At the end of 2008 I said “Good-bye” to the corporate world. So long to 60 hour weeks and driving over 1,500 miles a month. I Also said “So long” to 4 weeks a year of paid vacation and a 6 figure income- salary, bonus and expenses. Oh and great benefits*. So there I was, unemployed as of December 16, 2008 with a 401(k), my best ever bonus payment on its way and a chance to start over. If you are hoping to read how I took the world by storm and started raking in tens of thousands of dollars, or expecting a story of happiness in spite (or because) of learning to live on minimum wage, you will be disappointed.
I set about turning my existing part-time pet photography and graphic design businesses full-time. Why, you ask, would anyone do such a thing just when the recession was clearly on the horizon if not already actually on-shore?
Well, it was not my choice. I was part of a 50% staff reduction. Although I immediately engaged in an intensive search for new full-time employment I had turned 50 that summer. That biological fact combined with having been employed for 12 years in one industry meant I was not as attractive to other employers as you might think. Oh that former employer is unnamed due to the incredibly broad wording of the Release I signed in order to receive such Severance as was offered. I can report that it has since been merged/with into two different companies it formerly competed against. A sign of the further destruction of the Middle Class.
The former pet photography business is gone; closed up after five years. Graphic design and fine art photography are enjoyable but not profitable. Over the past six years I have done seasonal work for the US Census Board and a regional school picture company, completed a good number of classes in digital photography and design at Columbus State Community College and now work evenings cleaning break-rooms and bathrooms in a local warehouse. Low pay and no benefits (no vacation pay, not even holiday pay).
Sadly the number of people who receive the living wage and comprehensive benefits I once enjoyed shrinks every year. Who is to blame? Corporations certainly play a part. At the same time, we must take steps to reign in our addiction to rampant consumerism. Demanding ever-lower prices and a constant stream of New or Improved Widgets but refusing to accept responsibility for the inevitable environmental and human costs is dangerously delusional.
So while I support the Fight for Fifteen movement for a living wage, it must be only one aspect of a larger movement; we, the people must take back our country from the corporatists (secular and religious) that are working to bring a New Improved Feudalism (now with Internet access) to life.
* To illustrate those “great benefits I reference above; after a serious auto accident in November 2000 and an 18 day stay in hospital I had only a $7 co-pay for my pain meds. Short- and Long-term disability covered 60% of my salary until I returned to work full-time. These days such compassionate treatment seems reserved for a very few.