"Life's Work" in the Times this week is about kids competing for a PR internship at a big firm.
Eight of them, out of 20 finalists, out of 200 applicants, will be awarded a $400 a week summer internship. Hey, that's a living wage, so that's good! More specifically, you could easily afford to live here.
Lisa Belkin hits two themes that ring true for me:
....competition has ratcheted up over the years, and this generation of students — students who need a Nobel prize just to get into college — are conquering peaks to gain experience that might lead to their first jobs...
but on the other hand, there is
...a shift in the mind-set of the most sought-after candidates. Not only do they tend to respect something they must compete for, but they also demand more from a job than a future and a paycheck." These kids, they have dreams. Crazy, I know.
ps. a brilliant friend leapt gallantly to my defense vs this guy. The ensuing conversation focused on the question: should you be grateful to have a job at all?
In this economy, yes. All other things being equal? Gratitude is certainly what I experience every time I sell a story, or get off the phone with a kind editor. We all do work for lots of different motivations and have lots of emotions around work. I am reading a fascinating book that touches on that right now.
But good feelings are not sufficient. I think if you're performing useful work that you ought to be paid a decent wage; that's the contract implicit in work and it used to be federal law, before our minimum wage flatlined to a 60-year low. This belief, of course, makes me a BIG FAT LIBERAL.
W/r/t unpaid internships, the argument goes like this: EITHER the interns are doing absolutely nothing useful, in which case the value for them is nil and for the firm nothing but added expense, OR they are performing useful work that adds value to the firm, in which case they are subject to minimum wage laws.
In America as recently as the 1980s most people who had jobs also had employer-provided health care and a good number had pensions. These benefits were hard won mostly by union organizers over decades, first in the streets at risk of life and limb, later by big union bureaucracies working in collusion with government and business to provide deals that benefited all parties--not without corruption, on all sides. However, today, that instrument of negotiation on behalf of workers has essentially withered, and workers' benefits have withered right along with it.
(caveat: globalization blah blah, lots of other factors. But why no labor provisions in international trade agreements that enabled globalization?)
[Btw, the overwhelming reason young workers aren't unionized is not just that they're young but that the majority of them are employed in the minimum-wage, low-wage, service workforce, making up the bulk of that workforce. And the average age in unionized working-class jobs is going up because--surprise!--people hold onto those jobs.]
This generation of youngish influential educated workers especially seem to have internalized this "brand called me" New Economy crap that we're all entrepreneurs, and we're going to become the boss very very soon, so we don't need (or deserve?) benefits or any modicum of security. So yeah, I do think we need a more "agonistic labor-capital relationship". Just as a corrective. Some call it "resistance."
Oh, you guys got me--i'm a 'bloggin now!