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Defined by Work

Today is Labor Day in the USofA and Canada.  You may be off at the State Fair or taking one last long summer day up at the cabin on the lake. Few people will read this in the middle of the last day of summer routine.

But that’s fine.  This might be better on the Tuesday after Labor Day.

Today we celebrate the workers of this continent and celebrate work itself.  We do this largely by loafing, by taking a day off to not work.  It’s not that everyone needs a break.  The idea is that we should all spend a day contemplating how much we are defined by what we do and how important the efforts are innovations of millions of people are to each other’s lives.

Today, in the USofA, about 14 Million people are officially “unemployed”.  About half of them have been so for six months or more.  These are a people who have been cast aside, their skills unwanted and their efforts undesired.  Their slow daily spiral into poverty and depression starts with thousands of job applications eagerly filled out with great care without the slightest acknowledgement that they were ever even received.  Gradually the fine art of survival takes up more time than the daily grind of applications.

Most of the long term unemployed learn to live without material things.  They might go months without buying new clothes or getting their haircut.  They might turn away when their friends show off their latest iPod or other gadget.  They might even learn how one strong cup of coffee can take the place of a meal early in the day.  Sometimes it comes down as a challenge more than a deficit, but even when it’s made into a game depression lurks around the next dark corner.  It’s the complete loss of hope that comes from the feeling that they have been thrown out as garbage that slowly destroys them.

There are many more people like me who struggle to make it on their own, scrambling constantly.  We spend more time looking for work than actually doing it sometimes, pounding the pavement from one shop to another to make connections.  Sometimes we snag a gig that someone else tossed onto the sidewalk as they walked by.  It’s not a living for anyone with a lot of pride.

This Labor Day, please contemplate more than just the value of work.  Think about what the lack of it does to a person.  If you are back at work the day after, bleary eyed and trying to get back into after a long weekend, take a moment to imagine what six months off of work without a paycheck would do to you.  That reality confronts millions of people every day.

Thank you.

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9 thoughts on “Defined by Work

  1. “…Think about what the lack of it does to a person…” I do…EVERY day. Not just as applied to myself, but to those who a few scant months or years ago were experiencing the “American Dream,” those who pulled-up roots and moved to a new city & job – only to have that job evaporate, and to older workers who remained loyal to their long-time employers for decades, only to be let go, their jobs sent overseas.

  2. Jack: It’s a problem that this can happen in what was not long ago unquestionably the greatest nation on earth. But I know that we all experience downturns and that hard times are just part of life. What really worries me is the extent to which classes are separating and people don’t think about those who are in this situation. We can get through this if we stick together and remember what is important – our humanity, not our wealth.

  3. I thought I had nothing to say before but you gave me an idea. I have known many people who lost their jobs. They all said that feeling isolated was the hardest thing to cope with. If you know someone who lost their job & who doesn’t now make a point to call them and maybe go out for coffee with them once in a while just to stay ‘connected’ (to use Eric’s favorite word!). 🙂
    I have been doing that for a friend of mine and sometimes she is pretty down after a long week of trying to find work and I know she just has to get out of the house. I think its the least I can do.

  4. Anna: That is an excellent idea, and very pertinent. I’ve been told that family and friends are usually the best leads for jobs, and my experience more or less confirms this. But just to lift someone’s spirits and get them up and around is very important as well. It’s hard for people to keep going after a while, especially once they feel like they’ve been shoved to the curb with the trash.

    Thank you for the suggestion, it is a vital one!

  5. My link for today is to E.J. Dionne who writes about The last Labor Day? with a focus on invisible workers. Being invisible/ignored definitely contributes to the depression of the unemployed talked about in this post and comments.

    I also have a bonus link that recalls a time when labor was more visible and powerful Solidarity Forever (Pete Seeger) I timed a visit to see relatives in the Madison area last winter on the day of the largest teacher’s protest when 100,000 people surrounded the capital. It was pretty cool, even if it didn’t achieve much.

  6. Laurie: Excellent articles, as always! The commentary by EJ Dione is, well, up to his usual high standards – thank you especially for that. Everything in our world comes from work of some kind, and this has been known by any thinker, both famous and not, for thousands of years. Why has it become controversial now? It’s more than denying history, it’s denying reality.

    You make such excellent contributions to Barataria that I can’t help but think that I should do something to highlight you more – or encourage you to have your own blog! Remember this, everyone – just follow Laurie’s links and you’ll see something good. Thank you so much!

  7. I didn’t get to this until the day after but I agree completely. Too many people are out of work and this has to be our #1 priority. Anything we can do to help people get through this.

  8. Pingback: The Gig Economy | Barataria – The work of Erik Hare

  9. Pingback: Growing the Gig Economy | SP3M SmartValue Decisions

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