The signs of being in the wrong job are pretty obvious when you pay attention to them. I thought I had picked the perfect job for myself right out of graduate school by working as a researcher for a labor-community partnership. Had I been more discerning, I might have seen the poor fit in advance.
The first sign appeared when someone from the labor half of the partnership took me to lunch to get to know me better. The 50’s-style local diner he selected was union-approved — the waitresses were members of HERE and had been working there for 25+ years. I can’t remember details about what the place looked like, but I distinctly remember what I saw.
When he asked me why I wanted to work in this job, my answer played like a movie in front of me. I saw people working hard in their jobs but joyfully because they felt purposeful in their work. I also saw them not working in jobs — they were doing homework with their children, cooking for their aging parents and playing sports. I saw that what I wanted for all these people were also the very things I wanted for myself — a work life with meaning and purpose and a family life with time to care. It wasn’t an extravagant life that I envisioned for everyone, but it was full and rich. And, I knew that one of the things happening behind the scenes in this movie was a freedom from anxiety about money. That was just a given.
I returned to our conversation to see a furrowed brow on his face. “Don’t you care about wages?” he asked. Oh yeah. I’m supposed to care about wages.
But I don’t.
I actually do care about wages, but improving wages is a means to an ends. To the degree that improving the wages and benefits of low-income workers helps them be able to live with less anxiety and enables them to care for their families (which in this economy it does), then that strategy is important to me. But there are lots of ways to help make sure that people are generally free of anxiety about finances in addition to improving wages.
Creating policies that promote widespread freedom from fear of financial devastation — policies that assume that collectively we have enough and enough to share — has always been a key part of my vision, and working for a great organization that improved low-income workers’ wages was consistent with that vision and values. But for a host of reasons, that job was not the right means for my ends, and I left it.
I’m not trying to say that similarly we should abandon efforts to improve wages especially among the lowest earners. But I am wondering if wealth accumulation — whether by the poor or the rich — is the right target for an economy that is based in sufficiency. If we wanted people to have the feeling that there is enough and we have enough, for what would our policies aim?
I’ve been playing with the notions of financial security and financial wellbeing. What do “financial security” and “financial well-being” mean to you? What would that look and feel like in your life and in your community?