This piece by a Sephora worker in the Times spoke to me.
I worked my way through college with the help of a dozen part-time jobs in five years, usually putting in 20-30 hours a week while taking classes and as much as I could get during summers. I made anywhere between $4 and $7 an hour with zero benefits during this stretch, doing everything from industrial assembly to retail to data entry to tutoring. My conclusion after the first three years was that working for a living was tolerable for a single person with no dependents, but not desirable, and also realizing that I was not on track to graduate in even six years, I hunkered down and finished in five.
I was lucky to get out of the hourly-wage trap fairly young. Some never do. None of those dozen-odd jobs had any real hope of advancement for the bulk of people holding onto them.
The only time I think I was noticed in that five-year period as anything but a replaceable drone was when I worked the floor at Target. There was a fifteen-minute window of humanity that occurred after I accidentally ran over my foot with a forklift. While sitting in the breakroom afterward, able to walk but not exactly in the mood, I met the store manager for the first time, who seemed very concerned about me until I grokked that he was more concerned about the compensation claim that I might file. I was unable to muster enough duplicity to turn my misfortune into a check, and assured him I was fine, after which I limped back to work.
College allowed me to escape that kind of job, but only put me in a kind of low-earth orbit where I could be pulled back down by the early 00s economy. Graduate school ended up being my ticket to a stable orbit. For others, starting a company, joining the military, or criminal enterprises might do the trick…
One thing I fear this virus has short-circuited, though, is the ability to to even attempt upward mobility. I could manage the U of A’s tuition at $900 a semester in 1993, but UHD, where I teach, has the lowest four-year tuition in Houston – at $3500 for 4 classes. Target’s paying better, sure – $13 versus the $5.25 I got – but it doesn’t add up. This generation has got it rougher – and only if Target and its corporate ilk is open and not completely intolerable. I could probably write a novel working from stories from that one job. Eh. It’s probably been written already. And that one piece says it all.