Working Ourselves Poor (Now with DVD Extras!)
Posted by PintofStout on October 30, 2008
There are phrases like “the working poor” floating around. This refers to the people who are actually employed, sometimes in more than one job, who still can’t afford housing, food, and other tenets of the American dream. Perhaps this state of affairs is due to the cost of actually going to work.
In the past I’ve written about the chicken-or-egg nature of earning and spending; the first time I talked about some of the factors affecting the work environment that make us desire escape so frantically; the second time I elaborated on how we spend our treasure in pursuit of an escape from the depressing world of employment, in turn resulting in the need to work in order to pay off the escape. Somewhere else, though I can’t find where, I thought I also mentioned that my spending habits go contrary to reason and become less frugal the more pinched I feel and yet more stingy when I feel like I’m getting ahead. And just this past week I noticed an expansion, or perhaps a corollary, to this phenomenon. The busier and more frantic my employment environment becomes, the more my feeling of pinched finances grows in parallel. This also seems to contradict logic. When working hard for long hours, one is apt to collect overtime, which means actually getting paid more. So why does it seem like I’m with less money when working so much? Is it just an illusion brought about by stress and the apparent contraction of time ([time flies when keeping busy (less time)] x [time = money] = less money)?
My answer to those questions is two-fold. The first part deals not necessarily with illusions, but with less concrete things: the psychological effects of the stress and the employment environment. Placed in situations like this where the reward doesn’t necessarily match the effort, it takes away from the psyche of the individual, making them feel spiritually poorer. This reduction in the wealth of the spirit acts as a gel filter on the spotlight with which other aspects of life are viewed, coloring the outlook on non-employment related things with the same tone as the skewed work-reward analysis. Suddenly, common and habitual spending habits seem overpriced or undervalued. Combining the psychological reduction in value of one’s spending habits and the perceived increase in one’s work value while all actual prices stay the same results in a perceived net loss.
The second part of my answer says that the perception is not an illusion at all. When laboring at ever more stressful levels, ever more urgent and intensive relief must be employed, not to mention squeezed into less free time. Often the reduced time for escape leads to higher premiums on the cost of the escape to substitute for the therapeutic nature of relaxation and free time; therefore, one could be spending more money when working at elevated levels of production. The extra amount spent may not be large, but the effects are enhanced by the skewed outlook of value of both the the worker and the spending, not to mention the issue of time preference. While the extra money is spent immediately, the possible extra money earned is delayed.
There is a general cost of being employed that often goes unnoticed and unaccounted for. Everything from clothes or uniforms to transportation and formalized education are costs that are either created or enhanced by jobs and our job culture. All of our stress treatment and treatment for depression, and the previously-mentioned “escape spending” are also created or enhanced by our jobs. Claire Wolfe had written on this previously in an article that has always made me rethink the decisions and situations in my life. I’ll let her finish it out expertly. From Dark Satanic Cubicals:
Jobs suck. Corporate employment sucks. A life crammed into 9-to-5 boxes sucks. Gray cubicles are nothing but an update on William Blake’s “dark satanic mills.” Granted, the cubicles are more bright and airy; but they”re different in degree rather than in kind from the mills of the Industrial Revolution. Both cubicles and dark mills signify working on other people’s terms, for other people’s goals, at other people’s sufferance. Neither type of work usually results in us owning the fruits of our labors or having the satisfaction of creating something from start to finish with our own hands. Neither allows us to work at our own pace, or the pace of the seasons. Neither allows us access to our families, friends, or communities when we need them or they need us. Both isolate work from every other part of our life.
DVD EXtras!: This didn’t fit into the piece, really, so consider it part of the “making of:” documentary!
I’m sure we’ve all heard plenty recently about politicians being for the working man or from the middle class. These statements turn out to be truer than they know. Being in the parasitic or political class (poly = many, ticks = parasites; therefore politics), these smoke-blowers are all in favor of working Americans, because, after all, someone has to be productive for these idiots to exist. This is similar to being for food, water, and breathable air. Likewise, their existence is made possible and sustained by the wealth of the middle class. The lower classes keep voting for them, while the middle class keeps them in substantial loot (laundered through the contracts given to “contributors”). These gas bags waste considerable resources traveling all over the globe to be sure people hear them say that they empathize with us working stiffs. They really know what it’s like, since they can observe it from far above any actual productive work.