Minimum Rage: The Service Industry Today

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Nona Willis Aronowitz, associate editor at GOOD Magazine, discusses her piece on how many young people with advanced degrees can only find service jobs, and what it means for our economy.


Nona Willis Aronowitz

Comments [41]

"Crappy Jobs”?? I've had many kinds of jobs in my career: from delivering groceries, to washing dishes, to operating a freight elevator, to bartending, to motorcycle delivery, to market research data entry, to statistical analysis, to software engineer, to entrepreneur, to computer animation, to R&D management, to IT consulting (in small companies to big companies). Of course I earned little in my early "service sector" jobs, but my personal satisfaction (and personal growth) in those jobs was on average no less than in my later "information technology" jobs. From my personal experience, and from what I've seen in others, satisfaction depends on whether you can find the motivation in the environment to serve others (e.g. customers, coworkers, bosses, people that work for you, clients, or peers in other department).

"Yelled at by rich customers"?? When you are striving to be good at your job, you are less vulnerable to being stressed out by criticism. And learning how to smile (and listen) when others are angry or out of control is as important in IT management as it is in retail sales.

Mar. 14 2012 12:41 PM

Working in the high-end restaurant/hospitality world is indeed not a "crappy" job by any means; at least, it is just as bad, or just as good as entry level office jobs. In either case, a lot is expected of you, you work very hard, and you're compensated a livable 30-40k wage. Competition for these jobs can be intense, and frankly not very many people have the poise and intelligence to make the cut.

This why it turns out to be the case that, as the author pointed out, the top employers of college grads are starbucks, wallmart, and best buy. These are most certainly crappy jobs, and it is the segment of the service industry that i would expect the majority of college grads in the service industry to find themselves in. If you luck out and work in a location where you can get along and have fun with your co-workers they can be bearable, but they will never pay you enough to move out of your parents house, never give you insurance, can fire you without at any time, for any reason, without any warning, and are generally perceived by society to be totally undignified, lowest-status positions.

Mar. 14 2012 12:39 PM
Emily from Brooklyn

After I left my previous comment, I started to feel some regret. I don't want to paint my time in retail as a "horrible experience." I learned a LOT at that retail job, and met some people who became really influential in my life. Also, there was a family feel amongst my coworkers and bosses that I had really lacked in the corporate museum, where attitudes were cutthroat and condescending. I will take that knowledge about how to build a community in the workplace where-ever I go. The pay wasn't good, sure, the work wasn't stimulating, but it was an important step in my 20s that helped me realize what mattered and didn't matter to me. If nothing else, I think working in service/retail helps people to understand a lot about respect, attitude, and hard work.

Mar. 14 2012 12:30 PM
Inquisigal from Brooklyn

I have to second what Kim said. As Gen X'er with a BFA, myself and many of my peers in the early 90's worked both retail sales jobs as well as service industry jobs because that's really what was available. I think today's graduating college students need to realize that many industries - especially creative industries - are very hard to get a foot in the door, and it's always been that way. Doing internships, or temping, are the way to start getting "entry level" job experience, and graduates may need to work at night or on the weekends in retail or service jobs to supplement their income. Honestly, it's not the worst thing in the world.

In fact, doing those jobs when I was young was a lot more fun than going straight into an office job. It was very social, I got to meet a lot of people, and my social skills, and ability to make connections with people, improved in ways no college public speaking class could ever cover. And many restaurant jobs are not crappy AT ALL. I was making a very good living as a waiter at upscale restaurants, and had health insurance. One has to be knowledgeable about food and wine, be able to interact with smart, worldly customers, and have excellent social skills, and I would hardly call these jobs "low level."

Mar. 14 2012 12:02 PM
Lisa Lordi from NY

The comments from your guest is an example of what is wrong with how some think about work and their position within the workforce. A rude customer can be a problem in any industry and stems from several issues; one of which is people who feel they are better than others--like a person who thinks the service industry provides "crappy jobs" or one who feels she "felt superior" to her friends because of a job she had. (however she meant it) This all makes me wonder: maybe the one good thing about the downturn of the economy will be to teach young people of ALL classes and levels of education to work together and in a way they didn't think they would have. This will make them more flexible and more prepared for whatever may come their way.

Mar. 14 2012 12:01 PM
fuva from Harlemworld

@VillageResident2: Right ON.

Here, we have analysis of decreasing social mobility by a product of inter-generational wealth transfer/ prefabricated "success" -- the increasingly powerful American aristocracy that is the flip side of decreasing social mobility.

By the way, many social/citizen "advocates" -- journalists, media players, non-profiteers, politicians -- come from this stock, which is why they're often out of touch and fail us...

Mar. 14 2012 11:14 AM

>Yawn< yesterday on The Takeaway we had nineteen-year-old Victoria Buchholz, daughter of hedge fund,famous writer privilege, lecturing us on why young people should move to another state to find a job. Today we have another well-connected young woman, Nona Willis Aronowitz, talking about our crappy jobs. Please try to find people to put on your show who haven't started out with a major leg up by riding on their family's coat tails. It would be more interesting and would probably be much better received.

Mar. 14 2012 11:00 AM

Awww... get back to work, you whiners!!

Everything's FINE™!

Mar. 14 2012 10:57 AM
Elle from Brooklyn

When I was in college, I worked for several years in the dining hall. While this might not seem exactly glamorous, it was in fact the best paying job on campus. The reason? It was UNIONIZED. Even student workers like me had to join the union and pay union dues, in return for which I got regular raises and was making almost $8.00/hour by the time I finished (this was in the late '80s and most on-campus jobs paid only about $3.50-4.50/hour). Like many others, my parents worked their way up to the middle class through union jobs in the mid-twentieth-century. The way many employers are now allowed to crush attempts at unionization is disgusting.

Mar. 14 2012 10:52 AM

Two problems:

1. Business no longer values a liberal arts degree.

2. Many liberal arts majors don't really want a career in business. They want to do something related to their degree, and these jobs are few and far between.

Mar. 14 2012 10:51 AM

Minimum wage, living wage, average media wage, union wage....

It is tougher to live on the 'average' wage here in America than any time since the Great Depression. How do we get that income being 'earned' by the upper percentiles back to the pockets of middle class earners? In other words, how do we shift the income from the ones that don't spend it back to the ones that would?

Harrison Ford was a carpenter...

Mar. 14 2012 10:49 AM

With educated people not getting a foothold in a career and the economy, and downward pressure on wages and benefits for all ages, deflation of the economy must eventually occur, i.e., who will be able to pay the current prices for rents, houses, cars, etc.?

Even for those well off or comfortable who do not care about this or other people in general, deflation will adversely affect their business, the stock market, etc., and their standard of living. That's the only time they will care about what's happening, realizing that everyone must do well.

Mar. 14 2012 10:46 AM
fuva from Harlemworld

These jobs are "crappy" because the workers are exploited, under-compensated and treated like crap, because workers have too little power in this society. But calling them "low-skilled" is not totally appropriate; many of them either require or cultivate substantial skill...

Mar. 14 2012 10:45 AM
Rethinking Education from NYC

Highly recommend Amanda Krauss's blog, "World's Worst Professor" - Amanda left a tenured professorship at Vanderbilt teaching Classics in part because she got fed up with the Ivory Tower of academia not teaching students viable skills. She's now retraining herself in digital technology. A controversial position for sure, but I think she's very right in addressing the need for universities to teach useful information that students can actually use to sustain themselves economically after graduating.

Mar. 14 2012 10:45 AM
Kim from Brooklyn

Is it really any worse now than it was for Gen X graduates back in the late 80's and early 90's? Myself and most of my other liberal arts graduate friends ALL worked service jobs for years, or temp jobs for years before finding our footing in some career or another - all without insurance or security. Because this was before the internet existed, the types of jobs that are available for young people today didn't even exist. It seems like there are MORE opportunities for young people today in technology and creating their own small businesses - blogging, food, Etsy, etc.

It all just sounds to me like they feel like they are entitled to something to which they are not.

Mar. 14 2012 10:45 AM
John A. from UBA school of B

I found a definition for UBA as "Ultra Bitchiness Alert". Relevant to service industry workers (some of their customers) if only by accident here.

Mar. 14 2012 10:45 AM
anne from nyc

As a former restaurant worker, let me remind restaurant patrons: It's not smart to insult someone who handles your food.

Mar. 14 2012 10:44 AM
Ben from Fort Greene

Stanley Aronowitz is still employed?

Wasn't his foolish gibberish revealed to be precisely that with the Sokal Hoax?

Mar. 14 2012 10:43 AM

I'm an immigrant and I work in the food industry since I put my feet in this country! Easy and good money. But I wet to college and I have a degree in Fitness. I'm still working as a server because I can't go anywhere else since I haven't resolve y status yet. Restaurants are one of the few industries that welcome ilegal immigrants and they know it!

Mar. 14 2012 10:43 AM
sue from brooklyn

Don't forget the line cooks,kitchen workers,etc. who work for celebrity chef/high end restaurants that are paid almost nothing, work 14+ hours a day, and cook food that the restaurant's reputation rests on. Its hard, grueling work done by many that are educated and well trained...frequently for no thanks and usually for no tips.

Mar. 14 2012 10:43 AM
Marie from Brooklyn

What is wrong with working in the service industry? Leisure, hospitality??? I worked as a waitress for years, with two degrees, while I supported an arts career. In New York this is very common. And look at career waiters at Balthazar, and the other McNally restaurants. They are not being abused. They are making money. There is a lot of money in the industry. It is earned hard, though.

Mar. 14 2012 10:43 AM
Emily from Brooklyn

I've seen the greatest minds of my generation, coffee-ground, fake smiling, tired... giving film crew workers their angry fix... all joking aside, my SMARTEST friends are working in coffee shops and retail. They are the critical thinkers and the creative ones, who are tired of being demeaned. I worked in retail after I got fired from an art museum, and got stuck there for several years. I did NOT get benefits, would be scheduled hap-hazardly and always have had 3 or 4 jobs, and barely made over minimum wage at a very fancy boutique, and kept being told I was "lucky" to have the job, which seemed absurd. I spent every day trying to engage customers in conversations about books and philosophy behind my boss' backs, which eventually caught up with me, when they told me I wasn't "really into fashion" and maybe I should go elsewhere... ooops! I'm happy now though, back at a museum.

Mar. 14 2012 10:43 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

Good for Leslie - There is a difference between a "crappy" job and a job that pays "crappy" wages

Mar. 14 2012 10:42 AM
marianne nosal from new york

I object to the reference to "crappy job". All work is honorable. Perhaps these rude customers' behaviors are influenced by their perceptions that people in "crappy jobs" do not deserve respect. The conversation MUST be changed for actions to change.

Mar. 14 2012 10:42 AM

In speaking with my nephew who is about to enter college without specific direction or 'passion', I have advised him to take courses in what he enjoys, but to make sure he graduates with a degree in something quantitative if he wants to be credible in the job market. Almost anything quantitative will do as a foundation.

Mar. 14 2012 10:42 AM
Elle from Brooklyn

Wouldn't many of these jobs have been unionized at one point? That's a major difference right there.

Mar. 14 2012 10:42 AM
The Truth from Becky

Service jobs are honorable and we need to get away from making minimum wage earners feel "less than" or that their job is "less than" some invisible standard. Whatever happened to the respect that was given to an honest days work for an honest days pay mentality?

Mar. 14 2012 10:42 AM
Robert from NYC

I think by crappy she meant the salary not the work the person does.

Mar. 14 2012 10:42 AM

@ John from office-

I think you're referring to the caller who graduated from UVA as in the University of Virginia.

Mar. 14 2012 10:41 AM

I am a philosophy graduate from Hunter College, and affordable college and perhaps an "impractical degree", but alas my generation is brought up thinking we can do anything. But I wanted to comment, that I worked for Whole Foods, while getting my degree, and not only do they make it impossible for us to unionize they also fired me once I wanted to turn full time to get on their health care coverage. It is a hard new york world out there.

Mar. 14 2012 10:41 AM

Are we going to expand the service sector eventually to include photography, design and other arts that basically service wealthy corps?

Mar. 14 2012 10:41 AM
David from West Hempsptead

Who doesn't love an opportunity to disparage philosophy majors?

Mar. 14 2012 10:39 AM
bernie from bklyn

yes, college is much too costly. it is because of our culture; educating our children is not as important as creating a culture that will fill the pockets of the 1%. the game is rigged, obviously.
BUT, these complaints really fall on deaf ears. your degree choice is most likely directly related to your current employment situation. you're working at a crappy job just like the rest of us have had to do. no one wants to hear it. this is an entitled generation, for sure. someone w/ a BA in history is admirable and a good thing but you knew that this degree is worthless in the real world. this is sad, yes, but true nonetheless. this generation wants instant gratification and now they're not getting it and they're acting like little brats. zip it up- don't wanna hear it.

Mar. 14 2012 10:38 AM

Could you talk about how difficult it is to organize unions at these types of jobs?

Mar. 14 2012 10:36 AM
Marianna from Brooklyn, NY

Please stop referring to philosophy as an impractical major. Study after study has shown that undergraduate philosophy majors do better on the GMAT, the MCAT, the LSAT, etc.

Mar. 14 2012 10:36 AM
john from office

ANYONE, what does UBA stand for PLEASE HELP

Mar. 14 2012 10:36 AM

NPR or the BBC had a story a week or two ago about young people in Ireland going back to _farming_.

Cities like New York should be concerned (but the Mike Bloomberg's are too blind to see). People with massive debt and low-paying jobs can't afford cities where a _low_ rent is $1500 per month (or four weeks per month of income devoted just to paying rent).

Do we really want a world where _every_ college student does finance or medicine or law? That's an intellectual, money-only-matters mono-culture that will bring down the US more completely than any conservative/liberal political trend.

Mar. 14 2012 10:34 AM
john from office

Callers, some of us dont know what UBA stand for. Add in a breathless whateverrrrrr

Mar. 14 2012 10:33 AM
Capper from NYC

Your guest made a sweeping statement that these jobs do not provide insurance and benefits and that's untrue. Many are taking jobs at Walmart for their benefits alone.

Mar. 14 2012 10:33 AM

What's wrong with being a dog walker and an artist?

Mar. 14 2012 10:32 AM
Beth from Crown Heights, Brooklyn

Yup. I moved to NYC not only because it is the greatest city in the world, but because there were no jobs for a person with a degree in information science in my suburban hometown. Once I got to NY a labored as a temp for a year before I could finally get a waitressing job. They told me I'll graduate to server soon, but for now I am a minimum wage slave in the most expensive city in America. But hey, I should be glad to have a job!

Mar. 14 2012 10:13 AM

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