Few jobs are uniformly good. But some are unrelentingly awful, and you remember them as you would a bully’s fist.
I remember the wretched May of 1981 when, at the untempered age of 20, I sold encyclopedias door-to-door in poor trailer parks that ringed the outskirts of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. I remember the unemployed residents, drunk and foul in their singlets. I remember the doorless freezers, rusting in gravel drives. I remember the feral dogs chained (if I were lucky) to iron bars driven into cracked and broken lawns.
I remember the infamous summer of 1982 when the only jobs recession-ravaged Halifax offered a young, university-bound father of an infant daughter were dish washer at a greasy spoon on the failing thoroughfare of Spring Garden Road and box boy at a woman’s garment store in a crumbling strip mall in the city’s dying west end.
I remember the middle-aged matrons who managed these establishments reeking of unrequited desire and cheap perfume. I remember the weekly pay packets, rattling with just enough loose change to pay for the bus rides home and 36 hours (again, if I were lucky) worth of groceries.
All of which flooded back to me the other week when, while researching a piece on youth employment in Canada and the United States, I happened upon an item penned in 2002 for my favorite parodic organ of news and opinion, The Onion.
“In a keynote address at the National Economic Summit, (former) President Bush issued a bold challenge to the nation’s business leaders Monday, calling on them to create 500,000 shitty jobs by next year,” the squib began. ‘So long as unemployment continues to rise, this recession will continue, as well,’ said Bush, speaking before nearly 400 of the nation’s top CEOs. ‘That is why I am turning to you to create thousands of new shit jobs. Whether it is a night-shift toilet-cleaning position at an airport or a fry-cook post. . .it’s up to you to help provide every hard-working American with a demeaning, go-nowhere job.’”
To be any good at all, satire demands verisimilitude, and this is good satire. More’s the pity; for in the intervening years, conditions have, if anything, worsened, especially for young people.
As the The Huffington Post reported earlier this year, “In 2000, the United States had the lowest non-employment rate for 25- to 34-year-olds among countries with large, wealthy economies. By 2011, America had one of the highest youth non-employment rates compared to its peers, according to a New York Times op-ed by David Leonhardt, the paper’s Washington bureau chief. . .As unemployment soared during the Great Recession, young people – with and without college degrees – were forced to compete with more experienced candidates suddenly out of a job for very few openings. The result: Nearly half of the nation’s unemployed are under the age of 34, according to a report last month from public policy organization Demos.”
Moreover, Huff Post declared, “It doesn’t seem like things will get better for America’s young people any time soon. Demos found that the U.S. economy will have to create more than 4 million jobs before young adults will be employed at levels similar to those before the recession. In addition, 16.1 percent of Americans ages 18 to 29 were out of work in April, according to Generation Opportunity, a nonpartisan youth advocacy group.”
And this doesn’t begin to touch the gathering “truly-bad-job” phenomenon, which Canadian writer and filmmaker Jim Munroe dissects to marvelous effect in his 2011 mockumentary, “Ghosts With Shit Jobs”. In it, he chronicles the daily, working lives of a band of young professionals as they struggle to survive a dystopian future following the economic collapse of the western world and the concurrent ascent of China.
His cast of characters, variously, assemble android babies for affluent Asians, operate as human “spammers” pushing corporate products and brands in the otherwise polite company of restaurants and call centers, and function as virtual-reality repairmen ridding cyberspace of plethora copyright infringements and expired slogans.
It’s damn funny stuff. It is, that is, until you realize the filmmaker is not kidding, and it’s no joke.