I’ve written before about a 22 year old woman who comes in and out of my daily life — to respect her privacy I’ll be even more vague about where — who occasionally asks me questions about finances and jobs. When I last spoke with her she asked me about getting a credit card. Her father told her never to owe any money, to buy everything for cash. I explained about the need to build a credit rating if she ever wants to buy a big ticket item like a home, and said that pay-as-you-go is pretty hard to do in our economic system. I explained about paying off your credit card bill within the month, so you don’t incur interest on a balance. She did go to a credit union here in Seattle, and was told that if she saved $300 with them, they’d give her a card. Painstakingly, she did so — it took many months. But at that point, she sounded fairly optimistic and proud, as if she felt she was getting ahead.

I ran into her again yesterday, and her voice has taken on a new note of bitterness. For the past two months she’s been working a third job, just to make ends meet, and she’s exhausted. She asked me what kind of better job I thought she could get, because she’s really not managing on so little sleep. She’s a high school graduate, and wondered about the for-profit places that promise to teach you computer skills. I pointed out that the average 15 year old male already knows more than she does about computers, and the chances of her getting a good job through one of those programs is very small — plus she would incur student loan debt that is difficult to discharge. Her response was this: “Every time I get a good idea, life smacks me down. America screws people like me. The system screws people like me.”

I didn’t ask her if she’s a Trump voter, but the response sounded that way. She also said she gets a lot of her information about the system from talk radio — which I assume means right wing talk radio. I listen to the radio in my car, and none of the stations I’m likely to follow use that kind of rhetoric.

I talked with her for about half an hour, and the best option I could come up with is that she do some digging to find industries that are having a hard time filling jobs, and see if she can sell herself into a paid training program. That’s going to take a lot of spade work —  hard to do when you lack time to sleep — and the prospects are not robust. Those are the kinds of programs apt to lose federal support from the “reforms” of a Republican Congress.

This young woman is the poster child for why “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” often doesn’t work. She is hard working. She has some incorrect notions about building financial security, but basically she’s moving in the right direction. I suspect she’s honest, and has a good work ethic. And all of that isn’t enough. She’s going to need a boost of some kind, and in the new political world we are navigating, the hope of that is likely to come up very short.


4 thoughts on “Bitter

  1. Pam, I don’t know if you mentioned a Community College to this struggling 22yo. It sounds like she would be eligible for a Perkins loan, & possibly grants. The CC’s offer lots of career training classes; do aptitude testing; & have counseling services. She would probably have to quit at least one of her jobs to find the time to attend part-time, and to study. PS. Loved all your Panama blogs!

  2. for Eileen: I did talk with her about community college, but perhaps not strongly enough. Will take another run at it. I asked her if there’s anyone in her world who can be a mentor or supportive person, if not a parent then a teacher, an aunt — someone. She says not. She’s really floundering. Thanks for this — good resource, community college.

  3. That’s sad. She’s struggling and trying it seems, to get ahead. Wondering if it is all the story or if you just get the part she wants you to interpret? It does suck to work hard and never get ahead and feel continually down and stressed. So the saying plays in the mind, what your doing isn’t working, change it. Hopefully she gets on a different path.

  4. for J: I’m sure I’m not getting the whole story, but I think the shift in tone is genuine — she was more hopeful before, and less so now. Unfortunately none of her three jobs pays much. Hard to make a go in Seattle, which is an expensive city, with a high school education and no real strong skill set.

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