Freedom and Work

America likes to think of itself as the land of the free, but I wonder where these free people are. The vast majority of us must work for wages in order to survive, and much of that work is drudgery, or even aversive, and poorly paid as well. When I visited the Underground Railroad Museum while on vacation, I was struck by the persistence of slavery in America. Although we no longer call it that, what we have comes to much the same thing. Some people think we have a welfare state, but this is not so when we compare our system to that in Europe. People here survive in sometimes appalling poverty, without heat or enough food. There is a large underclass in the United States, and this has only grown, particularly in recent years. The National Association of Counties completed a study that showed that “28 percent of U.S. county economies saw real wages declining while productivity increased.”  It seems that some people are working more while getting paid less.

Of course, work is an important and necessary part of life, giving purpose to the worker and contributing to society. People must work in order to survive in this country, but that work should be suited to the person and should not be demeaning. There are people in this country who could work but who don’t have jobs and are unable to find one. The arrangement of jobs and employment is left to employers, who have no real interest in helping workers, but who demand that workers help them. Employers arrange work and schedules and job descriptions according to what is best for the company’s profit, and the employees must fit in. How many of us must get up every day and go to a meaningless and even aversive job? Nevertheless, the workers must keep doing this, day after day, because the bills must be paid. The pressure of necessity often prevents the worker from making a change. Where is the freedom here?

People think freedom is the ability to make one’s own choices, but because we live in society, we must compromise, and forego some personal freedom so we can cooperate toward common goals. Most people seem to believe that freedom includes the “right” and the ability to independently flounder about trying to find a suitable job. I cannot help but feel that work justice and worker happiness would be improved by greater oversight and direction of employment, so that people would be doing work that was rewarding and suited to them. Such direction would likely seem too intrusive to most Americans, so the chance of improvement for workers is likely a distant dream, but it is one I hope more of us come to have.


Copyright © 2016 Teresa Chupp.  All rights reserved.


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