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Working in America

Who we are and what we do

      The work we do boggles the mind.
      We are skyscraper window washers, equine dentists, fighter-drone pilots. We are all sorts of sailors: merchant marines, submariners, ferry boat pilots, crabbers and Greenpeace sailors. We are policy makers, big-thought thinkers, writers and editors, cooks and chefs and servers, janitors and cleaners and street sweepers, laborers, carpenters and plumbers, vintners and mushroom cultivators, artists and welders and architects and high-steel workers. Fabricators of a million objects from space ships to Pez dispensers. Rocket scientists and gym teachers. Baseball players and bridge builders.
        Just a list of the names reads like a poem by Walt Whitman, who did indeed celebrate working America in poetry:
I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deck-hand singing on the steamboat deck ...
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else …
       Fascinated like Whitman with lists, I’ve been combing through the thousands of jobs catalogued in the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook.
       Each letter has dozens. For example:
       A: Abdominal sonographer, auto racer, aerospace engineer, announcer …
       B: Bagel maker, ballet dancer, bull rider, bus driver …
       C: CAD designer, cancer researcher, calligrapher, cocktail waitress …
       X: X-ray technician …
       Y: Yeast maker, yoga instructor …
       Z: Zoologists, zookeeper …
       It’s a list full of wonder. Reading it, I wonder about all the things I might have been — gambler, hat model, trumpeter — instead of the things I am. Much more urgent is what things our children will become. If career planning were a middle or high school class, and the Occupational Outlook Handbook one of its text books, would their eyes open to the wonders of the wide world and all they can become in it?
       The work we do goes a long way in shaping who we are and who we become. 
      So my amazement at the width of the world of work turns anxious when I chance upon another Bureau of Labor Statistic chart: Occupations with the most job growth, 2014-’24. For the most part, the jobs the unfolding economy wants are low-paying; hourly work rather than salaried careers. Our future wants health aids and assistants; janitors, laborers and cleaners; cooks, servers and fast-food workers; labors and customer service reps. 
       While you’ve got this week’s paper in your hand, skip back to the present and enjoy our annual Labor Day Parade of Working People, profiled in the work they do. 
Wanted: Bay Weekly’s Future Columnist
       We do not intend to replace The Bay Gardener in Bay Weekly’s pages. Dr. Frank Gouin is irreplaceable.
      We do plan to add a new column. What that might be we don’t yet know. We do know it will have to live up to the standards set by Dr. Gouin. It must be original, timely, expert, well written and directed to helping us find good, sustainable ways to improve our quality of life in Chesapeake Country.
      What do you want to read? Send your thoughts to ­[email protected] I look forward to hearing from you.