Yesterday I listened as a respected colleague stated, “It’s not my fault people don’t have full-time jobs. It’s not my fault they don’t have an education. It’s not my fault they can’t pay for health insurance. It’s not my fault they can’t pay rent. Basically it’s not my fault that they don’t work as hard as I did. If they did, they would have a full-time job.”
I responded, “I have a B.A., M.Div., and additional certifications. I cannot afford my own health insurance because for the last three years I’ve been unemployed or underemployed. I do not make enough in my various odd/part-time/one-hit-wonder jobs to pay my own rent. I have previously had the privilege of having full-time salaried jobs and I loved them. I miss being employed full-time, yet I have never worked harder than I have the last three years. You see, every day, I am either searching for jobs, applying for jobs, interviewing for jobs, or working at one (or more) of the odd jobs I’ve procured. I currently have eight different bosses for various freelancing and hourly jobs. I don’t really have a day off because I always have something due to someone, or am working a shift, or am networking, or am searching for a full-time position. I have a roof over my head and health insurance because I happen to have a spouse who is a salaried employee. I am very much aware that I would be living in someone’s guest room if I were single. And there’s nothing wrong with folks who live in guest rooms; I am simply aware that even in underemployment, I have some sense of independence, which I see as a gift.”
My colleague stated, “Well, you’re an exception and I don’t think you’re bringing the country down by not paying your taxes right now. You’re an exception.”
I replied, “I am only an exception because a generalization has been made. In my hourly jobs, I am taxed a certain amount per hour. And my honorariums from freelancing gigs are taxed at a self-employed clergy rate. So, I agree with you that I am not bringing the country down by not paying taxes.” My colleague repeated, “You’re an exception.”
Post Conversation Fact-Checking: I’m a 31-year-old educated, underemployed female who has eight different odd/part-time/one-hit-wonder jobs. I live in an apartment where the rent is paid every month and enjoy health insurance because I have a spouse who has a salaried job with great benefits. I work hard. I pay taxes. I look forward to the privilege of having one (and only one!) full-time job again. I do not blame my colleague, Reagan, Daddy Bush, Clinton, W, or Obama for my lack of full-time employment. Nor do I expect whomever takes the oath of office on January 20 to hand me a full-time job. (Although, Inauguration Day is my birthday, so it would make for a mighty fine birthday present.)
I take note each month of how much of my income goes to taxes, and I like to think those hard-earned dollars are going to help another 31-year-old female who needs eight different bosses, a roof, and health insurance. Sure, this isn’t the life I envisioned for myself when I was in school and previously employed full-time. But I haven’t resigned myself to the belief that my current disorganized, financially stressful, and sometimes crazy life will be this way forever, either.
My current disorganized, financially stressful, and sometimes crazy life is also not a bad life. In fact, it’s an exceptional life filled with goodness and worth that cannot be purchased, earned, subsidized, or taxed. It is filled with goodness and worth that is not determined by who resides in the White House. While it may not be the so-called “American Dream,” I am well aware that it beats the nightmare of the 31-year-old female who longs for eight different bosses, a roof, and health insurance.
To her I say, “I have a guest room and you’re welcome to it. Never stop dreaming of and working toward an exceptional tomorrow.”