There’s Always Work to Be Done

Since I’m already knee-deep in statistics from the United States Department of Labor this week, I figure I’ll keep on keeping on.  Last Friday, as they do the first Friday of every month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released their Employment Situation Summary for the previous month (1).  I’ve been hearing these numbers from news anchors since I was a little kid, but I never bothered to read the report.  Now that I have, I’m wondering if I’m shortly going to be told to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

I like that we’re collecting this data.  It’s good to keep a record of your travels.  What I have a problem with is how this limited data set is used for such sweeping pronouncements about the health of our economy.  I see these stats rolled out monthly almost as entertainment, in the manner that we engage in the rise and fall of our local sports team.  I see them used to influence public opinion about the current administration or the most recent Presidential hopeful.  I see them referenced in the setting of public policy.

We seem to live and die by this monthly reckoning – it’s become part of the emotional characterization of the nation.  And somehow, this litany has turned work, something I experience as abundant in the Universe, into an item of perceived scarcity.

Among other problems with the data — detailed quite nicely in an article by (2) — I was frankly amazed to learn that America’s monthly Employment Situation Summary covers only nonfarm employment.  We all need to eat, but any work done in our country to harvest and cultivate our food doesn’t count as employment in our employment stats.  How does an advanced nation give such little priority to its food supply?  Apparently, we so undervalue the labor of the farmer that we don’t even count her in our midst.

I haven’t yet found the official reason for the omission of farm employment from employment stats.  I suspect the Department of Labor would indicate that farm work is seasonal; and for that and other statistical wrangling difficulties, can’t be included.  Regardless, I do believe I’ve found an unofficial reason.

Remember in 2010, when Arturo Rodriguez, President of the United Farm Workers of America (UFW), appeared on Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report to announce the launching of a UFW campaign titled Take Our Jobs?  The goal of the campaign was to expose as false the immigration argument that immigrants take American jobs by inviting all Americans to apply for farm jobs with the assistance of the UFW.  I have concerns about the intentions of the UFW, and question the wisdom of a farmer’s union jesting tongue-in-cheek about the very real grievances of the farm laborers from whom they collect dues (3), but I must say, I greatly admire Rodriguez for quite effectively calling a spade a spade.

The truth is, most Americans have become so focused on the white-collar paycheck as the only marker of success in our society that we can’t see honest work even when it’s right under our noses.

I have sympathy for those who have lost their jobs.  I have empathy for those figuring out, as I had to, how to manage without that steady paycheck.  I resonate with the disillusionment of the recent college graduate who was raised to view higher education not as a key to the riches of knowledge, but as a one-way ticket to monetary reward and a life of relative ease.

But I simply can’t say that I agree with the statement that in America in January 2012, we had a work shortage.  Because everywhere I look, in my home, in my city, in my state and in my country, I see work to be done.

© Jennifer S. and, 2012.


(1) For the January 2012 Employment Situation Summary, click here.

(2) via What Is the REAL National U.S. Unemployment Rate.

(3) via United Farm Workers launches reactionary “Take Our Jobs” campaign.


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