July 6, 2011

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

Kaylie Tiessen is working as an Poverty Programs Research intern at Mennonite Central Committee Ontario. She has worked on a report from the ISARC Waterloo Region Social Audit, participated in meetings with federal candidates and a Talking About Jobs forum in Kitchener. This is the first in a series of reflections on her work.

Jobs, jobs, jobs – it seems like everyone I run into these days is talking about jobs.  People want a new job, a better job, any job.  People are worried about their children finding jobs.  Government is telling us that they have created jobs.  Researchers are warning us to ask what kinds of jobs have been created.  We’ve even asked candidates from the federal election what they heard most about during their campaigns.  The answer – jobs! 

As Greg pointed out in an earlier post, almost every candidate we spoke with mentioned jobs as the number one concern on people’s minds.  People want access to good jobs.  We want jobs that pay a living wage and offer benefits.  We want jobs that will provide us with enough money to pay our mortgage and help send our kids to school.  Seems to me that this really isn’t very much to ask, but it is certainly not being provided to everyone.

When we talk about jobs, we seem to think that people who have a ‘bad job’ must have done something wrong to get stuck in that bad job.  Somewhere along the line, they took a wrong turn—did not accept an opportunity or did not get the right education.  As a result, they are stuck working in a low paying job with no benefits and little hope for advancement or a prosperous future.

Well, I hate to break it to you, but more and more people are achieving higher levels of education or experience, and the bad jobs aren’t going away–nor is our need for people to do those so called bad jobs.  We’ve all seen the consequences (at least on TV) of a waste removal industry on strike.  What would happen if everyone in our economy as it currently stands had a good job?  Who would clean the office or work the customer service call centre?  People who do this work provide a highly valuable, yet grossly undervalued service to our society.  In exchange they are continuously required to accept less money, fewer hours and no benefits in order to have the privilege of having any job at all.

Somewhere along the line we decided that people who work in bad jobs need to work harder to get a good one.  But what happens when everyone has the qualifications necessary for a good job?  Will we stop needing people to do the bad jobs?  Of course not.

How did this happen?  How did we become a society that treats people as replaceable commodities?  How did we end up overlooking the fact that, in order to create a thriving and prosperous community, we need all of the skills present in our society, not just the skills that can somehow create wealth and increase economic growth?  I’m not saying that people who work in high paying professions do not provide a valuable service, nor am I saying that people who do work requiring an extensive education should be paid less.  What I am saying is that people whose skills lie in support services, whether they work as cleaners in a fancy hotel or servers at the local pub, provide a service more valuable to our society than we are prepared to admit or pay for. 

If we think that the only way out of a bad job is to work your way out, then what do we think our society will look like when everyone has a better education and has worked hard enough to deserve a good job?  Do we think it will be all butterflies and roses?  If the answer is yes then we need to rethink our logic.  Undervaluing a large portion of our population almost guarantees increased inequality, decreased trust and increased levels of crime—both blue collar and white.

What I have discovered is that we have a choice.  We can carry on with the status quo and watch the continued erosion of the ‘good jobs’ in our labour market or we can make every job a good job.  Many will think this an impossible task, but really it is no more than a simple choice—followed by the design and implementation of public policy that benefits everyone.

We can ensure that full time full year workers are able to make ends meet by paying a living wage or by providing income transfers and supplements—then people wouldn’t have to work multiple jobs in order to afford a decent place to live or provide a nutritious diet for their family.

We can guarantee that employees have access to their rights by enhancing the employment standards act to fit the needs of today’s employees and employers—then employees would have safer work places and employers would have happier, healthier, loyal employees.

We need to encourage employees and employers to respect each other and work together towards more productive work places.  We need to stop being afraid of slow economic growth in the short term and focus on the long term prosperity of our country and our community.  Ensuring that all people have the means to participate fully in our economy will contribute to its continued growth and result in a stronger, more resilient economic environment for our collective future.


  1. Great post-I recently read in one of Naomi Kleins articles that 70% of jobs in Canada are now in the service sector and that Walmart is the biggest employer in the US. It is a sad reality, especially for the new grad like myself. Nonetheless, it's our reality. That said, like you mentioned, we must make a conscious effort to value those employed in these sectors, knowing that without them our society could not function.

  2. I worked for 4 years through university mucking around with pigs on an organic farm for minimum wage... and it was one of my favourite jobs. I still miss it despite having 'moved up' on the employment ladder. The question is... having 'moved up', could I move back down?

  3. I Love this article! That is exactly what I struggled with when waitressing. Always feeling I was inadaquate because I didn't have a glamourous or "good" job. I would catch myself saying....oh I am 'just' a server. In my heart I knew I was needed. I provided excellent service and people were happy to have someone to fulfill that need. HOwever, I was never able to get over the fact that in job was not valued by our society. Therefore, I was not valued by our society and it made me feel like a failure. I had a University Degree but could make more waitressing then in any of the jobs available to me. Its time we start realizing the importance of all sectors in the economic environment and start recognizing people for it.