Wal-Mart Jobs

An amazing piece in yesterday’s USA TODAY (yeah, that’s right, USA TODAY) serves as a poignant reminder of another symptom of the Wal-Mart Economy: a plethora of shitty jobs. The article, by former Wall Street Journal reporter Les Gapay, details his efforts to keep it all together as an educated, skilled, but jobless and homeless 50-something in today’s economy. Gapay’s article describes sleeping at campgrounds, using his cel phone as a link to the world, and tapping library computers to send his resume electronically. It’s touching (relating which friends loan him money and which relatives, such as daughters, won’t), frustrating (he leaves out elements of his story, such as how he got to his current state,) and ultimately terrifying, in its depiction of the brutality of our economic system. Folks who should be able to manage a decent living, decent meal, and warm place to sleep can’t get the jobs they need.

Part of the reason: those 1.3 low-wage Wal-Mart jobs. I heartily recommend Barbara Ehrenreich’s brilliant Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America (for myself as much as for others) as a stark reminder of the grim and tedious toil of these entry level jobs. Ehrenreich’s book sails on a simple conceit: she tries to get by taking a series of entry level jobs in a few different locales of the country. Yet her grueling labor fails to garner enough to pay for lodging, let alone food. Required reading for the New Economy. I’ll put it on a double bill with another earlier classic, George Orwell’s Down and Out in London and Paris. His description of the social castes within a restaurant staff (so resonant for any of us who have spent time in the food industry) alone is worth the price of admission.

By the way: who’d have thought that USATODAY would run one of the most compelling pieces about not getting by in the current economy? Far too many snobs overlook the fact that this paper finds ways to share individual stories that our leading broadsheets often miss. I wouldn’t supplement the Journal for this paper, but I would never drop it from my daily reading menu.

Posted by tom at September 23, 2003 10:42 PM

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