A look forward, and back

Last week I reached another milestone in life. I retired.

A few people challenged my decision, saying I’m much too young to retire, but I’m probably older than they think. I’ve worked since I was a junior in high school, earning the minimum wage of $1.60 an hour shelving books at the Pacific Grove Library. That wage sounds laughable now, but it’s equivalent to $9.60 in 2018 dollars, demonstrating that workers at the bottom rung have lost significant purchasing power since 1972. Federal minimum wage in 2018: $7.25. In Nevada, $7.25 for health-insured workers, $8.25 for all others.

I’ve worked in the Reno area for the past 39 years, and have been blessed with many opportunities to live my values and get paid for it. My personality and skills fit well in human services program development because I enjoy the murkiness of a new idea when trial and error is the only way to succeed. Looking back at the nonprofit agencies I led in their infancies, Food Bank of Northern Nevada and the Children’s Cabinet, leaves me deeply satisfied.

Running a nonprofit is a tough job. Leaders face the same pressure as any small business person—meeting payroll, managing personnel, figuring out how to “sell” their vision. That’s why I’ve always been annoyed by the holier-than-thou attitude of the self-proclaimed “job creators” and their taxpayer-subsidized fan clubs who think we should grant their every whim. Their jobs are no harder or more valuable than ours.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nonprofit entities create more than 10 percent of all private sector employment. Washington D.C. leads the nation in the percentage of nonprofit jobs in the private sector at 26.6 percent. Guess who brings up the rear? Nevada ranks 51st, with a measly 2.7 percent. Even Texas (5.1 percent) and Alabama (5.4 percent) managed to do better. Creating jobs in the nonprofit sector through state government funding would greatly enrich our community. Think about that next time wealthy corporations raid our taxes to enhance their bottom line.

I’m grateful to the District Court for allowing me to take unpaid leave during my 14 years of service in the Nevada Legislature, an experience that gave me quite an education in politics and public policy. I learned from smart and compassionate colleagues like Barbara Buckley and Chris Giunchigliani, women who taught me to stand my ground for things in which I believed. They also taught me to lose graciously and go on to fight another battle when things didn’t go my way. And unlike many of our politicians today, no one ever had to remind them why they were there or who they represented.

I’ve often been told I’ve chosen thankless jobs, but that simply isn’t the case. I still get thanked by random people for issues I worked on decades ago. And there’s really no better thanks than seeing people get the help they need and deserve in the mental health court, through the Mobile Outreach Safety Team (MOST), or through assisted outpatient treatment, all programs I helped create during my tenure with Washoe County.

I leave the workforce happy with what I’ve accomplished and even happier to see younger people rise up and take my place who are not only competent, but visionary. We’re going to need them to conquer climate change and the ongoing epidemic of alcohol and substance abuse, and to protect equal rights, including the right of a woman to make her own decisions about her health care.

I’ll be cheering them on from the cheap seats, doing a bit of consulting and teaching, writing this column as long as they’ll have me, and spending more time with my grandson, whose presence in this world reminds me every day how much more work there is to do.