This Labor Day: Americans Reflect on Good Jobs
The recent exposé on Amazon’s bizarre, cutthroat workplace culture has ignited a far-reaching (and long-overdue) national conversation about Americans’ relationship to work. And as we approach Labor Day, we have a critical opportunity to consider — What is a ‘good job’ in America today? And what does that really mean for America’s people, businesses, and communities.
Over the past several months, a new campaign called Workshift: Good Jobs For All (created by Purpose and The Rockefeller Foundation) has formed to help build an America where all jobs are good jobs. We’ve been speaking with American workers across the country who hold all types of jobs. What are they looking for? It’s actually pretty simple — four fundamental values that could be found at any job, from delivery driver to dentist:
- Stability to know our bills are paid and our livelihoods are secure
- Opportunity to grow our skills and build towards a brighter future
- Flexibility to care for our loved ones and tackle the unexpected
- Pride to be respected for our work and contribute to something greater
Some of the people we spoke to have opened up to share what this renewed vision for a good job would mean for them. These are their stories.
Roy — Bronx, NY
For Roy Castro, 40, a good job was never something he thought possible. Roy grew up in a tough area in the South Bronx, raised by a single mother and no father. As he puts it, he was pretty much alone from the age of 13. Roy became incarcerated and wanted to do the right thing when he got out. A group called Strive helped get him back on his feet, but he knows that not everyone is so lucky. Recently, Roy started his own small business to provide his community with empowering, stable employment opportunities. As the father of a 3 year old daughter, he knows first-hand the importance of flexibility for family needs.
“As an employer, I understand that sometimes there are things that need to get done that may be out of your control. I have a 3 year old daughter and last Christmas she had a recital. The theater was mostly empty because not a lot of adults could take the time to go see their 3 year old sing Merry Christmas. It’s the biggest thing in this 3 year old’s life and their parents can’t be there because they have to make a decision — do you take a paid leave and risk not having that time for an emergency, or worse? I have a open door policy to take family leave, I don’t count that as a pay leave vacation or sick day, that is a family day and you have to be flexible to provide for that.”
Achol — Des Moines, Iowa
Achol Akuar, 25, wants a job that lets her be there for her four children. Working as a preschool teacher, each check has its purpose. The entirety of the first is devoted to rent, Achol notes, meaning she often has to rely on loans from her family to make ends meet. Her meager dream is to escape a reality of living paycheck to paycheck and enjoy the stability that comes with economic self-sufficiency — And maybe, one day, take her family to Disney World.
“If something basic breaks, I can’t replace it. If I’m sick, I try to go to work. And when I get off, I can’t even rest. I have to make dinner, help with homework, do the laundry. If one of my kids gets sick, I can’t afford to leave work because it comes out of my paycheck. Jobs need to be more understanding of people with families. They should respect employees who are also parents. I want to be a good mom, but how can I when I live paycheck to paycheck? I am good at my job, it should be good for me.”
Nyaisha — New York, New York
Nyaisha Lee, 21, is a resilient and passionate millennial who strives to be the best worker she can be. She hopes to find opportunity to grow and develop a career that enables her a comfortable, stable life for herself and her family. At home, Nyaisha is often needed to support her disabled mother when her father can’t. She feels fortunate to have a boss that is willing to work with her and build trust. She’s seen the other side too — and doesn’t believe anyone should have to choose between their job or their family.
“I don’t need to live a lavish life, I just want to be comfortable, to have security. Just give me a nice moderate house, a nice little car, my own space, and I will be happy. When I finally reach the point where I am not worried about meals or living paycheck to paycheck, I know I can take a breather. I just want so much more for myself, and for my family.’”
Eva — Des Moines, Iowa
Eva Jorgensen-Briggs, 32, is an OBGYN Nurse in Des Moines who regularly works 12-hr shifts. Injured from a prior position as a home health nurse, she returned to her hometown of Des Moines. But she’s worried for her future career prospects. On-call and inconsistent weekly shifts often force Eva to miss events with family and friends. In her current position, she loves her patients, values the feedback systems in place to show employee appreciation, and is eager for continued opportunity to increase her knowledge and certifications with a promise for a bright career.
“At my previous job, I worked for a maternal, newborn, and pediatric home care nursing program. Our team was continually short staffed. Everyone knew that if someone was out sick or took vacation, there wouldn’t be any additional help, and that the rest of the team would have to pick up the slack. This caused us to come to work when we weren’t well and limit scheduling time off. If we did take time off, we felt guilty about doing so and often were in contact with the office and other team members throughout the day. Our patients were also affected because when we were covering for other staff, we weren’t able to give our own patients the time they deserved.”
Trenise — Miami, Florida
Trenise Bryant, 41, works with children in the food service program for Miami public schools. Trenise takes tremendous pride in the work that she does — both as a manager and as a role model for kids — though struggles to find opportunities for advancement that would provide her family with more stability. After enduring mistreatment and poverty wages early on in her career, Trenise places high regard on supporting her staff, offering training opportunities and pushing them to excel. In order to grow herself and receive a higher salary in the job she loves, she’d have pay out of pocket for more college credit, which she can’t afford. “I’m stuck,” she laments.
“ The more that employees feel like they are being empowered and valued, the more that everybody benefits. I take pride in my job even though it’s at the bottom of the totem pole. There is more than putting food on the plate, we teach kids how to eat a nutritious meal, and why to eat fruits and vegetables every day. My staff feels the same way, we all feel pride in doing what we do.”
Ashley — New York, New York
Ashley Bermudez, 28, is a mother of two and works as program coordinator at an education non-profit. Ashley and her husband both work full-time, yet frequently struggle to find the flexibility to care for their children and at times, to put food on the table. Hoping to provide their children with more stability as they grow, Ashley and her husband are often caught compromising family time for overtime wages — a tradeoff they wish they didn’t have to make.
“Oh man, there have been lots of times that, even while working full-time, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to make ends meet. One time in particular I remember going home and crying out of fear that I wouldn’t be able to provide for my kids. If there’s one late paycheck that would snowball into unpaid bills or not enough groceries. These things just snowball, you know? I remember thinking, ‘Does my boss realize formula for my child costs $27 a can?’”
Edward — Des Moines, Iowa
Edward Roberson is a baby boomer and armed forces veteran that has struggled to find his place in today’s job market. Having overcome a number of significant challenges in his life, including incarceration and substance abuse, Edward is a determined to excel and build a better future for himself and his family. Yet, all too often the jobs available to Edward lack significant opportunities for growth or the dignity of work he aspires to. He hopes for a brighter future for his son and recalls many years back where they made a trip to the library together. His young son insisted on choosing a book for his dad from the grown-up section — and emerged a short time later with a book on origami. You’re never too old to learn something new, he quipped.
“When you know you can move up — whether an increase in pay or responsibility — that’s an added extra drive. I don’t want to stay on the same level. I want to grow. I want to do more. One day, I’d like to be able to counsel people like me, to run a recovery program or work for the VA. I love veterans. I want to help get people from zero to hero. I want employers to give opportunities to people like me. I wish more employers would take the chance. It will pay off, I just know it will.”
Roxy — Miami, Florida
After immigrating to Florida from Venezuela as a young woman, Roxy Azuaje worked in odd jobs — restaurants, nanny, photo assistant, TV production and nonprofits — before securing a full-time position in her field. Now she works as a Public Allies and Youth Manager for a nonprofit in Miami and has good benefits, paid time off, flexibility, and is proud of her job. Having worked across many jobs — both good and bad — Roxy has a unique perspective on the things that are most critical in a job in America today.
“I’m proud in my current job to work with great people that truly care for others. The content of our work helps the community, but the organization itself also believes to do that you need fair and just policies internally. We’re treated fairly, given vacation, and paid time off. My boss really invests in me, both in helping to develop my skills, but also making sure I feel valued.”
Courtney — Des Moines, Iowa
Courtney Greene is a single mother of two daughters. When she was laid off, it was tough to find a job that offered the stability and flexibility she needed, despite an impressive resume. She recalled the week when both her then husband and her were laid off, and her daughter was asked in front of the whole class what her parents do, both now unemployed. It broke her heart, knowing that. She’s excited to start a new job with stable benefits in September, but wants to do what she can to help other families not have to face the same challenges.
“I am a single mother responsible for health insurance for my two daughters and me. I had to apply for unemployment, Medicaid, and I struggled to pay my mortgage and my bills. My children have cavities that I can’t afford to have filled right now, and I have a chipped tooth that I also can’t afford to have fixed. My water heater went out a couple of months ago and it took several days to obtain the funds to replace it. Fortunately, I have new job and will have more stability, with health and dental insurance on September 1st.”
Workshift is a campaign dedicated to building an America where all jobs are good jobs. Join the Labor Day conversation online using the hashtag #GoodJobsForAll.