June 24, 2013
A recent piece in the New York Times called “Young and Isolated” takes a look at what has unfortunately become a reality for many young workers. For young members of the working class, deindustrialization and declining blue collar jobs have caused many dreams of college and living well-rounded, fulfilling lives to be replaced with a reality of disillusionment, loneliness, and hardship.
More and more, hardworking people from working class families have found that completing college, or being able to live up to their aspirations once they graduate, is impossible. Crippling student debt, lack of support in times of personal crisis, and a scant job market are all major players for the twenty-somethings interviewed in the article, as well as for thousands like them, who work for gas stations, fast food restaurants, retail, or temp agencies, or who are struggling to make ends meet while attending community college.
For many young workers, the negative experiences they have had while trying to make a living–ranging from medical emergencies, scams, overwhelming loan debt, and low-paying jobs–make it hard for them to trust others, or have the means to allow other people into their lives. Having romantic relationships, raising a family, or having the means or time for extra-curricular activities is often unobtainable or something that many young people just aren’t comfortable with, since many can barely provide enough income to meet their own needs.
The article introduces many young people who have become “increasingly disconnected from institutions of work, family and community” who “grow up by learning that counting on others will only hurt them in the end. Adulthood is not simply being delayed but dramatically reimagined along lines of trust, dignity and connection and obligation to others.”
No one should have to feel like they have no options in life, or that they are utterly alone. A job should not be something that offers nothing in return for hard work except a paycheck that forces someone to choose between food or medical needs. That’s why unions exist.
Unions not only raise the economic quality of life for workers, but can also offset the “difficult-to-measure social costs borne by working-class youths as they struggle to forge stable and meaningful adult lives.”
When someone joins a union, they are joining a family–a group of brothers and sisters who go through the same things they do, who will stand with each other when the inevitable bumps in the road do occur. And together, union members have a strong voice that fights for good jobs, which in turn leads to more opportunities for a fulfilling personal life as well.
Through collective bargaining and and the support unions provide, union members are more likely to enjoy stable jobs, rather than having to bounce around from one temporary job to the next. Higher wages and medical coverage can be the difference in being able to raise children. A regular schedule can allow for more availability to go on dates or hang out with friends–something that young workers shouldn’t have to sacrifice just because they are from the working class.
Jennifer M. Silva, the author of the Times piece, hits the mark in her conclusion, when she says:
“We don’t want to go back to the 1950s, when economic stability and social solidarity came at the cost of exclusion for many Americans. But nor can we afford the social costs of going forward on our present path of isolation. The social and economic decline of the American working class will only be exacerbated as its youngest members make a virtue out of self-blame, distrust and disconnection. In order to tell a different kind of coming-of-age story, we need to provide these young men and women with the skills and support to navigate the road to adulthood. Our future depends on it.”
That’s why unions are still more important than ever. Many of the UFCW’s 1.3 million members are young people. In fact, UFCW has the largest percentage of young workers of any union. UFCW brothers and sisters know that being union isn’t all about hours and wages–it’s about solidarity and being there for each other, especially in times of need. Being union is about being family, and never having to go it alone.