Let’s play good meta bad meta

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.


  1. says

    Congrats on the job prospects.

    I wonder what a visit from a union organizer would do around your company?

    Your present work situation is precisely what unions were made for. I know the pendulum has swung HARD in the non-union direction, but seriously, unions protect workers.

    Said as a former IBEW member for one brief moment back when Jesus rode dinosaurs.

  2. yellowsubmarine says

    Yep I totally relate to that, except one of my jobs is unioned and we still don’t make a living wage. Three jobs between me and my husband, no kids, and our situation pretty perfectly mirrors yours. I even have the missing tooth where the root canal was put off for too long. GOOD LUCK WITH THAT INTERVIEW THOUGH! Seriously!! In the meantime, suffer well, brother.

  3. geocatherder says

    Good luck with the job prospect. If you need references, you can point to all those of your readers on your blog (like me) who think you write damn well!

  4. neilt says

    I can understand your frustration, and to be honest, in your situation I would be mad as hell. I hope you don’t mind if I commiserate a bit. I never comment here, but I have been reading your stuff since you did some writing at UTI a few years back. ( I really miss that blog, but glad you’re here).

    This post, and your previous post about your old tactic of simply outworking everyone resonated with me. I’ll admit, unlike you I have no real valuable skills to speak of. Well, I have decent math skills, writing skills (when I try), I can do the books for a small business, I am great with customers, great on the phone, a decent cook, I can work my ass off all day, and I can learn just about anything, if any jobs included training anymore. Which all put together means no valuable skills. I dropped out of college because I was paying ridiculous money to get four-year degree, and with a year or two more schooling and training and non-payed work after that, I would have been qualified to be a middle-school English teacher and not much else.
    It was the only degree I could even hope to afford, and damn near useless. I simply could not afford anything useful in the sciences, and I had no background in computers or most tech…my broke-ass schools simply didn’t have any of that in the 80’s, and I never owned a computer until almost 2000. I would also had to have moved to a big city or a rural farm town just to get a crappy $30,000 teaching job, and benefits that now decrease almost every year, and no job security at all. It’s a shame. I’ve been told I would make a great teacher by a lot of my teachers.

    So for years, my strategy was simply get the best-paying job I could talk my way into, and work my ass off. I never starved or went homeless. I’ve never even been fired for cause. Over the last twenty years, I have had a full-time job and a part-time job as often as not. I have never been able to afford an expensive hobby, or nice clothes, or eating out more than once a month or two, or even a car most of those years. Five years ago I got a small dog, which is the most extravagant thing I’ve ever done as an adult. My last vacation was when my girlfriend and I gave up our apartment lease so we could go to Woodstock ’99. Even back when I was in a couple of bands, I played a $350 bass through a used amp, which took me almost a year to get together. I still have them both.

    I’m not greedy, or even particularly ambitious honestly. But I can’t help but notice that my parents had to work every bit as hard as my grandparents, and have more job skills, just to raise two kids, when my grandparents raised seven each. And that I have to work just as hard as my parents did, just to rent a tiny apartment and live like a hermit. I would rather live like a real hermit, but who can afford land in a place where food will grow?

    Our national economic paranoia seems to have resulted in pretty much all businesses simply taking what they can get while they can, and doing everything they can to suppress wages and keep the labor pool desperate. No more company softball games…these days union-busting and benefit target practice are the only sports allowed. No job training of any kind…you HAVE to pay a school for that, probably ten times what it should cost, and likely with no financial aid except maybe a financial rape-loan that you might get paid off before retirement. I haven’t had health insurance since my first and only union job, 20 years ago. I was honestly no worse off making $4.50 per hour when I was twenty, than I am now making $11 plus some overtime. Between 150% rent inflation and the cost of a vehicle, I was actually better off in some ways.

    I’m sure that many “conservatives” would tell me my economic woes are all my own fault, and to some degree they are right…after all, If I had just done four more years of 100+ hour weeks in college, I could be making a whole $5000-$10,000 more per year than I do now! If I was still working at Food4Less in Bakersfield (and they hadn’t found an excuse to fire me, as they and most other chains routinely do to long-time, higher-wage employees), I might be making $16 or $17 dollars per hour and have a bad back already, instead of having an $11 desk job at a non-profit. I still couldn’t really afford to buy a house, or have kids, or take vacations (maybe, if a vacation was ALL I did). The simple fact is, in most of the country, there is just no way to “work your way up” anymore in almost any industry. “Those” jobs are simply off-limits to anyone not born in the club, or able to afford the right (mostly bullshit) degree, and the truly useful skills and degrees take years and money that most people just don’t have to spare.

    The costs of opening almost ANY traditional business, even as simple as a hot dog cart or a neighborhood market, are astronomical. And it’s NOT regulations or taxes or Obamacare, for the most part…it’s simply the fact that wages have fallen way behind inflation so nobody can save enough money to risk a business, large corporations have a huge market share in EVERYTHING and can thus get away without having to pay competitive wages for any job, and commercial rents in pretty much all desirable or useful locations are through the roof and have been for years, even during our recent real-estate crash.

    When the real estate market crashed, I was honestly hoping for a complete crash and depression. That was the only thing that could get property values in Cali back in line with what people can pay, and eventually make some small businesses viable again for working-class people, even if it was painful for a few years. But no….we must save all those poor banks, and make sure they get all their houses back unspoiled, while not even checking to make sure that our new flood of homeless were actually legally foreclosed on. I can’t even benefit from my own hard work, OR the systemic economic losses of others that could have leveled the field a bit. All I got was a $50 raise in my rent, since there are so many ex-homeowners looking to rent now.

    So another fucking holiday season comes around. This year, if I can squeeze out an extra few percent of my paychecks, I might be able to afford a few cheap gifts for a few of my family members. Maybe $150 at most, to spend between 9 people I’d like to get gifts for. The holidays have been mostly just an exercise in internalized shame for me, with a few good years excepted. I haven’t gone home for christmas in ten years. It’s not that my family judges me…they’re awesome. The last few years I’ve strongly hinted that nobody needs to send me anything, just because I fucking hate the feeling of other people’s generosity being directed at me when I know I have nothing to give in return, no matter how much love it’s sent with. My psyche must be a robber baron’s wet dream.

    Sorry to go on so long. I fucking hate the feeling of my own whining. I just saw so much of my own life in your post I had to get it out. You’ve earned better, and you deserve better. Certainly more than a dollar an hour more than I make(although your benefits would be nice, I’m healthy but not getting any younger). Best of luck to you, keep your chin up, and keep up the good blogging.

  5. F says

    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

    This is about where I have visions of beating such assholes about the head and neck with a small moon. It is ridiculous, unconscionable, unethical, evil policy and behavior. And I’ve seen it too many times. (Yeah, I know it is a violent-sounding fantasy, but what would you call what employers do?)

    Best wishes with your new potential income source (and maybe some job gratification).

  6. anne mariehovgaard says

    This just seems so bizarre to me as a Norwegian, living in a country with heavily subsidized health care (I pay max $350 a year for doctor’s visits and meds + travel expenses; inpatient hospital treatment is free) and where you can’t be fired for missing work because you’re sick until you’ve been on sick leave for a year… “Worker’s rights” really seems to be a completely foreign concept to USAmericans. I realize we’re exceptionally lucky over here in this quiet, wealthy corner of the world, but what you’re describing… it’s as impossible to understand as if you’d told me you were chained to your desk and had to pee in the corner.

  7. loreo says

    And y’all know about the new angle for underpaying labor, the “independent contractor” gig.

    Myself, my wife, and most of my friends here in California are independent contractors. No insurance, no paid leave, no union representation, no security. And this situation was a step up for all of us. My job will be gone in two years. That’s the end of the contract. And even that is assuming that my “last hired” ass won’t be “first fired” if a budget crunch comes around.

    I keep thinking about all the talent being wasted across this nation – so many people in dead end jobs, just to make ends meet. And I think about the boom that would occur if all these families had even an extra $200 a month. That would go right into the economy, people could start businesses, replace unsafe cars, get education, maybe that would be enough margin to move somewhere new.

  8. loreo says

    Bill Maher pointed out that the “[US]American worker works scared”. It’s a constant struggle, wondering if your hours will be cut because you insist on taking the lunch break owed to you when all your coworkers work through it.

    The threat of being fired is constant.


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