I live in the perpetually repressed Midwest (feel free to use that as your goth-rockabilly band name) where jobs are as scarce as its citizens' political debates that don't use the N-word. The area is basically town, corn, town, corn, corn, corn, town, corn ... so unless you're made of fertilizer, there's not much available for you to do. So when I hear people using phrases like "just get a job" when talking about the poor, I can't help but think that they've never walked in their half-eroded, knockoff Walmart shoes. It's hard for a financially secure person to understand why it's so difficult if they haven't lived it.
I have. And I can tell you that the hurdles small-town people face come equipped with razor wire and live ammo watchtowers. For instance ...
#5. Everyone Is Competing for Shit Work
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You don't have to live in a small town to know that there's not much to do in one. Outside of Doc Hollywood and that one Chevy Chase movie where he's a writer in a small town full of sociopaths, a main character who lives in one will usually be trying to escape it. What's easy to forget is that the lack of entertainment means a lack of the businesses that provide it -- hence, less jobs.
Because of the small populations of these towns, the businesses that aren't absolute necessities (grocery stores, gas stations, bars) see very little foot traffic, so they need a very small staff. Many times, those stores are just run by the owners themselves. And when you look at that as a whole, it adds up to a small handful of businesses with a small handful of employees to sustain an entire community of people. Not counting meth labs, obviously.
Ain't nothin' in that barn 'cept cows and love, son. Move along.
Unless the town has a local factory, the aforementioned grocery stores and gas stations are often going to be the most likely places to find a job -- they're the ones making money. My town has three gas stations, one grocery store, and about 2,000 citizens ... a large portion of whom currently have applications on file at all four places. Since the demand for employment is so high and the supply is so low, the businesses are now free to drop their starting pay down to "fuck you and any pets you might have."
Everything is minimum wage, because not only can anyone do those jobs, if someone complains, there's the door. They could hire someone new by the end of the hour. And you can bet your ass that if you're looking for an evening shift, you're just screwed -- it's going to a high school kid because they are somewhat disposable. You don't have to worry about vacation time, seniority, babysitter problems ... many of them are already on their parents' insurance, so you don't have to give them that benefit. Plus, they're still young enough to work with a hangover and not think anything of it.
Underneath his boyish charms lies a quivering colon of pent-up hatred.
Of course, if you are one of the lucky few to get local work, it can actually get even worse because ...
#4. Businesses Take Advantage of Part-Time Labor
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Our local grocery store, IGA, is one of the few businesses in the area that can and does hire dozens of people. When my mother-in-law moved here last year, she got a job there doing office work and payroll. She's basically a manager without having the title or vast flowing wizard robes of one. It's a pretty important job, which is why they pay her enough that she can live the life of luxury in income-based housing and qualify for government assistance with food.
How? Well, first, they start by paying her a single-digit per-hour wage (even after a raise), and as the manager told her with pride, "That's the most we've ever paid anyone for this position! You're doing great work!" Second, they have only two or three full-time employees, and she's not one of them. Everyone who isn't full-time is prohibited from working more than 28 hours per week so that they can avoid legally mandated healthcare benefits. Score!
"Feeling better? Good. Now get the fuck out of my hospital, you uninsured ingrate."
So now if she wants to earn a livable wage, she'll have to take a second part-time position at a different business under the same rules and work 56 hours per week. Sixteen of those hours that would normally go to overtime won't, because they're split between two jobs. The benefits that she'd normally get from one full-time job with those hours aren't available, so basically, she's working in the 1850s again. I'm genuinely surprised they haven't fined her for wearing gentleman trousers.
It's like that everywhere now. And don't get me wrong, I'm not picking on businesses. I completely understand the need for cuts and why they do it. I have no interest in a debate about morality -- I'm more interested in the effects it has in reality. And the reality that I'm seeing is that the average person working the average small-town job is finance-dicked right in their average assholes.
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Great. Now she's forced to sell her sweet-ass chair. You can't even call that a Depression Room anymore.
So what's the next logical step? Finding work in the next bigger town and commuting. People do that all the time, so what's the problem? Well ...
#3. Paychecks Are Destroyed by Commutes
The general rule of thumb in the Midwest is that every town is about 30 minutes' drive from the next, and every group of towns usually has a sort of central mini-city hub that fares better than all the rest. For people who have never been out of a big city, it's not like suburbs. These are individual towns separated by long stretches of nothing but open road, wandering dogs, and the flat remnants of once-wandering dogs.
These hub cities attract workers from many of the surrounding smaller cities, but it's not without its sting. When my wife worked 40 minutes away, we were paying roughly $60 a week ($240 a month) in gas alone. And that's even with a fuel-efficient car. If you're single or both parents work at the same time, you also have to factor in costs of babysitters and the occasional call from school saying, "This little shitfuck is sick as balls. Come pick his bitch-ass up, dawg."
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"We tried to stop the fever by putting a really stupid scarf on him, but it didn't work."
Then there's the fact that you're losing a minimum of one hour every day just from the drive, but you can't get around it because what other choice do you have? By the time you factor in all the nickel-and-dime bullshit (oil changes and tires need attention much more often), that commute has cut your paycheck into neat little fragments like it was on an episode of Dexter.
But people commute all the time in bigger cities. What's the big deal about doing it in small ones? The hub cities I'm referring to are just larger versions of the smaller towns that surround it. We're talking about an area where the largest town is 10,000 people. And since everyone is attempting to get a job in that city, the "we'll pay you jack shit and you'll fucking like it" rule still applies. Yes, the jobs are more plentiful there, but the pay is pretty much the same. The only way to stop the commute cost from wiping its ass with your bank statement is to move to that town, which often has a higher cost of living.
"And this strip under the window is your bed. That'll be four trillion dollars, please."
Oh, and there's also the fact that ...