Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Wanna work? Or just a job?

I got my first full-time employment here when I was 20. My boss, John Landstrom (God rest his foul-mouthed, hot-tempered, honest and generous soul), said to me my first day, "If you're looking for a job, you're in the wrong place. If you want to work, I have some for you." Over the six years I worked for him, I got an education in the difference. Boy, did I.

Since then I've spent a total of maybe four months unemployed. I earned a college degree while working 60 hours a week. I've worked two jobs most of my adult life, and sometimes three. I've lugged furniture, pulled weeds by the road, cleaned ashtrays and toilets, and made deliveries on a motorcycle in 35-degree weather, all in addition to working my way up at the Greatest Newspaper in the Northwest™. I support a family of nine at well below poverty level. Some of that is circumstances and some of that is the result of my own choices, good and bad. That's the way it goes.

Here in tater country, growers are having trouble finding enough legal workers to bring in the harvest. (Fortunately, in these parts nobody scrutinizes a worker's Social Security card too closely and there are still Mexicans doing it. Other places aren't so lucky.) Three generations ago, desperate Okies like my Lovely and Brilliant Wife's family streamed into California looking for any work they could find. They found it and did it: dirt, sore backs, indignity and all.

So forgive me if I'm a little short on sympathy for the college-educated, employable twenty-somethings bitching on Wall Street that they can't find a job. What they mean by that is they can't find convenient, dignified jobs. That hard stuff is for Mexicans and Okies.

Yes, the economy is tight. Yes, a lot of the work that are out there is unpleasant, poorly paid and menial. But there is no work that's less dignified than being unemployed. People who really want to work are the ones doing it. The people who just want a job... well, they're sitting on sidewalks waving signs.

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