Thursday, October 14, 2004

“Between Jobs”—Temping in a rotten economy

Faced with the prospect of helping my husband earn some college tuition money for our son, I was hoping that the certificate in word processing that I earned in early 1997 would enable me to find full-time permanent employment. Apparently, I was suffering from delusions of fiscal grandeur. Seven years later, not only am I still temping, I’m now earning $4 less per hour than I earned in 1999—when I actually have a job. In 2001, I went nine whole months without a single day’s work—and six of those months were before the terrorist attacks of September 11. This year, I haven’t worked for a full month straight since the end of March. And my prospects of ever being employed in a full-time permanent position are decreasing in inverse proportion to my age. Thus far, I’ve been passed over for permanent employment on three occasions in favor of people whose knowledge of Word or Excel was not as good as mine—and two of the lucky people were young enough to be my daughters, literally.

I’m not surprised that my husband is less than thrilled about my inability to earn a steady income. What does surprise me, however, is the reaction of my friends. Apparently, I’m considered lucky. First of all, I’m married to a guy at least part of whose income—namely, the pension that he gets from his early retirement after 30 years of drudgery—is stable, albeit insufficient to cover our expenses. Second of all, my husband’s retirement benefits include health coverage. So many of our friends who, like us, are paying college tuition for a kid or two (or facing that prospect down the pike), are dealing with long-term unemployment, difficulty in finding freelance work, and/or ex-spouses whose child-support payments are unreliable. One of my friends is happy to be working two jobs and earning several thousand dollars less than she made several years ago because she now has health insurance for the first time in months. My problems are petty, by comparison. As a result, much of what I have to say is considered trivial and a waste of time that my friends don't have. I've become little more than a nuisance with too much time on her hands.


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