tatjna (tatjna) wrote,

Homeless, it's the new black

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).


[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.
Tags: bootstraps!, ranty rant rant, who voted for these idiots?
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