In the last post or two the topic was woe is me. To be clear, I’m just an example, there are millions of people who don’t have a site to commiserate on located on the same page as mega blogger traffic grabbers like PZ Myers and Butterflies and Wheels. When I moan and groan I do it secure in the luxury that thousands of people will read it and dozens will offer constructive criticism and encouragement, some even offered money which was quite touching. FWIW, I don’t need money, I have expenses under control. Besides, in a few days I’ll put up my annual bleg, any amount is welcome including single digit bucks. If it adds up to a few hundred when all is said and done I’ll use it to get a new cheapish laptop to replace my limping smoking computers. They’re so old they mostly run in safe mode these days when they work at all. Thinking about how casually I used to buy new electronics got me to thinking about all the things I used to take for granted before unwillingly joining the vast numbers of hard-working poor in the richest country on earth.
I have not bought a new suit or sports jacket in four years. Same for shoes of any kind. I haven’t eaten out at anything beyond Jack-in-the-box except when a friend took me somewhere else slightly better. A “date” for me means renting a movie, maybe cooking a brisket if we can afford it, and sitting at home with Workout Girl — I’m really lucky to have found her, she’s obviously not using me for my money! Any kind of hobby beyond hacky-sack that requires new equipment of any sort is impossible. All the fun things I used to do, skydiving, rock climbing, simply hiking new areas and checking the geology and zoology, that’s not even on the horizon. That’s without kids, how some single moms or single dads do it is beyond me. I know for a fact some of them sell pot or other drugs on the side and I personally know a few ladies (And one guy) who have gone out with and in some cases even slept with better off men they normally wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole to help make ends meet.
I haven’t been on any kind of vacation since 2009, unless you count sitting at home not having to work for a few days as such. I haven’t had a full week off in three years, the closest I came was five days straight and that was in a hospital with a broken back and a collapsed lung. That one “vacation” meant getting dragged into a room where my team manager read out a written warning stating in part my behavior was not worthy of a technical support agent at Company X and would result in negative reviews, a big reduction of my year-end Christmas bonus, and any further absences could lead to termination.
The next day, after being forced to check out early and be back at work thanks to our attendence policy despite doctor’s strict orders, I went into respiratory distress and had to go to the ER, where the docs told me that some people who ignore the symptoms and underlying complication I had end up with a six-week round of viral pneumonia and some end up dead on the couch. Not long after that I passed out at my workstation when the broken edges of a slowly healing fracture moved the wrong way sending a jolt of pain up my traumatized spine that exploded in my head so intense I mercifully fainted. This created a heads-I-lose tails-they-win scenario where I wasn’t allowed to stay but would be punished with the full force of missing the day if I left. Between the two complications I was now firmly into final double secret written warning probation where I would probably be fired if I missed so much as five more minutes (I showed up an hour early for months). It alarmed me so much I hired a lawyer, but we never had to go to court, after throwing a fit and pointing out the cold-blooded nature and likely PR nightmare that would ensue if I really got fired and/or had my holiday bonus docked for life threatening injuries requiring emergency ER intervention, a sympathetic manager went to war with HR and eventually got the warning not rescinded, but it was reduced.
None of this is unique for me or my employer: this is life day in day out for the working poor in this country. Always on the edge financially and professionally, always one illness or one flat tire away from stern warnings and pay reductions, always juggling health bills and power bills and cable bills, all of which have resulted in hits on my once decent credit and all of which have been cut off at one time or another when I couldn’t keep them all in the air. That’s how the working poor live, if you can call it living, the difference is there are tens of millions of us who are new to it and we’re growing. Most of my working poor colleagues get around it by living with their parents, or being married and splitting costs. But a bunch of us don’t have those luxuries and we just struggle on every week to stay fed and clothed and sheltered with the grim hope that somehow, things might get better. There are armies of us, legions, and it cracks me up to hear the clueless GOP talking heads whining about how they have to figure out a better way to reach us with the message of tax cuts for billionaires and deregulation on energy companies.
For me and millions like me, Christmas time brings back fond childhood memories and nostalgia for the better times in our adult lives, we want to join in, we want to be part of it! But those feelings are over shadowed by the uneasy shame of not being able to get our loved ones a nice gift. We can maybe pick one person, two at the most, and maybe save up, shave off twenty bucks here and there for two or three months, and buy them something they’ll value while risking others feeling left out or unimportant. Or we can fess up for the third goddamn season in a row and tell our mom and dad and siblings and cousins and nephews and nieces just how terrible things still are for us, and hey, can my gift be a c-note so I can cover the copay for a root canal and a gaping cavity filling I’ve been putting off for a year? Not exactly the holiday cheer they want or need to hear. Maybe it’s better and easier to not show up at all, better to just tell a little white lie that you volunteered for OT on Christmas Day. Better to sit at home alone and watch reruns of Its a Wonderful Life and dream of brighter futures and better holidays ahead.
Without a union to represent us as a single entity, we have no leverage at all. Without lobbies to stick up for us we have precious little in the way of political representation. Management can do what they want any time they want. EG: the number of tech tickets we do per hour and the other scores associated with them have been raised three times in two years with no increase in comp. When a manager comes to you and explains that you and your worker bee buddies now have to make 10 widgets an hour instead of eight, what they’re actually doing is demoting you, it’s an anti-raise. And if any manager doesn’t get that, imagine we employers came to them and explained that we were planning on making the same number of widgets an hour but expecting a twenty percent pay increase for doing it. Does that drive it home?
All that being said, there is some good meta. I did a get call back of sorts last night, completely unexpected given the holiday nature of the entire week. For a contract new media job I can probably ease into while still working where I do. And it’s a science-industry field, a dream job of sorts for me, that could lead to something more permament that could pay a living wage. And by this point folks, a living wage to me is anything over 36k a year. That’s how far my expectations have fallen.