An honest man finds value in hard work
Robert (not his real name) has to work at not feeling sorry for himself.
“The worst thing,” he says, “would be to become a whiner.”
Robert, who wanted to remain anonymous and worried that using even his first name would give him away, once managed a department for a big company. When the company failed he started his own and kept it going 12 years, “wearing all the hats,” as he says. Now he freelances as a consultant when possible.
But most days he drives his 19-year-old Buick to a supermarket parking lot, where he puts on a T-shirt and apron gaudy with the supermarket's logo — and goes to work in the meat or produce department. The pay: $7.40 an hour.
One week he logged only 16 hours: four days of four-hour shifts. He doesn't learn until Friday afternoons how he'll be scheduled the following week.
There's been a lot of talk about the “underemployed” in America's labor force, but surprisingly no official count. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says it lacks “objective criteria” to define this sort of employment half-way house. Trickier yet would be to pinpoint the number of folks who “job down” to something beneath their skill level just to get by.
Robert earns 15 cents an hour above the national minimum but $10 a week union dues out of that. He loses 20 percent of his pay to deductions.
Over a five-year period he sent out 100 resumes and came up zero. “I have to think it's my age,” he said by phone from the eastern city where he rents a small bachelor apartment. He's 66 and is not supposed to be discriminated against. Yeah, right.
At times he's been desperate. He has stood in line at a food kitchen and been tempted by a “payday loan” but fled from the interest rate (“200 to 400 percent”). Unable to afford a $50 copay, he was grateful for free samples of diabetes medicine from a doctor's office.
Among his admitted “bad decisions.” he says, were two divorces and “getting burned” at day-trading in the late 1990s tech bubble.
“Bankruptcy killed my credit,” he said. “Taking Social Security at 62 (with lower payments) was a no-brainer at the time; I needed the money. Now I wish I hadn't.”
More importantly, however, he does not feel that wage labor has brought him “down in the world.”
“The physical work gets me out of the house and up from the computer. And it's more interesting than you might think,” he said. He's been impressed at how seriously a food store must take cleanliness and rotating stock. He's unexpectedly proud of learning to tear down, sanitize and reassemble a meat grinder in 10 minutes. And to quick-defoliate a popular veggie on special. “It's such a power trip,” he said with a laugh, “knowing that with a swipe of my cleaver I can triple the value of an ear of corn.”
“I believe in hard work,” sums up this member of the numberless underemployed. “It's an honest way to make a living.”
Jack Markowitz is a columnist for Trib Total Media. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- New Florence man charged with killing police officer
- Rossi: It’s past time for NFL to protect players
- Steelers stalled by Seahawks, on outside of AFC wild-card picture
- Steelers players say they support Tomlin’s attempts at deception
- Steelers’ Roethlisberger reported symptoms that led to his exit vs. Seahawks
- Week 12 — Steelers-Seahawks gameday grades
- Re-enactor commits to pioneer lifestyle in Murrysville cabin
- Sports Deli is latest tenant to say goodbye to Parkway Center Mall
- Woman shot in shoulder during McKeesport fight
- Package thefts can be prevented, police, experts say
- Penn State coach Franklin fires offensive coordinator Donovan