Coloured by Regional Grammar
February 20, 2017 5:54 AM   Subscribe

Because of where the structurally unemployed live, what they’ve done, or the skills they lack, employers can’t or won’t hire them. The problems that keep today's jobless stuck on the sidelines are different than those of past recoveries: a complex web of often interrelated issues from disability and drug use to criminal records.
Jeanna Smialek and Patricia Laya, The New Face of American Unemployment, Bloomberg (7 February 2017).

Further commentary on the story from Naked Capitalism:
When you read the stories carefully, they actually depict two overarching problems: discrimination and the far-ranging impact of the opioid epidemic.

...

The bigger point is that neoliberalism treats individuals as able to make their own way, when people are products of their families and communities. And we have entire sections of the country being laid waste by the combination of economic distress, poor education, weak social safety nets, and despair. And regulatory neglect made a bad situation vastly worse.
Meanwhile:
The richest newcomer to Forbes 2015 list of America’s Richest Families comes in at a stunning $14 billion. The Sackler family, which owns Stamford, Conn.-based Purdue Pharma, flew under the radar when Forbes launched its initial list of wealthiest families in July 2014, but this year they crack the top-20, edging out storied families like the Busches, Mellons and Rockefellers. How did the Sacklers build the 16th-largest fortune in the country? The short answer: making the most popular and controversial opioid of the 21st century — OxyContin.
Alex Morrell, The OxyContin Clan: The $14 Billion Newcomer to Forbes 2015 List of Richest U.S. Families, Forbes Magazine (1 July 2015).
posted by Sonny Jim (80 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
 
Years ago, he spoke on local radio news about the shortage of skilled workers, bringing a line of 100 job seekers to his gravel parking lot.

“Two-thirds of people who came in to interview failed the drug test,” Pfeifer says, shaking his head. The company had to pay to test the applicants, so “it got to be a very expensive radio show.”


Perhaps they should try hiring only people who never drink alcohol next time, see how that goes.

This is ridiculous - if someone comes to work high, fire them. Done and done. Maybe drug testing is warranted for people who drive trains or something like that. But I recall many years ago, waiting in line at a Blockbuster video and they had a big sign assuring me that they run a drug-free shop. Good! Wouldn't want to take a risk on the guy checking out my VHS of "Captain Ron" having smoked a doobie at the Pink Floyd laser show last weekend.
posted by thelonius at 6:14 AM on February 20, 2017 [71 favorites]


There are a lot of jobs (like Blockbuster) where drug testing is stupid. But a steel mill, as the article says, presents some serious safety and production issues; that is not a place where I'd want the person next to me to be stoned.

It is an interesting article and covered quite a few of the intersectional issues. I don't know what the answers are, other than admitting that what we are doing is not working for many people.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:29 AM on February 20, 2017 [12 favorites]


that is not a place where I'd want the person next to me to be stoned.

And yet, as thelonius alluded to, the company seems to trust the person next to you not to be drunk without making them prove that they are never drunk.
posted by Etrigan at 6:31 AM on February 20, 2017 [69 favorites]


In my experience, it's not the employers that drive the policy, but the actuaries.
posted by jenkinsEar at 6:34 AM on February 20, 2017 [5 favorites]


I've had to be drug tested for employment as a software engineer for four of the six jobs that I've had in the last two decades. It's all such theater since it only proves that I was drug free at the time I was hired.
posted by octothorpe at 6:34 AM on February 20, 2017 [7 favorites]


I'm a data scientist. I had to go pee in a cup as part of a background check for my current job. (To be fair, I do work for a company where a lot of people do deal with heavy machinery...)

And for some perplexing reason the collection site only accepted drug test samples between something like 10 AM and 3 PM, despite being open much earlier in the morning for non-drug-test collection. And I had a job at the time. Fortunately nobody noticed when I disappeared for an hour in the middle of the day, but that's one more hoop to make people jump through.
posted by madcaptenor at 6:54 AM on February 20, 2017 [5 favorites]


My husband, a white collar professional, has had to do piss tests multiple times for various jobs over the years.

I never once have ever because I work in the education sector and that seems to be just Not Done. I suspect because they'd never get anyone actually hired and these kids are not going to teach themselves.

I'm entirely opposed to drug tests for employment, but they are definitely not limited to blue collar work.
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:02 AM on February 20, 2017 [9 favorites]


Madcaptenor, that's because many collection centers also collect for courts. I am sentenced to random drug/alcohol screens. They randomly select colors each morning. I have two assigned colors, one for drug screen and another for a breathalyzer. I call daily to see if one or both are up for that day. If so, I have to be at the test center sometime between 6:30 and 9 am. If I miss that slot, I have to return between 4 and 6 pm. If I am late for the 9 am test, it's a probation violation and I get sanctioned.
I imagine they don't want corporate tests occurring at the same time as the criminal tests.
posted by disclaimer at 7:06 AM on February 20, 2017 [10 favorites]


I'm apparently going to be required to do the drug test to get hired on at my current place of employment, and I can't help but think that what this provides, aside from assurance that I wasn't taking drugs that particular day, is potentially a list of prescriptions that I need to take for chronic physical or mental health issues. I had a temp agency that made me take a drug test once, after I'd already interviewed with the place that wanted me, because they were on a short timetable. When that job fell through--not due to anything on my end, the company literally shut down because the owner died suddenly and there was no succession plan? I mean, the client had loved me. But that agency took two years to call me again about another opportunity, and it was a much lower-level position than the one they'd originally placed me in.

Temp agencies form a pretty big part of the job market for lower-level employees, now, and it's super easy to get... maybe not blacklisted, but at least graylisted--moved to the bottom of the list because someone perceives you as undesirable. I feel like at that level, a lot of the hoops they make you jump through are not so much things they expect to make you a terrible data entry clerk or construction accountant or whatever; they're just things that allow them to prioritize their list of available-to-work people. I was fortunate to actually still be in school at the time, and when I got out of school, I was a tax accountant and it was January. Nobody cared about drug screenings.

When unemployment's very low, nobody cares about whether you smoke pot, or even worse, as long as you show up able to work. When they've got a lot of people to choose from, suddenly it matters, suddenly your criminal history matters, suddenly they're looking for any excuse to trim that pool down. If the labor was desperately needed, these companies would find a way to get the labor force fit to work. Pretty sure the only reason that software engineers get forced to go through it is to allow the company to justify using that same screen for, say, the customer service reps and maintenance workers.
posted by Sequence at 7:11 AM on February 20, 2017 [15 favorites]


Pretty sure the only reason that software engineers get forced to go through it is to allow the company to justify using that same screen for, say, the customer service reps and maintenance workers

Another reason is if the company has (or wants) government contracts, I think.
posted by thelonius at 7:31 AM on February 20, 2017 [4 favorites]


Here in WI you can't even get unemployment benefits without passing a drug test.
posted by AFABulous at 7:33 AM on February 20, 2017 [3 favorites]


It was interesting that 4 of 5 of the people in this article are white. I wonder if the writer did that purposely as a rebuttal to the racist belief that it's mostly non-whites who can't/won't work and "leech" off government benefits.
posted by AFABulous at 7:40 AM on February 20, 2017 [5 favorites]


I work for a hospital system so as an engineer I have to follow all the same government regulations as doctors, nurses, etc. I even have to take tests every year to prove that I know how to wash my hands, dispose of sharps and drag patients to safety during an emergency. This despite the fact that I've never work in clinical situations and never come within two miles of a patient.
posted by octothorpe at 7:47 AM on February 20, 2017 [4 favorites]


As someone with contact with children (classroom teacher, fencing referee, and student practicum coach), I have to have four clearances every year (fingerprint, rap sheet, child abuse, TB) and undergo training every year. This year I went through four different online child abuse trainings for for different employers (I retired from one job, I referee, and I took a couple of part time jobs) (now that's an industry).

The only thing I ever took a drug test for was working in a convenience store over forty years ago. I'd say it's more important to test teachers for drugs.
posted by Peach at 7:53 AM on February 20, 2017 [1 favorite]


Before this thread entirely becomes "I too once had to take a drug test" - what is to be done with the folks in this article? Stop drug testing for jobs? I don't know if it should be an automatic disqualifier, but I've worked with drug users (in non-dangerous occupations) and wow, I'd really prefer not to if there were someone otherwise equally qualified.
posted by AFABulous at 8:03 AM on February 20, 2017 [8 favorites]


I've worked with drug users (in non-dangerous occupations) and wow, I'd really prefer not to if there were someone otherwise equally qualified.

Odds are you've worked with far more "drug users" than you think you have. There really do exist people who use drugs (especially marijuana) like other people use alcohol -- they have a smoke or two after they get home from work, and then they stop and go to bed and wake up in the morning and take a shower and have breakfast and go to work, and no one notices.

Are there people who use drugs in a dangerous manner and should be sanctioned for it if they do so in a way that endangers their co-workers or just makes them less effective at their jobs? Sure. There are also people who use alcohol and tobacco in a dangerous manner and should be sanctioned for it etc. There are people who use physical exercise in a dangerous manner and should be sanctioned for it etc. But drugs are the one that we test for beforehand, because the War On Them has conditioned us all to believe that anyone who smokes a blunt is basically like one bad morning away from plowing their luggage cart through a terminal.
posted by Etrigan at 8:12 AM on February 20, 2017 [31 favorites]


I also think that if we're going to use drug use as a way to deny people employment, we might also want to think about providing effective drug treatment for way, way more people than are currently able to access these services. Oooor we could just stop thinking that "used drugs at some point in the past week (or in the case of MJ, in the past month+)" is any kind of proxy for "employable."
posted by soren_lorensen at 8:17 AM on February 20, 2017 [19 favorites]


this is killing me - we have people who are being excluded from employment because of location, age and disability and all you guys can do is complain about drug testing

(why the left is out of tune with working people, part 3345)
posted by pyramid termite at 8:19 AM on February 20, 2017 [30 favorites]


Before this thread entirely becomes "I too once had to take a drug test" - what is to be done with the folks in this article? Stop drug testing for jobs? I don't know if it should be an automatic disqualifier, but I've worked with drug users (in non-dangerous occupations) and wow, I'd really prefer not to if there were someone otherwise equally qualified.

So don't be anecdotal that way, but this way?

Public safety guards I understand, but much the insurance lobby declare is specious and given the irrationality of so many people on this topic, I'm not so sure FORCING the materialistically obsessed and addicted to power types to smoke a joint would make the world a worse place.

I vaguely remember teacher unions having some cases upheld in terms of privacy and workplace scrutiny-- the gist being a professional with addiction issues would be apparent.
posted by lazycomputerkids at 8:20 AM on February 20, 2017 [2 favorites]


They're failing pre-employment drug tests, not random on-the-job tests. If they can't abstain for long enough to pass the test before they've even started that's probably a strong hint they won't abstain during working hours. In our litigious society the unwillingness of companies to take a chance on a worker who might cause an incident is understandable, even if you think it's unfortunate.
posted by tommasz at 8:40 AM on February 20, 2017 [11 favorites]


For me, hiring somebody for outdoor work was a pain, making me spend more time in the office. So every time I had an opening, I'ld make the trek to HR to remind them to filter for farm kids and ex-military irregardless of arrests or educational background and no football players. I would actively forget noticing one hitters or pipes of anyone smart enough to get clean for a preemployment piss test.

tl,dr. I was part of the problem because l wanted to get back to making the company money so I didn't get fired.
posted by ridgerunner at 8:42 AM on February 20, 2017 [3 favorites]


If they can't abstain for long enough to pass the test before they've even started that's probably a strong hint they won't abstain during working hours.

Yeah, I'm fine with not rewarding bad decisions. Addicts should be able to get treatment, but the casual pot smoker that can't even quit while job seeking? How does that show you're responsible enough to do the work?
posted by AFABulous at 8:52 AM on February 20, 2017


I had accumulated over 25 years of IT career experience before the first time I was required to go through a pre-employment drug test (I still work there, so it remains my one and only time). It was especially galling for me: on top of the inconvenience and awkwardness inherent in the process I was clearly a proven solid employee, so why the hell should I have to go through this BS? I wasn't concerned about the outcome, I knew I would pass just fine, but that just made it even more annoying.

I don't have any answers to this issue, just providing another data point that it needs fixing somehow.
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:53 AM on February 20, 2017 [1 favorite]


Years ago, he spoke on local radio news about the shortage of skilled workers...

And no one has the temerity to suggest said business owner train people for the jobs! You want someone to run some particular piece of equipment? Train them on it.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:55 AM on February 20, 2017 [26 favorites]


Did you guys read the article? This is a steel mill testing for heroin and opiates to ensure safety in the plant. This is a totally different scenario than Blockbuster in the '90s testing to see if you smoked a doob before you let someone rent Mrs. Doubtfire, or that time they wanted to see if you noshed on some sativa before you got your database admin job.

From the article: “With booze, we could tell it right away; with heroin and whatnot, you can’t,” Pfeifer says. [...] “They present a safety problem to everyone,” Pfeifer said. “We need people in here who are good, they’re alert.”

Thorzdad: And no one has the temerity to suggest said business owner train people for the jobs! You want someone to run some particular piece of equipment? Train them on it.

From the article: “We’ll just about hire anybody that we can get our hands on if the person comes in drug-free and they show up for work on time.”

The guy who just wants his workers to be sober from opiates working with heavy machinery is not the villain here.
posted by I EAT TAPAS at 9:09 AM on February 20, 2017 [32 favorites]


this is killing me - we have people who are being excluded from employment because of location, age and disability and all you guys can do is complain about drug testing

While all you can do is complain about what other people are complaining about. Mote, beam, etc.
posted by Etrigan at 9:24 AM on February 20, 2017 [7 favorites]


what is to be done with the folks in this article?

A lot of it is stuff that we've talked about before. We need a stronger financial safety net that will help lift most of the people in the article to the point they don't have to chose between buying gas to get to a job interview and eating. That, to an extent, will help reduce some of the misery that leads to getting hooked on harder drugs and desperation that leads to petty crimes. We need a sane drug policy that doesn't make things like getting caught using pot a life sentence of bad employment prospects (especially if you're less than middle class) and that focuses on trying to get addicts of harder drugs help rather than punishment. We need a criminal justice and jail/prison system that focuses on rehabilitation rather than punishment. We need a better education system that can help prepare both the young and not young for the changing job market.

Automation is going to continue to eat jobs, it just is, and as a culture there's going to have to be shifts to deal with that.
posted by Candleman at 9:58 AM on February 20, 2017 [12 favorites]



Did you guys read the article? This is a steel mill testing for heroin and opiates to ensure safety in the plant. This is a totally different scenario than Blockbuster in the '90s testing to see if you smoked a doob before you let someone rent Mrs. Doubtfire, or that time they wanted to see if you noshed on some sativa before you got your database admin job


Yeah, but the first story is talking about a guy who lost a menial job for drug use. Not sure exactly, but they made it sound like he was flipping burgers. So I'm guessing that's what people are reacting to, more than the steel mill/opiate sitch. And I'm guessing it hits a chord with us because I'm sure a high (heh) percentage of us have smoked that doobie at some point and don't think we should have been fired for it if it wasn't on work hours and didn't affect job performance. But the threat of job loss, incarceration, and having your life upturned is always there, unlike alcohol.

this is killing me - we have people who are being excluded from employment because of location, age and disability and all you guys can do is complain about drug testing


You have an article that lists a few different problems, and one of those problems affects more of us on this board directly, and you're surprised we're talking about that one?
posted by greermahoney at 10:09 AM on February 20, 2017 [4 favorites]


I have thought about this a lot because I'm from the ruralish South and these people are my people and their plight could have been mine but for my luck in my family of origin. The rural southeastern US contains many towns that were once factory towns and then the factory closed and now they are just nowhere towns. I am fully in favor of placing call centers and other types of low skill technology work in those towns to try to preserve "their way of life" as much as possible. My spouse thinks that white rural America should suck it up and move to places where there are jobs, like everyone else does. We talk about this a lot as we drive past these tiny desolate towns going from one fun, interesting, diverse southern city to another.
posted by hydropsyche at 10:21 AM on February 20, 2017 [11 favorites]


And, as I've noted in previous threads, part of the problem is that some of the regions worst hit by the decline in the job market and the drug epidemics is that they are often the same ones consistently electing representatives in their state and national governments that fight against the things that would help.
posted by Candleman at 10:29 AM on February 20, 2017 [33 favorites]


This article recalls an essay, once frequently anthologized, by John Kenneth Galbraith. A representative passage:
The most important characteristic of insular poverty is forces, common to all members of the community, that restrain or prevent participation in economic life at going rates of return. These restraints are several. Race, which acts to locate people by their color rather than by the proximity to employment, is obviously one. So are poor educational facilities. (And this effect is further exaggerated when the poorly educated, endemically a drag on the labor market, are brought together in dense clusters by the common inadequacy of the schools available to blacks and the poor.) So is the disintegration of family life in the slum which leaves households in the hands of women. Family life itself is in some measure a manifestation of affluence. And so, without doubt, is the shared sense of helplessness and rejection and the resulting demoralization which is the product of the common misfortune.
Another, which I wish the Granny Starver of Janesville would internalize:
An affluent society that is also both compassionate and rational would, no doubt, secure to all who needed it the minimum income essential for decency and comfort. The corrupting effect on the human spirit of unearned revenue has unquestionably been exaggerated as, indeed, have the character-building values of hunger and privation. To secure to each family a minimum income, as a normal function of the society, would help ensure that the misfortunes of parents, deserved or otherwise, were not visited on their children.
Here's a link to the essay. I'm not trained in economics, but I'm sure he has been out-of-fashion for some time now. Regardless, I appreciate what I perceive as a core of decency in his words.
posted by Caxton1476 at 10:34 AM on February 20, 2017 [26 favorites]


Did you guys read the article? This is a steel mill testing for heroin and opiates to ensure safety in the plant...The guy who just wants his workers to be sober from opiates working with heavy machinery is not the villain here.

Yes, the steel mill CEO says heroin/opiates are the problem, but then goes on to state that 2/3 of applicants fail "the drug test" and from then on speaks only of "drugs." I'd be astonished if they're testing only for heroin/opiates; the cheap initial screens aren't that specific. I'd assume they're checking for (and rejecting applicants) for cannabis use, as well. Left unchallenged is the drug-testers assumption that you're still stoned the morning after, or even weeks later -- because that's the history which the cannabis test allegedly reveals so easily.

Also in this case I'm curious about exactly what they 'can tell right away, with booze'. Shaking with the DTs, sure; but are functional alcoholics really dumb enough they go into job interviews hung over?
posted by Rash at 11:02 AM on February 20, 2017 [4 favorites]


People show up not just hung over, but actively drunk. You can often smell the alcohol, which you can't with pills.

Getting clean long enough to pass a pre-employment test is a pretty low bar, but having been on the hiring side there are a huge number of people out there for whom that is an insurmountable barrier.
posted by Dip Flash at 11:15 AM on February 20, 2017 [6 favorites]


Speaking from the disability side of this, not being able to drive denied me many jobs I could otherwise have done. I never got into drugs, I don't drink, when I had jobs I worked hard. Getting to and from work was an issue though. Having a safe place to leave my kids while I worked was the other huge issue.
Things are too far apart in the US, and public transport is non-existen to terrible in rural areas.
Even big cities with decent transit may not have transit which meshes well with jobs. So not being able to drive is a terrible liability.
It's also true that labor shortages force employers to be a bit more decent to their workers. Not just about pay, but working conditions and expectations of their employees. Automation is fine and dandy, but if people can't earn money, they can't buy stuff.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 11:39 AM on February 20, 2017 [6 favorites]


If they can't abstain for long enough to pass the test before they've even started that's probably a strong hint they won't abstain during working hours.

Not necessarily. We are talking about regions where "drug" (opiates being the big one) use has climbed in large part because of declining opportunities to survive and participate in society; a lot of people nursing a habit fell into it due to lack of any viable opportunities to get out of poverty, so punishing them by simply withdrawing more opportunities isn't necessarily going to help. There needs to be a better coordination of services there or it's just another arbitrary way in which people will get marginalized and excluded from society, which feeds back into frequent use as a coping method.

I guess it is one factor here, but it does read as extremely out of touch that this thread has gotten so stuck on drug testing (and for drugs, jobs and types of testing that aren't really relevant to the article). The problems are a lot deeper, and for most people like those in the article, it really doesn't matter if they're taking opiates daily or not; their situation isn't realistically going to be impacted much either way. The only way forward I can see is through a thorough dismantling of the US' entire notion of what society should be, what it should provide and what employment should mean. Which doesn't leave me feeling very hopeful.
posted by byanyothername at 11:40 AM on February 20, 2017 [12 favorites]


It was interesting that 4 of 5 of the people in this article are white. I wonder if the writer did that purposely as a rebuttal to the racist belief that it's mostly non-whites who can't/won't work and "leech" off government benefits.

Around 70% of unemployed people are white, so 4/5 is about as representative as you can get with a sample size of 5. [some stats to play with]
posted by dersins at 11:43 AM on February 20, 2017 [2 favorites]


I'd say it's more important to test teachers for drugs.

I had stoned teachers when I was in Junior High. They were not much different from the other teachers other than the smell when they came back from their bathroom breaks.
posted by srboisvert at 11:49 AM on February 20, 2017 [1 favorite]


I wonder how many of you hire and manage entry level? I do and have for two decades. It's not as simple as "oh he's only a felon because of drugs, he's a good guy!". Your existing staff typically do not want to deal with other people's personal problems and in my experience not very many former addicts are able to function at near the level other people can for many years. Many have convictions for violence, particularly against the elderly and women, theft and other issues. They have messy family lives and emotional problems. In a small town they may have harmed other employees friends or family. Some of it is not their fault but quite a bit of it is. Drug addiction (not use) is bad because it makes people into a different kind of person, who do things they wouldn't otherwise. You don't just bounce back from that right away. The behaviors are learned.

And as far as ongoing use If you are a habitual user of anything, including pot and alcohol, and think no one can tell, then you are fooling yourself. I guarantee you people know and talk about it.

If I were running a steel mill: giving one or two people a second chance as part of otherwise cohesive workforce is reasonable. Hiring a small percentage of young people or those new to the industry each year is reasonable. Having 2/3's of your work force be high risk in a high risk environment is not feasible or responsible.

I don't know what the answer is but it's not pretending that being a drug addict and felon is the same as having a disability or growing up poor with bad school districts because it's not. The laws around disability and work are a travesty, imho, the fact that active opiod users are not hired is not. Yes, we are all products of our upbringing and as a society we need to do better than that but this thread is completely focusing on the wrong issue here.
posted by fshgrl at 12:22 PM on February 20, 2017 [16 favorites]


I had a couple stoner teachers too. All three went on to do other questionable or illegal acts over time (sleep with students, give drugs to students, get busted soliciting underage prostitutes). I was also a ski bum in my early 20s and those mega stoner ski bum kids didn't grow up to become investment bankers and doctors. It's been a trail of DUIs, busted relationships, minor domestic violence, abandoned kids, lost jobs and early deaths.

Not being able to stay sober at work isn't cute, it's a symptom of an underlying issue.
posted by fshgrl at 12:26 PM on February 20, 2017 [6 favorites]


Drug testing as frequently practiced in the US isn't really about whether or not you do drugs, it's about whether or not you can pass a drug test.

From the companies' perspective, it's about whether you can clean yourself up for just long enough to pass the test. Hell, some companies very consciously don't bother to do the inconclusive-fail version of the test, so that all you need to do to get a pass is to drink enough liquids so that the test doesn't actually come back "hot". (Not all employers do this, YMMV, there are various testing protocols in use.) Insofar as they care about drug use at all, many are looking for people who use to maintain, not who use recreationally.

For obvious reasons companies can't really come right out and say it, but there seem to be a fair number who are only doing the bare minimum to comply with Federal regulations e.g. the Drug-Free Workplace Act, or some model "industry standard" HR policy that they feel the need to have on the books to reduce risk.

For small and medium-size businesses, it's always difficult to do anything other than what everyone else in the industry is doing. If everyone else drug tests, then you probably need to too, because if you don't and somebody gets hurt on the job and it can in some vague way be linked to your decision not to test, then you're potentially looking at a liability concern. But if you drug test, the costs are hidden: your hiring pool is the same as your competitors, so you're no worse off there; you're just not getting the benefit of the bigger applicant pool you might otherwise have. But in the slack labor market we've had for decades, that's not really that compelling an argument compared to the parade-of-horribles risk-avoidance one you'd get, as a business owner or executive in charge of policy, if you considered not having a "drug free workplace" policy. (And as with other aspects of recruiting, the costs of a bad hire are generally assumed to be 5-10x higher than the benefits of a good hire over the period of time it takes to realize you've screwed up and fire them, so there's no motivation to take chances.)

I'm not sure what the solution is—there's obviously a legitimate interest in, say, a rolling mill, in not having people on the line high as fuck, or perhaps even worse detoxing because they didn't score that day—but I think better drug detection systems, more "breathalyzer" than "pee in this cup" types of things, might help. And presumably there are places in the world with more forward-thinking drug laws and also heavy industries or machinery, where we could look to for HR policy inspiration, if we had a mind to.

Though, having lived in a place that was in the middle of an Oxy/heroin epidemic, I think the big tragedy isn't so much the drug testing, but the criminalization. Clean yourself up and you can pass a drug test; no amount of cleaning yourself up will get a bunch of possession convictions off of your record, if you were unfortunate enough to get busted in a place without a drug-conviction-diversion program; the lawyers it takes to get that sort of thing expunged are, ironically, mostly the province of the employed. Also, expungement as a safety valve sucks compared to not criminalizing possession to begin with, because if you start expunging drug-related convictions (e.g. the guy in the article who committed identity theft for drug money, and is seeking to have it expunged), it tends to paper over a lot of problematic behavior that others might legitimately care about, even if they don't care about the drug use per se. That seems out of sync with how we deal with alcohol, where nobody (well, very few) people care if you drink, but where (at least, officially) what you do while drunk is still on you and on your record. While our national approach to alcohol is far from perfect, it at least aspires to reasonability in that regard.

But the unfortunate consequence of the rise in opiates and ODs has been, at least that I've seen, a hardening of attitudes rather than a softening, among non-users in areas where it's prevalent. (Now it seems like the only thing that makes an OD death notable is if a child or a dog starves before the bodies are discovered.) So I'm not holding my breath.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:50 PM on February 20, 2017 [7 favorites]


fshgrl: Drug addiction (not use) is bad because it makes people into a different kind of person, who do things they wouldn't otherwise. You don't just bounce back from that right away.

You seem to critically misunderstand, pre-employment drug testing does not screen for intoxication at the time of the test. Intoxication testing would require breathalysers and blood tests.

The tests are for use not addiction. A person who smokes a single joint can expect a positive urinalysis 4-10 days afterwards, a person who drinks one night can expect an positive urinalysis four or five days afterwards and an opiate user who routinely gets loaded Thursday and Friday nights can expect to test clean by Tuesday or Wednesday.

Despite the fact that a person who binge drinks one night a week is more likely to have "messy family lives and emotional problems" (as fshgrl so compassionately put it) than the occasional cannabis user, pre-employment drug screening doesn't generally involve an ethyl glucuronide test to detect off-the-job drinking.

As someone who used to manage and hire entry-level, I can tell you with certainty that a lot of freight crew were habitual drunks while off-the-job, but our insurance policy didn't care so long as they didn't show up drunk. How about your crew? How are they drinking? Are you prepared to fire them for it if they show up sober?

Abstention and testing "clean" are not so simple as some would like to imagine.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 12:56 PM on February 20, 2017 [15 favorites]


You seem to critically misunderstand, pre-employment drug testing does not screen for intoxication at the time of the test. Intoxication testing would require breathalysers and blood tests.

The tests are for use not addiction.


I understand perfectly. A person who is not an addict and/or does not live in chaos can plan ahead and not fail a drug test very easily. Simply abstain from the drug for as long as it takes, which you can find out with a few minutes of research. If you are failing a drug test or refusing to take one then you are a) very stupid or b) an addict who cannot stop or c) did not read the job announcement closely enough to see that there would be a test. If someone can't figure that out on their own then what makes you want to work alongside them? The example given is a steel mill which is skilled and dangerous work.

Drinking is actually a good comparison. Most people can manage to plan ahead well enough and abstain long enough to show up to work sober. Drunks can't.

Conflating serious drug use with occasional drinking or pot use does NO service to either population. And saying that the reason employers are reluctant to hire former junkies is because they can't pass a background check is not true either. They don't want to hire them because the odds are they will relapse and then cause problems. That is the reality. How do we fix that? Stop letting so many people wallow in so much misery and boredom would be a good start, as would serious research into how to help people stop drugs more reliably and quickly with fewer relapses. May be provide some low risk jobs they can do in the meantime. Harm reduction.

Expecting private industry to shoulder all the risk and cost of recovering addicts first few precarious years is never going to happen and is a pipe dream.
posted by fshgrl at 1:16 PM on February 20, 2017 [8 favorites]


How many of the jobs requiring drug tests have a hiring lead time that's long enough for a pothead to clean up? Like, if it's several weeks of abstention to test clean, you simply won't have time between seeing a job advert and being in a room being considered (if all goes well) for many low-paid jobs.
posted by Dysk at 1:24 PM on February 20, 2017 [8 favorites]


Your existing staff typically do not want to deal with other people's personal problems and in my experience not very many former addicts are able to function at near the level other people can for many years.

Wanting competitive job applicants isn't a bad thing in isolation, but this is the very definition of the sort of issue where we can't all disclaim responsibility or we all wind up worse off. If there's a whole class of people in this country who make the labor of this country less productive by being involved in it, then those people shouldn't be required to participate in the labor market. The whole existence of a market--it's fine to pick and choose who gets to work if working is a fun extra thing we all get to do in order to buy more shiny toys. But that's not what employment actually is. A lot of these people are probably genuinely worse employees than many others in their communities, but we're all worse off if we wind up with a permanently unemployable class of people who have no ability to access reliable food, housing, and health care.
posted by Sequence at 1:40 PM on February 20, 2017 [8 favorites]


How many of the jobs requiring drug tests have a hiring lead time that's long enough for a pothead to clean up? Like, if it's several weeks of abstention to test clean, you simply won't have time between seeing a job advert and being in a room being considered (if all goes well) for many low-paid jobs.

If you're job hunting in that atmosphere maybe you should stop smoking pot altogether then. It's like not dying your hair purple if you're looking for a Biglaw associateship.

This drug stories in this article are about opiates people, not nice socially responsible pot smokers who only smoke after the kids are in bed and not on school nights.

And steel mills aren't low paid. That's a good, solid, skilled job. A career for most.
posted by fshgrl at 1:41 PM on February 20, 2017 [2 favorites]


Wanting competitive job applicants isn't a bad thing in isolation, but this is the very definition of the sort of issue where we can't all disclaim responsibility or we all wind up worse off.

I absolutely agree but it's up to government and trained counselors and planners to do this, not private industry or random managers.
posted by fshgrl at 1:44 PM on February 20, 2017


I absolutely agree but it's up to government and trained counselors and planners to do this, not private industry or random managers.

The government has to do this with the support of the voters, who are in most of the US not in favor of giving welfare to people they deem to be irresponsible and undeserving. I don't think the point of articles like this is that you personally need to go out and offer a job to the first person who darkens your doorstep. The point is that the system as it stands is deeply broken and needs public buy-in for the idea that this is not somebody else's problem and something that can be fixed with more willpower and personal responsibility. It's not necessarily your problem as an individual hiring manager--it is your problem as a citizen and a taxpayer.
posted by Sequence at 1:50 PM on February 20, 2017 [9 favorites]


fshgrl: Drinking is actually a good comparison. Most people can manage to plan ahead well enough and abstain long enough to show up to work sober. Drunks can't.

I reckon you entirely missed my point as to alcohol abuse. Most of the drunks I've known, they aren't all-day drunks -- they're crack-a-beer-a-while-leaving-the-jobsite drunks, drunks who finish a beer then pick up a forty at the gas station on the way home drunks.

fshgrl: "I understand perfectly."

I'm not sure you do, you go on to explain why you think a pre-employment drug screen is a good proxy test for addiction... or at least an intelligence test. In your business, what's the mean time it takes you to call an applicant? Do you call them right away, or do you maintain a backlog of applications for weeks at a time 'til something comes open and you get the go ahead to start calling for interviews? In the entry level hiring I've done, it's the second.

"This drug stories in this article are about opiates people, not nice socially responsible pot smokers who only smoke after the kids are in bed and not on school nights."

I've never encountered a firm that only tested for the opiates, or only tested for cocaine, or only tested for benzos. SOP in the places I've known is... we send your piss to a lab for a test for the NIDA-5, this test does not distinguish between the nice socially responsible cannabis user, the irresponsible off-hours alcoholic or the three times a day IV heroin user. This lack of discrimination on the part of testing practice is why I find your position rather grating.

But, perhaps I haven't kept track as good as I used to, is it common now for firms to only test for opiates? I've seen no indication for it other than your assertions.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 2:06 PM on February 20, 2017 [5 favorites]


I'm talking about the article this thread is based on. Which is about opiates.
posted by fshgrl at 2:15 PM on February 20, 2017 [1 favorite]


...and the rest of us are talking about a wider issue which you seemingly refuse to address because of some unhelpful laser-focus on the article. The opiates and steel mill are one example of a broader problem, not a one-off that can only be considered in isolation.
posted by Dysk at 2:28 PM on February 20, 2017 [4 favorites]


this is killing me - we have people who are being excluded from employment because of location, age and disability and all you guys can do is complain about drug testing

There's... a correlation between these factors you know

Your existing staff typically do not want to deal with other people's personal problems

There are s lot of things employers or co-workers would like to know, which they have absolutely no fucking business actually finding out on purpose as a matter of basic privacy and decency.
posted by atoxyl at 2:48 PM on February 20, 2017 [4 favorites]


IMHO, the article surveys a set of underlying systemic issues that can be very difficult for an individual to overcome. Issues that point to our failures as a society when it comes to looking deeply at what is happening and addressing the underlying causes.
posted by Altomentis at 2:49 PM on February 20, 2017 [2 favorites]


Short-term detection for safety-critical positions is of course a slightly different issue. One of the elephants in the room here is that detection times for cannabis use tend to be the longest by far of any of common drug even though it's among the least harmful to use after-hours for most people. I can only hope that with increasing acceptance this will somehow come to be omitted from panels more often (or tested with a much higher threshold or something).
posted by atoxyl at 2:55 PM on February 20, 2017 [4 favorites]


I don't know what the answer is but it's not pretending that being a drug addict and felon is the same as having a disability or growing up poor with bad school districts because it's not.

I'm not actually quite sure how we ended up talking about former addicts when you seem to otherwise be arguing that pre-employment testing is fair because it mostly screens for current addicts but:

I'm not sure you'll get much disagreement that, like hiring people with a criminal record, hiring people with a history of addiction may pose some elevated risks. In both cases though it should also be pretty clear that it's something that has to happen in order for people to be able to re-integrate into society. And there's certainly a correlation between poverty and hardship and having a criminal or drug history so in practice discriminating along those specific lines absolutely contributes to broader discrimination based on economic, education and family background. In the case of drug addiction one could also make a comparison to (other) psychiatric illnesses - a history of which may sometimes pose some risks in critical situation but which I think most people would say should remain fairly private from employers except in exceptional cases.
posted by atoxyl at 3:12 PM on February 20, 2017 [2 favorites]


Sure. As a small percentage af your workforce. When 2/3s off your applicats for a good paying job can't pass a drug test because of a rampant drug epidemic that's a societal issue. Not employers being mean to innocent poor peole.
posted by fshgrl at 3:30 PM on February 20, 2017


Sure. As a small percentage of your workforce. When 2/3s off your applicants for a good paying job can't pass a drug test because of a rampant drug epidemic that's a societal issue.

I won't disagree with that - and we have wandered a bit afield in making this thread about drug testing in general. Doesn't mean the way drug screening is implemented by employers is not frequently unfair though. To be honest I took offense to some of the arguments you (and a couple other people) made and the way they were stated. Not that it's exactly the same situation described in the article but I have a personal stake in the issue because I used to be a heroin addict (and an office worker) and still having a job when I quit - to provide structure and to pay for my Suboxone treatment only partly covered by insurance - was a tremendously good thing for my recovery. But I've made most of the major points I wanted to make in response so I'll leave it be for now.
posted by atoxyl at 4:18 PM on February 20, 2017 [2 favorites]


Rather than drug tests, why can't they just test for whatever issues they are assuming drug use impedes, e.g., test reaction times, coordination, whatever, rather than whether or not an applicant/employee might have smoked pot in the past month (or done other drugs more recently)?


(Still reading the article.)
posted by she's not there at 4:40 PM on February 20, 2017 [2 favorites]


People here are just, in my opinion, jumping on drug tests because it's something they can identify with. I am surmising this because they keep bringing in examples that seem to apply to them and not to the article. OK, enough said about drug tests.

The far, far bigger issue is that over huge geographic areas the US population is largely unemployable at any level above street sweeping due to a lack of investment in their communities, poor health and a lack of education. And many of them are going to stay at that low level of employability. And that the subsequent economic rot is dragging down what should be healthy industries and viable communities. If you pay a semi-decent wage in many US locations or industries you will be spoiled for choice as there are so few employers that do. Then you can treat your employees badly or be so picky it's impossible for someone with any kind of disadvantage to be employed.

We have these failed communities all over. If you cannot raise children that can carry no the essential functions of the community, then your community is failing. It's not even that they don't want to work as they don't know what it is to work, they've never seen a functioning community with working adults who take care of the group functions. That is a problem.

The question is what do you do? Let them die organically, hasten the death or try to revive them. Anyone who grew up in a farm town saw this happen a generation ago, inner cities it happened in the 60s, logging towns it happened in the 80s and 90s, now it's happening to these coal mining towns. This is not a new problem.
posted by fshgrl at 5:34 PM on February 20, 2017 [6 favorites]


Because it's a purity test. It's not about public health or safety.
posted by saulgoodman at 5:35 PM on February 20, 2017 [2 favorites]


The term "drug test" makes me stabby. Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't this term just mean a marijuana test? FFS, call it what it is. To say a marijuana test is unfair is an understatement. THC can stay in your system, in the fat in your cells, for weeks; whereas alcohol, say, is gone in a day or two. Get drunk last night? Not that they're checking for that anyway, but it would not even show up. Smoke a joint last night? Well, you're a "drug user" according to the test. Hell, even if you smoked last week. And guess what, even those operating heavy machinery are capable of recreational use, the kind after work and before bedtime, just like most of those people tsk tsking the druggies do every night themselves.
posted by zardoz at 5:51 PM on February 20, 2017 [3 favorites]


The far, far bigger issue is that over huge geographic areas the US population is largely unemployable at any level above street sweeping due to a lack of investment in their communities, poor health and a lack of education.

Since street sweeping jobs are public (and would require a CDL to drive the big machine), you are right back to needing both preemployment and random drug screenings. Or, in other words, an additional structural reason that a substantial percentage of the population is functionally unemployable.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't this term just mean a marijuana test?

If heavy machinery or industrial safety is involved, they are probably using the basic DOT screening test, which tests for weed, cocaine, opiates, amphetamines, and PCP. All the applicants I knew of who failed did so because of pills or meth. I'm sure they all smoked weed as well, but the preemployment screenings seem to be set high enough that it isn't hard to pass the test for weed as long as you can lay off of it for a few days and remember to drink more water. *

* The potheads I knew in college all swore by pickle juice.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:03 PM on February 20, 2017 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: Let them die organically, hasten the death or try to revive them.
posted by benzenedream at 6:04 PM on February 20, 2017 [1 favorite]


The richest newcomer to Forbes 2015 list of America’s Richest Families [...] making the most popular and controversial opioid of the 21st century — OxyContin

Everything old is new again. I wonder if Forbes house style is to consciously suppress references to the first Forbes fortune in opium, or is that just a given?
posted by clew at 7:56 PM on February 20, 2017 [2 favorites]


I am very much in the same boat as the 55 year old IT guy. In fact I, too, will be 55 this year. I used to apply for a lot of jobs that seemed to be a really good match but never hear back. I now rarely apply for anything because it appears to be a total waste of time. I first came across this back in 2005 or so, and it made it easier to just give up and be a full time parent for several years.

I did recently actually get a job in a federal office--a temporary job. I applied for multiple jobs as an internal candidate in an effort to make a transition to full time work. No dice. I had the pleasure of teaching the 25 somethings who got the jobs that I attempted to get. They're all amazed at my skills and wonder why I don't have a position there.

Now my term is up and I no longer work there. They tell me they may bring me back on when the hiring freeze lifts. I'm not sure I will go back because the work I was doing (and would again be doing) is far above my grade of pay. I loved the work but hated the fact that I never really got any acknowledgement for the work I was doing.

At least I have a wife who has a good paying job and is capable of supporting me. I also have a wide range of skills that I can easily use to get temporary work. I'm going to be working again in about two or three weeks for $10. per hour. At least it's a job I enjoy. But that will end in March and I'll have to find something else or sit at home and read Metafilter all day while my kid is in school.
posted by lester at 8:09 PM on February 20, 2017 [2 favorites]


over huge geographic areas the US population is largely unemployable at any level above street sweeping due to a lack of investment in their communities, poor health and a lack of education

I think we are rapidly reaching the point where the limiting factor is cognitive capacity, not education, etc. Now "cognitive capacity" is not a fixed and immutable quality, but there are still a huge swath of people for whom no amount of education and health care, even from birth, is ever going to make them capable of doing the well-paid jobs of today, much less of twenty years from now.

This is not to disparage the importance of investment in communities, but it seems to me we need different solutions if we think the problem is that people are being kept out of jobs they could occupy or if we think the problem is that jobs suitable to much of the population are vanishing, possibly never to return.
posted by praemunire at 9:01 PM on February 20, 2017


Systemic poverty is a much bigger issue than inherent cognitive capabilities. For one, there are plenty of necessary things that only humans can do well that aren't going to require stapling an AI onto things. A lot of even fields perceived as requiring high education/intellectual ability don't require much brainpower in practice. Also, while people will of course have varying cognitive abilities and whatever kinds of "inherent" intelligences, a lot of people who lack formal education or credentials are just as/more intelligent than people who have those things. They just don't have access to the kinds of opportunities that white upper-middle class people tend to take for granted. You can't win at a game designed to make you lose.
posted by byanyothername at 9:39 PM on February 20, 2017 [4 favorites]


Most of the problems here seem (to me) due to the fact that we want our corporations to provide the basic minimum foundations of citizenry, i.e. food, housing, and health-care.

UBI is the way forward. As more and more jobs are automated (e.g. truck driving), it's the ONLY way.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:11 PM on February 20, 2017 [6 favorites]


I think we are rapidly reaching the point where the limiting factor is cognitive capacity, not education, etc. Now "cognitive capacity" is not a fixed and immutable quality, but there are still a huge swath of people for whom no amount of education and health care, even from birth, is ever going to make them capable of doing the well-paid jobs of today, much less of twenty years from now.

Jesus dude. What kind of life experience turned you into a eugenicist?
posted by zymil at 1:21 AM on February 21, 2017 [15 favorites]


I'm not sure you do, you go on to explain why you think a pre-employment drug screen is a good proxy test for addiction... or at least an intelligence test. In your business, what's the mean time it takes you to call an applicant? Do you call them right away, or do you maintain a backlog of applications for weeks at a time 'til something comes open and you get the go ahead to start calling for interviews? In the entry level hiring I've done, it's the second.

This article is about people who are long-term unemployed, they know they're looking for work and know that they could get a call any time. If you can't stop smoking weed for a few months to get a job, you're either addicted or there's something else wrong with you.

over huge geographic areas the US population is largely unemployable at any level above street sweeping due to a lack of investment in their communities, poor health and a lack of education

As Dip Flash pointed out, this is actually a great example of job that might once have been pure physical labour but is now semi-skilled. The capital of sweeping equipment has replaced a great deal of labour but what remains now requires a CDL, experience operating complex equipment, etc. And of course maintaining a CDL requires a cleanish criminal record and staying off drugs.

I think we are rapidly reaching the point where the limiting factor is cognitive capacity, not education, etc. Now "cognitive capacity" is not a fixed and immutable quality, but there are still a huge swath of people for whom no amount of education and health care, even from birth, is ever going to make them capable of doing the well-paid jobs of today, much less of twenty years from now.

It's technically possible to get to a point where a large proportion of the available jobs are so cognitively taxing that many people simply aren't able to do them but I think that if you're going to claim that we're rapidly reaching that point you should probably expect to be asked for evidence.
posted by atrazine at 6:19 AM on February 21, 2017 [2 favorites]


Driving through rural Missouri this weekend, we stopped at the Waffle House. During breakfast, we overheard a waitress and waiter chatting about job stuff, and he was teasing her about her lack of math skills. She laughed and began to tell a story about how she once applied for a "fancy office job, like with data entry and stuff," and they made her take a bunch of tests. She said she got a four-page math test and left everything but the addition and subtraction blank. She said, "There were TWO pages of hard stuff. Like division and stuff with decimals and fractions. It's nuts!"

I commiserated with her because I have a mental block on 8+5 and we bonded about bad math skills. Later in the car, my husband pointed out the big difference is that while probably would make some basic mistakes on that 4-page math test for the data entry job, I've got a Ph.D. and the know-how to get around those basic math problems and our Waffle House waitress does not.

I went to schools in the rural south, and I'm pretty confident that the education I got in high school and middle school was drastically less thorough than the education received by my suburban peers. But I was also fortunate enough to have parents that pushed me to move beyond the limitation of my rural education, a life situation that didn't force me into the first possible job out of high school, and a level of confidence in my intelligence that told me to just try the damn four-page test of math and see how I did rather than quitting before I started. There are a lot of problems in our country, but the continued underfunding of public schools and warehousing kids until 18 is a source of so many of them it's baffling that we can still continue as a country.
posted by teleri025 at 6:50 AM on February 21, 2017 [10 favorites]


Oh boy. This is one where I want to weigh in. I didn't read the thread before I said this, I just read the article, because it's so emotional. I will read the thread and tell myself to shut up afterward if I'm wrong, but this is stream of consciousness, and it seems like it's justified here.

So, I'm an expat and translator, which means I'm in front of the computer all day. I'm in the gig economy and I make a decent living from it. I'm in the outsourcing section of the gig economy and that means I pay other people to be in the same situation I'm in, and often they have no idea How Stuff Works, and part of my job is to Know How Stuff Works For People Who Don't.

Felons, drug addicts, convicts, minorities, illegals, whatever class of undesirables you want to name, I say bring 'em. I'll take 'em. And I'll talk numbers right here on the internet, and may the IRS crush me for it. I'm not special, I have no special training in law, but I work for major US car brand through a large non-US translation agency. I quality check (which means after translation and proofreading, which both pay more) most-to-all of their back-translation verification of their sales outlet property contracts in my particular country of residence, which I will not mention here, but I will mention how much it pays - $2000 a month, for about 5 days of work. How did I get this job? I don't even know. It's ridiculous. I listed one contract translation gig on my resume and they contacted me and I said yes because sure why not? I am in fact capable of reading and understanding contracts in both concerned languages, but TEH FUQ. I'm single, childless, and type quickly, which are also things, so I offer quick turnaround, but many could do so. But it's straight cash to bank account, no questions asked beyond what I claimed. I've had this for a year and it's only getting more voluminous. The number I said was at the beginning. It's more now.

I want every human in America to understand that this is not an exception, nor is it any different from my hiring process. I pay my taxes, I know where the forms are and file them, fine, they make that part easy, as they should. But I fill my time with other activities of a very similar nature and pay grade. My skillset is that I know two languages. I make it a point to hire people who would not normally be hired elsewhere, and I make it a point to pay above market, because very simply, when you pay people well, they stick around, and I promise that I provide on-the-job training and access to vendors for my people. I make sure they can walk off the job and even take my job any time they want. If you are reliable, and have circumstances (4 children + divorce from abusive husband is a recent one), okay! No biggie, let's take care of you, because one day what about me. The pie is such that I never wanted to outsource, but to accomplish the jobs that are there, I have to bring on people. I get hired to put together crews to handle big translation jobs. I am capable of doing so because I've read IRS documentation, which are there, and because I like to blab, which I think you can tell if you've made it this far.

Unfettered capitalism run by someone who is principled (I hope, because I mean me) looks like this. I want us all to be clear on this. Actual capitalism, in which healthcare is not a consideration, in which I can pay people across borders, in which visas are not an issue, in which taxation is an issue of home country, and in which contracts are written to simply say "don't screw me I won't screw you and here are deposits and limits on the work that will be put in for the project in question based on the amount of text", here in the service sector, looks like this. You want $70-80k USD a year? Learn another language, any language, and to work from home? Easy. Done. We in this particular sector just have to prove competence. People get paid for their networks. Unfettered capitalism looks like this, which is to say that in this article, these people are suffering from fettered capitalism.

I understand not every industry is this way. I understand that fair competition is hard in sectors that are not mine. But FFS, expat, buying my health insurance (non-inclusive of US, German provider thanks, ergo I don't go back much), costs about $4000 a year, and I'm covered all over the place at roughly French levels. I'm in my early 30's, 10 days a year, it's covered. Most of my clients have never seen my picture. I literally tell them my passport number, full name, and bank account number, and that's it.

I want every USian to understand this. The world in which drug tests, HR, 401ks, work visas, abusive psychopath bosses, dress codes (wtf!), and all the like, are disgusting to me. I am allowed by the fact of this market I'm in to be a decent human being. And I pay my taxes because I want this for everyone.

But I don't get to have that. I understand why people go libertarian, because this system where people can't get jobs because...why again? Fuck this. Not my America. I left because this. And I want to go back and preach, because it doesn't have to be this way. I wish I could send an email to everyone in this article and say, "Hey guys, learn a foreign language, and here's some subsidies while you do, because I got gigs later." I can convince/change maybe 30 lives directly by doing what I do. And I'm good enough, I believe, that I can sustain this, because I work 16-hour days and I enjoy that, but I can create situations where others can work 6 hours a day and still make a non-poverty paycheck. I depend on that to earn my markup and my management overhead. And that's what capitalism should be, dammit. How the hell do people live in (and live with themselves in) a system that produces the outcomes in the article? (and I know the answer to the question in parenthesis - no better options, but that's by design, which is sick)
posted by saysthis at 7:48 AM on February 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


More stream of consciousness, just a little, but let me -

I'm privileged. In almost every way. I get that. But the thing is, having lived it, I know how it should be. It's not that way for everyone, and I mean...we all know why. We all know the system is broken. Piss tests for jobs that barely require sobriety (like Blockbuster). What. The actual fuck. Don't forget to stop and be outraged at this. I get to from my perch on the tower of privilege. I don't know where you sit, but from up here, the holy actual fuck, man. Unions NOW.
posted by saysthis at 8:04 AM on February 21, 2017


There are a lot of problems in our country, but the continued underfunding of public schools and warehousing kids until 18 is a source of so many of them it's baffling that we can still continue as a country.

Oh boy, this. I know that better education is in no way a panacea here, but I really do believe that investing much more seriously in better education could be the proverbial 'rising tide'.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 10:45 AM on February 21, 2017 [4 favorites]


For more on Leroy Moore, one of the people profiled in this piece, check out his website about his project around people with disabilities doing hip-hop, Krip-Hop Nation. He is also a co-founder of Sins Invalid "a performance project that incubates and celebrates artists with disabilities."
posted by larrybob at 2:10 PM on February 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


Jesus dude. What kind of life experience turned you into a eugenicist?

C'mon, dude. You do not actually think that even if you took everyone and gave them the good education and health care they deserve from birth, they would all turn out to be capable of doing high-level computer programming and lawyering and graphic design. No one thinks that. The rapid narrowing and steepening of the set of skills you can make a decent living from (absent the social capital that allows one to flourish without being competent at one's job) is a real problem. I'm an white-collar professional and I did all right in math and physics in school, but if my living depended on my being able to fluently and skillfully solve high-level engineering problems (or to design book covers that drive sales, or to write the code that keeps driverless cars from crashing...), I, too, would be sitting in a double-wide somewhere. I'm by no means sure we won't get there before I retire. But even if everyone were capable of doing one of those kinds of jobs at a high level, there aren't enough of them.

My point is not that ordinary people don't deserve to live. My point is that I fear we are reaching the point where far too many ordinary people will have nothing to offer the economy so that they can live. Getting rid of barriers like unnecessary drug tests or excessively severe scrutiny of criminal records during hiring won't help much if the hiring no longer happens because the jobs no longer exist, having been automated or shipped away. (Indeed, the very existence of the high barriers to employment depends at least in part on there just not being that many jobs that people in the area can do. Otherwise, employers not dealing with regulations like the steel mill would stop imposing them, because they would need the people.) Better education won't help. Better health care won't help. Even eliminating the role of social capital in job distribution won't help. Maybe they'll help assure that the better matches for the jobs get them, but then you are still left with everybody else. (If the pot guy or the domestic battery guy in the article gets the job, then someone else isn't getting it. The one place where jobs are going begging in the article requires skilled labor, and even there it seems as if those jobs are at risk of being automated away.) I'm putting the case in the most catastrophic way, and obviously many factors have driven the changes in the modern economy, but I don't think I've imagined all those decent jobs that ordinary people with ordinary capabilities used to be able to hold that have now vanished. And I think if we don't figure out an alternative to jobs as a means of giving people a decent way of life, we are headed towards an ugly future.
posted by praemunire at 3:20 PM on February 21, 2017 [4 favorites]


Leroy Moore said in the article that he grew up in Hartford Connecticut. Good schools. And it shows in his ability to create new opportunities for himself, despite the Kafkaesque disability regime he's trapped in.

And praemunire I do think that public health makes a huge difference in people's ability to work and the level they can work at. Lead reduction, public education about drinking and smoking during pregnancy, EPA efforts to clean water and the air, widespread vaccinations etc have all saved millions of children from severely reduced prospects in life. Reducing the use of drugs like meth would probably save a lot of people from brain damage too.
posted by fshgrl at 3:25 PM on February 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


You do not actually think that even if you took everyone and gave them the good education and health care they deserve from birth, they would all turn out to be capable of doing high-level computer programming and lawyering and graphic design. No one thinks that.

I'm not the person you were addressing, but I think that. Or at least, I think that there are not so many people who will never be capable of things that you appear to think are useful to society that we really need to worry about them dragging down the achievements of the Great Galtian Person who shall stand astride the world like a Colossus of Graphic Designery.
posted by Etrigan at 3:54 PM on February 21, 2017 [5 favorites]


Or at least, I think that there are not so many people who will never be capable of things that you appear to think are useful to society that we really need to worry about them dragging down the achievements of the Great Galtian Person who shall stand astride the world like a Colossus of Graphic Designery.

I don't think he's talking up the Randian outliers here - he's really just stating a version of the "what if a large percentage of tasks that currently require a human because they require a human intellect become cheaply automatable" scenario, and I think he's right that with all the education in the world few of us - perhaps none of us - ultimately keep up with that.

I don't know if that means there's nothing "useful" for us to do though - well actually I'm sure it doesn't mean that and I doubt praemunire thinks so either. The question is can we successfully realign what's considered "societally useful" enough to live off of?

(And of course this is assuming trends continue which may not actually. Or what if technology is instead used to enhance abilities of all humans etc.?)
posted by atoxyl at 4:49 PM on February 21, 2017 [3 favorites]


C'mon, dude. You do not actually think that even if you took everyone and gave them the good education and health care they deserve from birth, they would all turn out to be capable of doing high-level computer programming and lawyering and graphic design. No one thinks that. The rapid narrowing and steepening of the set of skills you can make a decent living from (absent the social capital that allows one to flourish without being competent at one's job) is a real problem. I'm an white-collar professional and I did all right in math and physics in school, but if my living depended on my being able to fluently and skillfully solve high-level engineering problems (or to design book covers that drive sales, or to write the code that keeps driverless cars from crashing...), I, too, would be sitting in a double-wide somewhere.

I agree with you that the narrowing and steepening set of skills required to make a dignified living is a real problem and is driven by the limited number of well paid jobs our current system is willing to support.

Where I differ is that I think basically anyone can still qualify for one of those jobs if they have the good fortune to be born into (one of the shrinking number of) situations where they receive the increasing amount of education and social capital required.

I have a job where I'm employed to solve high level engineering problems and there's nothing I bring to the job I didn't pick up in 20 or so years of schooling. Swap me with a guy from rural Appalachia and we'd swap outcomes equally.
posted by zymil at 11:28 PM on February 21, 2017 [3 favorites]


The problem is more that we have been trained to think those are the only jobs worth anything. Which isn't true. Labor jobs are asking essential and as a society we shouldn't treat people who do them so badly.
posted by fshgrl at 3:28 PM on February 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


« Older Food Wishes with Chef John!   |   You, a Mac, the world. Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments