The number of suicides related to unemployment remains stubbornly high despite the improving economy, according to a study published this week.
Researchers had previously registered a spike in suicides during the global economic crisis that began in 2008, suggesting that financial stress and hardship had contributed to the rise. But an analysis published on Tuesday in The Lancet Psychiatry by doctors at the University of Zurich in Switzerland estimates that about 5,000 suicides were associated with the crisis, while roughly nine times as many self-inflicted deaths are linked to unemployment each year.
I’ve been calling the “sharing economy” the Urchin Economy, as in street urchin, named for the street kids that are always hanging around in fiction set during the Victorian period, ready to accept a schilling or two to do some chore for a protagonist. They have no job security, no safety net, they’re treated as if they’re utterly disposable. Of course today, there’s always some high-tech middleman looking to take a cut of these transactions.
I also tried to explore some of these ideas in my short story “The Faraday Bag“:
A bunch of my friends found work through this app where young guys–and it was always guys––could have people come over and clean their dishes, do their laundry, that sort of thing. I did that a couple times. Then a guy complained that he wanted “an American” to do his chores for him. I told him I was born in the U.S. and that my family had lived here for two generations. He gave me a one-star review, and I haven’t been able to find work through the app since.
Jenina dropped out of nursing school after her mother lost her job, because she needed the tuition money to pay bills. Her income from McDonald’s, where she started working as a high school senior, helps support her mother and younger sister. Patrick’s Chipotle income helps support his mother, a makeup artist who has struggled to find steady work since the recession. Krystal’s Taco Bell income helps support her son; her sister, who lives with her and works at Jack in the Box; and now, her newborn daughter.
Every worker I interview is supporting someone: an unemployed parent, a child, a sibling, a friend. Most of their friends and family members work in fast food or other service industries. Everyone is in their twenties or older. All but one is African-American.
They dream of different jobs. The women want to be nurses, the men want to work in the automotive or culinary industries. But no one can pay for training when they cannot save for day to day, much less for the future.
As a result, fast food workers are turning to activism: not out of ideological motives, but because overturning the economic system seems more feasible than purchasing the credentials for a new career.
Tim Maughan uses design fiction to sketch a vision of our precarious future:
Nicki is awake even before her mum calls her from the other side of the door. She’s sat up in bed, crackly FM radio ebbing from tiny supermarket grade speakers, her fingers flicking across her charity shop grade tablet’s touchscreen. She’s close to shutting down two auctions when a third pushes itself across her screen with it’s familiar white and green branded arrogance. Starbucks. Oxford Circus. 4 hour shift from 1415.
She sighs, dismisses it. She’s not even sure why she still keeps that notification running. Starbucks, the holy fucking grail. But she can’t go there, can’t even try, without that elusive Barista badge.
Which is why she’s been betting like mad on this Pret a Manger auction, dropping her hourly down to near pointless levels. It says it’s in back of house food prep, but she’s seen the forum stories, the other z-contractors who always say take any job where they serve coffee, just in case. That’s how I did it, they say, forced my way in, all bright faces and make up and flirting and ‘this coffee machine looks AMAZING how does it work?’ and then pow, Barista badge.
I’m all for awarding college credit for real world experiences, but this seems a little ridiculous:
Under a program announced Thursday, employees of Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club will be able to receive college credit for performing their jobs, including such tasks as loading trucks and ringing up purchases. Workers could earn as much as 45 percent of the credits needed for an associate or bachelor’s degree while on the job.
The credits are earned through the Internet-based American Public University, with headquarters in Charles Town, W.Va., and administrative offices in Manassas. […]
American Public University is one of a growing number of so-called career colleges that operate on a for-profit model, rather than as state institutions or private foundations. APU’s parent company is publicly traded and its reported revenue jumped 43 percent to $47.3 million during the most recent quarter, while profit rose 46 percent to $7.6 million.
Will any employer other than Wal-Mart have any respect for American Public University degrees? Will Wal-Mart actually have any respect for the degrees themselves?
It’s hard to blame Wal-Mart employees for taking APU up on this offer, though, with the economy in the toilet and with universities across the country raising tuition faster than inflation (recent examples: Oregon, Illinois, Virginia)
But I’m worried this will only lead to increased academic inflation. This will be especially problematic for Wal-Mart employees/students who get low-value degrees like B.A.s communications and political science, like the person the WaPo quoted for the story. Students who focus on sciences and professional degrees will obviously have more success, but they will probably be either less prepared by an APU degree degree or be able to earn far less of their degree by working at Wal-Mart (or both). (Maybe accounting would work.)
Sadly, it sounds like this program is mostly designed to grift Wal-Mart employees for the private gain of APU.
Bill Graves a great front page story comparing Washington and Oregon in last Sunday’s Oregonian. The good news for Oregon:
Drawn by Portland’s strong neighborhoods, openness, affordability and proximity to wilderness, more than 40,000 young adults, many with college degrees, have poured into the city in the past 15 years.
The influx promises to boost Portland’s economy by fostering innovation and giving businesses an edge in the coming scramble for skilled workers as baby boomers retire, says Portland economist Joe Cortright.
Oregon’s sportswear, wine and semiconductor industries show promising growth. The state is making its mark in nanotechnology research and open-source software, ranks among the top 15 states in per-capita exports and ranks in the top 10 states for new patents per capita.