The World of Work Sucks

The world of work in the U.S. has greatly deteriorated in the last few decades. I’ve lived long enough to have observed the decline. People work more for less and job satisfaction is rare. It’s been a successful attempt to strip power, prestige, and promise from the middle class.

I enjoyed a satisfying career in public education.

I put myself through college after I had my first child. My husband and I took out a small loan with our bank to cover my night courses. Indiana University offered a teacher certification program on the Earlham campus not far from the little factory town where I lived. My husband worked during the day and babysat for our son while I attended classes in the evening. My grandmother took care of our son when I did my student teaching.

After graduation, I taught in a local elementary school. I was the first girl on both my side and my husband’s side of the family to get a degree.

I loved my job.

Later, I went back to school to get my masters in educational leadership. The beautiful part of that strenuous endeavor was that my school district paid for it. I know. I know. Pretty amazing. I don’t know how many school districts offer that perk any longer. My sister’s school district in Florida doesn’t.

It took me three and a half years to graduate, because I worked full time. Eventually, however, I was able to accept a position as an elementary principal.

In my day, we had what’s called continuing contracts which were a kind of tenure for public school educators.

Once again, my sister’s district in Florida no longer offers that perk to their teachers. I would assume other states have moved away from this practice as well.

Thankfully, I enjoyed a respected career within a small rural community and really did reap the rewards of influencing the lives of children. I retired a bit earlier than most and I think just in time to escape a major decline in my field.

Sixteen years later, the profession that I so dearly loved is almost unrecognizable.

Florida recently passed a piece of legislation barring all new teacher hires from paying into the pension plan. That’s right! Teacher pensions are no longer a benefit that comes with the job in the state of Florida. How older teacher’s pensions will fare over the years with no new teachers paying into the system remains to be seen.

Florida is a trendsetter.

So often in life the bad guy seems to win, even influence others. Have you noticed that? I guess it’s because they’re ruthless, willing to break any rules that stand in their way. It’s almost a given that a good guy will finish last in this bizarre world of human ambition, lust, and greed.

At any rate, Florida is a trendsetter.

They’ve initiated a lot of legislation over the years that eventually other states adopted. No matter where you’re living and working as a teacher in the United States, keep an eye on your pensions. I promise you there are plenty of politicians elsewhere drooling with anticipation to follow in Florida’s footsteps.

Florida is a sunny state for shady people. I lived there once for less than a year. Suffice it to say, working in Florida isn’t a pleasant state of affairs.

Now if you’re thinking that I’m largely complaining about what’s happening to my own career, you’d be wrong. Poor working conditions have produced a severe teacher shortage, but unfortunately, work sucks almost everywhere else, too.

It started ages ago when my husband was a young married man working in a series of factories. Jobs disappeared, one by one, as more and more businesses moved manufacturing overseas. He lost several jobs, setting us back a lot.

My husband grew up in a factory town in the midwest.

It was a rough little town with few highly educated people, but just about anyone who wanted to work could. Unions were strong. Employees were making a living wage. Health insurance covered trips to the hospital. Moms stayed home and raised the kids. Dads were able to buy a house and two cars for the family as well as a few toys like campers or motorcycles.

Those days are long gone.

When I went back to college after having my first child, we were beginning to realize that we’d never have what our parents had unless I worked, too. At that time the professions were the way out. That is to say, teaching was a respectable field to go into for middle class Americans hoping to better themselves.

Teachers, nurses, doctors, lawyers, engineers, professors and the like were the professions that many middle class people worked toward.

I went back to college and never asked for a cent from my parents to do so. My husband and I took out a small loan from a local bank and I attended night classes until it was time for me to do my student teaching. I didn’t graduate deeply in debt.

My career to this day has paid me back tenfold.

Not so when my kids went to college. It took my husband working a second job for three years in addition to our two full time jobs to put our two kids through school. They both still ended up with some debt to pay off. Thousands and thousands of dollars went toward their futures in the professions only to have them graduate and land jobs that were already on the decline.

Company health insurance cost more and covered less and job security in the professions was wavering.

The world of work was getting ready for the next big shift — the shift to corporatizing all jobs. Doctors no longer could afford a private practice. Professors in the humanities saw their departments cut. The price of everything went up, but the wages stayed stagnant.

Now, it’s all run like a big business with little to no regard for employees.

Job satisfaction is hard to come by but if you have a job that pays the bills, you consider yourself luckier than most. Everyone works longer hours as the dream to buy a home disappears.

Pensions are gone.

That’s why I fully expect teacher’s pensions to follow suit. I live my retired life as though my pension will disappear tomorrow, frugal and with attention to detail. Yet, whenever I hear about my sister’s job as a speech and language teacher in a Florida school district, I shudder. NO THANK YOU! I’ll scrimp a little more if need be. The very thought of returning to the classroom under present conditions is horrifying.

Let me make a little prediction now …

I’m pretty sure that we’re sitting on the brink of the next big shift — automation and AI. I mean it’s already begun on many levels. Checkout stations in grocery stores have eliminated thousands of jobs. I cant even talk to a live human being connected to any business these days without first being thoroughly grilled by an automated answering service.

We’re headed into uncharted territory and the shortage of workers since the pandemic is making it even more likely that companies will move away from live employees to robots, automation, and AI even sooner.

I know. I know. Everyone is saying it’s an employees world right now because there’s a shortage of workers, but I don’t believe for one minute that the end result will be a stronger middle class.

Once corporate gets a taste of making money without having to pay live employees, they’ll never want to go back.

When they no longer have to deal with anyone who needs sick days, vacations, raises, or anything else that makes life bearable, employers and share holders will join hands and dance an orgasmic dance around the graves of their former employee’s jobs.

Glory be! Let the robots rule.

What will the middle class look like down the road?

I don’t know. If unfettered capitalism is still our holy grail, then I can’t imagine a growing middle class. I can only imagine a dwindling middle class. But hey, what’s left of our current middle class is probably an illusion.

I mean the only way the middle class numbers have survived thus far is because they’ve agreed to a lifetime of debt.

The American Dream can only be reached by borrowing money which in turn makes the bankstahs richer. Lifelong debt is the new norm, so I really don’t know what to call today’s middle class.

It’s a sunny world for shady people and the American nightmare for everyone else.

It’s got the makings of a dystopian movie. It sucks and it sucks big time. There was this unprecedented, tiny sliver of opportunity in the last century where things seemed to be moving in the right direction, but those days are gone, probably for good.

Sad!

Teresa Roberts is a retired educator, author, world traveler, and professional myth buster. You can find her books on Amazon.

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