This might not be a post that specifically addresses an urbanistic topic. It is, however, a growing reality in our cities and our communities as our American economy continues to transition into one that is almost entirely service-based. Our cities give us a diverse batch of employment options, but many of those options come with a stigma attached. This stigma of the “unsuccessful life” has not kept up with the growing need to supplement an income with a side job based in the service economy.
I am incredibly fortunate to have a wonderfully stable 9-5 job. I also run my own company, ArianDavidPhotography. Last October, in an effort to create another small source of cash flow, I began driving for Uber. Since blogging doesn’t make me any money (which allows me to talk about core issues without fear of angering financial supporters) this third scaleable form of income allows me to replenish the ole’ bank account if an unexpected expense arises.
More and more, this is the reality here in our country. Major manufacturing is gone and for the most part isn’t coming back. The day of the “thirty years with the same company” story is long gone, as employers of all sizes are constantly restructuring, scaling back, adding automation, evolving and morphing to meet future needs. Some will have that one job that pays enough to sustain us, but how long will that job last? And what about the huge percentage of Americans who work a second job just to make ends meet?
I know a lot of people with a masters degree who are working mall jobs on the side just to have something resembling financial stability. Of the four people in my office area, three of us have a ride-hailing or food delivery job for extra cash after our workdays end. When I drive for Uber, I meet hard working people all the time who work several jobs in the service industry to feed their families.
Automation and cheap overseas labor has decimated the American factory landscape, and the result is that traditional hard working, blue collar jobs are almost a thing of the past. The time for taking pride in a good day’s labor complete with overalls and a lunch pail is dwindling, as our country turns to a service oriented economy instead of one based in production. Beyond that, the traditional workday doesn’t look like it used to, with people often having to go from one job to another just to make the same amount of money relative to expenses that previous generations made from a single employer.
While we are coming to terms with this “multi-modal” method of income generation, coupled with the fact that we are primarily a service-oriented economy, the stigma behind working retail or service jobs is still as strong as ever. Even though our economy has shifted and our means of assembling a livable wage has changed, our perception of someone having to work a service/retail job is still very much fixed in the “you haven’t made it yet” mindset.
Take my mother for example. When I tell her I drive for Uber an hour or so after work to make a little extra cash, she will still say “I wish you didn’t have to do that.” While of course she simply wishes her son didn’t have to work so hard to make ends meet, in part she likely still sees Uber as something below my education level. Of course, my generation is very much accustomed to working jobs that we didn’t go to school for, but more than that, we sort of expect it. Higher paying jobs are fewer and farther between, and far less stable than they used to be. Thus, a college graduate working 20 hours a week or more at the mall in addition to their 9-5 job is not out of the question. People in their 20s and 30s today have assimilated this into normalcy (like it or not), but it’s often hard for generations above to accept that these are the employment opportunities that are plentiful in our communities today. While generations before us found stability in one job, we often must carry a diverse bevy of income sources to counter the possibility that one might not be adequate, or worse, suddenly go away.
Food service, bartending, ride hailing/food delivery, side businesses and even still retail are the new “gap fillers” in the widening chasm between what employers pay and an actual livable wage. Sometimes working two or three of these jobs is what it takes for those who aren’t fortunate enough to go to college or learn a trade to piece their incomes together. Like all of us, these folks are simply trying to get by, and the jobs that are plentiful are jobs in the service industry.
So why does the stigma of the service industry still exist? Why does working a couple days (or more) a week as a server at a restaurant still lead others to believe that we aren’t a success in society? With a changing economy and a “new normal” when it comes to making ends meet, we must begin to accept that service jobs are opportunities for growth and stability, not evidence of an unsuccessful life.
Next time you see someone who works at your office behind the counter at a mall retailer, remember, this is a service-based economy, and success comes from embracing this fact. We’re all trying to get by, and there is no shame in using today’s American direction as a means to further our own economic stability.