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My young adult daughter applied for a couple of part-time jobs recently--one with a national bookstore chain, the other with a department store photo studio. In both cases she was told, if hired, she would be guaranteed 0-15 hours per week, depending on how busy things were and how well she worked out. Zero hours? Who guarantees zero hours? Who hires for zero hours? What sort of hire is that?

She told me this past spring she overheard a woman in one of her community college classes talking about getting only one hour of work that week from one job, and two from another. This woman has two kids and is making the effort to get an education.  A couple of her friends who don't have families have complained of the same situation--one or two hours a week from a job.

My daughter has done the math of what it looks like to support yourself on minimum wage and concluded it's doable if you work full-time and are happy just barely getting by and don't have any emergency expenditures and don't own a car. So, she asks me, how in the hell do you support yourself and a family--especially if you don't have even one full-time job, but two that add up to less? How do you get yourself to work? And what happens if both jobs suddenly offer you more work and there's a scheduling conflict, but no guarantee of continuing work from either employer?

I don't think I'm romanticizing the past when I recall my first part-time job at a fast-food restaurant that required I work at least 15 hours a week and take more hours if needed. I was called in frequently to help cover rush times. Other minimum wage jobs I held when I was in high school and college required a certain number of shifts. Most of my shifts, managers aside, were staffed by kids in my age range--16-20 years-old, and few or none of my fellow workers had families (afternoon and evening hours). I never had a week of one or two hours of work and frequently negotiated with co-workers to cover hours for each other when we couldn't work.

It felt like employers needed the staff--that's why they were hiring and requiring a minimum of hours worked. I'm not sure what they're looking for now. It's like they need you to need them or like they're grabbing people so they can play with them like cats play with mice, teasing the hell out of them until they're dead.

I know there's nothing new about these sort of employment practices, but it's a good day to call attention to the situation. Watching my kids trying to get a toe-hold in the working world so they can get some experience so they can move forward is frustrating. They're fortunate that their parents are doing ok, and that they can use volunteer time to learn some skills and build a resume, but even that doesn't create any guarantees.

One of my early jobs was working as a barista--none of the local coffee shops required experience, so it was easy to get on the coffee house circuit. Now almost all of the over-priced coffee places are looking for six months previous, so my daughter isn't qualified to work the few hours they may have for their workers.

Happy Labor Day.

Originally posted to Elizaveta on Mon Sep 01, 2014 at 09:09 AM PDT.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions.

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