Tricky Employment

If the United States seems to be a land of opportunity, Alaska seems to be a land of extra-opportunity within it. Alaska has had economic booms at many different times and in many different sectors - from gold to lumber to seafood and oil and tourism. The allure of jobs up north has brought many people into Alaska, and even if the cost of living is much higher here, wages are usually inflated enough to compensate.

One possible problem, however, is that more people come here than are needed for the readily available work. That was true during the gold rush, and I believe it's been true many times since. Many people from all over the country and all over the world come to Ketchikan for summer work, and to a large extent it could be said that there aren't enough locals to fill these temporary fish processing and tourism-related jobs. On the other hand, especially given Americans' current economic woes, people may get a little too hopeful in coming up to Alaska, and there may not be enough work to go around.

The tricky employment problems I've experienced are probably a little related to this, but they are also related to the nature of Ketchikan's number-one customers: the cruise lines. Ketchikan's cruise ship schedule is a very tricky thing: different ships from different companies coming into different berths at different times, carrying varied amounts of people and staying for varied amounts of time. Nevertheless, there are clear patterns of tourist busyness: Sundays, Mondays and Fridays always have lots of visitors, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays less so; Saturdays never have more than two ships, and some weeks they have no one come at all.

Considering the huge number of small businesses here that keep hours entirely according to these cruise ship patterns, I find that this schedule does an injustice to employees while providing benefit to business owners. If the ships were more spread out in their arrivals - e.g., three ships one day and three the next, rather than five one day and one the next - then employees would be required for more hours, earning more money for themselves. Instead, there are days when half the town has the day off.

In my case, I've had trouble getting the number of hours I want to work, and it would probably be easier to get them if my store needed to be open for more hours on more days. Nevertheless, I've still done pretty well, and I wouldn't want to work constantly even if I could. I've had many other things to enjoy this summer: Just today my girlfriend and I went to the grocery store and had a bake sale to raise money for charity. We completely sold out, making even more money than we did when we did the same thing last month. Tonight we'll be donating it all to buy chickens for impoverished families to raise, and hopefully it will do a lot of good.

Just one month separates me from my last few days of summer. Until then I will be working more, getting ready to go to France, and also preparing for my upcoming visa application. In exactly two weeks I'll be in San Francisco!