Saturday, July 22, 2017

A Living Wage

Yesterday, while working at a small apartment complex I own, a young man came by and applied for a job.  I say, "young", because he was in his twenties.  He was trying to find work, in order to pay for college tuition this fall, as he needs one more year to graduate.  Evidently, the state lottery scholarship is loath to support students beyond four years of studies.

Several things about the young man have stuck in my mind all day today.

He wanted a job.  But, he was very "particular" about the kind of job he wanted.  He did not want a job doing yard work, or maintenance, or anything else that might actually have been useful.  He wanted an "indoor" job, with air conditioning...preferably a job with computers.  The entire Sweaty Arms estate is a whopping six apartments so, unfortunately, there was currently no open position on the managerial staff.  (Something that should have been clear since I—the President, CEO, and All-Around-Head-Flunky of this sprawling real estate empire—was repairing the mailbox while we talked).

He did not want to work in fast food.  When I mentioned that the nearby Golden Arches had a sign on its marquee indicating that it was hiring…well, that wasn't the kind of job he wanted.  The young man didn't think he could learn anything at such an establishment.  I'm pretty sure he was right, but I'm not sure this young man could learn anything at any job.  The idea that he was above such work was rather amusing, since he was applying to work at an establishment owned by someone who has done just about every job you can think of in fast food, and I am grateful for the experience.  I have learned more while wearing an apron than while I sat in some graduate seminars I have taken. 

I vividly remember the night I spent in a motel kitchen, learning to bake apple pies.  Armed with a paperback copy of the Betty Crocker Cookbook, I ruined an amazing quantity of apples and more than one bag of flour before I had something remotely edible, but I had learned a valuable lesson:  If the motel you are running has a neon sign reading “Fresh Apple Pie”, don’t fire the drunken cook until you find a replacement.  That was more than forty years ago, and I still make a mean green apple cinnamon pie. 

He wanted a living wage.  The young man valued his skills highly and he wanted a wage sufficient to enable him to save money for his coming year of college.  While he did not tell me exactly how much he expected, he did mention a "living wage".  Somehow, despite the fact that it was none of my business how this young man lived, it was assumed that it was my responsibility to provide for it.  He was, unfortunately, more concerned with what he deserved than what he could earn.

He was very particular about his hours.  He wanted to keep his weekends free because he was a member of a bike team that raced on the weekends.  There were several matches lined up this summer and he couldn't miss them.  And while he was willing to work after classes began in August, his work hours would have to be flexible to meet the needs of his classes.  And while he didn't have his fall class schedule yet, he was pretty sure he would be available to work on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

He had no work experience.  None.  Somehow this young snowflake had managed to become old enough to vote and drink without doing a single day's work.  With no experience at all, he was more than ready to start in management.  Perhaps I could be his assistant.  At least on the three days a week he was willing to work.  Indoors.  In air conditioning.  On a computer.

He had no skills whatsoever.  Well, that's unfair.  He was very active in band and he was taking French.  While this probably qualified him to be a field grade officer in the French army, it didn't mean a damn thing at the Sweaty Arms.  I tortured the young man at length, asking about such arcane skills as plumbing, small engine repair, carpentry, etc.  He couldn't drive a forklift (and I  certainly didn't have one if he could!) maintain swamp coolers, or replace a washer in a leaky faucet.  As an employee, he would have made a perfect Slinky Toy—the best way to use him would be to push him down a flight of stairs.

His college major was bull.  If things went well, the young man would graduate next May with a degree in a field so incredibly worthless as to make any chance of gainful employment in his field so unlikely that it practically guaranteed that, at some future date, he will try to find work in Education.  I have no idea why students continue to major in fields that offer almost no hope of employment.  There are probably more students currently majoring in Choir at Enema U alone than can be absorbed into the job market for the entire country over the next five years.

He didn't really want the job.  At least he didn't try very hard to impress me.  He was neither dressed nor groomed for work, so that it appeared that he was actually hoping no one offered him a job.  His parents were unwilling to pay for another year of college unless he at least tried to find a job.  They probably wanted him out of their house...and I would bet you steak dinner and fresh-baked apple pie that they will still be wanting him out a decade from now.

I didn’t hire him—Oh, I probably should have, just so I could run him around in circles for a week and then fire him.  The experience might have been good for him, but I’ve already raised my own boys.  What’s-His-Name and The-Other-One (Both of whom have worked in fast food and have done various kinds of repairs at the Sweaty Arms.) are grown and gone, and I no longer feel paternal towards fools.

I have a suggestion for Enema U and all the other universities in the country:  When students signs up for a major, hand them a form that lists the average starting wage in the professions their major will likely qualify them for.  Tell them the likelihood they actually will find work in their chosen field.  In other words, be honest with them. 

This just might save a few universities from future lawsuits.  And it might also save the rest of us from thousands of overeducated children clutching Sociology degrees.

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