"You shouldn't have dropped out of school!" a man yelled from his car at the young man who was walking. Why did the driver make the assumption that the young man had dropped out of school? Was it because the pedestrian had long hair? Was it because the driver often saw the pedestrian walking? Little did the presumptuous older man know that the younger man was on his two mile walk home from the train…the train that took him to college each day where he was earning a 4.0, while working a part-time job on the side.
"Try not to get caught in a rainstorm when you go for an interview," said the career adviser to the young woman who had taken public transportation through a thunderstorm in order to make it to the appointment for which she was paying the older woman $75 of precious borrowed money to help with her resume.
Were these young people "poor people" who were raised in poor families? Not at all. They were middle class people who didn't currently have a car, middle class people who had seen better times.
"Middle class people who have seen better times" are all around us. We rub elbows with them all the time. Many of us "have seen better times" one time or another in our lives.
I remember when I worked part time at J C Penney some years back. Many of the customers treated us salespeople as if we were their lower class servants, as if we have a caste system here, which of course we do not. (I hope.) Perhaps some of the customers who thought they were "better" would have been surprised to learn that one of my co-workers was supplementing her job as an accountant and another was supplementing her job as an elementary school teacher. Who knows why they needed additional money. Perhaps it was just getting hard to make ends meet. Or maybe the other breadwinner in the family had lost his job, or perhaps there were medical needs.
Of course, working at a department store is not a guaranteed income either. The hours are usually "all over the place"…sometimes leaving at 10 at night and returning again at 6 in the morning; sometimes working 30 hours a week; other times working only 8 hours a week. One person I know took a job at a mall anchor store with "guaranteed five hours a week". Sometimes they would want him to come in for two or three hours at a time, which was barely worth the cost of the gasoline to get there, and certainly not enough to eke out even a meager living.
I have left the names out of my stories to 'protect the innocent', as they say, but all the stories are true. I have spoken with many people about today's economy, and these are just a few of the stories I have heard.
One woman I know was happy to obtain a work-at-home job. For less than ten dollars an hour, she was expected to provide and maintain her own computer and wired internet access. But when the company's connection went down - many times each day - it caused outages for all of the employees, keeping them from doing their jobs. The employees were paid for the time they actually worked, not for the time in between which was spent on outages, which were entirely beyond their control.
And then there are the drug testing stories. One woman I know spent two hours on public transportation, followed by a mile's walk, to reach an agency which had offered her a temp job (the job itself was in a location which would be easier for her to access). She arrived at the agency at the specified time, but after she passed the typing test, the agent told her she would need to go two miles down the road to get a drug test. By the time she would be able to get back, going on foot, they would be closed. They offered no suggestions or encouragement.
And that story reminds me of another story. One young man applied to work at a Walmart store. They sent him over 20 miles (each way) for the drug test. Although he had never used drugs in his life, they never got around to calling him back for a job or an interview.
Then there is the ubiquitous 'job' that sounds legitimate, but turns out to be a networking plan, not an income for someone who is out of work…or worse, it turns out to be a complete scam. In the meantime, the prospect has spent money going to a bogus 'interview'. And no, it is not "ignorant" people who waste their time on these scam interviews. Sometimes it is a college graduate with years of work in a professional career.
Why am I sharing all these stories? It's so easy for our automobile-driven society to think – without really thinking about it – that those people who are walking down the street, those people who stand at bus stops, somehow made the choice to be there rather than to be driving a car, or that those who are unemployed need to "just get a job". For any readers who are unemployed, I want to tell you that there is always hope. I know a lot of people who have been laid off who have gotten a job. But for those of us observing, let's just realize that it is neither easy nor instant.
May we remember that those who are unemployed, or underemployed, and those who do not drive a car for whatever reason, whether they were brought up rich, poor, or middle class, are usually not in this situation through their own "fault". Sometimes they need to exercise incredible perseverance and resourcefulness. Sometimes they need a little help, or a little encouragement. But certainly they need and deserve our complete respect and quite often our admiration.