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The Value of Work

When I was in high school I had a great job at the local hardware store. It was within walking distance of my house, had pretty flexible hours, gave me a lot of responsibility (I had keys to the store, the combo to the safe, and could open/close, all before I was 18), and could be pretty satisfying (no one is as grateful as someone with a broken toilet when you help them). We got paid every other Saturday. The owner’s wife did the books, and my paycheck came with a literal stub attached that showed gross earnings, deductions, and net – all hand-written. My bank was next door to the store so I’d often run over there on a break with a deposit slip and save my “hard earned” money – usually minus some cash back to cover entertainment, food, etc.. It felt good to actually be able to hold the fruits of my labor in my hand, if only for a few minutes, and getting a little cash to spend directly tied to my job.

I think the first job where I had direct deposit was when I joined the Navy. So, the act of holding the check was gone but we still got a paystub twice a month (printed on oddly thick paper) that showed earnings, deductions, and our leave balance. As an adult I started planning personal finance management around those paystub deliveries – I’d sit down with my checkbook and pay rent and other bills, as well as invest what I could afford to at that time, trying to stay within some kind of a budget.

As my career has gone on and technology has advanced, I’ve become increasingly separated from the money I earn. Most jobs now won’t provide a physical paystub – you have to log on to some HR web site and download it. The money just shows up twice a month (or every two weeks, depending on a job). A lot of the money also leaves without me interacting with it – bills on autopay (I think I’m down to 1 bill I still pay via check in the mail), most purchases using a credit card (that also gets auto-paid). Overall this has greatly reduced the amount of time I have to spend each month managing our finances, which I guess is nice.

However, I think I’ve maybe lost something, too. Not having any physical representation of what I earn makes the value of working marginally less tangible by reducing the sense of accomplishment associated with getting up and getting busy every day.

Does this contribute to the “nobody wants to work anymore” anecdotes I read in the media? Or am I a hopeless luddite?

1 thought on “The Value of Work”

  1. I think the people that write the anecdotes about “nobody wanting to work anymore” are the luddites. Last time I checked unemployment was about 3.6% and the workforce participation rate was in the low 60%’s like it has been for a while, it was somewhat higher (67 percent or so) around 2000 (source: Ignoring a blip at the start of the covid pandemic it hasn’t changed much in the last 20 years (66 to 62 percent). The low point in workforce participation seems to back in the “good old days” of the 50s, it rose steadily during the 70s as women were increasingly able to enter the workforce. So no I don’t believe that people don’t want to work anymore, maybe they don’t want to work they way they always used to, maybe some people stay home because they can’t afford childcare. One important exception to this rant is me, I actually don’t want to work.

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