I've been going through a super tough time financially for the last several months. The old bugaboos of unemployment and possible homelessness have stopped at my place just in time for the Hallmark Holidays. Along with them, the Specters of Past Crises have come a calling.
I had a conversation with one of my older brothers about four years ago (this is how often we talk). I told him about a stint I had working as a contract "rural carrier" for the post office back in late 2000. I mentioned the shift: usually 5:30am to 6:30pm and I mentioned the fact that I rarely had so much as a 15-minute break unless I pulled off of Mount Rose Hwy to stuff half a sandwich into my mouth, and then gunned my Hyundai on to the next clump of frozen mailboxes. His response was "I don't believe that."
I'm pretty sure my brother -- who once was a cop who got fired for beating a handcuffed suspect -- has never actually worked for the post office. I'm also pretty sure he hasn't scrambled to find a Day Job since about 1992 when he sold his company for several million dollars and dipped his toe into the gambling-addict world of day trading.
Likewise, I had a similar conversation with an older relative (they're all older than me, I was my parent's mid-40s surprise). She spent years struggling to make it and did well, has a nice home and some nice real estate income. But she did this struggling and this doing well when it was still possible to do that in this country. I was talking about my desperate three-year stint at a state university in Nevada, in the early 1990s, and how catch-as-catch-can my summer and Christmas break jobs were. My relative interjected: "But your dad helped you, right?" I explained he'd given me a couple grand when I'd first moved to Reno and that was it. My father never offered to pay for a single mind-numbing course I took at that fourth-rate college. "Really?" my relative asked, leaning in, like she was a detective and I a questionable witness. Finally she sat back in her chair and said, "Well, I don't believe that."
I don't think I'm unique. In fact, I think half the reason American society is as Depression-era stratified as it is right now is because of disbelief. Like alcoholism or drug addiction, 99-percent of the poverty problem is denial on the part of the Haves that the Have Nots even exist.
I want to reassure everybody that the real reason I can't find work is because I'm not looking hard enough. It's weirdly comfortable to the Haves if they could just blame me for my poverty. But the last interview I went on was for a $12-an-hour copy store job. The company had flown the job announcement on a website (everything is online now) and nearly one hundred vendors (headhunter/temp agencies) had responded. I was the first of 25-plus applicants the nice executive in Tukwila interviewed. One of 25. For a job that pays just a dollar above the Washington state minimum wage. No benefits. Contract would be for 18 months effectively locking me out of any health benefits and/or wage increases for over a year should I be blessedly lucky enough to be the chosen one.
So while the Haves continue to live in denial, I and half the rest of the country, slide deeper into long-term unemployment, poverty and possibly homlessness.