This was a bizarre word to hear shouted outside the House of Blues restroom.
“Hey! Do you want to spin the wheel?”
I looked to my left. Two people about my age were standing next to a folding table with a Price is Right – style contest wheel attempting to compete with the souvenir stand.
“Boy, do I!” I answered. I had time. I love snack food. Frankly, I love winning things. Who doesn’t? Who wouldn’t want to spin the wheel?
I walked over to their table and smiled at the man and woman who were caught off guard by my enthusiasm. I spun. And won. We all did the obvious thing and cheered with delight. The wheel is designed to give away the goods, of course, but we all acted out our socially required roles with the expert-level execution of people who fake their way through their day.
As I stood holding my prize – a bag of nacho cheese Combos, my smile faded and I was overcome by a feeling I was unprepared for: sadness.
“Can I ask you both something?” I couldn’t help myself. As a dog walking bartender with two bachelor’s degrees, I’ve made a habit of wondering what people’s educational backgrounds are.
They shrugged and said sure; they weren’t going anywhere. After asking their age, I offered mine – 32 – so they would feel free to be honest. Erin was 31 and Jamie was 29. Between the two of them they had three degrees in the business and marketing fields. Their current jobs were with a third-party marketing company promoting various products at random events such as the Keb’ Mo’ concert that had brought us together.
“Is this part of your regular gig, or is there overtime for coming out tonight?” Both shifted their stances and as Erin sighed, Jamie explained that it was part of their job. “But it’s cool, ya know, coming out to a venue like this and getting to chat with people.”
I shared a knowing smile with Erin and attempted to inquire further without injuring Jamie’s optimistic attitude. Who was I to loosen his grip on a hopeful outlook?
“It sounds like you’ve put a positive spin on the situation, man.” I shook my head. “I’m just remembering when these events were done by enthusiastic 22-year-old interns as they broke into the job market, ya know?”
Erin looked like she desperately wanted to light one of the cigarettes peeking out of her purse. “Yeah, I know. We don’t bother with interns anymore; they just have us do it all,” she said. “What’re we gonna do, quit? At least this is almost what I went to school for.”
I said I completely got it. We wished each other luck and parted ways.
Officially, the unemployment rate in the United States is currently at a not totally horrendous sounding 8.3%. And, of course, the 22 months of job growth we’re experiencing is clearly better than the 700,000 jobs we were losing monthly under the previous administration. But as the blue side of the isle touts this lower rate as an achievement and the red side ignores it, an entire segment of the population is getting lost because they’re a political liability for everybody:
While Erin and Jamie hock Combos to pay their student loans, Congress is holding hearings on contraception, trying to bankrupt the Post Office and pushing a pipeline to carry Canadian oil to Asia.
The media don’t pay much attention either; it’s simply not a flashy topic. The lead headline on the New York Times website is “Group Backing Romney Spent $14 Million in January.” Fox News is featuring stories on Alabama’s upcoming tornado season and the Pakistani Air Force’s homemade iPad. NBC news – now combined with sports on their website – proclaims that a high school fan who asked his date to prom on their station got the reply he wanted: “Yes!”
This is what we’re talking about? Americans are broke, skating by, coasting on fumes, hanging on by their fingernails…pick a cliché! Even the previously well-off folks are using them right now. They need a middle class with money left over after the bills are paid so they can buy the non-essentials that the well-off stream into the market.
Even when jobs are discussed in Washington and state capitols not run by corporatist right-wing governors, they’re completely generalized. “Job.” Just looking at that word infuriates anyone who’s in search of a specific type of employment. Especially those of us who thought we would be using a slightly different word by now: “career.”
At the risk of sounding ungrateful for the improving job market in this country, I am urging for the improvement of the career market to come next. Likely, this will require the development of new industries, the halting of rampant outsourcing, the return of manufacturing and the fostering of a national pride in ingenuity.
Access to education would be a great place to start. This summer’s debt ceiling legislation decimated the Pell grant program and made it nearly impossible for anyone not lucky enough to be the child of rich parents to pursue an ambitious collegiate path.
Instituting sensible trade policy, developing a reality-based training program for adults needing to change fields, national investment in 21st century industries and rebuilding our mid-20th century infrastructure should be priorities in the platform of anyone seeking office this November.
It’s time we thought long term – past the next election cycle. If we can’t convince our elected officials to join us, we are all going to be stuck spinning our wheels.
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**To tell your elected officials (state and federal) that well-paying jobs matter to you, visit: http://www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml **
Categories: Finding My Voice