Work Life

Drinking Fountain

At Sunset
At Sunset

CORALVILLE— Perhaps the best perquisite of my warehouse job is the public drinking fountain. At anytime, I can partake in the cool, filtered water to quench my thirst. Maybe I’d like something more substantial, something that would pay the bills or reduce expenses. Yet the water is very good— and it meets a human need.

All around me, in every social setting, I hear stories of people who work for low wages and no benefits. People don’t talk much about this as a collective idea, yet it is everywhere. It is a way for companies to minimize the cost of human resources. It is also becoming the new normal.

Understanding the low wage, no benefit, temp worker culture is important, as it’s the life many people live. I write often about temp workers, wages, unions, and work because to survive in the seventh decade of life every source of income and expense reduction has become important. In a way, it represents preparation for the infirmity of being elderly. Health and mortality have become an issue as I proofread the weekly obituaries at the newspaper. A lot of the subjects are people younger than me, and already, I feel like a survivor.

My newspaper colleague Milli Gilbaugh recently wrote about people in my age group. “What we need is another 20 year category between “middle age” and “elderly” that includes the years from sixty to eighty. Maybe the word “older” would work, or “retired” which isn’t necessarily accurate, but it does give an indication of the age span involved. […] The term “retired” has a bunch of problems in that not everybody in the 60 to 80 year age range is retired. Some may be retired from life-long careers and spend their time supposedly enjoying the golden years, […] but most are still working, or have retired and taken a “retirement job” with less stress, fewer hours, and considerably less pay.” While Milli doesn’t cover everyone who works a low wage job, she defines something relevant that people haven’t been discussing.

Recently, when applying for a job at a large company, I knew my chances were slim. They mentioned on their website that the normal retirement age was 62. When they replied to my application, “after careful consideration, we have decided to continue our search for a candidate whose background and qualifications more closely match the requirements of the position,” I wasn’t surprised. I recognized the legalese for “we don’t want you, whatever your qualifications.”

I’d rather work for people who want me in their organization. As long as our family makes enough to live in kind and money, we’ll be okay. Better than that, we’ll live in a way that is better then a large segment of the global population. A global village that doesn’t take drinking water for granted.