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Dad man working

My daughter--my youngest--goes to kindergarten this fall. It's the end of the Daddy Era and there has been some pushback. For those of you reading along for awhile, you'll remember that in the new year I began to dip my toes in the job market. The cliche is true that trying to find a full-time job becomes a full-time job. I haven't been quite to that level yet; it's more of a casual browsing and applying for positions that interest me.

"No, we don't want you to work!" has been the refrain from my kids.

As luck would have it, I've managed to find a part-time gig a few days per week at a local non-profit which manages the historic preservation of a few of Chicago's architectural treasures. My museum background and living a few streets over from two of the properties has been a temporary benefit for both sides. It lets me collect a paycheck for a few hours without jumping into the deep end of the work pool. I get to educate the public, be involved in the daily operations, and cover a number of duties because of the small size of the organization.

But, to be honest, the pay is far less than I would be asking for if the job was a permanent, full-time position. It's far less than I was making when I left my previous job pre-children. That is, sadly, a fairly normal part of the 2017 job search environment. (I highly recommend the Slate piece called Why Can’t Americans Get a Raise? as excellent pre-reading for this post.) And it's especially hard going back to work as a parent who has been raising kids as a full-time caregiver for several years--trying to figure out what one would have been making if one hadn't left the workforce. Where do you come back into the salary ladder? Do you assume raises over the 5 years you were missing? Do you seek out the same pay rate you were getting previously? Do you count your parenting experience on your resume? Let's pretend that being an at-home parent is a paid full-time job:  it would be fairly lucrative and full of high-level responsibilities if we were working for a business rather than our family. We're just not getting paid. Er, we are...but in cuddles?

Aside from the "sending resumes into a black hole" (without ever getting an interview) and the constant requirements for skills no sane person has ("three years previous experience managing a cracker factory, you say?"), one of the most frustrating things about the current job market is the lack of transparency coming from the employers posting available jobs. There's often a lengthy application process involving registration for the organization's website, trying to import attachments, creating a cover letter, listing skills. And for what? A job you're not sure you really want and not sure how much it pays because employers have no clue (or don't care) that you're really sending scores of resumes out on the off chance that somebody wants to speak with you about the position. Nobody puts the pay upfront in the ad.

It's setup some awkward conversations when the job you applied for turns out to be 50% of what your salary requirement is. You can't really say, "this sounds like a great opportunity if you were paying twice as much." Employers want employees who can work evenings, weekends, not take time off, not have other activities, etc.. Especially if you have a family, finding a position where you get some work-life balance and can figure out reasonable childcare options is nearly impossible. The school requires someone get kindergarteners off the bus at 3pm. The bus to school arrives at 7:30am. That leaves some very difficult commuting decisions or some very expensive babysitting options. Luckily, my partner has a fairly flexible work situation in terms of location and schedule...but we shouldn't take it for granted nor do most families have the luxury of "I can entertain two kids between 3-5pm while I work from home."

Unfortunately, a lot of the jobs out there--at least in the Chicago area--are low wage. If you're willing to work part-time for under $15 an hour, the world is yours. Good luck if you're raising a family and need a decent salary, benefits, and a respectful employer who doesn't expect 50 hours a week out of you because you're involved at your kids' school, Cub Scouts, you volunteer, you have hobbies, you have to cook dinner and pack lunches. Those dishes won't wash themselves.

Our US economy is a tricky thing right now. On paper, it looks great. Unemployment is very low to the point where companies are begging for workers. On the other hand, wages are low and job conditions not conducive to the 21st century lifestyle of swim lessons, parkour practice, and trying to find an evening for the family to give a few hours at the local homeless shelter. Friends? Good luck.

I'm one of the "lost" people. Experts are spending huge time and resources trying to figure out where our generation went. I'm a prime working age male who was in the workforce...then was suddenly gone. Where did we go? Obviously, not all of us decided to become stay-at-home-fathers. But even with a college education (and in my case a year of graduate school), the jobs out there are lackluster. Many men are in the gig economy going from one freelance thing to the next. Hustle. There's the decline of unions that the article I linked to mentioned--they were once a bulwark against not being paid what you're worth. As unions have declined, it's harder and harder for individuals to step up and ask for a high salary. We just raised the minimum wage to $10 an hour in Cook County...hardly worth getting out of bed. Your entire paycheck is eaten by expenses and bills. I understand the frustration out there.

Meanwhile it's easier for companies to not hire. Or, rather, companies under-hire keeping people in low pay, hourly, part-time work to fudge against the benefits and higher wages they'd need to pay for a full-time employee. (In Chicago, we're working on ending abusive scheduling practices that come with it.) Companies would rather not take a chance on training a good candidate who comes to them without all the necessary skills. They can, literally, scan hundreds of resumes waiting for the one person with the right experience who'll take their low pay. It's ugly and immoral. But it's reality. Taking out student loans or spending money on skills like computer classes may or may not pay off. By the time someone goes through a few semesters of education, there may or may not be a position waiting for them somewhere. Companies never think of paying for the education of potential hires like they did in former times. Keep in mind that constantly retraining new hires due to "churn" wastes more money than simply retaining good employees by keeping them happy.

It's the same shell game played by businesses who pay low wages to workers and then workers turn to government programs for aid (welfare, food stamps, etc.). Then we're told told they're lazy and not working hard enough for being on government aid! Really it's taxpayers floating money to make up the difference...propping up ailing businesses who would otherwise probably not exist if they had to pay employees what they're actually worth.

I know I'll probably not end up in some six figure 9-5 least not one that won't force me to sell my soul to Satan himself...but I sure would appreciate something that would allow me to still spend most evenings and weekends with my family and allow me to contribute my half of the egalitarian-minded family budget. I'll never quite catch my partner who has 2 graduate degrees and has spent 15 years with a globally-known corporation.

Something that isn't insulting, perhaps, though? If you're hiring, let's talk. ;-)