"No one wants to hear about how tough it is."
October 7, 2012 7:05 PM   Subscribe

This summer, Gawker began soliciting and publishing a weekly series of first person essays submitted by their readers: "True Stories." They include ten stories (to date) from struggling, unemployed Americans: Hello from the Underclass. (Those who dislike Gawker's interface can find direct links to individual essays within.) posted by zarq (20 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
Every year, unions and workers' rights get weaker, while more and more jobs get automated and the population rises. I'm not any kind of expert, but I honestly don't see how high levels of unemployment are not here to stay for the foreseeable future.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:41 PM on October 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Capital not only lives upon labour. Like a master, at once distinguished and barbarous, it drags with it into its grave the corpses of its slaves, whole hecatombs of workers, who perish in the crises. - Marx
posted by phrontist at 8:15 PM on October 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Great post, although some of the essays tend to run on a bit and are hard to follow.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:47 PM on October 7, 2012

It did bring me back to my own shitcanning, which happened in November 2009, though.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:48 PM on October 7, 2012

As a current college student I was oddly pleased to read the "Three Majors and No Job" story of section ten. I already know that being an English major puts me at a disadvantage in life, but it's kind of vindicating to know that the multi- (humanities) majored people to whom I've constantly felt inferior will be at a similar loss after graduation.
posted by jeudi at 9:00 PM on October 7, 2012

The unemployment stories always give me panic attacks to read. I almost never open them any more.
posted by availablelight at 9:10 PM on October 7, 2012 [6 favorites]

They make me feel panicky, too.

I thought that this comment on the second collection was thoughtful and good:

I am ashamed to say that whenever I come across unemployment stories like this, my first instinct is to try and find a way to blame the unemployed person - what did they do "wrong" that I can do "right"? I've come to realize that is because I am so scared of this happening to me and my family that I have to convince myself that it's totally in my control - which it is not. I've been lucky so far that all of my "risky" career-based decisions have panned out, but that could change in a heartbeat. Good luck to all of you.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 9:13 PM on October 7, 2012 [13 favorites]

With the anniversary of my recession-era layoff being today, these hit me deeply.

A year later, I'm 8 months into a dream job that pays a bit more, has better benefits, way more self-direction, and that I seriously love getting up and doing every day. My layoff was, in retrospect, one of the best and luckiest things that ever happened to me.

Yet, it still affects me to this day. I have totally irrational bouts of fear and stress about being fired from my current job on a very regular basis. How irrational are they though, really? I worked at my last job for more than seven years, and I did a good job, the company was doing better every day, and had no reason to think I'd be let go until I was, with no notice or warning. Even though I am absolutely better off now, it fucked me up in a way that I still haven't quite gotten over.
posted by rollbiz at 9:14 PM on October 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I read a couple of these before realizing that they're terribly unhealthy for me to read.

I'm a few months a way from a total reboot of my professional life, no idea what's going to happen or how I'm going to land on my feet, and this stuff is a super-express ticket to suicidal ideationville.
posted by Sokka shot first at 9:17 PM on October 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hell, I could've written one of these. I've been in Austin a little over a year and it's the longest I've been in one place since 2007, locationwise. I've managed to hang onto a freelance but full-time gig for a full year, which is also the longest I've worked on a single project/job since 2007. I've been laid off (or quit ahead of layoffs) 5 times in that span. Just a month ago, we took the liberty of buying a piece of furniture, which is the first time we've done that since 2007 aside from the very basics (shelves, TV stand, bed, desks, chairs). I am perversely proud of finally having a couch.

And I'm one of the fortunate ones, because I had enough contacts and history to spin up a freelance gig, and even that took a year of effort and work to get to the point where it currently supports us after Layoff #5. I still work 80-100 hours a week, between the 40 for the FT/freelance contract gig and the rest for all my freelance gigs I keep up because you never know. I'd love to take weekends and vacations and all that and really relax...but you never know.

I'm currently working on some plans to pick up certifications and other education for alternate jobs/careers for when this inevitably falls through. People tell me I'm paranoid and pessimistic. I've been laid off 5 times. What do you expect? And like I said, I'm one of the lucky ones.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:30 PM on October 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I can't read these either. I feel suicidal just looking at the titles.

"I'm a few months a way from a total reboot of my professional life, no idea what's going to happen or how I'm going to land on my feet, and this stuff is a super-express ticket to suicidal ideationville."

Every time I ponder doing a reboot of my professional life, I start thinking, "oh god, I can't do that, I will end up homeless, raped on the street and dead if I try to shoot for anything else."
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:46 PM on October 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Watching Bill O'Reilly and Jon Stewart debate the other night highlighted a crucial point.

Similar to whenever I discuss politics with my father, as much as we are bitterly opposed to the other's viewpoint, we still sometimes stop in gobsmacked awe to reflect on what the fuck happened to America. Neither of us has absolutely no idea how, or when, things are going to return to a workable level of normalcy. We both have different theories as to how it got this way, but that's another rant.

Reading these stories is heartbreaking and absolutely terrifying. This is not the life I thought I would be living ten or even five years ago, but after a few of these articles my concern has gone from the fear of hitting bottom to the nauseating, delirious fear that there is no bottom to hit.

My generation's greatest fear was that we would live unfulfilled lives of boring suburbanites, and it turns out the greatest threat was actually debt slavery and chronic unemployment.

If someone had informed me five years ago... that in three years I was going to apply for a third $7/HR part time job rolling barrels of oil in a warehouse and get shot down I would have laughed hysterically, because that would have been pretty funny due to how far it was outside the boundaries of plausibility. But that's my life now.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 10:36 PM on October 7, 2012 [17 favorites]

I've seen these around, and I've been too chickenshit to look. Mrs. Ghidorah and I are both employed, we have a decent life, but both of us have jobs that drain us, and leave us unable to actually do anything more than grab takeout and fall asleep in front of the tv.

Both of us would love to look for something else, but there's nothing out there (for me, in teaching in Japan, there's nothing I can do that isn't a step back, for her, in her late thirties, there's no way she could find full-time employment in Japan at her age).

Both of our employers know this reality, and they're using it to strip away things that made our jobs worth it. Every year, every new contract, my school takes away more from our contracts. Every year, her company cuts bonuses, makes the job harder for married workers. It's crushing us, but we've got nothing else, and the thing is, we're fully employed. We have to count ourselves lucky.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:51 AM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I read these less as stories of unemployment and more as an indictment of our paltry safety net. With strong enough safety nets (both public and familial), unemployment would be a lot less terrifying to contemplate. At least in the US (and from the articles I read, increasingly in Europe, though less so than here) we seem to be at a nadir of workers' rights in the last eighty years or so, and weakening the safety net is an integral part of that.
posted by Forktine at 6:16 AM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

These are hard to read, coming off of a couple of years of under/unemployment. I've been working steadily for nearly two years and it's still a reality I am glad to have survived, but I can't help but think that within a short time it could happen again.

Given my industry and lack of degree, it probably will. Then again, I don't have a student loan albatross, either.

posted by tilde at 7:19 AM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

That comment that thehmsbeagle reposted resonates a lot for me.

I spent an afternoon a couple weeks back hanging out with a friend, working on job hunting and commiserating about the lousy state of the market. Last week, she told me that she'd finally gotten a second part-time gig. Just as a barista, no set hours, but another gig nonetheless.

I'm ashamed to admit that the first thing I felt wasn't happiness for her but seething jealousy. We're both mid 20-somethings with liberal arts degrees and a history of being laid off from retail jobs-what made her different? What am I doing wrong?

Really though, the important question isn't why my friend got a part-time barista gig and I didn't. The important question is why we're all scrambling for what few part-time poorly paid barista gigs exist.

I am 25 and have never made over 12 dollars an hour from a non under-the-table job. I am locked in this competition with my friends for jobs that make even less. Something's wrong here.
posted by ActionPopulated at 8:39 AM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Don't Think of Elephants

Don't walk on them either.
posted by homunculus at 9:48 AM on October 8, 2012

KokuRyu: "Great post, although some of the essays tend to run on a bit and are hard to follow."

Thanks. I agree about the writing. The quality really varies. I actually didn't include two essays in this post that I thought were way too self-promotional to their authors, but I almost skipped the Origins of a Murder piece, too. Couldn't stand the way it was written -- it needed an editor's attention to shrink it down and focus it.

I actually didn't expect so many people here to say the unemployment essays made them feel panicky. For some reason, I thought I was the only one who felt that way.
posted by zarq at 12:26 PM on October 8, 2012

These all make me feel pretty panicky, too. I'm fortunate to have a job, and it's one in which I feel pretty secure, but as these stories (and as the mefites who commented above) point out, unemployment can happen to anyone at any time.

My friend just lost his job, and it makes me feel paranoid. For me, it's been like those scenes in a war movie when the soldier and his buddy are in the front lines, and ffffftttt the enemy sniper's bullet zips right by the soldier and buries itself in the buddy's chest, and the soldier just stands there and gapes. Just like that, losing your job can happen to anyone, and it can seem just as senseless.

They say there are no atheists in foxholes. There may not be too many in cubicles, either.
posted by math at 6:47 PM on October 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

The few that I could read are so full of the catch 22s facing so many of us. We need health care, but our ailments prevent us from getting jobs that have health insurance. We crave schedules and contact and meaningful activity, but we have only the want ads, the cold phone and avoiding the desperation of emailing resumes at 2am.

The constant refrain of "you're just not trying hard enough" is so wearing. More so when combined with "have you tried....fast food?" Especially when it comes from people who love you. Because yes, I have tried fast food. I have tried offices. I have tried papering the town with resumes via bus and with terrible pain. But I get it. I get that the fear of falling into this pit of helplessness is paralyzing. And I get that for people who are very secure in outright home ownership, nepotism lining up their future jobs, and enormous Wall Street Bank Accounts, the idea that "they build this" leads them to wonder what is stopping the rest of us from building our own. Well. Frankly, it's kind of like the guy with a 160 IQ wondering why everyone around him "can't just figure it out." DUDE. It's because they don't have the same set of tools you have. And someone handed you the score sheet before you had to sit for the exam!

And the example Michelle Obama gave of her grandfather during the convention was especially painful to me, I had to pause it and cry. I doubt that kind of determination sees much reward these days. My heart breaks. Our society truly becomes more and more weighed down by ableism. If you have a sea of applicants, you feel like you can be picky and wait for the prettiest, smartest, ivy degree holding, strong legged demi-god.

All your employees can be above average, and all your managers can be good looking. Or something.
posted by bilabial at 4:44 PM on October 9, 2012

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