First, a blog note: My Friday Links post will probably be late this week (again). It’s been an exhausting week, and I have a busy weekend planned–so I’ll get to it as soon as I can, but I’m not sure when that will be.
With that out of the way, here are some reflections I’ve been having on the issues I started exploring in my post about millenials and the terrible economy we’ve inherited: one that I’ve best heard described by writer Sarah Kendzior as a post-employment economy.
On a message board discussing both my post and the millenial-bashing one to which I was responding, I read a comment (which unfortunately I can no longer find) that said, basically, money doesn’t buy happiness–that it’s possible to be happy and have a good life without making much money.
On one hand, there’s a lot of truth to that. On the other hand, in our society, money can buy a lot of things it shouldn’t.
Like the ability to follow a career path that interests you.
To a certain extent, money has always been able to purchase opportunity; but as Alexandra Kimball discovered, it’s a lot more extreme now than it was for our parents and grandparents. Entire professions are closed off to all but the wealthy, as she experienced firsthand: after years of trying to start a career in journalism, she was able to break into the field only after receiving a surprise inheritance.
Or, say, compassion.
Take this incident that Adam Weistein relates in his response to the original piece.
Last weekend my baby had a fever, and we contemplated taking him to the ER, and my first thought was – had to be – “Oh God, that could wipe out our bank account! Maybe he can just ride it out?” Our status in this Big Financial Game had sucked my basic humanity towards my child away for a minute. If I wish for something better, is that me simply being entitled and delusional?
Or kindness. As Molly Crabapple points out in her brilliant, beautifully written, must-read piece about the relationship between art and money:
So much of the difference between the experiences of rich and poor comes down to kindness. Kindness is scarce. Kindness must be bought.
If you have money, you can pay to live in a bubble of politesse. Excellent wine choice, sir. Here’s your gift bag, madam. Often, you don’t have to pay for it. The mere promise that you might will keep you sipping prosecco and deserving of servile attentions. Soon, you think this treatment is earned.
Meanwhile, we treat the poor with casual cruelty. Single moms on welfare have their homes searched by police to make sure they’re not hiding a man in the closet. But it’s too much to ask bankers to justify the bonuses they sucked off the public teat. The poor get stop-and-frisk, drug tests, and constant distrust.
In our current system, money doesn’t just buy things. It buys the right to be treated like a human being.
In our current system, popularity and acclaim rarely translate into money. Authors who have published multiple books can barely make ends meet. Authors who could write amazing books don’t do so because they can’t afford to. And some people, like Weinstein, have careers that look great on the outside, until you get down to the dirty financial details:
I’ve tempered the hell out of my expectations of work, and I’ve exceeded those expectations crazily to have one interesting, exciting damned career that’s culminated in some leadership roles for national publications. And I’m still poor and in debt and worked beyond the point where it can be managed with my health and my desire to actually see the son I’m helping to raise.
This is the world that my generation has grown up into. One in which hard work and smarts don’t guarantee a meaningful career; a meaningful (or any) career doesn’t guarantee a living wage; and the basic building blocks of a good life are slipping farther and farther away from all but the rich.
Of course, millenials aren’t the only victims of the post-employment economy. We grew up directly into the worst of it, and that will shape the rest of our lives. But people of all ages are suffering.
And I have no tolerance for those who would blame Boomers for their children’s predicament. The vast majority of Boomers have no more control over the economic system than we do. I blame the politicians, the bankers, the 1% of the 1%. I blame power, and the things that people do to keep and consolidate that power.
Last night I came home from my (temporary, no-benefits, low-paying) job and read the most heart-wrenching and infuriating story I’ve read in a long time: that of Margaret Mary Vojtko, an 83-year old adjunct professor who died in extreme poverty after losing her job while fighting cancer.
I can’t even begin to explain the depth of my rage that we live in a world where this happens. A world in which a professor can teach for 25 years but never receive health insurance, or retirement benefits, or a salary over $25,000. A world in which a professor–or anyone–is left to die alone and nearly homeless after decades of hard work.
A world in which compassion, as Weinstein and Crabapple so eloquently observed, is reserved for the rich.
I hate that this is the world we live in.
Right now, I’m too angry and sad and bone-deep exhausted to say much more.
I want change. I don’t know where to find the energy to start fighting, while I’m still trying to stay afloat myself.