The nature of work

I’m reading this book called On the Clock: What Low-Wage Work Did to Me and How It Drives America Insane and I’m really enjoying it.

She was a former journalist for an alt-weekly newspaper that folded and went to work for three places: in an Amazon warehouse, at a call center, and at a McDonald’s. I’m still reading it but so far it’s giving me a lot of reasons for reflection. This is also the kind of sociological book that I really love.

I know quite a few people who have worked for Amazon in the warehouse near me and it’s well known how difficult it is to work there. I wasn’t surprised at all by the author’s description that the job is so exhausting that all she wants to do is sleep on her days off. I could not physically handle the work. I was, however, surprised that they have 99% turnover during the Christmas season. (Of course, that’s just what the author cites about the warehouse in Kentucky; I don’t know if it’s similar at the warehouse near where I live.)

I’ve also worked in a call center and I know the dehumanizing nature of that work as well. Having your every move measured and monitored, getting criticized for using the bathroom too much, and having the managers pull tapes of your calls to tell you what you did wrong is indeed very stressful.

I don’t feel like I’ll never have to return to call center work, though. If I can’t make it on my disability when my husband dies, I could have to go back to call center work and lose the disability. Best case scenario, maybe I could find call center work from home.

At the same time, I also feel like this book is pointing out how much easier my current job is than either working at Amazon or in a call center. Sometimes I feel sorry for myself because I’ve been working 7 days a week for months, even while my husband was in the hospital.

But it’s not the same kind of work, and working 7 days a week doesn’t mean each of those days is a ton of hours. On average, I work five hours a day, sometimes more if I’ve got a particularly heavy amount of deadlines.

But I have freedom that people working in warehouses, call centers, or fast food jobs do not. I can sit down through my entire work time. I can take naps when I need to and go back and do my work later. I can pick up the kids from school, make a trip to the grocery store, even watch TV while I work. No one is making demands on my time or monitoring me minute by minute.

I don’t love everything about my work–especially its inconsistency and having to pay self-employment taxes. I often wish there were some other type of work I could do that would accommodate my health needs. I wish I were healthy enough that I could work full-time somewhere. I miss seeing people during my workday.

In truth, though, I know I am way too soft for doing any kind of grueling low-wage work. I am lucky that I can still use my brain for my job (especially because there were times when my multiple sclerosis made that impossible.)

I get to have an easy job using my brain because I went to college and because I have the particular skills to do it. I count myself as very fortunate to have that opportunity, especially when I look at what other options are out there.

Still, I can’t help but worry about what will happen to me when my husband dies. He’s been more pessimistic about that lately, which in turn also makes me more pessimistic. I also found out that I misunderstood the amount of money I’d get from life insurance, and that I’ll have to pay taxes on the amount of his student loan debt that gets forgiven.

I may not be as okay as I thought I’d be. And in that, I look at my earnings from disability– even disability plus the maximum allowable earnings I can make–and I will still be very poor. I just have to hope that my brain will still be doing well enough that maybe I can get a job somewhere and earn enough to support myself. Hopefully, it won’t have to be in a call center.

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