Put Up, Shut Up or Get Out: Work Life in America

Working at The Great Satan for the past two days has given me a front row view of our economy. As a self-employed person without any co-workers, or mouths to feed, I’ve been so isolated from the realities of what people are faced with right now. It’s scary. People. Are. Hurting.

I work with a Mom who puts in a full day at the Great Satan, then walks over to HellMart to work, because she can’t feed her family on HellMart’s generous $8.25 an hour. Another woman I work with is an EMT in real life. A guy in my department took the job despite a 30 mile commute, because the hardware store he used to work for laid him off. Another gal I spoke with has been out of work since April of ’08, after getting laid off from CitiBank. There are people so overqualified for this work, it’s insane. I feel so humbled and fortunate to be there by choice.

Meanwhile, management plays shuffeboard with the worker bees’ lives. The group I was hired in with got our hours changed, and our job roles too. They told us on our first day; we could live with it, or leave. There’s a thousand more behind us.

Everyone is calling this a recession, but this is more like a depression. I look around that warehouse, and so many people appear exhausted.

As I stood there doing my job today, I saw thousands of expensive gadgets and gizmos pass before me. With each new order, I kept wondering; who’s buying this stuff?

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12 Responses to “Put Up, Shut Up or Get Out: Work Life in America”

  1. Eric Auckerman November 13, 2009 at 5:59 am Reply

    Some eat steak, others Spam, and the rest just hear the sizzle.
    Dear Rene,
    Humbling work experiences should make one more attuned to be better decision making in terms of education, career goals, and money management, I’m not talking Ivy League degrees but any level of education that will offer financial independence. Plumbers I would venture work all year.

    Yes, the times are the toughest they’ve been in years, but that just means we have to toughen up with them. Sacrifices will have to be made such as long commutes, long work days, and the scramble to keep up with the cost of living. What’s the old saying, “The good old days have never been and probably never were.” Think back to those prosperous days of Dot Com mania when the money flowed like the steady tinkle of that cherub in Bruge (Belgium), but with that easy money came inflated costs for housing, cars, and arugula – you just can’t win it seems.

    I bring up Europe as I’m writing from a tradeshow in Berlin where the unemployment level in Germany is around 10%, but things are getting better here I hear as domestic production is up. In speaking with German friends we all concluded that what works for and works against the US economy are the extreme highs and lows whereas in Germany the extremes are not has high or as often.

    I’m not saying they have it better here but on the surface folks seem a lot less nervous about healthcare, jobs, education, and so on than Americans. Are they happier? I’m not sure. Is America less of a country for extreme fits of poverty and wealth? I’m not sure either. What I do know is we Americans need to personally smarten up when recognizing what we need over what we desire.

    In Germany folks have smaller houses, cars, appliances, kitchens, they just don’t have the free range space like us Americans. Some of us in US have made it no secret that consumerism can become really tiresome and taxing on our psyches, no doubt. Ever visit a 2.5 family and bear witness to all of the baubles and stuff their kids get sticky and then tire of? Germans, like everyone else, buy eDistractions for their progeny just like Americans, but many live in apartments with limited space, therefore each purchase has to be a considered one because storage is always at a premium. Maybe we need more acquisition cools downs in the country, but then what would our friends who work at Amazon do all day, learn Ikebana?

    No, this is not a diatribe how the US is wanting, but rather acknowledgment that life is not easy for just about everyone nor should it be. Even if you inherit millions you’ve still got to manage that money and that takes some understanding of how money works and what it takes to preserve it. The same rules apply to those of us who are not millionaires, actually, the art of managing money applies even more so to those who have little of it to waste.

    Hang in there America cause someone somewhere eats steak, others Spam, the rest? They hear the sizzle.

    Enrico strikes again!

    • Eric, I would agree with most of your comments. However, I don’t think rash over purchasing or grabbing consumerism by the average American (or any other nationality for that matter) is the core issue in terms of the causes of the massive and rapid downturn in the economy forcing Mr & Mrs average to struggle to makes end meet. For sure those practices didn’t help and exacerbated the chain of events that unfolded with the near collapse of the global monetary system but they certainly aren’t the cause of it and we the public (of any nationality) should certainly not be expected to shoulder the financial burden the way we have done and continue to do so. Equally grotesque is the spectre of our children also being burdened with the bill (mind boggling volumes of tax money used to bail out failed institutions) in the future.

      I think one should look to the hyper salaried individuals charged with operating, maintaining and regulating the global (or at least national) monetary systems who point blank failed to see and prevent the obviously impending storm. What’s more they have the good fortune it would seem to maintain their wonderful lifestyle and burgeoning consumerism throughout the entire episode. Indeed they are flourishing like never before since the value of assets has tumbled allowing them to turn their generously maintained liquidity (courtesy of the tax payer) into assets at rock bottom prices guaranteeing high returns in a short span of time as the financial outlook slowly improves. All at the expense of Mr & Mrs average who have seen their heavily mortgaged assets plummet in value, their jobs threatened or disappear all together and their tax burden in the coming years and generations ride off the scale for the foreseeable future.

      You are correct, everyone has to face the realities of managing money regardless of income though if your basic needs (food, clothing, shelter etc) are exceeding your income and your working two or three jobs to make ends meet then better money management skills becomes a mute point really. You can’t get blood from a stone.

      No, we haven’t over spent or lived the good life for too long, we are all tightening our belts because we have been let down by those who should know better, were and still are paid handsomely to know better and were too busy moving truck loads of cash into their accounts without any thought of the long term consequences to the financial system. That is why the good people Renee described are having to work long and unedifying hours, drive hundreds of miles a week and accept lousy conditions.

      Hear the sizzle??? Hell, they can’t afford to drive to the restaurant to listen.

    • “Yes, the times are the toughest they’ve been in years, but that just means we have to toughen up with them. “

      Auckerman, you know we love you, but IMHO, your outlook is insulting to the workers at the bottom the ladder, and the equivalent of “let them eat cake.”

      Funny that it’s also quite akin to how The NY Times just wrote a piece blaming workers for the unemployment situation, advocating “American manufacturing workers should take average real wage cuts of as much as 20 percent to get into global balance.”

      Why should WE, Joe and Jane Average, continue tightening our belts (we are out of room for new holes, by the way) as the fat cat bastards running Wall Street continue to get rich off our backs through tax bailouts, rock bottom stock prices, etc., etc.?

      Completely ludicrous.

  2. Hmmmm……

    I’m looking forward to hearing more about your experiences.

  3. The management there is right–there are a thousand more people waiting to be hired, for any job you have now, not just at Amazon. It is sad that so many people needing work are still out there looking.

    Oh, and I think it is teenagers buying most of that stuff–they are the only ones with money in their pockets these days.

    • Hey Karen, thanks for reading. Yeah, there are SO many people here looking for work, driving in for this job from 50 miles away. It’s crazy, and very sad.

      OK so if it’s the teenagers, where are theygetting their money? Hmmm…

  4. Great post. Don’t let your employer see it though! I live in Spain but my Dad is retired in Three Rivers, CA, he has been telling me things have been pretty bad in the surrounding area there too.

    I have, since last December worked for three different companies, all went bust so it’s bad everywhere. Spain is looking at 19.3 percent unemployment rightnow…..ouch. How I’ve held on to my house is anyones guess.

    That said, the situation has pushed me into my passion (marine navigation systems) and now I work for myself and looking at traveling about a bit more. I have been very lucky to be able to do it because of where I live, people I know and my skill sets etc.

    I wonder how many people globally have made the jump or have been pushed to work for themselves because of the changes in the economy?

    Keep your chin up at Amazon and the posts coming! All the best

    • Hey Rob, 19.3 percent unemployment, now that’s a good reality check. When Jim and I were in Spain in 2000, times were good and there was so much money flowing. I can’t imagine that kind of recession.

      Your work sounds really cool. Congrats on staying afloat (hahaha, pun intended!). Being self-employed is the way to go, you just can’t count on that paycheck, ever.

  5. Great post. I hope you write more about this. The whole experience sounds so bizarrely ironic – a creepy combination of privation and excess.

    Jennifer

    • Thanks Jennifer. Yes, it really is a bizarre experience working there. I have so much more to say about it. Thanks for reading. I look forward to reading your blog as well. Congrats on taking the leap.

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