It is now happy hour, that period between 4 and 7 where bars try to attract after-work gatherings. I am enjoying a quiet tea break instead. Orange-spice blend herbal tea, to be exact.
I live in Arlington Virginia within but at the edge of the DC urban area. Most jobs are office jobs and most would have been released from their jobs about an hour ago. Some portion of them do take advantage of whatever advantage is offered by happy hour.
At the other end of the day is the breakfast hours at fast food places and cafes. Timed roughly at the start of the day be extended long enough to catch some who check in at the office first before going out to grab something to eat.
In the middle there is the lunch crowd. In contrast, during the mid-week, most restaurants have a relatively slow dinner time.
At least in this town, there is a large synchronization of people’s days. At least from a food business perspective, there is a predictable pulse of business based on everyone following roughly the same office hours. Many people set their individual schedules to get out at the same time each day, often to synchronize with their buddies.
As I drink my tea, I wonder about this daily rhythm so pervasive that it is assumed everyone follows it.
Then I think of the independent cafe down the street with the sign boldly announcing “breakfast served all day”. Obviously, this is not the norm or else they would announcing the special of the day or something. I don’t know but I think there is some rule about having to shutdown a grill between breakfast and lunch, perhaps to clean things so that the breakfast residue doesn’t pass into lunchtime atmosphere. To serve breakfast all day may require maintaining two different grills. I wouldn’t doubt it.
Who eats breakfast when it is not breakfast time? A meal served for breakfast can work at any time of the day. But when it is served during a person’s lunch break, it is still called a breakfast meal. Some breakfast meals can be indistinguishable from a dinner (steak and eggs, for example). The primary difference is that the portion size and costs are lower. Perhaps a breakfast meal for each meal of the day could be economical and avoid overeating.
But this scenario is not what comes to mind for a place that serves breakfast all day. The patrons may indeed by starting their day after normal breakfast hours. They may in fact be starting their day late in the day.
There is something nostalgic about the idea of a place that serves breakfast all day. It reminds me of stories of my grandparents’ generation where they either worked on a farm (a big breakfast at daybreak) or at shift work at the mines or factories. Some days start at 5 pm, and others start at 1 am. After waking up in preparing for work, a breakfast would be quite welcome.
Despite the abundance of office work in this town, there remain shift jobs involving manning 24-hour operations, overnight maintenance, or security. If their day starts at 5 pm, they probably wake up at 3 pm and would welcome a nice breakfast to get them started.
It is not remarkable that such jobs exist. What intrigues me is how invisible these jobs have become. Certainly, this particular area is unique. This is a company town where the company is the government. Work is office work.
There are still towns dominated by factories or mines. From what little I can glean from news, it seems many of these are running at less than full capacity. They are probably not running 3 full shifts, or even 2.
I may be wrong. In fact, if I am wrong all the better for my thoughts of this afternoon.
My point is that there appears to be a theory of how people’s days are organized. This theory says that the standard is for a person to be employed where his time is defined by the standard work schedule of a day shift from Monday to Friday with the weekend off. Those who have jobs that have different time demands are delegated to a category of “those are the exceptions”.
We create a model for describing a typical day for a typical working-age adult around this idea. From this model, we assume we know what any person is doing just by looking at the calendar and the clock. Today is Thursday, and at 5 pm work is done and one of the options may be to be at happy hour.
This model has an assumption that this is true for every day of the person’s working-age life with the only exceptions being paid vacations, holidays, and sick time. This model may be called employment.
We use this model in policy making. The monthly updates of the nations unemployment rates and labor participation rates get headline news treatment. We debate policy options to address our concerns that some are left out of this model.
This model is also used to describe individual’s economic situation. The employment model assumes a steady cash flow at the individual level. The very concept of establishments serving breakfast, lunch, or happy hour implies that people have a cash allowance to pay for these on a recurring basis.
Our assumption that people will have a steady flow of cash also influences commerce in general with annual contracts of monthly subscriptions, or other recurring payments, for a wide range of modern services.
In many cases, we take this for granted. For example, consider a cable TV service. It makes sense to pay monthly because you use the service on a daily basis. It also makes sense to have an annual contract because it is inconvenient to get it set up or to replace with an alternative. Signing up is implicitly a commitment.
My point is more along the lines that that cable service never would have been commercially viable if there wasn’t already an expectation that cash flows steadily.
Even if technology existed at the time, the services wouldn’t have worked a century ago where work was much more affected by seasonal work or boon/bust cycles. In cycles of boon and bust, employment occurs in short periods of high intensity. Before labor laws, work often meant so long of days there was no leisure time. Money was either saved for the bust periods or shared with family members who are weathering out a bust period in their jobs.
Today there is an expectation that if you are making money, you must be spending it. When we talk about inequality, we talk about income inequality as we imagine someone making a lot of money is spending all of that money as quickly as he is making it. We don’t consider the idea that the earner is enjoying a brief period of success bracketed by periods of little or no money.
An example is a professional sport where someone makes a lot of money at the peak of his career but little money preparing for that moment, and with little opportunity after that career (excepting the celebrated stars). The income inequality of a person’s career peak should not be considered unfair. He is not in a career that will provide a steady wage for his entire life.
The expectation also shows up in the recent Affordable Care Act legislation that bases affordability on an assumption that everyone’s monthly or at least annual salary is predictable so that a constant monthly insurance bill can be constantly affordable. The law did not account for people whose work is unpredictable.
Recently, there is a national discussion about the lack of signups during open enrollment of the Affordable Care Act. Perhaps some people find the monthly rates too high. Perhaps some people do not see the value for the cost. Perhaps some people are overwhelmed by the process.
What I don’t hear is that it may be unrealistic for a person to commit to an annual contract of a constant bill. Most of the people who are uninsured and not signing up are in the upper part of being poor, or the lowest part of middle class. They are likely to have work that comes unpredictably in time and duration. They are also likely to have obligations to their extended family who include members with the same work prospects. Even if a premium is affordable during a time of employment, these people can not make the commitment to continue the premium indefinitely. For these people, they are making the honest decision that they can not commit to the terms being presented.
It appears to me that the people who created this law did not understand the very people they were trying to help. The low-middle-class who honestly can not commit to any annual contract. These are people who are proud enough to make rational decisions to live within their means.