On Work

by Paula Apynys for Working

America has a schizophrenic relationship with “work”. On one hand, we absorb messages that boil down to “work is valuable, important, even required to justify existence.” On the other hand, we are told (in a variety of ways) that the worker has no intrinsic value — that he/she is valuable only to the extent that he/she generates profit for others. Work is important but workers are expendable.

Americans have a strong work ethic. Americans, in fact, work more hours than people in other developed nations; they have fewer paid vacation hours offered and must wait longer to be eligible for any vacation benefits at all.

Americans are highly productive. Productivity can be defined as “the rate at which goods or services are produced especially output per unit of labor.” Depending on the source and the year, Americans rank first or somewhere in the top 10 in terms of productivity. These things fluctuate but wherever we rank at a given time, we’re not slouches.

Americans are encouraged and exhorted to prepare themselves to be good workers — we should go to college or trade school in order to become contributors to the nation’s economy. People who’s jobs have disappeared are also expected to retool and retrain themselves so they can compete for “today’s” jobs, whatever they might be.  

Yet, with all this emphasis on work, the need to prepare for work, and the value of work,  there seems to be a tremendous lack of respect for actual working, let alone workers. 

I find this very disturbing. 

To me, if a job justifies the payment of any money whatsoever, the person doing the job deserves respect for doing it. That should be the default position.  

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