Being employed without pay. We used to call it indentured servitude, and then slavery, now we call it an internship.
I have had a job since I was too young to have one, I was never overworked, but I was also underpaid. But that is beside the point. In reality, nobody ever feels like they are being paid enough.
I began working one early morning during summer break when I was just barely a teen. A Mexican immigrant woke me before daybreak saying it was time to go to work. I went without question. I hauled hay that summer and every summer after for several years. I was paid 10 cents a bail, I made $100 a day.
At 16, a began washing dishes at a restaurant, several in fact, eventually I waited tables. At 19, I tried to work and go to college. I worked at central mail at the university. I delivered pizza. I mowed lawns. I did whatever I could. And I failed. Literally. I went to the military, in part for discipline, but mostly for the money, the college money, because the pay in the military, well, it isn’t glamorous.
Four years later, I left the navy from the deck of a carrier doing ops in the Middle East.
Coming home was bittersweet. I felt like I didn’t know anything else but the military. But I left with high hopes of landing a good job, getting my own place, becoming a civilian again.
Ultimately I slept on my brothers couch for 3 months. My skills were unmarketable. Four years prior I could get 7 jobs in a week. Now I couldn’t even find a job at a gas station.
Again, I caught a break and began waiting tables again. I had to move in with an old friend. I worked from 5 to midnight. I enrolled at the local community college. My GI Bill didn’t cover all the costs of college. It covered books, tuition and fees. I needed money.
My grades again slipped. I quit. I returned home, 25, living with my mom, once again looking for a job. Luckily I stumbled into the local newspaper office, with a dream I could sweep floors and clean windows, and maybe earn myself a spot as a writer.
I convinced the owner to let me write and be a photographer. My selling point. That I was a veteran, and he was once a reservist. The brotherhood prevailed. If you missed it, that was sarcasm.
All the jobs I had interviewed for before had me typecast as a war monger, a hyper conservative, under qualified, a veteran. My skills couldn’t be applied to any job no matter how hard I sold it.
So how did I end up here, now, with no pay. Because we have corrupted an effective system. Once there were apprentices, they worked for the journeyman, they received some pay, food and lodging, it wasn’t much, but it helped as the novices education was underway. No we have internships, where students pay tuition, or even pay companies, to work for no pay in order to have the ever elusive experience. To escape the vicious cycle of ‘you have no experience, you can’t be hired’ but ‘if nobody hires me, how do I get experience.’ Most people I’ve known have at some point encountered the Catch 22 of finding employment.
So now, we have experience, we were interns, but who wants to hire them, they have to be retrained now. I’m sorry, you can have an entry level position. Meanwhile, we hear the dream stories of the Steve Jobs, the Bill Gates, all the greats that made it without college degrees. But we bought the idea, we got caught in the Ponzi Scheme and now can’t sell our stock. Ironically, our stock is ourselves.
This position isn’t unique to veterans, but veterans feel it uniquely, most of us didn’t join the military to be career military, we joined to have experience, to increase our marketability, to earn money for college, and to have an advantage in the workplace. What we got was baggage we didn’t pack and we’re spending our time and our money to try and fully integrate back into society.
We’ve gone to school, earned degrees, and most of us can’t get minimum wage jobs, if we find jobs at all.
I wonder why any veteran would find themselves entangled in the occupy protests.
You tell me.