Hard Work

[Content Note: Kyriarchal oppressions.]

I grew up, and still live, in Northwest Indiana, in the shadow of a decimated steel industry where the most common occupation of my childhood friends' fathers was "laid off." It is a place where, when I was laid off in 2005, I was greeted at the local unemployment office by a man who told me: "If you're not a nurse or truck driver, you're probably going to have a hard time finding work again."

Jobs with good salaries and benefits are scarce, unless you are willing to do a two-hour (by car) or three-hour (by train) round-trip commute to and from Chicago every day. Even longer if you work somewhere other than downtown, near the train station. Whether you go by rail or pay for gas and parking, it is expensive to get to your job.

Jobs have been an issue here for as long as I've been alive.

Good jobs. We need good jobs. We need stable jobs that pay a livable wage.

It's not unlike a lot of the rest of the country in that way. Good jobs. Good jobs that pay. Good jobs we can get to, and stay in.

Given the opportunity, people longing for these good jobs will work hard. Working hard is not the issue; it never is, despite the narratives of moochers and takers and people who refuse to take responsibility for their own lives.

$10.10 isn't enough to make a job a good job.

And a job, even with a truly livable wage, is not a good job, if it doesn't come with protections against unequal pay and discrimination.

What makes a job a good job is more than the wage. A good job is a job that's reasonably accessible. A job that comes with the protected right to organize. A job that offers healthcare benefits. A job that offers paid leave—for vacations, for emergencies, for births and deaths. A job where taking that leave isn't held against employees. A job that provides for a good work-life balance. A job where every department is fully staffed. A job where any of the items needed to do that job are paid for by the employer. A job where federal overtime rules are not treated as a suggestion. A job where one is treated with dignity, and never exploited.

This is the bare minimum for what makes a job a good job, for the most privileged workers.

What makes a job a good job for someone from a marginalized population is more yet than a good wage and all of these basics. A good job is a job that pays equal pay for equal work. A job where there is no discrimination on the basis of one's identity. A job where it's safe to disclose all aspects of one's identity. A job which accommodates disabilities, in every way. A job that provides space for nursing parents. A job where the expectation to "get along" is placed always and only on bullies and harassers, and never on the people being bullied or harassed. A job where it is safe to report bullying and harassment and discrimination.

Neither of these constitutes a comprehensive list.

These protections, these things that make a job a good job, are things that the government must legislate and that employers must be willing to put into practice in a meaningful way, because it is decent, not just because it is required.

That takes hard work. To convince people to legislate and implement these protections, and then to legislate and implement them.

And that is the hard work for which there is very little will in this country.

But, by all means, let us continue talking of moochers and takers and welfare queens. And let us continue pretending that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 is enough.

It's just so much easier that way.

[Related Reading: Justice for All.]

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