The face of work has changed dramatically in the past few decades. But consider how much it has changed in the last century or so. In 1900, 60% of jobs were performed on farms or in factories. Now, that number is just 10%. The new working class is far more concentrated in the service sectors – be they retail or restaurants, childcare or healthcare.
The challenge with this new work lies in its lack of financial security. That’s the issue that employers and employees continue to grapple with. Operating in highly competitive arenas, employers want loyal, engaged, and productive employees. Employees, at a minimum, seek greater economic stability.
The services industries, which have captured an ever greater portion of consumer spending over the years (relative to spending on tangible products), are where solutions must now be sought.
Whereas a pattern of automation and streamlining marches on in many industries, services work continues to require a human touch. “These jobs are difficult to mechanize or to perform with greater efficiency,” as a recent piece on “the new working class” in the New York Times put it. “Convalescents cannot be trained to eat more quickly. A phlebotomist cannot draw blood from two arms at once. Robots, as yet, cannot change diapers. Moreover, consumers may have an emotional investment in seeing this caring work performed by people rather than machines.”
However, it isn’t necessarily work that pays high wages. As a result, it can be extremely difficult to cover one’s financial obligations, particularly as the cost of everything from housing to healthcare continues to rise.
One person striving hard – even heroically — to deal with these challenges is Michelle Dean.
Michelle is an administrative assistant with Goodwill of Silicon Valley and resides in San Jose, CA. She is married and has two children – a 16-year old boy and a four-year old girl. At present, she is the sole earner of the household. And it isn’t easy. Her family even lived out of their car a few years ago and scraped to merely put fuel in the tank. “I’ve begged for a gallon of gas,” she says.
Now, her family relies not only on her employment income, but food stamps and a subsidized housing program (making it possible to get a two-bedroom apartment for $430/month in an extremely expensive real estate market).
Michelle explains the challenges she’s overcome in a direct, straightforward manner – without blame, complaint or self-pity. In fact, she comes across as grateful that she and her family have been able to make it work under difficult circumstances.
And then, she shares her prior experience with a payday lender.
When a bill came due that she couldn’t cover, she was forced to take out a $300 loan with a $50 interest payment tacked on. When she was unable to pay it back prior to her next pay day, she took out another one. Before she knew it, she was in a vicious circle – owing upwards of a thousand dollars to the lender.
She’s now more readily able to address unexpected financial events.
One year after taking her job at Goodwill, the human resources leader came around and informed her that the organization was offering the PayActiv service for financial wellness – providing accelerated payment for wages that have already been earned. The service would be provided online and on-site (where an ATM-like kiosk had been installed) – available to all members of the organization’s staff.
Michelle calls this a powerful benefit for her and her family, bringing a new level of security and stability to their lives. “I’m not stressed out all the time about money the way I used to be,” she adds. “If I need money for gas or milk or any emergency that comes up, it’s available to me. That’s huge. I don’t like to borrow or ask others for money.”
Now, she can simply take out the money she needs – for diapers or car insurance – whenever she needs it. “This is really amazing,” she adds. “It really helps you out in hard times.”
These are the kinds of actions that are likely to have a reverberating impact as the economy becomes ever more reliant on services – and workers increasingly take on roles that can leave them financially vulnerable.
Asked if she had any final words as we concluded our interview, Michelle simply said, “I just want to say ‘Thank you.’” Two words suggesting that one employer and one employee have deepened their commitment to each other – a window into what is possible in the new world of work.