Temporary Living

Temporary Living

One of my best friends is a navy wife. A few years back, after a particularly bad move, she spoke to me about living life in limbo. She does this every few years; packs it all up and moves wherever her husband is reassigned. I told her once I didn’t know how she managed. She said simply, “It’s what you do.”

When my husband graduated from teacher’s college three years ago, we knew he wouldn’t find work full-time in a classroom in the greater Toronto area and we agreed to go where the work was. We never thought that place would be England.

But we came. Because that’s what you do.

It seems a bygone age when a child put down roots close to home. The world doesn’t really work like that anymore. “Transient worker” is a buzz-word. There are lots of places where the workforce seems in constant flux. In some industries, retail for example, this makes sense. You’d think the majority of retail workers would be youths who haven’t yet graduated or are currently in university. And you’d think they’d move on when they find work in their field. But it seems finding work in your field is the major challenge. Even the guy sweeping the floor at McDonalds has a bachelors degree these days.

People blame this on Millennials. I can’t count the number of articles circulating painting my generation as lazy. (But I refuse to link to any and give them traffic.) One went so far as to accuse us of believing ourselves to be ‘special snowflakes’ who want rainbows and unicorns instead of having realistic job expectations. Older generations seem to be under the – very mistaken – impression that young people today aren’t willing to put in their thirty years of hard work for the reward of a decent pension. If one more person expresses this to me, I think I’ll scream.

There are two problems with that view point.

The first is that pensions are disappearing. The benefits our parents got from thirty years hard labour aren’t offered to us anymore because we’re too expensive. We have to fight for medical coverage and, for some reason, that means we want hand-outs (because we’re lazy).

The second problem is that there aren’t jobs that want people to work for them for any longer than a few years. Because they’d have to offer us medical care and pensions and raises, and then we become too expensive. Somewhere along the line, companies seem to have decided that a temporary workforce is a cheap workforce. Never mind the cost of training. Never mind the benefits of long-term expertise. If you hire a contractor for a year, you don’t have to give them benefits. And if you sign them on an extra year or two, you still don’t have to give them benefits, or even a raise, and when they get too expensive you just cut them off and hire someone new, someone with less experience, because it costs you less to retain them.

I’m not making this up. After I graduated with my degree in IT, I spent three years with a company that refused to hire me full time. At first they offered me contracts that lasted a year. Then they offered me six months. Then they offered me three. Until, finally, they didn’t need me anymore. Now perhaps they’re not the best example, because they ended up outsourcing their IT out of the country all together. But my husband has yet to work on more than a one year contract since his graduation either.

In fact I can’t count the number of people I know who have ended up in this situation. All of them willing to work long hours in their chosen field, all of them unable to find a job willing to offer security.

The frustrating thing is wondering when it’s going to end. When the opportunity is going to crop up that lets us put down roots. Buy the house we really want and start the family we want even more. People always tell you there’s never a best time to have a child, eventually you have to decide to go for it. But it’s also hard to make the commitment when you don’t know if you’re going to have a steady paycheck next year. And we’re not alone. The number of solidarity messages I’ve sent to friends in the last two years is astounding. No, I always tell them, you’re not doing something wrong. Everyone is in this situation. All of us are struggling to find that equilibrium.

It’s demoralizing. We were the generation raised on the promise that we could be whatever we want, do whatever we want, achieve whatever we want if we went to university and put our minds to it. It seems the only thing university gives most people these days is debt.

It’s hard to build a life when you don’t know if you’re going to have a job next year. Six months from now. Next month. It’s hard to raise kids and put aside for their education when you don’t know for sure where the rent money’s coming from. It’s hard to create savings if you constantly have to live off of what you’ve put away while you search for a new job. My husband and I are lucky, something always works out, even if it’s plan X. But that doesn’t make it easy.

Living in a temporary situation is strange. England is great. But in a lot of ways, being here makes me feel disconnected. All the building-blocks of my life, all the things we’ve spent ten years working on, are far away. What do we have to show for our life here? All those little luxuries you enjoy on a rainy day, we just go without. And while it’s true we don’t need any of that little stuff to be happy on a day to day basis, sometimes it’s a shocking reminder that we can’t have what we really want; stability. We spend a lot of days wondering when will our time come?

Is it any wonder, in light of all that, more of our generation are looking for alternatives? Is it any wonder that Indies are on the rise in pretty much every form of media? That people make a living off of releasing videos to youtube, music to the internet, or self-publishing their work through e-book retailers? Is it really a surprise we don’t want to sell our souls to corporations that aren’t willing to give us peanuts in return?

No we aren’t lazy. And no, we don’t want rainbows and unicorns. But a fair chance would be nice.

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