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Fletcher: The effects of low-paying jobs

March 27, 2012
Stephen Fletcher , The Alpena News

I've been thinking a lot about jobs recently. I've been thinking about the jobs the Occupiers don't have, the ones construction workers can't have on the pipeline segment held up by the president's green lobby buddies and manufacturing jobs phased out by increases in productivity.

Then I started to think about all the different jobs I've worked at over the years.

When I was enjoying summer vacation one year around seventh or eighth grade, my Dad told me: "You are going to work at the motels tomorrow for the rest of the summer." (He owned Fletcher Motels at the time.)

I remember being delighted at the prospect of getting some spending money and appalled at the prospect of being at work every weekday from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. I cut grass, stripped beds, washed windows and pulled weeds. I worked for minimum wage and had more money than I thought was possible.

There was a downside, however, as I was now also required to buy gas for the boat and pay for insurance coverage. Even with this increased burden, I generated some excess cash. This was the job I had through high school in the summers and, in retrospect, everybody concerned was probably pretty patient with me. Basically, the job supported my recreational lifestyle in those years.

It's a pity students today can't get a job like that because of the child labor laws and safety rules concerning moving machinery like lawnmowers. The experience was a good one for me and I still have all my fingers and toes.

After graduation from college the honeymoon was over. In the 60s you graduated from college, got married, and found employment. I had never intended to return to the family businesses in Alpena, but Dad had a stroke just before I started to interview for jobs in the second year of graduate school and asked me to come back to help him. I thought it was to be a brief hiatus in a career elsewhere. I never left. I'm still doing it.

The best job I ever had in terms of compensation was a couple of years ago when I was asked by an insurance company in New York if we had any interest in running some hydro-electric plants in Arkansas.

These units had been built by a municipality for $45,000,000 and did not generate enough cash to pay their mortgage. The insurance company was interested as it had sold insurance on the bond issue, guaranteeing payment of these First Mortgage Bonds.

I wasn't real interested but did agree to go to Arkansas to advise the insurance guys about the operation. After about six hours on the site, I had generated a legal pad and a half of recommendations which we presented to them. They really put the rush on us to work for them but I still was not eager at the prospect of being in Arkansas once a month.

I fell back on the principle of supply and demand and quoted them a price I believed would assure me I wouldn't get the job. To my amazement, they accepted, and a company was formed to work for what turned out to be 18 months. Ultimately, production increased 50 percent at the plants.

Since I used folks whom we rented from our local utility, we subsidized the utility and kept folks working through a slow economic period while still keeping skilled employees available for service in our community.

That was a great job, we were paid very well and used the proceeds to keep service at a high level at home.

The last job of mine is not labor to support my lifestyle but, rather, a lifestyle job. It is very part time, seasonal, and tourist related. A very long time ago I watched as John and Robbie Thompson and others went over to Schuss Mountain and Shanty Creek to work as ski patrollers and THEY SKIED FOR FREE! Not only was there free skiing but they also enjoyed other benefits like buying equipment. And, it was part-time.

It looked like Nirvana to me. I can understand deep discounts and, especially, I understand "free."

I mentioned that what I do is seasonal, part-time, and tourism related. All three of those terms mean minimum wage jobs and weekend work. As an aside, when you hear a politician say "seasonal" or "tourism related," don't be thinking "family sustaining" can be used in the same sentence. In my best paid year I earned about $2,100 and got to pay tax in another state for the privilege. But, I ski for free.

Like the other jobs, a guy said to me "would you help me..." and I did. My problem is that I don't quit. In the bad old days before Internet I could never have done the ski gig. Information flow and data quality was just not good enough to allow for management of my full-time job part of the time from a remote location. Today, technology allows me to ski for free.

I love the fact senior citizens in the locker room at a ski resort carp and moan about low pay. They never stopped to think about the equation: Tourism+part-time+seasonal=low pay very close to minimum wage.

What, then, does it say to us when local leaders focus on providing tourism related facilities rather than concentrate on structuring the community for industrial growth?



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