Working: Hourly Wages

Part of the series…

What I notice the most about working on an hourly wage, as I do now in virtually all my part-time and temp jobs, is how conscious I am of the time I spend that is work-adjacent. Commuting, lunch hours, taking time off for interviews can all eat into my personal time, and reduce my earnings.

Now, I am lucky that my temp job is really great and understanding about taking off early or leaving for a long lunchtime interview. A lot of hourly workers would be punished for that type of behavior. Hourly workers are often taken advantage of in this regard, and there is a long history of labor relations discord over lunches and breaks, forced shortening of work days to avoid having to pay benefits, and docking pay for lateness. Not to mention the fact that most hourly wage workers don’t get paid for sick time, vacation time, or personal days. There is a lot of good literature on this type of labor history that is extremely important, and kind of above my pay grade. Perhaps another post.

As an hourly worker, I purposefully take my lunch out of the office when I can. If I have to be in Midtown, I try to get outside. There is actually a lovely open seating area next to the Citibank building/church across the street from my building (yes, that is a real place). Today, I worked until 6pm, and I am proud of that extra hour on my time card. But honestly, measuring your life, work, and productivity in 15 minute increments is not natural, and not very efficient. The last time I really worked by the hour, I was working as a research assistant, so I was easily able to track my time–if I was at the library, I was working. If I was chasing down articles on certain electronic databases, I was working. I never had to wait for projects.

Hourly wage work lends itself to inefficiency–the goal is not for the worker to produce as much as possible in eight hours, it seems to be to remain for eight hours in the place and do as little work in that time as possible. Maybe this is not the case in most hourly contexts. Until two weeks ago I had to beg for projects to keep me busy (and didn’t feel guilty at all for reading blogs and the news). Now I am really busy all the time, so I make sure to take breaks and stretch my legs, get water, take a real lunch break. That 30 minutes is worth it.

Yesterday I left work early to got for a long interview, which brings up another issue that affect hourly workers more than it does others, which is the “opportunity cost” of a given activity, especially one that occurs during prime business hours. (Definition from WikipediaOpportunity cost is the cost of any activity measured in terms of the value of the next best alternative forgone, ie. that is not chosen.) I am giving up $45 to go for my interview. But, I could gain a salary with benefits, so it is worth it.

I should have taken economics in college.


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