WASHINGTON -- The Labor Department announced Friday that the economy added 126,000 jobs in March as the unemployment rate held steady at 5.5 percent, the latest in 61 consecutive months of positive jobs reports.
Some of the new jobs might not be very high-paying, however, as 38 percent of the gains occurred in retail, food service and temp agencies.
Much of the job growth since the Great Recession ended in 2009 has been concentrated in low-wage industries, a trend that seems likely to continue. The National Employment Law Project, a New York-based worker advocacy group, reported Thursday that five of the 10 occupations expected to see the most growth in the coming years pay less than $12 an hour.
Linda Tirado of Cedar City, Utah, worked in food service jobs for more than a decade before scoring a book contract in 2013 for Hand to Mouth: The Truth About Being Poor in America. She first received wide attention for a 2013 viral blog post she wrote that explained the logic of poor people's bad decisions.
Tirado, 32, said she worked her last food service shift on Black Friday that year and has made a living through writing about poverty since then. She has also launched a new project, BootStrapIndustries.com, designed to help poor people tell their stories.
HuffPost asked Tirado to share some insight into how workers might tell if they have not-so-great jobs, drawing on the most egregiously bad experiences she had during her many years of menial labor. She said a low-paying job is not necessarily a bad one, and having a good boss makes a huge difference. But, she said, she did not enjoy that Black Friday shift. Here are her thoughts:
- If you don't get holiday pay but you're forced to work holidays, your job sucks.
- You can always tell if your job sucks if every day you think, "Oh god, I have to go there and do this again."
- If you're wearing a polyester uniform shirt, that's a great way to tell. If at any point you have been issued polyester, you have a job that sucks.
- If you laugh at the notion that you can call the authorities when you're being mistreated. One of the things that's been most interesting to me is that people keep saying, "Why didn't you just call the [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission], why didn't you just call [the Occupational Safety and Health Administration]?" Honey, nobody has the money for that. That's what rich people do, call lawyers.
- If you work in the sort of place where you know they don't bother with safety regulations. I worked at a company once where we couldn't get oven gloves. We were required to bake things pretty constantly all day and we would have at least two employees sustaining burns. We were spending $20 a week in burn cream. The new gloves would have cost $35 wholesale and we could not get them to replace them. That never came up during health inspections, somehow.
- If you never know what hours you're actually supposed to work. You know what time you're supposed to show up and what time you're meant to go home, but that's got very little to do with reality in most cases. Say you're on the schedule from noon to 5 but they get busy at 10 [a.m.], so they call you and tell you you need to be there in half an hour.
- If you can't budget because you never know how much your paycheck's going to be until you get it. For example, it was a slow day and you got six hours cut out of your schedule. Or perhaps they changed your tax classification status, which companies will occasionally go through and change things. I've had paychecks docked hours for this or that infraction, things like I was impolite to a customer once and they docked my pay, which is blatantly illegal, but people still do it.
- If you have to ask for permission to relieve yourself, you have a pretty terrible job. That is a thing we run into frequently in the service sector -- bladder infections are actually a real, legitimate medical problem that is notable in the lower classes.
- If family emergencies are not allowed to exist. For example, if your kid gets sick, "Screw you, stay at work anyway."
- If your boss tells you that you should be grateful that your customers think you're attractive enough to sexually harass you. Or if your boss is sexually harassing you and everybody just expects you to just kind of roll with it because that's how that dude is. Like, "He doesn't mean anything by it."
- If they notice when you're five minutes late. I mean, if you're five minutes late, you get written up; you get three write-ups, you get fired. Most offices don't have policies like that. [At a good job,] if somebody's consistently late your boss might have a chat with you about time management. At HuffPost, does anybody actually notice if you roll in at 9:05 instead of 9 o'clock? [No.]
- If having an opinion can get you fired. For example, the woman who just got fired over the [Washington Post] thing? The funny thing is, her boss actually took the reporter to her. She was asked to speak to the reporter by her boss and then he fired her for speaking to the reporter.
My husband had been in a car accident and I had checked my phone on my break and I got a series of missed calls and increasingly frantic texts. I went to my boss and said, "Hey, can I extend my break by 15 minutes, cause I really need to figure out what's going on." They looked at me and said, "If you go home, don't bother coming back."
I had a boss once and we were in the restaurant and we were doing a remodel. So the restaurant's shut down for a week and they said to just come in in work clothes and be ready to get horrifyingly dirty and greasy because we're moving all this equipment out and scrubbing it down in the parking lot while they're refurbing the inside. I roll in in a pair of hospital scrubs and a tank top and my boss told me I wasn't allowed to be near him because he wouldn't be able to stop staring at my cleavage and he'd never get anything done. And then he called me "tits" for the rest of day and everybody thought that was really funny.
Tirado also shared some examples of what might indicate you have a good job:
- You have a good job if you feel like you're allowed to be a human being while you're at work. You have a good job if your job isn't the thing that makes you wonder if you're going to be able to pay your rent. Which is to say, if you go to work and you're pretty sure you know how much money you make, that's a good job.
- If you have a job at which if you have an emergency you can talk to your boss and they will be understanding and help you through it to help you get back to work faster, that's a good job. If you get a sick kid and you say I need to take the week off I'm going to work from home, that's a fantastic job.
- I have worked crappy jobs with great bosses and I'll kill myself for them. I know I work in the low-wage sector. Nobody's going to pay me $15 an hour, that's fine. What I want is a boss that instead of saying that I'm a terrible person will say, "Hey, you made a mistake. Here's how not to do that again."
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