counselor who is barely beyond childhood) needs to feel productive and included I have definitely had some experience at breaking down tasks in creative ways so that everyone gets to participate. Sure, these weren’t long term positions, but maybe the principles are similar.
I was reading an article last year about the unemployment rate in the US, and the creation of jobs. I believe the article was getting at the idea that we need to not only create jobs but also work to match people to those jobs because the jobs that are being created are left unfilled, and the unemployment rate is not decreasing. This article got me thinking- stewing, like I do- about work, unemployment, and labor. I have never been much of a Marxist, thinking that everything in society boils down to labor practices and the means of production. But in the past year I have definitely began to change, and I am starting to see that the creation of jobs is somewhat… sticky.
When we read an article about the creation of jobs our first reaction is generally one of satisfaction. Yay! There are jobs. I will have employment!!! But how often do we look deeper into the things that we are doing. How many of the jobs being created are actually meaningful, and how many are just another layer of bureaucracy- an extension of already meaningless, unfulfilling work? How many jobs could we, honestly, do without these days? Yet, these types of jobs continue and even grow because everyone needs a way to make money. Unless we change the very fabric of our society then people will continue to press to work more, and earn more, even if ultimately that work creates very little.
I see it very similarly to summer camp. I have 24 girls to clean a cafeteria that could be cleaned by 6. At that point I have a few choices:
- I can send 18 of the girls onto their next activity, and just keep 6 girls behind to work. However, this is not, “fair,” and there will be many complaints. This is similar to the way people complain if everyone in society gets the same benefits even though only some of them work.
- I can create extra tasks that are meaningless, such as drying the tables (which would air dry perfectly well). This is what America seems to be doing at the moment. Everyone needs a job, even if it is ultimately pointless, or could be done by one person in half the time.
- I can find creative ways to divide the tasks, either through shifts, or by breaking up everything into tiny pieces. Even with the efficiency lost through transition this would still be faster than having just 6 girls work and so I should have extra activities prepared to fill that extra time. That right there, is a major problem (along with huge amounts of greed)- people don’t know how to fill that extra time if they are not working. Working only four hours a day or only 6 months a year? It isn’t a question of not being able to earn enough money (although there is no such thing as “enough” in this age) but more a question of being afraid of free time that prevents this solution.
Overall I think there is a huge secret: humans like to work. We like to feel needed and to feel like we are contributing something. The easiest way to do this is through labor- paid labor where we put a monetary value on our contribution. But what if we found other ways to contribute- through personal connections and growth in the arts and expression? Would that be enough? Would the four hour workday ever satisfy people? And, would the greed of the people creating jobs, and the consumerism of the workers ever allow for that change?