Recently, a $447 billion jobs bill backed by President Obama was killed in the Senate. In what the New York Times called “a breathtaking act of economic vandalism,” Senate Republicans refused even to permit debate on the bill.

At the same time, the “Occupy Wall Street” phenomenon has transmuted in the past month from an object of condescension into a global movement. The ubiquitous question “What do they want?” has been answered in a variety of ways, but one key theme seems to be jobs: people don’t have them. People want them. And as has recently become clear across the globe, people without jobs have all the time in the world to march in the streets.

The jobs bill might have improved America’s 9 percent unemployment rate—so why wouldn’t Republicans support it? DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz has accused them of “hoping for failure” so they can win next year’s elections.

But there’s another reason Republicans are not in favor of a jobs bill, which they say would be too costly: according to presidential contender Herman Cain, if you don’t have a job, it’s your own fault: “Don’t blame Wall Street,” Cain said. “Don’t blame the big banks. If you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself.”

On Hardball with Chris Matthews, Ron Christie, former special assistant to George Bush, had this helpful advice for the Occupy Wall Street protesters:

CHRISTIE: I guess my first emotional response is, I feel your pain. I understand where you`re coming from, but go get a job.

MATTHEWS: Go get a job? So you think they`re there by their own…

CHRISTIE: Go get a job.

MATTHEWS: … their own problem; they just blew it?

CHRISTIE: I think when you find a lot of people who are coming to New York City, college students who are out having sex on the lawn, people who admit that they`re there just to be part of a good time, people who are taking drugs, people who are breaking the law, yes, I think they need to go get a job.

See? It’s all about jobs. Just go get one! Problem solved.

A quick search of suggests that there are plenty of jobs out there: in Maryland, today’s listings include a number of positions for accountants, restaurant managers, pharmacists, binary reverse engineers, Macy’s Christmas sales temporary help, and phlebotomists. One common thread among these jobs is that their qualifications are highly specific: one needs to have a working knowledge of Pashto, wireless LAN networking, or phlebotomy. (I have no idea what that is.)

So it would appear that the easiest way to get a job is to have credentials in some specific field in which jobs happen to be available. But how does one get these credentials?

Education! Just go to school and in a few years, presto, you will have a degree in accounting—or teaching, or computers, or whatever the hot field de jour happens to be. It used to be nursing, but now, it’s hard to get a job, even as an R.N. (at least, this is what some nurses were telling me recently). As for teaching, that used to be a great job, too, but now, not only is it thankless, in that everyone hates you and thinks you’re lazy, but it’s also totally unstable, with massive layoffs nationwide.

Also being laid off in droves are police and firefighters (a phenomenon President Obama’s jobs bill was aimed at preventing). Get a degree in law enforcement and then — psych! No jobs.

If I were in my twenties right now, which thank God I am not, being urged to go get a job, get an education, and take a bath, I would be highly perplexed at this point. All the jobs seem to involve skills — but which skills should I acquire? Law school used to be a good bet, but now even for law students at Harvard (such as my son — no brag, just fact) a good job is by no means assured at the end of three very expensive and grueling years. Perhaps I would go to school to become a phlebotomist, only to find that by the time I finished, phlebotomy had become a highly competitive field thanks to massive layoffs, a labor glut, or a crash in the phlebotomies market.

Where is this world in which someone can just go “get a job”? I’ve figured out where it is: in the nineteenth century. Back then—unless because of my skin color I was forced to be a slave — I might have just set up shop right here in my house. I could have opened a bakery, or crocheted doilies and sold them on my front porch. I could have become a blacksmith and shoed people’s horses out back. I could have started my own newspaper and sold copies of it. (Yes, people used to pay for newspapers.)

Or I could have been an author! If my novel had sold as many copies in 1850 as it has sold in the past ten years, they’d probably be reading it in literature classes now, but selling that many copies is considered small change today.

I could have called myself a doctor and gone from house to house curing people with patent medicine. Back then, there was no pesky licensing to stand in my way. I could have called myself a lawyer and practiced law. I could have been a teacher without an advanced degree. I could have started a restaurant and not had to compete with chains, who can afford low profit margins because of their volume. I could have run a general store. I could have been a tobacconist.

In 1850, there was plenty people could have done if they wanted jobs. Nowadays, however, unless you have a very specific skill-set, job experience, and luck (since you’re competing with a lot of people), you will probably find yourself applying for countless jobs and not even getting so much as a polite rejection.

Meanwhile, if you don’t have a job, the bank is probably about to take your house. Oops, your bad!

About the Author

Abby Bardi
Takoma Park expatriate Abby Bardi explores the wickedness of modern life in her Voice column, "Sin of the Month." Born and raised in Chicago, Abby has worked as a singing waitress in Washington, D.C., an English teacher in Japan and England, a performer on England’s country and western circuit, and, most recently, as a professor at Prince George’s Community College. Author of "The Book of Fred," (Washington Square Press: Simon & Schuster 2001), she is married with two children and lives in Ellicott City, Maryland.

1 Comment on "SIN OF THE MONTH: Jobs"

  1. Jobs Bill ? A government job is a tax increase down the road that contributes to eliminating private sector employment which actually creates growth and additional tax revenue. Geeze, get real Abby Bardi …

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