I’ve been trying to find a way to express this one for quite some time, and have started and stopped posts like this for days now. And then I saw this post and decided it was high time to follow through with this one.
I went to college and got a degree in a field that was going to have tens of thousands of job shortages in my country alone. I won’t pretend I graduated with an exceptional GPA, but I quickly got a good paying job (for a new grad, at least) that would allow my then-wife to stay home with our pending bundle of joy. I quickly stood out in my field, largely because I have exceptionally good writing and oral communication skills, and in any technical field, this is a common lack. I moved quickly from the new kid who gets stuck in help desk jobs and what have you to Director of Strategic Web Services. On top of that, I was teaching college on the weekends. Everything was coming up Big Ugly Jim.
The tens of thousands of job shortages are not real. In fact, for many people in the IT field, their jobs are going the way of so many other industries, being outsourced to developing countries. The fact of the matter is you can pay someone a fraction of what you would pay me to program your software or support your server farm if they don’t live in Canada, so why would you not? Assuming you were only motivated by shareholders I mean.
I weathered that storm by returning to the Business Analyst realm. My previous experience was primarily with process optimization and software design, and there is much for me to learn to be a well-rounded BA, but I have made a solid go of this. The rate that companies pay for my services has remained essentially untouched since graduation (actually, it’s down $3 an hour from my first junior developer contract) but I am still making a much higher income on paper than someone from a trade.
Unfortunately, I am divorced with four children. I don’t mean it’s unfortunate that we got a divorce, as my ex and I are much better friends than lovers and my life in that regard is better. It’s also not unfortunate that I have four children, as I love them and am glad to have the opportunity to be their father. But the economic facts are simple, and that is that a very large chunk of my money every month goes to providing for my ex and our children. When all is said and done, I am living on the equivalent of what a typical trades person would make.
I am a contractor. This means higher paychecks. It also means no benefits. I am lucky enough to live in a country with (at least for the time being) socialized medical care for all, but that is surprisingly limited in breadth. Yes, if I developed a heart condition, any surgeries or hospital stays would not cost me anything. But the medication I need would. I don’t like talking about this for reasons that should be obvious, but I have had a case of Athlete’s Foot for way longer than is sane simply because I haven’t had the money to take care of it. Disgusting, I know.
My mouth is no picnic either. I brush regularly and do not suffer from stank breath, but my teeth are awful. As a kid, I had braces and took miserable care of my teeth, which resulted in my getting a bunch of fillings. Filings, I just learned, typically last five to ten years. I got mine about 13 years ago. They are chipping away to nothingness. A couple of years ago, I broke a tooth. It only cost $600 to fix. I live in terror of more of that happening, and it is not a question of if, but when it will happen.
I don’t get vacations. I’m the guy who works through Christmas because I’m the guy who can’t afford not to. I have not had more than a long weekend camping trip in many years, and the number of times that something like a long weekend camping trip has happened is dramatically few.
I know, the obvious answer is that I should just switch and become an employee. Employees get benefits, so I should just become one of them. Well, it’s not that easy, and in my case, not that realistic. I have a divorce agreement that includes child and spousal support. I am legally not allowed to take a cut in pay unless I absolutely have to from something like a collapsing economy. The odds that someone would want to pay me a contractor’s rate AND give me benefits are simply not there. Without a massive promotion, I cannot make that switch to employee.
So what would happen to me if I developed heart problems, or cancer, or something similar? Socialized medicine would save me from expensive bills, but as a contractor, I would not be paid for the duration of any hospital stays. Most companies would likely cancel my contract if a long stay in hospital was required, which would leave me jobless, and even if that did not happen, I would be unable to generate an income while I was incapacitated.
Of course, I am not the only mouth I feed. My ex does not currently work. Work for her has been impossible for many years due to one of our children’s mental health problems. The sheer amount of time spent dealing with schools, seeking programming to help, dealing with police and child services, and all the rest of it simply makes working an impossibility. As such, the money she receives from me is her entire income. If I were not generating an income, neither would she, which would mean my children would be in trouble too.
As well, there is The Lovely Lady and The Demon. The Lovely Lady has a college education, but her field simply doesn’t pay her the kind of money necessary to keep the lights on and our names on the doormat. Neither does she receive benefits. She could certainly provide for us, but we would have to find a new place to live (in a town where rents are climbing faster than reasonable) and make drastic changes to our already limited quality of life.
I have a degree. I have many years of excellent experience. I have skills others in my field lack. But all it would take to destroy me utterly would be a single significant health problem, or a contract loss, or an unexpected eviction, or a series of broken fillings, or an ex-roommate who took advantage, or damn near anything.
Most of the people I know who are in a better situation can directly attribute that to their parents. My parents never had the kind of money to be able to help me in those grandiose ways, like handing me a downpayment on a house or the like. They helped out plenty, and I am eternally grateful for all they have done and all they continue to do to help their loser son, but the level with which they could help out was dramatically less than those other parents. I assure you, my parents’ help cost them (and costs them) far more than most others.
This is the reality of life for many people in My Home Town. We’re struggling, and we’re not winning the struggle. I get that many of the issues that face me are to do with my choices as a young man, marrying young and having a large family. But I’m not exactly the only person out there in this situation, whether it be by choices made or the simple fact that we are so valueless now. Trades work isn’t valued, and tradespeople tend to be in the same position.
I am an educated professional, and I am poor. I am at most an inch away from the utter destruction of my life, and that inch gets slimmer each passing day. This is the life I live. This is the thing that weighs on every decision I make. This is the thing that tucks me into bed and wakes me up in the morning. This is my reality.