The disappointing April jobs report should surprise absolutely no one, given that we now have a government more interested in providing incentives for people not to work rather than paving the way to gainful employment. What this approach fails to account for is the value of work itself. There is something to be said for and gained by getting up in the morning, showing up at a place of business, putting in an honest day’s work and collecting a paycheck. That doesn’t mean all work is fun or even fulfilling but it has value.
Of course, I didn’t always see things that way. When I was a teenager, my mother worked as my talent agent. She was great at it. Unfortunately, her network of contacts went only as far as the world of minimum-wage, manual labor. She worked the angles on my behalf, talking to bartenders, shop owners, grocery store managers. She landed me two busboy jobs, a few babysitting gigs, and a handful of snow-shoveling and grass-mowing jobs in the neighborhood. But her biggest score, by an overwhelming landslide, was the Enchanted Village.
It was a small store in a strip mall that sold Christmas items – decorations, wrapping paper, small gifts – and was owned and operated by the meanest man I have ever met. I’ll call him Wally. One afternoon, my mother walked into the shop and asked Wally if he needed anyone after school. They talked for a while. My mother worked her magic. It was the first and only time in my life that I was hired without being interviewed.
You would think a guy who spent his days around twinkling lights and snow globes would have a bit of the Christmas spirit about him. But Wally saw Christmas as if it were a bully who pulled his pants down every afternoon at recess. It was his mortal enemy, a nemesis, a burden to be endured. I think Wally just wanted Christmas to lose interest and leave him alone.
The problem was Christmas kept coming back and rather than flail away at his invisible enemy, Wally redirected his rage toward his employees. Wally was in his 40s. He had a beer belly and a big, wild, salt and pepper moustache that seemed to be trying to overcome his entire face. His most distinguishing feature, however, was his absolute hatred of anyone under 21.
One day, I was on my knees stocking shelves with boxes of red satin Christmas balls.
“Reverse them,” Wally ordered as he stood over me with his arms folded.
Reverse what? I didn’t know what he was talking about.
“Reverse” seemed like an odd word. My brain defined “reverse” as to move backwards. I think that’s what threw me. I looked at Wally. I didn’t say anything but I hoped my look told him I didn’t know what he wanted me to do or how he wanted me to “reverse” the red balls. He didn’t take the bait.
“Reverse them!” he yelled.
I figured I’d better do something. Maybe I’d guess right. So I took each box of balls and turned it around so the front of the box was facing the back of the shelf.
When Wally yelled “No!” or “Stop!” he wasn’t just barking an order. It was more desperate than that, almost like he was watching some horrible tragedy – the Hindenburg disaster or the sinking of an ocean liner.
Not being able to put up with my stupidity any longer, Wally grabbed the boxes of red balls and put them on the floor.
“Reverse them! Reverse them! Moron.”
He then took boxes of green balls from the shelf and put them where I had been stacking red balls, and he put the red balls where the green ones were.
There is a point to this story. Yes, I hated the job. Yes, Wally was insane. But it wasn’t the last job I would hate nor would Wally be my last combustible and unreasonable boss. I needed to learn how to deal with bad jobs and bad bosses. And, when it was over, I took my paycheck to the bank and deposited it — like an adult.
There are scores of jobs, right now, in the U.S. – well-paying jobs – that remain unfilled. “I hear from too many employers throughout our state who can’t find workers. Nearly every sector in our economy faces a labor shortage,” Montana’s Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte said last week. Gianforte announced that his state is no longer accepting the federal government’s extra unemployment payments. Hopefully, there are more governors out there like Gianforte, who understand that paying able-bodied Americans to stay home is bad for business, and that it’s even worse for Americans.
Rich Manieri is a Philadelphia-born journalist and author. He is currently a professor of journalism at Asbury University in Kentucky. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.