My youngest starts kindergarten this fall. It’s the end of the Daddy Era and there has been some pushback.
I began to dip my toes in the job market earlier this year. It’s more of a casual browsing and applying for positions that interest me. Yet, the refrain from my kids is still: “No, we don’t want you to work!”
As luck would have it, I found a part-time gig. I work a few days a week at a local nonprofit that manages the historic preservation of a few of Chicago’s architectural treasures. It lets me collect a paycheck 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.
To be honest, the pay is far less than I would want if the job was full-time. 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? for more information.)
But returning to work after being a full-time caregiver for several years is difficult. How do you figure out what you would have been making if you hadn’t left the workforce. Where do you come back on the salary ladder? Do you assume raises over the five years you were missing? Do you seek the same pay rate you were getting previously? Do you count your parenting experience on your resume?
Frustrations in finding work to go back to
Let’s pretend being an at-home parent is a paid, full-time job. It would be fairly lucrative and full of high-level responsibilities if I worked for a business rather than our family. We just don’t get paid. Er, we are … but in cuddles?
One of the most frustrating things about the current job market is the lack of transparency from employers posting available jobs. There’s often a lengthy application process: registration through the organization’s website, importing attachments, creating a cover letter, listing skills, etc. And for what? A job you’re not sure you really want — especially when you don’t know how much it pays. Hardly anybody puts the pay upfront in the ad. It sets up some awkward conversations when the job turns out to be at half your salary requirement. You can’t really say, “This sounds like a great opportunity if you were paying twice as much.”
Many employers want employees who can work evenings and weekends, not take time off, not have other activities, etc. 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.
Unfortunately, many jobs out there — at least in the Chicago area where I live — 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 an employer who doesn’t expect 50 hours a week out of you because you’re involved with your kids’ activities, you volunteer or have hobbies, and you still have to cook dinner and pack lunches. Those dishes won’t wash themselves, you know.
The U.S. economy is a tricky thing 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 parenting lifestyle of swim lessons, parkour practice, and helping out a few hours a week at the local homeless shelter. Friends? Good luck.
The new “lost” generation
I guess I’m one of the “lost” people. Experts are spending much time and many resources trying to figure out where our generation went. I’m a prime, work-age male who was in the workforce … then I was suddenly gone. 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.
As the article I linked to mentions, a decline of unions is part of the cause. Unions 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 barely covers 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. 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 is reality.
It’s the same shell game played by businesses. They pay low wages to workers who then turn to government programs for aid (welfare, food stamps, etc.). Then we’re 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 job. At least not in 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 two 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.
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