To Our “The Philosophy
& Rewards Of Survival” Section
SELF EMPLOYMENT FOR ANYONE
There is something about working steadily for someone else
that dulls the human mind. Security is the main reason people give for fixed
employment but the unrealized drawback is dependence.
With fixed employment you have a measure of security only if
the business is growing. You may even advance, getting higher wages. But when
the business levels off, so does your pay. And as the pay scale becomes fixed,
so does the routine. So you are at a dead end and become just a part of the
A worker can go for years doing the same thing and getting
the same pay. Except for cost-of-living raises, which seldom make up for
inflation’s gain in the same period, spendable income remains about the same.
When a business hits its peak and is serving as big a part of
its market as it can reach, it usually starts going downhill. This is because
the market has been saturated. There is no more room for development, no new
money coming in.
Then, even cost-of-living raises are hard to come by. Then
come the strikes. Raises are given, prices of the products are raised, fewer
people can buy and less money comes in. As inflation eats into your strike-won
raise, you must strike again, get the prices raised, lose even more customers
and on and on.
That is the way it is getting to be all over the country. So
if you work for others and think you have security, you may be insane. You had
better check that out.
The main drawback of a fixed income is your dependence on
things staying as they are. Rising inflation and increasing bankruptcies are
threats to just about every wage-earner’s livelihood.
My early career was wasted in wage-slaving. I was uneducated,
unskilled, unbalanced and a drifter from job to job. I could never keep a job
long but the worst times were when I had a job I could do and stuck at it for up
to a year. This was a waste of time as my savings never equaled the price of
When I was going to college, I worked part-time at a hospital
doing kitchen duties for $27.00 per week take-home. This was in 1960 and my rent
was only $6.00 per week for a room with a sink and a hot plate. I spent maybe
$3.00 per week for food so I did not need much.
Just the same, the hours were from four to eight p.m. and I
did not like the work or the money. But a full-time job would have kept me out
I was complaining to a wino name of Charles who lived in the
same rooming house. He was a house painter and suggested I get in the trade. I
had never painted but had seem him at it and figured if he could do it, anyone
could. I had watched him on a ladder once, hanging on with an elbow, with a
fifth of Thunderbird in one hand and a brush in the other. He fell often but
worked when he wanted to.
He wrote an ad for me: Painter: Fast, Reliable, Good
References, $2.00 per hour and the rooming house phone number and who to ask
for. It cost me about $3.00 to run it a week in the Work Wanted section of the
local paper under PAINTING. Then I quit my job and sat back. I had to because I
would have been at work when anybody called. It is dumb to quit one job before
getting another. So if you work, put in the ad the time you will be home to
That lying ad took effect the first afternoon it ran. I got a
call from an old lady with a tiny kitchen. I told her over the phone that for
$2.00 per hour I would supply the labor and the tools but she would have to buy
the paint. She had the paint ready and I stopped by the dime store and bought a
paint roller, pan, three different sized hand brushes and a plastic drop cloth.
I took this on the local bus and started my first paint job.
The old lady showed me into her dark red kitchen and pointed to the bright
yellow paint and went into her front room to watch TV.
I poured too much paint in the pan and just dipped in the
roller, as the pan was too full to allow rolling the roller on the pan’s ramp.
This does not work and it was several tries before I got the idea of pouring
some paint back into the can and rolling off the excess paint on the pan’s ramp
before rolling it on the ceiling.
You cannot imagine the mess at the beginning. I had paint on
me and had a totally yellow arm and a soaked torso through my shirt. If that
sweet old soul had not been in the front room watching TV, she would have fired
me in the first five minutes.
I am pretty smart so I got the hang of it in the first half
hour. I did that little kitchen in four and a half hours and got $9.00 and even
A few days later this pervert called me and asked if I would
paint bare-chested. I was pretty naive and did not understand and told him that
I would not consider painting bare-chested as I got enough paint on my chest as
it was without painting shirtless.
That first week I painted two kitchens, a garage and a
bedroom. After awhile I seldom had to put in an ad. I got a lot of repeat
business and working only when I wanted to, averaged $34.00 per week. that was
not much, even in those days. But it was more than I had gotten at the hospital
and in fewer hours and was sufficient for my needs. If I wanted something more,
I would just work another day or two. So even in this poor trade my income was
not fixed and I could choose my hours. I could have worked all the time if I had
Just in case you might want to try this, here are a few tips.
Get a book on decorating and study the painting section. The go to a paint store
and have a clerk tell you what you will need. Your ideal start would be to paint
as much of your own home as you can for practice. A couple of days painting your
own quarters would get most of the bugs out of your technique.
Charge about a third of what a union painter gets. Do not
worry about union interference. People who hire bargain painters want bargains.
They will not pay union rates and so do not really expect union skill. Union
painters would not be interested in such jobs anyway.
Three dollars an hour for non-professional work is fine,
especially since you do not have to declare it for taxes. It is all yours unless
you want to pay taxes on it. Most of the guys I knew in the trade never declared
their income because there was no way the Feds could check.
No matter what, do as good a job as you can and be extremely
honest. I was never asked for a reference but those who I would have used as
references hired me for one job after another. These were mainly landlords who
hired me to redo vacant apartments.
After a time, I charged $2.50 per hour and could have gotten
more had I become a contractor.
Never work for a non-union contractor. You will not be fast
enough to make a profit for him and he will fire you. If you are fast enough,
you might as well be a contractor yourself.
Contracting is where you give an estimate and accept a set
fee for the job. When people asked for an estimate I would say I needed a
license to be a contractor so I just charged by the hour with no estimates. I
did not have the kind of mind where I could examine a job and tell how long it
Contracting is more profitable and I am not sure about the
license, but when you make an estimate, you are stuck with it. If you estimate a
job will take eight hours and it drags out to sixteen, you would be better off
working by the hour.
I worked this way, off and on, for years. I was
temperamentally unsuited for steady work. But I could be charming and polite to
anybody for a few days, which kept me a fine fellow through most of my bigger
jobs. Most of my customers were very nice and liked my work, although I was
never really fast.
If I could do it, you can, too. You would be surprised how much
work goes begging because unskilled people do not know they could do it and
skilled workers price themselves beyond the property owner’s means.
Work in painting, home repairs, etc. is all over the place
and you will learn this if you will put in an ad. One place I was painting at,
there was this young moron also doing painting on a picket fence. He did not
even scrape off the old, loose paint.
I noticed he had wet his pants and asked the lady how such a
nebbish could get work from anybody. She said he only charged $1.50 an hour and
did all sorts of little odd jobs. This was mainly for old people who simply
could not handle any sort of labor and preferred a mental defective to no one at
I met many other odd jobs men. They started out just as
people who could do something, or were willing to try. They simply advertised
that they could do a certain job and they had been busy ever since.
It does not matter what you do. Painting, hauling, odd jobs,
home repair, carpentry, electrical work, typing, babysitting; a few lines in
your local paper will keep you busy. An old fellow who was going with my mom had
been a painter. He told me he had worked my system all during the depression and
had always lived well.
It is not all roses. You will get an occasional griping,
abusive customer you cannot please. Then there are those who will want you to be
licensed, bonded, insured and all that. If you do your best at say, $3.00 an
hour, they are getting a good deal. If they do not appreciate that and give you
a hard time, to hell with them. They are stupid. But this type is rare. Most of
your customers will be just good poor people who need a bargain and have sense
enough not to give a bargain like you a hard time.
If you happen to be a professional and a union tradesman,
this sort of work would be moonlighting. I knew professionals who cut their pay
by a third to be independent. A union painter or electrician would contact
apartment house owners and be on call all the time. No need to worry about
licenses. If you are giving a landlord a bargain, he is not going to turn you in
to the union or the licensing place or the IRS or anybody.
So if you are temperamentally unsuited for steady work or
have been laid off or fired, put in an ad. Even if you are in fine shape and
just need some extra income, put in an ad. If employed, you can tell a caller
you will be free on the weekend or at night. They do not care when you work if
it is convenient for them.
You try getting work this way, even if you have a job, and
you will be surprised how needed you really are. You will never be worried about
unemployment again and the worse the economy gets, the more secure you will be.
Places have to be kept up and if money is tight, union workers stay home.
Another good point is that while you are working on such jobs
you are still free to follow up leads on better opportunities. You can also go
to school or work on some home business that you do not expect to make money on
for a while. So if you are too young for steady work, retired, slightly
handicapped, a dingbat, have a rotten work record, or whatever, you are still
highly employable in this field.