A “Real” Job

I went to the grocery store the other night after eating frozen yogurt, and as I was waiting for my family to buy some scratch offs I heard some employees talking. “Yeah, I’m graduating this month, so I’ll start a real job soon.” For some reason this is sticking with me, and to be honest it’s not too hard to figure out why, either as an economics student or as a person, that statement rubbed me the wrong way.

I’m in school to be an economist and I’m working at the same time. The job that I’m working pays well even though I’m a student, but I’ve been told so many times that the job I have isn’t a real job. I work over 30 hours a week on a good week, bring home a couple of hundred dollars, have to put up with annoying people yet my hard work doesn’t count as a job.

Somebody needs to tell the stores that I’m paying then, because I guess my money must be alien money if I don’t have a real job.

See? This just gets under my skin. The job I do is small and insignificant sounding, but if told you that I’ve worked for National Geographic, TV shows, and political campaigns, somehow that constitutes it as a “real” job. We need to get something straight: our grocers, gas station clerks, retail workers, fast food jobs, and everything else in between is a real job. It is a real job.

This is a severe problem in the economy too. We know that we cannot measure the GDP perfectly of any country because what’s counted in the GDP is when money exchanges hands in turn for a product. It’s actually very limited if you think about it. There are so many other ways that we make products in our economy outside of a capitalist based system. (Don’t go crazy here, we all know that capitalism like all other economic structures has its pros and cons.) A major con of the capitalist system is that so much of what a country produces is not counted due to the limited definition.

There are other economic theories that can help fill in the gaps. One such theory comes from the authors Gibson and Graham. They introduced the idea of “diverse economies.” It looks at the spaces in the country where economic value is produced beyond our normal capitalist perspective. These spaces include unpaid work, self-employment, under the table, between families, and numerous other spaces. Of course illegal activities and the black market are a part of this because they are points of the economy that cannot be measured but provide some sort of economic value.

The point between the economy and real jobs is a social point more so than an academic one. It’s so easy to critique and say that someone’s job doesn’t matter or that it’s not a real job if it doesn’t have benefits, but you and I gain value from real work that provides enormous economic value for everybody. It may not be in the form we want it to be, but it provides a value none the less, even if it’s not necessarily a direct transfer of money.

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