I was watching a report on the economic impacts of the pandemic on people in the United States, especially on employment as we are finding ourselves in a place of contradictions and paradoxes. We are seeing high unemployment numbers at the same time we are seeing a steep increase in the number of jobs available. We are watching almost record-setting numbers of new jobs created and record-setting numbers of Help-Wanted signs in windows. People are clamoring for work and businesses are desperate for employees. There are reports of record numbers of student-employees and paid internships as well as record numbers of unemployed students. How can all of these things be true? Well, as is often the case, it has to do with numbers and how you organize your statistics.
As with so much about the pandemic, we have never been here before, so we are making it up as we go along. Work shifts and job change are constant, with some people working multiple jobs, others moving from short-term project to short-term project, and a larger-than-ever-before reality of under- and over-employment. Confusing? Well, I just watched ten minutes of one documentary based on anecdotal information and unnamed sources, so I am an expert you should listen to.
Actually, I really don’t know what is what, but I do want to contrast a few interviews that spoke volumes to me as I was listening.
First, there was a delightful Korean woman (I never got her name) who looked to be somewhere between 60 and 108 who lost her family market business during the pandemic, and is now working two jobs to set herself back up in business. Her quote I was able to scribble down was, “You enjoy what you got when you got it. When you don’t got it no more, you work hard to get something else!” I want to be her. I want to have this “can do” attitude, taking in stride the good with the bad and simply making the best of both. I am in love with this delightful Korean pixie!
Compare to “Amy,” a thirty-something receptionist who lost her position, has been drawing unemployment, and is deeply bitter that she cannot find work. She had to move to a smaller apartment, the man she was living with left her to be with his family in California, and as she laments, she now has to “drink wine from a box instead of a bottle.” Her story registered a little less of my sympathy the more I listened to her talk. She reported that she has interviewed for a number of jobs, has been offered some, but she turned them down because they didn’t offer her enough money. “I won’t take a position for less than $65,000 a year,” she declared. She was making $42,000 a year before the pandemic, and when the commentator asked her why she expected to be making so much more when she returns to work, her terse response was, “Because the pandemic owes me!” Huh? I cannot completely wrap my head around this line of thinking. Oh, yes, I know the pandemic has done great damage and has changed lives, but it didn’t single any one person out. This pandemic happened to all of us, and while it has had a very different impact on some than on others, the idea that any of us might deserve special entitlement or treatment because of it is the height of hubris.
Last is “Ed” a teddy-bearish 40-something who looked happier, more content, and as comfortable as the most engaging Buddha statue you have ever seen. There was not a worry line or stress furrow on his face. He was seated among dozens of wood carvings and figurines he created in the past year and a half. “I come home from my job being told we couldn’t come back till after COVID and I just broke down. I didn’t know how we were going to live. My wife yelled at me after about a week and told me to get out of the house and clean out the shed – to do something constructive and quit being a baby. I came out here, started moving stuff around and found my dad’s set of carving tools. I started carving May of last year and I’m still carving today (October 2021). I carved away COVID. I carved away all my fear, and I carved away a job I absolutely HATED for the past twenty years. I started making things. I know this virus has been bad, big bad, but for me, it saved my life. I can’t remember a time I was happier. This is what I am going to do the rest of my days.” (Ed sells his carvings from a chair and table by the side of the road, making even more than he did at the factory job he hated so much).
Self is such an interesting concept. Whether we simply are who we are and are completely comfortable in our skin, whether we are never comfortable or content, or whether it takes half a lifetime to find one’s self, life is a self moving through a sea of selves, and sensibilities, and egos, and worldviews. I have no deep observation or reflection here, other than to say that I am glad I don’t see things like Amy, am inspired and encouraged by Ed, and truly want to be an older Korean woman. Or, maybe I will just be myself…