In the world of work, it is the era of the yuppie. Although there is evidence that they are more media creation than demographic fact, the affluent, self-indulgent, status-hungry baby boomers born in the two decades after World War II have come to dominate our image of professional life today. But the hunger for money is not the only force at work in the work force. To provide some perspective, The Times recently interviewed four baby boomers who have kept alive the idealism of the '60s and work for peanuts--by choice.
At 41, Pam Lewis earns $19,000 a year as a case worker for the emergency services program of the Episcopal Community Services social service agency, where she has worked for two years with the homeless.
Lewis, who is recently separated from her husband, is a 1967 graduate of San Diego State University and holds a bachelor's degree in social work. She was a social worker at a local hospital before quitting in 1971 to raise a family. She was a volunteer in the 1972 presidential campaign of George McGovern and helped relocate two Vietnamese families in the San Diego area.
The following are excerpts of an interview last week with Lewis.
My role is sort of to see whether (homeless people) have anything in mind for this (stay) at the shelter. Have you got a job lined up? Or do you have some applications that you need to make for various public assistance programs? I'm basically looking for some good, solid game plan for a person who is trying to work himself back out of life on the street.
There are people who don't know how to use the phone book, and they're not mentally retarded. They're not mentally ill. They are just are so far out of the mainstream of our society that they don't know how to use the phone book. . . . They don't know how to use the system.
I think you go into social work knowing from the outset that the pay isn't going to be really good. You look for adequate pay. You can make a heck of a lot less pay than I do. I feel real fortunate.
To just make money is not, to me, that satisfying. I realize that other people do put that as their No. 1 priority in terms of choosing a career. I would say that money is the last priority in choosing a career for me.
Job a Challenge
Sure, it would be nice to have more money. It just doesn't seem to be high on my list of priorities, as long as I have what I need.
Once I got started with (this job), I came to like it. It's a challenge. It can also be very depressing. It can be very draining. Because it's a continuing problem. There are some successes. You feel very good about it, about people who have made it, people who have made some changes. And you've been available to help. But many, many times the situation remains the same.
I had some guy drop his drawers for me. I had some lady dive across the desk and almost pull the phone out of the wall. I am very accustomed to verbal threats and gestures.
One of the reasons I've been able to survive is because I don't take it personally. You can't. There was a time, especially when I started, that (I took) it very personally. You take it to heart. You take it home. You wonder why you have a bed to sleep in and they don't.
(But) it may be that you were the only person who sat down and allowed that person to talk to you during the day. You may be the only person who genuinely cared how that job interview went.
Effect Isn't Known
As far as changing their life, no, you haven't changed their life. But you never know whether you have affected them in some way that you never know about, and that they may pass on to the next guy.
You have to take satisfaction in the small things. If you need to be witness to a major change in somebody's life, this isn't the place to be. The changes are gradual. They're small. And for every success, there's a failure--more than one. Even those who succeed, they succeed for a short period of time, and then one thing leads to another, and they return to the old ways, and you see them again.