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Thursday, July 31, 2008

A Nation of Whinners?

Phil Gramm, a former Republican Texas senator and now former member of John McCain's campaign, found himself in a bit of hot water when he was speaking about the downturn in the economy saying "We have sort of become a nation of whiners" and "You've heard of mental depression; this is a mental recession."

When I saw last week's letter to the editor in the Yated (see Wolf's blog for the letter) about the low wages your average Lakewood wife commands, the letter to Rebbitzen Jungreis from a mother who wants to *abolish* visiting day--she views sleep away camp as none other than a "necessity" despite tough financial times--because it is too expensive to visit and she always ends up with extra expenses such as taking her kids out to eat because they don't like the camp food (here is a similar letter to the same effect), and I see the responses in this week's Yated to last week's letter about the low hourly wages Lakewood women are being offered as unjust, I can't help but think that someone should invite Phil Gramm to give some mussar (and an even more needed class in Microeconomics) to some our own whiners because this is getting ridiculous with a capital R.

This letter makes you say what in the world? A young lady (married, I believe, but now I'm not quite sure) who has never held a job complains that she makes *less* than our cleaning lady. Earth to "Help Us Make an Honest Living" . . . . . .the answer is that you need to become a cleaning lady. The pay is higher and the market is ready. Do I say that tongue in cheek? Yes and no. I worked an unskilled manual labor job once to make some money and get something on my resume.

Dear Editor,

For many years, I slaved away in school. I had a straight-A average in all subjects. Then I spent a year in BJJ. Now that I am back here and looking for a job, I am told that everything that I learnt is not important and my skills are useless. I applied for many jobs and was offered only one, at a salary less than our cleaning lady.

I was about to accept the offer, but my father didn’t let me. He said that, as a bas Yisroel, I should not permit myself to be taken advantage of in that way. And I don’t even live in Lakewood. I live in Monsey.

Help Us Make an Honest Living

Monsey, NY

. . . . . . .but I imagine if someone dared suggest cleaning for a living the reply would be a "Bas Yisroel" can't do that. Many Rabbonim have pointed out that we have fallen victims to an "instant gratification" culture. They are 100% correct from what I see and what I read. Good thing our grandparents and great-grandparents were more concerned about making a living than keeping their "dignity."

The last post was about encouraging children to save money. Another subject is encouraging our children to WORK and start at the bottom (the place most of us started) . What this father has done to his daughter by preventing her from taking a "low paying" job is criminal! He is damning her to a life of poverty (how do you climb the ladder if you don't get on the bottom rung?), he is stripping her of dignity that comes from contributing to the well-being of your family, he is sentencing her to idleness, and he is helping her feel entitled without a resume to prove her worth.

To the letter writer: you should never allow yourself to be taken advantage of (e.g. stay in a job where you don't get cheated out of your pay). But starting on the bottom rung is not being "taken advantage of" it is simply "taking advantage of an opportunity. If anything, you are the one taking advantage. So, get on the bottom rung and start climbing.


Anonymous said...

Certainly the minimum-wage jobs I took were tremendously valuable, and I learned skills and attitudes which have helped me tremendously in my career. Also, one thing which low-pay menial jobs teach people is how to treat the people who serve them (clerks, maids, etc) - I think a lot of folks dehumanize service workers, and treat them like furniture.

Anonymous said...

I think the most cryptic part of the letter is the part that says, "And I don’t even live in Lakewood. I live in Monsey." Will someone please enlighten me?

And SL, I really don't think she's married. I think "our" cleaning lady means her parents' cleaning help. If she were married, her husband would have been the one telling her whether to take the job or not.

If the father were supporting her and her kollel husband, you can be sure he would have been delighted to see her earning an honest wage.

DAG said...

My first job...$5 an hour. I worked a cash register, swept floors and shlepped furniture. Worked it for 4 years in college. it cost me $3.50 a day to take the bus and train to work...

I made very little, but I developed a solid work ethic, and proved to myself that I was a valuable employee.

I look back at that job with pride, not disgrace.

happyduck1979 said...

It goes well beyond not being willing to take low paying jobs. For some reason we have managed to get to the point where anyone who does "real work" for a living is to be looked down upon. I work with my hands for a living. I adore every minute of it. I am self sufficient (well, together with my husband, we are self sufficent for our family... we do nto expect the 4 year old to bring home a paycheck... yet) but yet we are seen as "the poor end of the community" because we have jobs that take physical work.

rachel said...

happyduck: I know you are making aliyah so you'll be happy to hear this. The mentality that you just mention is very strong in America, but in Israel you can find plenty of communities that value and respect any type of jobs, includins manual jobs. Where I live, there are plenty of farmers, carpenters, handymen, etc. (disclaimer: I don't live in the mercaz, so I don't know if it's true there also). This is one of the things that my husband and I found to be so refreshing, a farmer driving a truck with a kippah and a long beard.
I hope that you find a community that values your skills.

JS said...

In relation to your costco posting, Costco cashiers make $40,000 + full benefits in about 4 years. That's an excellent salary all things considered - but it's not appropriate for a bas yisroel of course.

Two people I know are a plumber and an HVAC repairman. Good, respectable jobs. Hard-working jobs. Jobs that can bring in a lot of money over time. And yet, one recently got engaged to a nice bas yisroel whose father criticized this young man for not having a good education or having a respectable job to support his daughter as she deserves. Furthermore, his 2 year technical degree is a disgrace and he's clearly not intelligent enough for his daughter with a 4 year college degree.

And we wonder where the attitude comes from.

concernedjewgirl said...

Being the daughter of immigrant parents I’ve always been raised with a strong work ethic. I learned it first hand from my parents, my family, and their friends. When my parents came to North America they came with NOTHING, the clothes and books they brought had no shelves to be put on. In the former Soviet Union they were both managers with good wages in their respective fields. They came here and my mother worked at the dry cleaning store, my father was a buss boy and together they cleaned offices at night. This is how they started their lives in a new country when they were in their mid Forties!

Thank G-d, with very hard work they were able eventually to work in their respective fields, yet not achieving the status that they had left behind.

They did all of this to better their lives, to give their children opportunities that would not have existed if they would have stayed in their comfortable lives.

In today’s frum society, this lesson has been lost. People are so far away from life lesson that they talk about their bubby and zeidy, once upon a time having to work really hard to make ends meet. Yet, these kids haven’t taken away the lesson that bubby and zeidy wanted them to learn. Living in a world of opportunities, means you have to actually try.

College graduates think that when they come out of school they will be making 60-70 thousand dollars a year at an entry level position. Their dreams of that are soon crushed when they realize that you have to have experience and any job at the beginning is awesome and eventually you’ll make it to this level of salary.

Which brings me to my next point, the writer of this article has a high school degree and one year in Israel and she feels that she should be getting what kind of job? Expecting what kind of pay?

I agree with you orthonomics, her father has condemned her to a life of disappointments. Not only will the job that she does never be worth it but also nobody that she dates will be either. We build people up to be so pompous thinking that we give them good self esteem, yet all we do is make the world a harsher place for them.

People like this will soon be writing articles in regards to unfair wages in whatever city they live in because their wives don’t have degrees or because they don’t have good experience, and yet again they will be miserable.

Maybe we shall soon see an article from this very same writer explaining how she is such a great catch and how she is not married. Maybe we the readers will attribute that to the fact that whoever she dated, her father disapproved of because that is not the living that a husband should making for his ‘Bas Yisroel’, or maybe just maybe we shall soon see yet another article on what has been labeled as the shidduch crisis.

concernedjewgirl said...

sorry for such a long post.

happyduck1979 said...

I am glad to hear that. I am actually a goldsmith, so I do not get a whole lot of "facetime", but hands are generally pretty beaten up.

And you will never see me in a kippah and a beard! :)

Ezzie said...

The irony is that the same type of girl will work a "respectable" job as a teacher in a frum school, but then not get paid at all.

DAG said...

Not get paid at all, Ezz?

SaraK said...

Well, I didn't get straight A's in HS (but I graduated with a pretty decent GPA) and I didn't go to BJJ, but I worked several part-time jobs to put myself through college (full-time during winter and summer breaks) and those jobs were invaluable when it came to graduation and going out into the ("real") workforce. I had also worked in day camps all through HS. All that job experience definitely helped me get my first post-college job, in addition to my education. I really don't understand how a fresh-from-seminary-never-worked-a-day-in-her-life girl could write a letter like that with a straight face. She says that her "skills are useless". What kind of skills does she have exactly? That she can spit back on a test some mefarshim that someone taught her on chumash?

I have now been working in my field for 9 years and am BH doing well, but I would have never expected to get a job like I have now when I was just back from Israel.

Anonymous said...

I still do not understand why some type of skill thst will earn you some real money is not taught in sem.
Why can't a few hours a day be used to teach them something they can take with?

triLcat said...

"as a bas Yisroel, I should not permit myself to be taken advantage of in that way."

Obviously, the job was as a waitress at Hooters... If they'd offered more money, then it would have been okay for her to be taken advantage of...

pfft - I've done precious little manual labor in my life for cash, b/c I'm not particularly strong, and I've had certain chronic problems since I was about 19, but I've worked doing fairly low level work for $5/hour and been happy for the opportunity.

I never felt taken advantage of at any job until I found out that people I'd trained and was still supervising were making more than I was. Then I raised a ruckus...and started looking for work elsewhere.

ora said...

What a strange letter. Why on earth would a girl with just a high school diploma expect to make more than a good cleaning lady? Where did she get the impression that a high school degree alone, without a college or technical degree or any special skills, is supposed to be worth more than minimum wage? Utterly bizarre. I hope she realizes how out of touch with reality her expectations are before it's too late.

Elitzur said...

Having lived some of my formative years in Monsey maybe I can shed some light on some issues. First, it is very clear that the letter writer is not married. I'm not sure I can explain how I know except to say that the whole letter would have been different... Also, no one has commented how a menial job would destroy her shidduch chances. Remember, the game is to marry the 'best guy in Lakewood.' How do you do that? First, you have to be a Bas Yisrael. Even though I lived in Monsey I still do not have an exact definition but it certainly has to do with being rich, going to the 'right' schools and having the 'right' yichus. This girl went to the crem de la crem of seminaries BJJ (which is kind of like going to Harvard except with stricter entrance standards). And thus, assumed she was crem de las crem herself. Of course she should get a high paying job she went to the top, to BJJ! Do you think a Harvard grad would settle working at a cash register? But more importantly, a menial job however will shoot down any chance at a good shidduch and make zero out of all of her parents hard work... Speaking of Lakewood, the good people of Monsey always looked to Lakewood as the crazy, fundamentalist (though they don't use that word) chinyuks. For example, in Lakewood the frum women's clothing stores have only skirts and dresses of the black variety (with maybe a little brown and navy thrown in) but in Monsey you can find all colors. This may change with time as more people move into Lakewood but as of my wife's last trip there it was still true...

Ariella said...

So a "bay Yisroel" is supposed to just sit around rather than sully her hands with honest work that pays less than $10 an hour? If she is not going to college anyway, and it sounds like she's not, then what should she do with her time when she does not yet have to be responsible for a home and children? According to our Sages, even a very wealthy woman who could afford to just gather in the place where such women hang out is supposed to do some labor because idleness leads to boredom and worse.

jdub said...

I've worked retail food (bakery), cashier in a drug store, but the job that really made me appreciate the value of work (and pay) was the one my father-in-law to be gave me. (He was, at the time, only my girlfriend's father). It was the summer between college and law school and he offered me a job. I thought it would be in the office, doing legal stuff (keep in mind I hadn't even started law school).

Nope, I was sent to a warehouse and had to shlep boxes of legal files and rearrange them. Hard, dusty, smelly work. I don't recall what he paid me (but he definitely overpaid me, hey, I was dating his daughter, now the mother of his 4 grandchildren), but the lesson I learned was a crucial one: You aren't owed anything. Who did I think I was, thinking I'd be working in an office, when I had done nothing to merit that? No experience, no skills. Manual labor and organizing files was something I was qualified for. I did it and was grateful for the money.

I hope that some day I can do something similar to someone and puncture their inflated expectations. I'm the better man for it.

jdub said...

to clarify, he's now my father-in-law (has been for almost 15 years!)

Ariella said...

jdub, you said it very well. But the attitude that seems to prevail today is why bother to work or work harder when there is a free handout available? I did a blog post that quoted someone concerned that accepted the raise he had been offered (never mind asking for it or switching job for it) would disqualify his family from foodstamps. See