This is an awesome piece, and I could not be more appreciative of Sarah's recognition that a 40-hour work week isn't everyone's idea of utopia. I remember a couple of years ago when I was temporarily unemployed and living in New York City, and I felt like my friends there either 1) felt sorry for me or 2) thought I was a loser for appreciating the time off. I would explain that I'd worked full-time for a while and was more than happy to live off my (minimal) savings for a couple months and do my own little projects and remember what daylight looked like, but that sort of thinking just didn't seem to register there. Back visiting friends in Portland, though, not a single person looked askance at my unemployment-by-choice. The reaction was more along the lines of: "hell yeah, do your thing" and a high five. And -- for all the myriad things I love about New York -- this attitude is something no place does better than Portland. You wanna work full-time? Good times. You wanna work part-time and play your banjo part-time? Good times. You wanna make felt hats and raft around on your DIY paper boat all day? Hey, if that's what gets you off, good fucking times.
The problem with the way we think about calculating un(der)employment is that we work from the baseline assumption that working 40+ hours a week is everyone's ideal. It's not. Ms. Mirk points out (commendably) that "what we can't see from the data is whether people were actively choosing to work part time." That's the kicker. Instead of the baseline being "works 40 hours/week," the baseline should rather be "works as much as s/he wants to work." And we should be working to provide jobs that satisfy this latter goal. If the city is able to provide the range of jobs that the community demands, then that should be our mark of economic success.
My mother (originally from LA) and father (a Portlander) haven't worked full-time jobs in at least 30 years, and they wouldn't have it any other way. They'll probably never "retire," because that word doesn't really make sense to their situation. On the other hand, my grandfather (a Chicagoan until the war, then a prof at Reed) probably never worked less than 50 hours a week his whole working life. He retired in the classical sense in his 60s, and then did crosswords and sang barbershop and made wooden bowls until his death a couple years ago. If Portland can figure out how to provide for and embrace both these types of people -- and if it can control gentrification and promote socio-economic diversity in the inner-city -- then I think it'll be in good shape. At the very least, it's got the right attitude already.
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