Jodi Kantor’s article “Working Anything but 9 to 5” explores the impact of new scheduling technology on single parents. By closely following the story of Jannette Navarro, a 22-year-old Starbucks barista and single mother, Kantor sheds light on the difficulties faced by both mother and child. New software has been developed that allows companies to determine the most effective times for their workers’ shifts based on sales data. Using this data yields more profit for the company but leaves workers with erratic schedules and chaotic lives. Kantor constructs the article by weaving the personal story of Ms. Navarro in with interspersed quotes and comments from corporate leaders and experts.
Kantor humanizes the effects of this technology by mentioning the negative effects this has on Navarro’s son, Gavin. By focusing on the little boy’s feelings of instability and discomfort, Navarro’s situation becomes more devastating. Kantor highlights that Navarro’s chaotic schedule causes Gavin to be “tugged out of bed” and forced to “walk a mile” with his mother towards day care. Emphasizing the negative effects this has on Gavin gives more reason to end erratic scheduling. After all, this not only impacts employees but also their children and family members. It is not fair that a little boy is denied opportunities to play with “live hermit crabs and play-doh sea urchins” all because his mother cannot take him to daycare. The discussion of the mother’s efforts to create a better life for her son juxtaposed with the negative effects of her schedule on her son’s well being show what a strain this chaos has caused. Jannette and Gavin are symbolic of the millions of impoverished mothers and children who are being hurt by irregular work schedules. Kantor provides a concrete example of implications by giving the reader Jannette and Gavin to sympathize with.
Furthermore, the experiences of the Navarros are universalized by the commentary of experts on this matter. Kantor does not merely provide an unfortunate account of a struggling single mother. The article reaches its poignancy by showing that this experience is a microcosm of a larger problem. Hard-working single mothers are struggling to improve their lives for themselves and their children despite their best efforts. Time and time again, corporate greed and thoughtlessness stand in the way of progress. The CEO of the scheduling software simply stated, “it’s like magic.” But there is clearly nothing magical about working inconsistent hours and struggling to find someone to watch your child. Comments like this show the shortsightedness of wealthy corporate leaders. Kantor follows statements like this by quotes from childcare policy experts who worry that “the entire apparatus for helping poor families is being strained by unpredictable work schedules.” Clearly something needs to be changed and hope for the future is offered by M.I.T. professor, Zeynep Ton: “The same technology could be used to create more stability and predictability.” These ideas from individuals outside the Navarro narrative help support the idea that this is indeed a wider problem that can be fixed. Without this weaving in of outside information, this article would simply be a devastating story about a mother and her son. This substantiation empowers the story of Ms. Navarro and demands change.
It would have been easy to take the easy way out when writing this piece. It would’ve been easy to pity Navarro and defame Starbucks. Instead, Kantor shows a mother’s strength and resilience in a world where bolstering profits is more important than the well being of children. The balance of emotionally charged narrative and facts create an argument that force contemplation.
Questions for the Class:
- How does Kantor represent the single mother this piece follows?
- What effect does the commentary from Starbuck’s corporate leaders have?
- What is your attitude about the scheduling by the end of the piece?
- Are you convinced that this is a larger issue that exists in America?
- Do you think the inclusion of Ms. Navarro’s boyfriend was necessary?