Have you noticed a trend in the American work force? It seems that everyone I talk to is either being worked to death with no time to enjoy life and family, or they have no work at all and have the constant worry of trying to hold it all together.
I struck up an interesting conversation last week with an older man, now retired, who told stories of his life as a young boy during the Great Depression.
“My family had nothing, really. We were on the verge of starving, even though my Dad was working as hard as he could. I took every little job that I could, but there were just honestly too many mouths to feed.”
So, this young boy of 16 left home and spent the next full year working for the WPA, or Works Progress Administration. He had an uncle working with the CCC, (Civilian Conservation Corps) known to employ men for months at a time, almost exclusively out West, creating national parks that endure to this day.
Now, I don’t want to talk politics with anyone — it’s not a fun road to travel, I have learned — and I am certainly not wishing to talk about the politics behind this. I am only sharing what this particular individual had to say about how it impacted his life. He talked about working as a rock crusher near a sawmill, learning to use tools he had never seen in his life on the farm.
When he arrived at the WPA camp, he was one of only about 50 young men sleeping in tents at night, working hard in the great outdoors all day long. He watched the camp grow, first to about 125 men, eventually all the way to 500 men by the spring of 1936.
“I can’t tell you how it changed not only my life, but the life of my family back home. I was able to send every single penny I made back to them, because all of my needs were being met. It kept my little brothers in school and out of trouble, and it kept our patch of farm going.”
This fellow tells me there is no doubt in his mind that the family farm would have been lost if he had not landed this position.
“There was just no way to generate enough money to keep everything going, and it had nothing to do with working hard or trying harder,” he said.
Horses were used on the sites of the WPA and CCC, pulling logs from the vast work sites out West, as it was less damaging to the woodland areas than to have had tractors doing the work.
A blacksmith or two were hired to not only keep the horses hooves in tip-top shape, but their work in the blacksmith shop helped to fashion hardware for various buildings, design necessary tools and create machinery pieces on the spot.
Young men learned from older men, all while living and laboring side-by-side in numerous projects throughout the 1930s. The dire need for jobs dwindled in 1941 with the onset of war. Some men tell of leaving the work site with a group of their buddies to sign up for military service, then being “called up” and reporting for duty without ever seeing their home and family.
I don’t pretend to have answers to today’s current problems. I just know that thousands upon thousands of people are out of work and struggling, while others are being worked to death and have great knowledge that could be shared.
Young people who have earned degrees have no idea where to turn for work because way too many of our jobs are being shipped overseas, which seems so absurd in every way. Young people who don’t have the resources to achieve higher degrees are being forced in to unemployment because jobs just don’t exist for them.
What happens to a life when there is no hope and nothing to lose? None of these extremes can be good for us as a country.
I wish there were simple answers, and I know it is far too complex for anything to come easy. I just know something has got to give, and I pray it comes soon.