Monday, June 15, 2009

Depression Ethics

My husband's grandmother once told me that she hired a housekeeper in the Great Depression not because they needed one but because at the time it seemed to many that if you could afford to give someone a job, you should. She was a teacher in a private girls' school who would later teach at a college and eventually would do research into teaching children we would now diagnose as autistic. I didn't really believe her about the hiring of the housekeeper. I didn't think it was in any way bad for her to have hired one. I just didn't think she did it out of a sense of social responsibility.

I have changed my mind.

I have friends who now eat out at one particular restaurant every week because they want it to stay in business. They someday will tell their grandchildren that during this economic crisis that they did that and those grandchildren probably will also think, "Yeah, right, they just wanted an excuse to eat out every week." Though my friends no doubt enjoy eating out, they have made a habit of it, because it seems the right thing to do. The money they spend is some one's pay check, and too few people are getting those these days. They are not the only people I know who are doing such things. Many people are trying to decide where and how to best spend the dollars they can spend, even while they save so as to be safe from any disaster.

Unemployment in my county has reached double digits. It is bad out there, and even if the stock market is recovering, the job market is not.

And I am thinking about this because we are pressuring Andrew to go out and get a job. He has NEVER had a paying job. This is not good. He needs to have the job experience. Last night Roland and I talked about it. We worry that we are sending him on a mission destined to fail. There are no jobs for him to find. We worry also that he might succeed and that the job he would get might come at the expense of someone who needs it to support themselves.

So we offered him a deal. If he volunteers 20+ hours a week at the animal shelter, food bank, thrift store, wherever, we will compensate him. We can't afford to pay him an hourly wage for his work, but I told him that I would buy him more tickets home next year. At first he thought I meant that I would buy him more than we had discussed before...back when we thought Alice might be going to the same city for school he might only come home at Christmas, staying there with her for Thanksgiving and Spring Break. I explained that no, I meant more than last year. He can come home one or perhaps even twice mid-quarter, each quarter. I know it looked like Alice wasn't going to be going, and I thought that maybe getting to see her more often would be a good compensation for the work.

He grinned, nodded, and got up to shower and go find some work.

We didn't tell him that we were also nervous that he might choose to stay here and attend the college where I teach, not because it is a good choice for him, but because he does not want to be separated from Alice. We did not tell him that we would have offered those extra plane tickets to keep him in school regardless of what he did this summer.

The plane tickets are motivation for him, but I also feel good about the thought that he might spend time this summer volunteering instead of working. It is a good choice.

And I now believe what Roland's grandmother told me.


  1. I would think that future employers looking at his resume would probably think more highly of him volunteering rather than experience flipping burgers.

  2. Thats a great plan!!!

  3. If you're really worried about work experience for his career prospects, encourage him to take a job working the help desk at his Uni.

    No, Really

  4. I love this post! Great idea! I hope that some of your parenting secrets rub off before my kids are teenagers!

  5. Volunteering is much more soulfully rewarding. Excellent idea. A winwin.

  6. It's such a brilliant idea. I hope he can find somewhere he'll really enjoy volunteering.

  7. I think what you have in mind is an excellent idea. I'd suggest you might try to have him look for a job, just in case he gets extraordinary lucky, but I wouldn't necessarily expect him to find a position.

    I do think that the volunteering is a great alternative.

    As for depression spending, I think we've been doing that to some extent. I've been farming out car repairs (that I would normally just neglect for lack of funding) to my unemployed neighbor, and I hired his wife to do a short-term job for my company that I would have normally done myself.


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