I’m not alone out there. I’m not the only over-educated, under-employed, struggling thirty-something. I’ve had some earnest discussions about this with a few people in my community here in Portland, Oregon, and what I’ve learned has actually had me pause quite a bit and think.
Where this whole experience really has me trapped is when it comes to social interactions. As a single man, I find myself facing times when the company of another would be most welcome. Even in the darkest parts of a long, seemingly-endless search for work, or just those days when I haven’t got any money and I’m stuck with my own thoughts, I still find myself reaching out across the void for some human interaction. I usually keep it light and friendly, using one of the many dating apps one can install on their phone.
More often than not, though, the standard question of “What do you do?” comes up, and it’s then that I feel myself shutting down. Every. Damn. Time. It’s as if, suddenly, I’m being measured against a stick. Where do I fall on the income scale? What does this say about my value? Will this person with whom I’ve struck up a conversation and might have an interest in suddenly find themselves looking down at me, and finding a way away from the misery that they know I’m in economically? Every time I set out, I come up with a better, more appropriate way to indicate that I’m “seeking future opportunities.” I have a degree in English, and a Master’s in Creative Writing. Finding a way to say “I’m unemployed” that is as genteel as possible comes easy to me. The thing is, what I’m finding, is that the reaction is hardly as egregious as I expect it to be.
The other night, I was on a date, and the person across the table from me, fully employed and still finding ways to be creative in his life, expressed his opinions on the job market and the economy pretty well. His thought were something akin to: You’re not alone.
He went on to explain that, here in Portland especially, the job market has been tight for years. People who appear to be successfully and gainfully employed today were once in my shoes, usually not that long ago. The amount of people migrating here for a better life, usually from places where the job market is even tighter and the cost of living soars well over and beyond that here in the Portland area, is exponentially growing, and for better or worse, it remains to be seen if all of them will find what they’re looking for here.
I came here under different circumstances than most, but I still came, and I’m still trying to live here, somehow.
In this swirl, I have come across more than a few resources and articles that take on the current economy and the generation of people I find myself among. Here are a few:
From OnPoint Radio with Tom Ashbrook: A Generation’s Changing American Dream
Found on Amazon: Coming Up Short: Working-Class Adulthood in an Age of Uncertainty
From The Chronicle of Higher Education: The Burdens of Working-Class Youth
Just doing a Google search for “Working-Class Youth” revealed a lot to me, in fact.
I don’t know where we’re all heading. I don’t know what this all means for me personally, as an American citizen, or a member of a large global community (we aren’t the only place on the earth dealing with this – France, Most of Europe, and eyes on Asia as well), but I know that eventually something will have to give. Something will have to change.