Jul 28, 2014

COMMENTARY: The Abyss Of Being Underemployed

My good friend Deb is a substitute teacher in the Racine Unified School District, but she's in this really weird place with her career.

COMMENTARY: The Abyss Of Being Underemployed

I had coffee with my friend Deb this morning at my house. And as we spoke, I realized she is in the precarious position of being underemployed and uncounted in those monthly unemployment numbers. The reason is that she’s not unemployed, but she is seeking a job and having a hard time finding one.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in art in 2000 and got a teaching certificate three years ago. She’s also really close to getting her master’s degree in teaching art. So right now she’s a substitute teacher.

And while she’s consistently getting some work through , she doesn’t get benefits through them. Last year she taught biology, and she was assigned to follow five special education students through their general school schedule to assist them in any way possible. She didn’t have a degree in biology or special education, but did have a little bit of training in special education at Cardinal Stritch. This year she’s teaching Spanish, and she has no training in that either. She’s proud of her ability to adapt.

“Teaching is teaching,” she said. “I can teach just about anything just as long as the information is spelled out in the lesson plan.”

Still, she wishes she had a full-time job and she’s interviewed for a number of full- and part-time jobs in a number of school districts, but she hasn’t been able to break the barrier from part-time sub to a full-time employment.

Don’t get me wrong she’s happy to have the work. But she struggles to make ends meet and is in the process of filing bankruptcy because she doesn’t have enough cash flow coming in the door to pay her student loans or credit card bills. She doesn’t like the feeling of having to file bankruptcy, but she’s at a place where she feels like she has to do it.

“I’m angry,” she said. “I got my bachelor’s degree based on the information that I was told – that there would be jobs. But now there are none.”

Now she’s actively seeking a part-time job, a full-time job, or any job she can to help her make ends meet. But even that has become a challenge. She just applied for a job as a banquet server position where she wouldn’t even handle money, and yet the employer said they’d be doing a credit check. The job pays $9 an hour and she’s pretty sure she won’t be getting it. She’s now applying for positions that high school kids usually get, and she’s often told she’s overqualified. But she keeps showing up, keeps applying, and keeps trying.

But she’s frustrated.

“I feel like suing the government,” she said. “The credit card companies call me all the time, and I’m trying the best I can. I’ve got $5 in my checking account, and now they want to sue me.”

She can’t file for unemployment in the summer because she has a reasonable assurance of continuing substitute teaching in the fall.

“Which I really don't understand because construction workers receive unemployment during their downtime and they also have a reasonable assurance of work when weather permits,” she said. “Oh, and not only was I told that there would be jobs, but I was also expecting to receive all of the benefits that used to go along with being a teacher. Yes, I would LOVE to sue the government and make them buy back my degree and time spent. However, I wouldn't be subbing now without a teacher certification.”

Deb wants to work. She loves teaching. But somehow she’s in this precarious place she never planned on and never expected to be in, and right now she’s having to adapt her American Dream to mean getting a job, any job that has benefits and where she can make ends meet.

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