LAKE MACBRIDE— My patience is worn out with the talk of minimum wages, living wages, and all else hourly wage related. Depending on what one wants to do in life, the discussion matters a little or a lot. For me, not so much, as I previously explained.
I’ve written about worker engagement and dealing with low wages. A post illuminated low wages, and I wrote about my experiences assembling kits for Whirlpool Corporation for a very low wage, no benefit job in North Liberty. The practical result of all this thinking, writing and doing has been a focus on finding enough work to keep me busy and aggregate enough income in the form of wages, fees and bartered goods to sustain our lives on the Iowa prairie. I’ve found there are plenty of jobs.
Working on farms and in our garden eliminates hunger. We continue to purchase dairy products, bakery-made bread, rice and sundry items from merchants, but since beginning work on two community supported agriculture projects there has been plenty to eat and enough to share with friends and neighbors in a micro-culture of food. There is a shortage of people willing to work on farms, and this creates an opportunity to meet a basic need.
Farm work can also be flexible. My sawyering work illustrates the point. There is a quarter mile fence line to clear of dead trees, and my initial estimate was a job of more than 225 hours. The property owner is not in a hurry, so I can work as I have time and weather permits. This job is paid in cash, but its flexibility provides a premium that fits into the broader picture of sustainability I am trying to paint.
Large corporations have plenty of opportunities for low wage, part time help. Finding the right situation, one that provides a steady, reliable paycheck and accommodates my aging frame, took a while, but finally materialized in the form of warehouse work.
The physical demands of building kits for Whirlpool were too much. The minor supervisory role I now play at a warehouse club is better suited physically, and provides the flexibility I need to put the rest of a sustainable job portfolio together. One has to love the constant interaction with warehouse club members as a perquisite of the job.
Presently the wages from warehouse work make a substantial contribution to paying monthly bills like utilities, communications, fuel and debt servicing, accounting for more than half of our cash income needs. The long range plan is to replace this work with a better opportunity for income. Because the work is flexible, regularly and predictably paid, and has considerable social interaction with members and co-workers, it provides a stable platform for change.
Non-governmental organization work
I’ll sign a fourth contract with Iowa Physicians for Social Responsibility on Monday. The first was almost five years ago, shortly after exiting my highly paid, full time work in transportation and logistics. The work functions at a high intellectual level and is engaging in a way few other jobs are. For that reason, the project will receive high value in my jobs portfolio.
Like with corporations and farm work, NGOs are constantly seeking low wage workers to accomplish the deliverables of grants received each year. Because the work is contractually defined and the pay is predetermined, administrative variables are minimal, enabling a focus on the work.
The new contract is to organize a series of presentations on the humanitarian impacts of nuclear war to Rotary clubs over a six-month period. It is great work if one can get it, and because of the ebb and flow of the work process, there is adequate flexibility to accommodate the rest of my jobs portfolio.
Writing and editing work
Being a writer is a tenuous endeavor in the age of social media. It seems unlikely writing will pay enough to reduce the number of jobs in my portfolio, but there is beer money to be made if one is willing. Such income is still cash income, meager though it may be, and contributes to paying monthly bills not limited to summer beverages.
My main work is the unpaid writing at this site. There are currently three other distinct writing jobs for monetary compensation: proof reading for a local, regional newspaper, correspondent work for the same newspaper, and being summer editor of Blog for Iowa. As with the NGO work, these jobs function at a high intellectual level, and receive high value in my jobs portfolio. The thing about them is with each article I write, my skills improve, so the work feeds upon itself.
Business development work
In March, I described the process of business development and the Sumitomo Quadrant. With the jobs listed in this post, there are enough to plug into the tool to figure out next steps. That is, next steps after figuring out how to get all the work these jobs are expected to generate finished over the coming six months. Business development, like gardening, has become a necessary, but important unpaid job in itself. One that most low wage workers I know don’t give adequate attention.
Plenty of jobs are available if one wants the work. Whether creation of a jobs portfolio will also make life sustainable is an open question. The aggregate monetary compensation of this portfolio is enough to get by. It doesn’t translate easily to a framework of minimum or livable wages and that’s the point. In order to sustain a life, we sometimes need to take chances, and work how the jobs become available. This includes uneven compensatory rates, bartering and organic work like gardening and business development.
To make the paradigm work, jobs that have flexibility and will contribute to financial and intellectual needs take priority. Above all else, a job has to enable me to go on living, or else what’s the point?