Amid the depressing din of the Wall Street/mortgage/insurance/credit/bailout fiasco, I spotted a sign of economic opportunity … a bandage on the arm of my 23-year-old son. He had again sold a few milliliters of his precious bodily fluids to the plasma center that recently opened its doors just down the street from the east St. Paul Target where I work as a cashier.
Forty dollars for two hours of work … while lying down. It’s the best-paying job on the East Side.
My boy makes a decent wage as a grunt at a big-box home retailer, but the extra money at the vampire trade was too good to ignore. I, too, am signing up. They just drain your blood, remove the plasma, then return the red blood cells back to your body.
The new plasma center is packed. You have to make an appointment for the initial and lengthy medical probing. But finding time is difficult because my cashier hours vacillate among unpredictable shifts on varying days. It’s tough to find another part-time job, much less schedule a lengthy plasma appointment, and not risk losing precious cashier hours, which would jeopardize my medical insurance eligibility.
The Wall Street/mortgage/insurance/credit/bailout fiasco is the least of my problems, and those too of other cashiers at my store. Ironically, a Target cashier’s primary job is to sell credit cards. Few cashiers earn enough or are creditworthy to be eligible themselves — perhaps even more so now. But a card sale is so celebrated that cashiers are given rewards. (I always opt for a frozen pizza).
But forty dollars would come in handy for Rita. She is a 50ish cashier like me, struggling to hold this and another part-time job, a modest mortgage, and a 19-year-old son estranged from his father. Forty dollars would come in handy for Ellen, a lead cashier and mother in her late 30s, at the emotional climax of a hurtful divorce. Forty dollars would be useful for Randy, a youngster in his 20s who is studying accounting and who once begged me to give up a shift because his hours were cut.
Forty dollars would benefit Rachel, still a teen, who has a new baby boy watched over by his grandfather and the babysitting contributions of fellow Target employees. Forty dollars would especially benefit Traci, a black woman from Chicago with four kids from different dads, one of whom is in jail. I often give Traci a ride home after late shifts following a shared cigarette outside the closed store. She just moved to a Section 8 house in South St. Paul and worries she will not be able to transfer to a nearby Target because her cashier speed score is too low.
Traci is effusive and always smiling. She is the living, breathing stereotype of every welfare recipient I always pictured. I told her this, and she laughed and replied that at least she’s working. She repaid my rides with a frozen pizza off her EBT card. Traci has too much pride to succumb to the vampire trade. I wish I had.
The Wall Street/mortgage/insurance/credit/bailout fiasco has as little impact on my Target cashiers as would news that aliens had landed from Mars. There is no panic here. The struggle to eke out a living preceded Wall Street avarice, greed and stupidity. It was a coincidence, I believe, that employees were recently required to view a video about the evils of unions — needless money going to union chiefs, customer service suffering, etc. Those in my group (including me) were fearful, I think, of even daring to ask questions when invited to.
It’s disheartening to view the constant activity at the jobs kiosk at Target. It’s more disheartening when I see people my age applying. I feel guilty that I have a job better suited for a young person entering the work force; I feel tenacious about keeping the meager employment I have.
The Wall Street/mortgage/insurance/credit/bailout fiasco masks an enduring problem: There are too few good-paying jobs for the novice and fewer work options for old farts like me. Minnesota’s recent bleak jobs picture is not encouraging. It’s sad that the East Side plasma center is one of the most successful economic stimuli I’ve witnessed in the neighborhood for years.
Did I tell you that you can go to the plasma center twice a week?
Eighty dollars! Even if you don’t subscribe to trickle-down economic theories, there is economic opportunity out there, be it drip by drip.
Doug Champeau, St. Paul, is a cashier and writer.