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I’m not crying a river for those furloughed workers

SAN DIEGO – No mas! I can’t take any more sob stories about government workers going without paychecks during a shutdown that just passed the 30-day mark.

The preferred media spin is that 800,000 federal workers were held hostage by political gridlock.

Wrong. These people were not hostages. They were volunteers. No one forced them to work for the federal government. My problem isn’t with the workers. It’s with the false narrative.

“It looks like a breadline out of the Depression, people standing out waiting in the cold to get their soup or sandwich,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.

Really? In the Great Depression, the nation’s unemployment rate hit an all-time high in 1933 – 24.9 percent. Today, it’s 3.9 percent.

You’re right, Senator. It’s the same thing.

News footage showed a protester marching in front of a building in Manhattan holding a sign, stamped with a union label, that read: “We want to work!”

I thought to myself: Then why aren’t you working? If you did more of what some of your colleagues are doing – substitute teaching, driving for Uber, doing temp jobs, etc. – and less marching, you’d be better off.

I’m 51, and I’ve been working since I was 13. My grandmother owned a clothing store, and I pitched in on Sunday mornings. I also worked as a busboy and took orders in a restaurant owned by a family friend before I was old enough to get a driver’s permit. During my college years, I stacked 40-lb. boxes of fruit in a packing house and later worked for a federal judge – and had about a dozen jobs in between.

Where I grew up in the farmland of Central California, work is sacred. My Mexican-born grandfather picked fruit, and he showed up to the fields a half-hour early – out of gratitude for the work. Back home, people have two or three jobs. Decades before anyone talked about a “side hustle,” the folks I grew up with lined up extra work on nights and weekends – just to make ends meet.

The concept of work isn’t as complicated as some people make it. With unemployment at a historic low, there’s a job for those who want to work.

Unless you think some jobs are beneath you. Maybe you think your time is especially valuable, like the handyman who, several years ago, wanted to charge me $75 per hour to stain a fence.

Perhaps you agree with FBI Agents Association President Tom O’Connor, who arrogantly said: “FBI agents should not have to go work at the store stacking shelves because they can’t feed their families on their government job.”

Oh, because FBI agents are special? I assume that O’Connor hasn’t followed the news over the last two years. The bureau has so many self-inflicted wounds, it could apply for medical leave.

Even so, a lot of people would still like to work for the federal government. The benefits are great. The hours are decent. And the job security is enviable. That’s largely why these jobs are sought after and hard to get, like membership in an exclusive club.

(The White House and Congressional Democrats announced an end to the shutdown Friday and) that furloughed government workers will (receive) back pay for the days they missed.

Does your private-sector job work that way? Mine don’t. I use the plural because I have five of them.

You’re thinking that I lack empathy for my fellow man. Guilty. But I’m not the only one.

Besides, I don’t remember government workers being terribly empathetic toward those of us in the private sector 10 years ago when the housing bubble burst and the recession hit. Millions of us lost jobs, homes, health benefits, retirement funds and more.

That’s my tribe – folks in the private sector. Let me tell you about them.

I know a doctor who lost her home, an engineer who left the country and his family to find a well-paying job, a dairy farmer who lost his land to back taxes, a marketing executive who cashed out his 401(k) after being laid off, a private-school teacher who goes without health insurance, and too many out-of-work journalists to count. They all live paycheck to paycheck.

So it’s hard to feel sorry for furloughed workers who have jobs to go back to and back pay to collect – and a comfortable pension in retirement. We’re told that, during the shutdown, many of these folks had to tap into their savings.

I’m sure I speak for many in my tribe of private-sector workers when I say: “What are savings?”

E-mail ruben@rubennavarrette.com. This column was updated to reflect the end of the shutdown.

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