In October of 2016, I was chatting on Facebook with a girl I knew sporadically over the previous eight years. She was exactly my type: beautiful, smart and kind. We are both passionate artists and intellectuals, and, after engaging in some highly spirited discussion, finally, progress: there were signs that my departure from the dreaded friend zone had culminated in its first major step. This I ascertained when she asked me what I was doing for a living as I worked on my debut novel. It is ill-advised to lie about these things, so I told her that I had encountered a great deal of struggle to procure employment amid a fruitless job search. After she diplomatically acknowledging the hardships that job seekers encounter in these trying times, I shifted our dialogue into the subject of the upcoming election in the United States. That contribution concluded our conversation, punctuated, as it was, by her frigid silence.
It is in such moments when unemployment really hurts. I felt deeply humiliated by her rejection, knowing that in her opinion my stock plummeted down to zero, and my price tag was erased free of digits so that I was considered not a bargain but completely devalued within the rubric of the sexual market place. I wouldn’t extol my virtues as a mate on a dating site at this point, for joblessness has chipped away at my self-esteem, and in the view of any female respondents, perhaps deservedly so, or so it seems.
That girl in particular considers me a loser. She is not sui generis: I’m well-aware of how hated I am because I am poor and unemployed. I’m forced to rely on social assistance because it’s either that or turn to crime, and I’m not enough of a sociopath to bring hardship down on others, so as it stands, my crime, as I’m frequently reminded by the right-wing media, is that I’m a low-life mooch who is stealing from hard-working taxpayers. Rob Ford never used the words “citizens”, “people” or “residents” when referring to Toronto’s electorate, only “taxpayers”. He wanted to ensure that people like myself were aware that we were not included in his vision for the right-wing political utopia that Toronto never became.
Rob Ford didn’t have to carry all the freight in disseminating this exclusionary propaganda: he had help from institutions like No Frills supermarkets, with its cornucopia of yellow bags and green bananas. Even the store’s name spits elitist dogma in my face. It is as if they are saying, This is what you get for being poor. If you weren’t such a peasant you wouldn’t be shopping in such an aesthetically sterile environment.
You may be thinking, That’s what you get when you don’t go to school and learn marketable skills. Well, that’s the thing: I have gone to college three times and I’m still being rejected from jobs that are not even commensurate with my skill-level and education background. I have invested in my future, but have yet to see the appropriate returns. At this point, even common underemployment is beyond my reach.
Let me make this abundantly clear: I don’t want your tax dollars. The Ontario Disability Support Program doesn’t give me enough of them to live on. The government would be a much bigger help to me if they issued me a grant to get my publishing company off the ground. By doing so, I could reimburse the taxpayers of this great land and maybe create a job or two along the way. Unfortunately, this is not possible because in order to get a grant for this purpose I would have to have published before.
Sound familiar? When most organizations wish only to expand their crop of talent with perennials, there is little hope for a seedling.
I was inspired to write this after viewing a video that had gone viral in which an impoverished family in a grocery store parking lot were harassed by a right-wing troll. He was incensed that they purchased steaks with food stamps and blasted them with, “Steak is for taxpayers!” He was lauded as a hero in comment threads because conservatives typically believe that The Great Recession—much like man-made climate change—is a hoax concocted by the so-called liberal media. As they see it, the fallacy known as the recession provides lazy, entitled, unemployed mooches false justification for their lack of contributions to the treasury.
Anybody who thinks I have opted for a permanent, low-budget vacation on the government’s nickel for the sheer joy of living the life of ease they think I have derived as a fringe benefit must understand that I do not enjoy the social apartheid and financial disenfranchisement that comes with being cast out of the workforce. Being poor is like living in a penal colony: you have some freedom to move, but you are also fenced in by severe financial restrictions. For people with money, the horizon is a window to the rest of the world. For me, it’s a wall, albeit one with a door, but I can only jimmy it open with a paycheque.
As if the social stigma that accompanies social assistance weren’t bad enough, I am considered to be among the dredges of society, and on some level I have internalized this reductive perception of my identity. Though I am not a conservative, I wince when I inform somebody that I am on the dole. By the end of the month, my money dwindles down to nothing along with my dignity.
It is not the “social hammock”, as corporate criminal and newspaper magnate Conrad Black once put it. I cannot afford a backyard in which to install a hammock, and worrying about finances has frequently compromised my ability to sleep. Conrad Black enjoyed more financial stability in prison than I do in social housing, where my rent is mostly subsidized.
Speaking of crooks, my current job prospects are about as rosy as those of an ex-con, and I don’t even have a record. I have the police clearance letter to prove it.
I have a certificate in Emergency Telecommunications from Humber College. I attended this program because it was the mature, adult, responsible thing to do. It’s just too bad that I only found out late into my studies that positions in police, fire and 911 communications are “hard to come by”. I wish the directors of the program told me before I paid the tuition that they were wasting my time, but that’s no way to run a business.
The same right-wing politicians who have condemned the social safety net have done little to nothing to render it redundant. If they persuaded the corporations for whom they lobby to create manufacturing jobs on Canadian soil and provide tax incentives to sweeten the deal, I could stimulate the economy in my own right once back on the capitalist teat.
In the interim, a Toronto charity is assisting me in the way of making adjustments to my resume and cover letter so that I may uncover the mystery surrounding Bulk Barn’s reasoning for declining my application for a customer service position. I’m perfectly capable of weighing sacks of paprika and working cash registers, which I have done before, but apparently the manager of that establishment doesn’t consider me competent enough to tie my own shoelaces. Supposedly neither did the owners of the meat packing plant. You can’t convince me that I’m not capable of slapping a steak on a Styrofoam tray and wrapping it in cellophane, but it didn’t take much to convince them, and that was without so much as a phone call. I ruminate over that intermittently while I endure the indignities of unemployment as its perpetuity leaves me even less attractive to employers.
Men commit suicide under these conditions, and I have dipped in and out of deep depressions myself over the last year and a half. That’s what happens when women and the rest of the society they live in consider you to be nothing more than a peasant. To them I’m just white trash, and they would prefer that I take myself out rather than get their own hands dirty.
Believe me, I’ve considered bringing about my own demise. My life looks unrelentingly bleak at the moment. But just like how I can’t afford the type of Grade A-quality steak that only taxpayers deserve, I can’t afford to die because my mother is disabled and depends on me to survive.
That’s what’s keeping me alive. There’s not much else because I’m not considered important in this society. I am classified as a burden and a bottom feeder by those who have more resources than they require to survive and enjoy privileges I can only dream of.
And that’s after taxes.
My name is Morgan and this is capitalism.