My upcoming induction into adult life at the end of this school year and the poor job economy into which I will also enter often reminds me of an article I read online some time ago about something called a “shadow job.” This is not to be confused with job shadowing, mind you, which is the practice of following an experienced professional in order to learn about his or her particular field. The shadow job is any everyday duty that once functioned as a paying occupation.
Members of older generations remember the days when an attendant greeted them at the gas station and filled up their tank, and when elevator operators were necessary to manually drive the lifts. Milk used to be delivered to one’s front door fresh every morning, and travel agents once arranged everything for vacationing needs. Technological developments have rendered the first two examples nonexistent. In other words, the introduction of self-serve gas stations and push-button controls for elevators has eliminated the need for people to occupy those jobs. The last two examples signify adjustments of convenience, i.e. groceries are more convenient to procure now than in the days of the milkman, and online travel sites allow for more control over booking a trip to Honolulu. In each of these cases, completing these tasks that people were once paid to do now falls on the burden of the individual.
Multiple hours can be spent comparing hotel rates and plane fees. At least an hour will be devoted to restocking on groceries every month. Refilling the car’s tank takes a few solid minutes. Even something as simple as pressing a button to ascend a building requires that brief second of pinky flex. Despite how trivial they might seem, these everyday tasks once constituted a means for providing for a person’s financial needs.
Even today, shadow jobs in the making can be observed all around us. Rarely do you hear the voice of an actually-present human when calling customer service. Supermarkets one day may decide to install only self-checkout machines and never hire clerks again. Who sends snail mail anymore? The rise of the Internet era and email has long predicted the severe reduction in the US Postal Service.
The bottom-line is this: shadow jobs create more unpaid work for everyone and are cutting down available occupations that, however small-time, could mean the difference between a meal a day and nothing. Now where does that leave a college-bound student who will eventually seek work like me?