Living in Society Social Commentary

Low Wage Grind

Gardener’s Breakfast

A co-worker asked if I needed to borrow another water bath canner to survive the season.

This year’s abundance of vegetables has been stunning. There is a lot to preserve including apples, pears, celery, peppers and a couple dozen pints of tomatoes.

I said no.

By the time I get home from a shift — either at the home, farm and auto supply store or the orchard — and start in the kitchen, I’ve found barely enough time to prep seven containers for a water bath batch. Although it seems like a second canner would increase production, the most time-consuming home canning work is done before turning on the stove. At best, we can only capture a part of seasonal abundance in jars. A second canner doesn’t resolve the issues created by low wage work and the time it absorbs in our days.

Canning Soup and Jalapeno Peppers

Being a low wage worker is an economic grind. One knows there will never be enough money to pay for what we need. Financial friction wears us down. Avoiding spending on anything not related to basic survival becomes a primary focus. This may seem negative, and it’s not all good. However, it’s a life with as much potential as any I’ve experienced. That’s not saying a lot for our society.

There is dignity in work whether it is paid or not. Each jar of applesauce put up contributes to our lives. In the twilight of a career as a wage worker life changes. Youthful ambition wears down. Unpaid work becomes more important to sustainability and displaces paid work in our days. There are expenses to be paid and they shift as full retirement approaches. Figuring out how to adjust and what to emphasize in a society wanting participation is challenging. Developing resilience under the weight of social responsibilities becomes key to sustainability.

After what for him is detailed consideration, our president chose perpetual war in Afghanistan as he announced last night. Dealing with constant negative information about the 45th president has become a grind as well. While Obama chose perpetual war, there were redeeming aspects of his presidency, including a sharing of important issues. There was a sense the country was heading is a positive direction, despite his many legislative setbacks. There is none of that with President Trump. We go deeper into the grinder.

A low wage worker withdraws into a small circle of family and friends. In so doing our circle of influence shrinks on its way to irrelevance. What remains is work: low wage jobs, fixing the toilet, cooking breakfast, cleaning the house, and tending the garden. Such activities fill our days and hinder our relevance in political life. At the same time, there is work in society that needs to be done.

To work on resilience, persistence and engagement is as important as anything we do. It sustains our lives in a turbulent world.