I blush to admit this, but the recession has been something of a blessing for me. Subject to two short intervals, once when I was a 19/20 year old exchange student and was not allowed to work abroad, and once for a few months after my second child was born, I’ve worked steadily since I was 17.
I worked my way through college and law school. Since I am self-employed, I went back to work within a week of my first child’s birth. I slowed down briefly after my second child only because I’d reached the end of my rope, and was worried about damaging my reputation as a quality attorney.
Admittedly, since I’ve had children, I stopped being the primary breadwinner, but I kept working, with my workload varying between 20-40 hours a week. In between times, I was also a full-time parent to my children, as well as I full time housekeeper. I did volunteer work at the schools and youth organizations, ran carpools, shopped, cooked, cleaned, did laundry, helped with homework, etc.
I’m neither boasting right now, nor complaining. I’m not boasting because I know dozens of other mothers who carry the same load, most with more grace and competence than I. And I’m not complaining because, thanks to the recession, my work dried up. It’s been a tremendous relief for me to hold down only one job: parent/homemaker, and not to have to worry about legal work on top of it all. Indeed, I’m going to regret it when the recession (eventually) ends, and my phone starts ringing again. I’ve liked not working and have been fortunate enough to be able to afford not to work.
A friend of mine hasn’t been working lately either. Her story is quite different from mine, and it’s why I’m not always quite as sympathetic as I should be to all of the jobless claims. You see, my friend has been unemployed for 4 years. Her husband has been unemployed for 13 years. Up until 4 years ago, they lived off of her salary. Then, they lived off of their savings. Now, after having abandoned their home to the bank (a home worth substantially less than the original loan the bank issued them) they’re living off the last dregs of their savings, plus food stamps. Welfare is not far away.
If you ask them, they will tell you that they’ve given up on looking for jobs (and my friend, to give her credit, looked very hard for work in her rather narrow, specialized field). What they say is that there are no jobs to be had where they live, so why bother? What they won’t tell you is that, despite their travails, they’re very picky. The jobs that are available are “beneath them.” The hourly pay is too low to be worth their while. (This is especially true for jobs that do not require special training, such as fast food store clerks, etc., where the pay for a tiring, demoralizing job is comparable to that of a welfare check.) The company that might hire them has an inconvenient habit of requiring drug tests. Unlike my parents’ generation, which would do anything or move anywhere (following the jobs) to bring in money, my friends represent a generation that believes that, unless the job is not only just right, but is also in their back yard, they really shouldn’t have to work.
My friend’s friends are similarly situated. They live a welfare lifestyle that doesn’t include such bourgeois notions as being a reliable employee, refraining from drugs and alcohol, having children within wedlock, etc. Although they swell the unemployment roles, their unemployment isn’t a problem of the recession, it’s a moral problem.
I know with absolute certainty (or at least I think I know this) that my friends are not representative of the vast majority of those left unemployed by this economy. I know that whole industries, especially those that are traditionally male dominated (c0nstruction, especially) have been wiped out. I know that, because the government has sucked money out of the private sector and paralyzed potential employers with fright, there are simply fewer private sector jobs to be had.
But I also know that there are people out there who, like me, are enjoying being unemployed. The difference between them and me is that, while I can afford it (at least for now), they cannot. Or, rather, they can also afford it, but only as long as you pay the bill. I also suspect that, once the American taxpayers stop willingly footing this bill (Nancy Pelosi’s economic theories notwithstanding), this specific subgroup of unemployed people will find that there is less virtue in their work-free lifestyle.
I’ve never been a fan of George Bernard Shaw (a bombastic old socialist who believed in eugenics, and therefore supported the “cleansing” aspects of Nazi social policy), but he certainly articulated beautifully the distinction between the deserving and the undeserving poor, as articulated by that delightful reprobate, Alfred Doolittle:
What am I, Governors both? I ask you, what am I? I’m one of the undeserving poor: that’s what I am. Think of what that means to a man. It means that he’s up agen middle class morality all the time. If there’s anything going, and I put in for a bit of it, it’s always the same story: “You’re undeserving; so you can’t have it.” But my needs is as great as the most deserving widow’s that ever got money out of six different charities in one week for the death of the same husband. I don’t need less than a deserving man: I need more. I don’t eat less hearty than him; and I drink a lot more. I want a bit of amusement, cause I’m a thinking man. I want cheerfulness and a song and a band when I feel low. Well, they charge me just the same for everything as they charge the deserving. What is middle class morality? Just an excuse for never giving me anything. Therefore, I ask you, as two gentlemen, not to play that game on me. I’m playing straight with you. I ain’t pretending to be deserving. I’m undeserving; and I mean to go on being undeserving. I like it; and that’s the truth. Will you take advantage of a man’s nature to do him out of the price of his own daughter what hes brought up and fed and clothed by the sweat of his brow until shes growed big enough to be interesting to you two gentlemen? Is five pounds unreasonable? I put it to you; and I leave it to you.
Both the federal the state governments paint only in broad, distant, brush strokes. They are incapable of distinguishing between the deserving poor and the undeserving poor. If charity was a bit closer to home, there might be a better process for winnowing out those who truly want work and those who, like me, are enjoying a recession breather.