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Homeless, it's the new black - Tactical Ninja

Dec. 3rd, 2010

10:00 am - Homeless, it's the new black

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This is scary. Apparently the US Congress has allowed extended jobless benefits for people laid off from work to expire, which from what I gather means that as of next week, seven and a half million people who've been unemployed for more than 6 months will have no source of income. None.

I wonder what people do to survive when they have no job and no other source of income.

To make matters a bit scarier, a similar thing is being proposed here. Apparently 178,000 people have been on a benefit for more than seven years. Annoying Devil's Advocate Tats wants to know how many of those people are single parents on the DPB, and exactly how those people are supposed to get off the benefit while child care costs more than wages will cover for the kind of jobs that single parents are likely to be able to get straight off a benefit.


"But you're a single parent, Tats!"

Yeah, I am. And I work in a professional job with an income sufficient to support myself and my son in a reasonably comfortable lifestyle, even without receiving Child Support. I haven't been on a benefit for over ten years.

But before that, oh boy.

I went on my first benefit in 1988 - the student allowance while I studied at Waikato University. I did not have rich parents to help me out and my accommodation ate all but $50 of my benefit, so I had odd jobs, three of them, to supplement my income. I cycled around Hamilton to clean other people's houses for $7 an hour, and didn't even make enough money to bring about a reduction in benefit.

After flunking out of University I returned to Dargaville where my parents lived. Anyone lived in Northland here? It's consistently, alongside the East Coast, had one of the highest rates of unemployment in the country. Oddly, these are both rural areas with a higher-than-average Maori population, but that's another rant. When I left University, the seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate was just over 6%. What is it now? just over 6%. Funny that.

So anyway, there was no work available in Dargaville so I went on the dole. I did get some work - seasonal shearing gang work mostly, a bit of horse breaking, that sort of thing. But mostly I was on the dole. I got sick of being on the dole quite quickly. At that point it was $160 a week, and the Much-Maligned-With-Good-Reason Jenny Shipley saw fit to reduce it to $120 a bit down the track. I wanted better. So I went to the local polytech and did the only kind of courses I could do - the free ones.

I did Agriculture where I learned how to shear a sheep, use a chainsaw, drive a tractor, etc etc. This didn't lead to any work because at that point in time agriculture was in freefall and folks were only employing where they had to - ie shearing gangs which I was already doing. So I did a course in office skills. I aced it and got my Pitmans Typing, word processing (OMG DOTMATRIX PRINTERS! OMG GREEN_ON_BLACK SCREENS!) and English For Office Skills. This didn't lead to any work either because Dargaville is an agriculture based economy and agriculture was in freefall.

That covers two years that I was on a benefit. The whole time I was being pushed to get a job, applying for jobs, doing courses, working where I could, and there was nothing. I would go into the Social Welfare office and look at the job board, talk to my case manager and be discouraged once a week. Then one day I snapped. I went in, saw my manager, got told once again that there was nothing for me. So I went back out and grabbed three jobs at random off the board and got back in the queue. Once in the office I sat down and told my manager I wasn't leaving till they referred me for at least one job. They referred me for all three. I got three interviews and was offered three jobs.

The one I accepted was in a florist, on the JobPlus scheme - a subsidy provided by government to small employers to help create jobs. The subsidy was paid for up to a year and because I'd been on a benefit for so long, I qualified for the whole year. They tried to keep me on after a year but it was Dargaville, the money wasn't there and I got made redundant. In this time the freezing works had been built and I got a job there, where I worked till The Kid was born. I didn't end up on a benefit again until after I left my husband, when I ended up on the DPB for a year. I was working the whole time as a fill-in at the freezing works and a kumara packing plant, declaring my income but never making enough money to get off the benefit. Eventually I moved away in search of a better life - I was lucky and had somewhere to go where I wouldn't be charged rent until I got on my feet.

Getting on my feet took two years. I was on the benefit that whole time, while applying for jobs, doing work for free, working in shearing gangs and docking gangs and pinetree pruning gangs, waiting to get my foot in the door. Eventually I did build up enough of a reputation to get almost-full-time work as a casual shepherd. It was scratching but that was enough for me. After ten years of being on and off the benefit, I didn't want to know any more and I dropped it, even though I could have still claimed it because my income was that low.

From there, when my wrists crapped out with white knuckle disease and I was facing being on the benefit again, I found that the skills I'd built up during that time on the benefit and doing casual labour were actually useful and I got a job teaching them to other people. I discovered a penchant for teaching, which led to a tutoring job in Wellington, where I learned the skills that got me the job I have now.

Which pays enough for me to live comfortably, makes me feel like I'm contributing to society, and allows me to educate myself further and postulate smugly on the ills of society in a blog while knowing I don't have to face what those people I'm talking about will have to face.

But get this.

I am white. I come from a family that while not rich, did their damndest to support me. They helped me do well at school and they encouraged me to keep learning. They did not tell me that being a woman would stop me doing anything I wanted. They sold me a car for cheap on a payback system when I needed one. They let me live with them cheaply so I could do courses while on a benefit. I am healthy, able-bodied and intelligent and have been taught to articulate myself well and that I am equal to anyone even if they do have more money than me. And for quite a lot of that ten years I was not a single parent.

And it still took ten years of being on and off the benefit to get to a place where I could leave it behind for good.

Imagine if I were not those things listed in the paragraph above. Those things are not things that make me better than anyone else. What they do is make me luckier. They make me more employable. They are things that came to me through no effort on my part, and a lot of people out there do not have those things. It will likely take longer to get from completely reliant on a benefit to being able to support oneself comfortably for those people. And the reality is that for some people it will never happen. I read a comment the other day where someone had gone to all the job sites and discovered that on that day, there were about 25,000 (ish) jobs available. Compare that with the 325,000 people collecting a benefit, or even the 178,000 long-term beneficiaries.

And then tell me that people are on a benefit long term because they are lazy, because they are stupid, because they'd rather collect the dole than get a job - or even because it's a 'trap' as Paula Rebstock (who no doubt gets paid quite a lot) seems to think.

People are on a benefit long term because there are more people available than there are jobs available. Because NZ's wages have not kept up with inflation and therefore single parents cannot earn enough to pay child care costs so that they can work the hours required by employers. Because New Zealand still has prejudices against people with disabilities, people who are older, people who might get pregnant and people with brown skin. AND BECAUSE THERE AREN'T ENOUGH JOBS TO GO AROUND. And because a lot of the available jobs are only accessible to those who've done the ten or so years of upskilling required while earning minimum wage supplemented by a benefit.

And they are talking about cutting off benefits in three or five years. You don't have to be very good at maths to figure that that's going to leave quite a lot of people, particularly single parents, in a very vulnerable position. New Zealand's child poverty record is abysmal. How will this affect that, I wonder? Because I can't see it doing any good at all. Since when did fiscal responsibility mean crapping on the most vulnerable people in our society? I would have thought it meant reducing superfluous spending or perhaps anticipating things that cause recessions and working to ameliorate the effects of those.

Apparently, instead it means leaving poor people with no source of income. Awesome. I really do fear for those people in the US - 7.5 million people is about 3 million more than the entire population of this country, left with no income, in winter, in a holiday season. Merry Christmas America.


Meanwhile, John Key please shut the fuck up. Yes, you were a fatherless child. That's about all you have in common with the children of those dead miners, or the children of the still-alive miners who worked at the now-defunct Pike River Mine. And don't you ever forget that you got your education for free. "Bootstraps", you say? "You too can be like me" you say? Okay, lets see those straps those kids are supposed to pull themselves up by. Because from what I see, they all got cut before these children were even born (but of course, after you benefited from them).

So.Just.Shut.Up.

[edit] Just so this isn't all me ranting, I'd like to mention that yesterday my car passed its warrant of fitness first try. Why is this momentous? Because at age 40, for the first time in my life I have been able to afford to buy a vehicle that doesn't cost me extra money every time I take it for its warrant. That's a milestone for me.

Comments:

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From:tyellas
Date:December 2nd, 2010 09:09 pm (UTC)
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This!

I continue to be amazed at the difference between urban NZ and rural NZ - I've been in those packhouses, seen the dilapadated country squats rented by acquaintances on the dole, witnessed the travails of two reasonably qualified friends trying to make a living in Waihi. Often when I have overseas visitors cooing over Wellington, I want to shake them by the shoulders and say, "It's not all like this!"
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From:crsg
Date:December 2nd, 2010 09:13 pm (UTC)
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Ever thought about editing something like this and sending it in somewhere for print? There are an awful lot of frustrated people out there, but not nearly as many who can articulate their frustration as well as you can. And while an article such as this in the paper or a local mag may not directly change anything, it would make some people Think. (Also, it'd be totally awesome for its own sake.)
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From:ferrouswheel
Date:December 3rd, 2010 03:15 am (UTC)
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I was thinking something like this too...

tatjna you could be a columnist! ;-)
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From:tatjna
Date:December 3rd, 2010 09:01 am (UTC)
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I have thought about it but I have no idea where to start submitting stuff like this, and tbh my better rants usually pop out randomly with no preparation so I don't know how reliable they'd be.
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From:phaetonschariot
Date:December 3rd, 2010 08:10 pm (UTC)
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I fucking love the Greens.

Rod Donald's daughter was in my class at school, incidentally. I haphazardly came across his funeral and half the square was filled with people (plus the inside of the Cathedral).
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From:victoria7
Date:December 2nd, 2010 09:40 pm (UTC)
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As a person who is unemployed due to health issues and gets food stamps and is so lucky to have a family from church that is willing to house me so that I don't have to live in my car or a shelter, it was wonderful to read your post. It just makes me feel like there's someone in the world who understands. :-)
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From:thatgirljj
Date:December 2nd, 2010 10:19 pm (UTC)
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It's kind of a complicated situation in the U.S. because "unemployment benefits" are a specific type of benefits in a complicated patchwork of assistance. Typically speaking it is only available to people who have worked a minimum amount in the year preceeding their job loss, and typically it's only for a maximum of 6 months. In times of emergency, it is extended past 6 months. For instance, I had lost my job just prior to 9/11 and I got extended benefits because it was impossible to find a job after that... I had interviews the following week that were flat out canceled with no call backs. Given the dire state of the U.S. economy the extended benefits were an acknowledgement that there are not enough jobs to be had.

But there are other benefits for poor people whether or not they've been employed recently. Food stamps are for anyone who makes below a certain threshhold regardless if they're working or not, and there are other supplemental programs for mothers and families with small children (particularly expanded benefits for pregnant women and kids <5). And there's an additional assistance program for the disabled. There's a lot of variation in eligibility though, if you're an unmarried male <65 who doesn't have custody of children, you don't have a lot of options.

The thing that's really upsetting me is that in the mid-90s we did away with the cash assistance "welfare" program in favor of "welfare to work". Which was a program that offered increasing assistance to people who are making an effort to get educated and employed... it includes child care support for people who can't afford daycare on a low paying job or need daycare to attend school. In my state (California) they're preparing to abolish the daycare assistance part of that. Which leaves me with a huge WTF? Why on EARTH is it better to force someone to quit their minimum wage job to take care of their kids in abject poverty than to pay a few bucks of childcare assistance??? I don't get it at all and I think it's criminally irresponsible.
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From:pythia
Date:December 2nd, 2010 10:24 pm (UTC)
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Well put.

Just looking at some of the stats on that page have me angry.

The September 2010 quarter results show there has been a significant divergence in labour market outcomes by gender. The male unemployment rate fell strongly, from 6.9% to 5.7%, while the female unemployment rate rose from 6.8% to 7.2%.

Oh, goody. But hey, let's cancel all the gner studies courses in the country, because they're not needed and women are totally treated as equals.
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From:tatjna
Date:December 2nd, 2010 10:28 pm (UTC)
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The comments on that gender studies article actually made me cry. There are all these women out there going "This is my experience" and so many people falling all over themselves to belittle that experience, blame the women themselves, accuse them of lying and other personality defects, silence them, ignore them, and outright insult them, all in an effort to avoid thinking that maybe if so many women are saying it, they might have a point.

I was going to blog about that today but I'm still a) mad and b) teary about it.

Frankly I am less concerned about the loss of the department than I would be about the loss of the topics, but I know through my own studies in Humanities that gender is a large aspect of all Humanities topics now. And that's a win.
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From:thirstygirl
Date:December 3rd, 2010 02:12 am (UTC)

AWESOME RANT

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I've had my version of this rant pop out at random moments recently. It makes me so freaking angry at the sheer thoughtless privilege and victim blaming on display. If you haven't lived through being on the dole and trying to look for a job when there's a freaking depression on then you should just STFU about it.

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From:phaetonschariot
Date:December 3rd, 2010 08:18 pm (UTC)
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Ugh that childcare article. National's all "omg it's not our fault, we just cut the funding, it's THEIR responsibility to find OTHER ways to make up for it! blame them!"

Oh. Well then. You've convinced me!

Fucking Nats. Can we have another election yet?
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From:bearus_maximus
Date:December 4th, 2010 05:18 am (UTC)
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Apparently, instead it means leaving poor people with no source of income. Awesome. I really do fear for those people in the US - 7.5 million people is about 3 million more than the entire population of this country, left with no income, in winter, in a holiday season. Merry Christmas America.

Hello! I am one of these 7.5 million people. I have a college degree. I am working on a masters degree. I have been unemployed since April 1, 2009. (That's April Fool's Day for those who celebrate.) And I cannot get a job as a personal assistant/nanny. I cannot get a job doing anything, it seems based on my application/interview history. I am terrified that I will lose what little income I'm getting from unemployment. I have no idea what I'll do then. Yes, I can move back home with my parents. But what about paying my credit card debt that I accumulated from my (short) marriage and subsequent divorce and restarting of my life and supplement while unemployed? I have no idea.

I'm still looking for work and hoping something comes through, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't discouraged. I'm beyond discouraged. Some places won't hire me because they think I'll cost too much based on my education. Other places won't hire me because they think I'll leave as soon as something better comes along. And many places won't hire me because when it comes down to me and some other person, if one of us is just a tiny bit more qualified, they'll get the job over me. It doesn't take much in cases like that because there are so many qualified applicants and so few positions. It's a flood for hiring managers who are able to pick the best of several candidates instead of having to settle for someone who's close enough.

And it sucks. A lot. But it's nice to hear that there are other people who are outraged about this beyond America's borders. I appreciate that. I appreciate that someone is watching and thinks this is horrifying besides myself and my other unemployed friends. Thank you for that.
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From:tatjna
Date:December 4th, 2010 05:36 am (UTC)
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It is utterly horrifying to think that a government can actually consider it fiscally responsible to fail to support people through a recession created by government.

And it makes me sick to hear the rhetoric of bootstraps, of personal responsibility and the profiling of jobless people. Like, hi you guys, full employment is the aim of socialist-leaning governments, which you are not - so quit with the blaming people for being unemployed in a system that requires unemployment.

It makes me angry on behalf of anyone who's ever had to accept welfare.
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From:bearus_maximus
Date:December 4th, 2010 06:03 am (UTC)
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It's even more frightening when I look at California's unemployment rate (last time I checked it was between 12-14%) since that the market I'm in.

Nothing the government says or does these days makes much sense at all. It just feels like they're doing their level best to make being the awfulness of being unemployed even worse. How that's possible is beyond me.

It makes all of the healthcare shouting and bickering an insult on top of the injury. I can't get sick because I have no insurance and therefore can't go the doctor. I just recently qualified for a government assistance program called Family PACT which will cover my birth control and girly bit exams. I'm very thankful for that since my birth control pill was going to cost me $60 per month and now it will be free. Because really, it makes sense to make birth control almost prohibitively expensive so that I run a greater risk of getting pregnant because that's sooooooo inexpensive. How does that make sense to the government?

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