I was reading an article recently about the growing disparity between the rich and the poor - the haves and have-nots, the article called them: those who have money and those who don't. And it struck me that money, while mighty, may not be the most basic element distinguishing the haves from the have-nots.
There are those who have time ... and those who have no time. And what a powerful difference time makes.
Let's look at the have-nots first. There's one main reason for not having time: work. Statistics show that 61.7 percent of Americans now work fulltime. There are 60 million more workers today than in 1950. The percentage of women who work outside the home has doubled since 1950. And people are working longer hours. In 1948, 13 percent of Americans with fulltime jobs averaged more than 49 hours per week; by 1990, 24 percent put in a 50-hour-plus work week. Not only are their moms and dads at work, the kids are increasingly involved in organized activities, too.
So what has all this increased productivity done for us? It has produced a standard of living equal to, but not substantially greater than, our parents.
Significant increases in the amount of leisure time, the great promise of the 1950s, never materialized. Technology succeeded in allowing us to do more work in less time, but the extra time was replaced with more work.
The have-nots, in this instance, are rich in goods but poor in time to enjoy themselves. Those who seek relief in outdoor recreation are likely to want instant gratification: catching a limit, catching a lunker, shooting the bird or deer - all in as little time as possible, because time, after all, is in short supply. The skills of seasoned hunters and anglers - scouting, observation, and silent waiting - are likely to be replaced with some gadget: a sensor that records deer movement, an infrared scanner, a remote-controlled lure.
But the outlook is bright for this group of have-nots to which I belong. For almost as quickly as you can say "economically feasible," this great, graying blob of baby boomers will reach retirement age and swell unbelievably the ranks of the "haves."
Those who have time are more fortunate in many ways than the have-nots, but they, too, face problems. "Idleness is the devil's workshop" our grandmothers used to say. Unemployment and underemployment can mean an economic hardship as well as an opportunity for mischief. Illness can enforce unwelcome idleness. But for the "haves" with adequate means of support, health, and respect for their fish, forest and wildlife legacy, time can mean enjoyment and a chance to make a difference in conservation.
A majority of the volunteers who donate time to the Conservation Department are retirees. They greet nature center visitors, give programs, and teach hunter skills courses. They adopt streams, conduct clean-ups and join conservation groups. They let legislators know their concerns and get involved in politics. They spend time with their grandkids, teaching them the names of wildflowers or how to bait a hook. They have time, and use it productively.
By the year 2010, 20 percent of Missourians will be retired. Their affect on Missouri resources is yet to be determined, but the Conservation Department is already looking ahead to even greater demands on the finite resources that provide outdoor recreation. How will we ensure the quality of outdoor experiences given the quantity of future users? Will there be enough turkey / trout / deer / miles of trails / streams / lakes to accommodate us all? Will we be shoulder-to-shoulder with our fellow boomers as we cast for an elusive lunker? Will the haves so outnumber the have-nots that the younger generation will be deprived of their natural inheritance?
These are some of the many questions that will challenge conservationists in the next decade and century. The haves and have-nots will always be with us, whether the measure is time or money. Sharing our resources is a delicate balancing act, made possible in the future only through conservation today.
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