- A millennial working as a meat cutter told Insider he’s underpaid and has no room for career growth.
- He’s thinking of leaving the workforce, at least temporarily, to pick up new skills.
- Young men without college degrees have been fleeing the workforce.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with a 32-year-old meat cutter at a grocery store in Seattle. Insider agreed to withhold his identity for his fear of professional repercussions, but it’s known to Insider, along with his employment and income.
He responded to a previous Insider story about a 2022 study from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. It found young men without college degrees were leaving the workforce. At the time, real earnings for this group had fallen 30% since 1980, compared with those of all “prime-age” workers, people between the ages of 25 and 54. Researchers said young men worried how this reflected on their social status and marriageability.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
I’m about to put in my two weeks’ notice.
I’ve been a meat cutter at a grocery store since 2017. I felt good about it when I entered the field, learning as I went at a small chain in San Francisco. At a time when other people of my age were swimming in student debt, I was picking up a skill that was in demand and that I could take with me almost anywhere.
Five years later, though, I’m on the verge of leaving the industry.
When I became a meat cutter, I thought there’d be more room for growth, that I might one day manage a department or be a director. But the longer I remain in the industry, the less common it seems for those around me to earn that kind of advancement.
On top of that, the compensation difference between a regular meat cutter and a manager is pretty minimal. Jaded managers have outright recommended that I don’t pursue jobs like theirs.
(Editor’s note: According to Talent.com’s data, the median salary for meat cutters in Washington is just under $41,000 a year. For managers, it’s about $52,000. A lot of people in the industry have quit, causing a shortage that President Joe Biden has declared a problem.)
My partner makes significantly more money than I do, and it’s great what she does — but I often feel like I’m not pulling my own weight. I take home about $3,200 a month. If there was a time when I could do this job and raise a family off it, that time ended a long, long time ago.
If they want people to even do these types of jobs, they need to pay more. If two of us are both working, my partner is making twice as much as me, and we still can’t afford all the things we need, there’s something really wrong. There’s something really broken here.
At the co-op chain I’ve been working at for the past year, meat cutters don’t get reliable schedules. I generally work about 40 hours a week, but the minimal notice and consistency make it hard to have any kind of life outside work, even for basic things, like trying to make a doctor’s appointment. That’s in addition to constantly being floated from store to store to plug in staffing gaps.
After the grocery-store hazard pay ended last year, my checks shrunk significantly — by about $400 a month.
I felt like for a while, early on in the pandemic, we really liked talking about essential workers and how much we cared about them, but that died off pretty quickly: We’re essential, but we can’t afford rent on our own . We’re essential, but we’re doing the work of three people. We’re essential, but we don’t get to plan our careers around the kind of pay growth that people with degrees do.
I desperately want to create better conditions for myself and get the kind of stable work-life balance that others around me seem to obtain every day.
I think about going back to school. I have a high-school diploma and completed some community college but never decided on a specific path. I can’t drive, but I might see what desk jobs a mail service like the USPS or UPS are offering. I want to look into classes or certifications. It would be pretty hard to maintain a work schedule and try to complete a four-year bachelor’s degree or anything like that. But I want to expand my skill set a little bit and figure out what jobs are out there.
It seems to be the mentality of other men quitting the workforce: You put so much of yourself into a dead-end job that there’s nothing left to put elsewhere.
Do you want to share your story about quitting a job or switching careers? Reach this reporter at [email protected].