two soapboxes

Soapbox 1: Was strolling through Superstore a couple of weeks ago and there were two displays, side by side, in the clothing area. 100% cotton, white, men’s tank tops for $6. Two feet to the right, 100% cotton, white, women’s tank tops for $8. Any difference? A small one… A-back vs racer-back. Oh, c’mon! Yes, I know it’s only 2 bucks, but why is the women’s tank 25% more expensive. Well, I guess it’s because. That’s right… because.

Soapbox #2: In a related rant, $6? $8? I think John Oliver can do a much better job on this one than me. See also: article in Huffington Post.

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employed! but…

The great news is that I’ve found a job. The bad news is that it is a one-year term position at 6 hours a day. Thankfully it pays halfway decent so I’ll be able to manage. I’ll actually have more cash in the bank than when I was living on my scholarship but working will also incur expenses that I didn’t have when I was a student, like purchasing a more professional wardrobe.

But I’ll be back in the same position a year from now: looking for work, any work. Would be nice if it were meaningful and related in some way to my education and experience but I’m sure I won’t be too picky. Listened to a really depressing documentary today called The Double Grind, all about the difficulties university graduates are having finding work. I could totally relate. I was applying to anything and everything, including coffee shops, when my current position came along.

The documentary mentions going to college as an option to university but that’s no guarantee either. I was at a meeting recently for the Library and Information Technology program at Red River College. The people who run the program were pleased that they had a waiting list to get in but they wondered if graduating 30 students every second year was flooding the market. They asked if graduating 15 students every year might be a better approach. The general answer from around the table was that either way, there wasn’t enough work in the field. Many graduates from the 2011 class are employed in other fields, working part-time or contracts, or underemployed in the library field. Media and the government constantly bring up unemployment stats, but I think underemployment is a huge problem that isn’t being talked about enough.

I’ve been in the labour market since I was 15 and I can’t remember a time when finding a job was so difficult. While I’m completely relieved to have work (and good work, at that) thinking about going through this whole process next winter just about sinks me. My plan for this year is to replace our dying fridge and pay off as much of my small student loan as possible so if I end up as a barista working for minimum wage next year I’ll be able to live lean and not have a pile of debt hanging over my head.

rejected…. again…

Something I haven’t talked about much is my long and fruitless search for meaningful employment. In November 2011, I finished my course work and started my thesis. I could totally have finished my thesis by now, but that’s another part of the story. The point is that in November 2011 I decided to start looking for work. It was not possible to work full-time and keep my scholarship so I focused on part-time jobs and occasionally applied for full-time, permanent positions that were jobs I’d want as a career. In only one case did I apply for a job I was under qualified for. In most cases, I was over qualified. I’ve been applying for between 4 and 6 jobs a month, so approximately 70 jobs in a 14 month period. I’m still looking…

I’ve had 4 job interviews. One in November 2011 and 3 since November 2012. There was a year long gap between the first and second interview, which I have to say, was pretty discouraging.

Today, I had rejection letter from my most recent interview. Unfortunately, it was a job I really wanted. As discouraging as my job hunt has been to this point, this one was the hardest to take. Tomorrow, when I’m not feeling so teary, I’ll call their HR person and get feedback on my interview.

This afternoon, I’m applying for 6 more jobs. One that would be great, one that I would take but would keep on looking for something more in line my interests, and 4 part-time term positions that would keep the money coming in while I apply for other jobs. My scholarship runs out in 9 weeks. I’m starting to panic. I know the government propaganda machine keeps telling us how great our economy is (compared to other places) and that our unemployment rate is down (partly because people have stopped looking and are no longer counted in the stats) but I’m just not feeling it. And neither are the dozen or so friends and classmates who are in the exact same position.

Which brings me to my thesis…. I’m having a really hard time working on it because it seems so completely pointless. Why do it when I’m not going to get a job out of it at the end? When I’ll just be another unemployed person with a masters in sociology? Or at best, another person with a sociology degree making your coffee? Grande skinny mocha, anyone?

digital cash

Oddly, just a couple of days after posting on the benefits of using cash rather than debit or credit cards, The Current aired a segment on the rise of digital cash.

Privacy, government control, security, hackers and cyber-crime were discussed as the biggest barriers to the widespread use of digital cash and I can see that they are real issues. Also briefly mentioned were the elderly or those who are not tech savvy. And of course there will always be the stupid human error stuff that happens, like going swimming in the ocean with your cell phone in your pocket and not being able to catch the bus home from the beach because your chip is now swimming in brine.

What only received a whiff of a mention by the host and was not at all addressed by the people she was interviewing was the affordability of the technology for using digital cash. Here’s an overview of the bits that contributed to the furrows between my brows:

[4:18] The total social cost of cash is really significant because it’s not just the cost of going to the ATM and getting money now, it’s the cost of the security trucks and the armed guards and the money that gets lost and stolen and all of those other things. But there’s also a particular problem with the way the costs of cash are distributed. You know, if you’re poor, if you’re trapped in a cash economy, which is not true for many people in Canada, then the costs fall disproportionately on you. So it’s two problems really, it’s the high cost and it’s the way that cost is distributed.

Huh? This confuses me. I’m not sure how being poor and operating in a cash economy means that the costs of cash fall more heavily on you. What about all the debit fees and the incredibly high interest rates on credit cards? Or the cost of owning a smart phone or tablet?

[7:02] Well technically, the most cashless country in the world, actually in more way than one I suppose, is actually Iceland. Something over 90% of all retail transactions in Iceland are already non-cash. And then you have other Nordic, you know, Norway is up at the sort of 70% level.

To clarify, this includes all cashless transactions not just the digital cash as it is being talked about in the interview. So, debit and credit card as well as chips. Iceland, Norway and the other Nordic countries have large middle classes and the proportion of the very rich and very poor are relatively low. 21.5% of Canadians and 25.8% of Americans are considered poor or near-poor compared to 14% of Norwegians. These figures are from 2004 so it’s probably that the percentages would be higher now for Canada and the U.S. but I’m not sure about Norway (Source LIS Data Centre). I guess my point is that I worry that the large numbers of people in North America who are poor or struggling financially will not be able to afford to keep up with the technology required to operate in a digital cash world.

[11:00] I think in the medium term you’re more likely to see a sort of digital divide opening up where, you know, middle class persons such as you and I will never see cash again and couldn’t care less about it. We’ll use our mobile phones by and large to buy and sell most things. And, you know, some people will want to hang onto cash, drug dealers possibly, prostitutes, that kind of thing and there’ll be a kind of … polite society won’t use it but other people will.

This is exactly my concern. That people who are already marginalized will be pushed even further down. I don’t have a smart phone (hell, I don’t even have a cell phone), a tablet or any of those other toys that are beyond my means right now. I could have them but I would either have to go into debt to get them or chose them over other things. And I’m no where near true poverty. What about all the people who are? Screw ’em? They’re probably just drug dealers and prostitutes anyway?

This is not an anti-digital cash rant. I’m not a luddite. I like technology and think the internet is a freakin’ amazing invention. I often find myself in situations where a cell phone would come in handy and I have to talk myself out of wanting one. Just wish this program had talked about some of the social issues beyond privacy.

And speaking of technology…

I’m a couple years younger than Louis C.K., which is probably why I relate to this video so much. Including it just because it’s funny and quite frankly this post has been a bit of a downer.