September 21, 2013

Calling the Poor and Unemployed "Lazy" is Lazy Rhetoric (and Wrong Too)

Sometimes I have little epiphanies about fairly broad subjects. Today, I had one about the increasing volume regarding the rhetoric that the poor and unemployed citizens are "lazy". Not worth going into details why this rhetoric is so overwhelming right now (see: recession and trying to get rid of foodstamps or something) but needless to say, it exists.

However, while I can only speak about my own experiences, I feel like pointing out that not all unemployed people are lazy (this goes without saying, right?) but that furthermore, being unemployed does not automatically mean that one is not actually a productive member of society.

Since graduating from SUNY Oneonta back in 2009, I have yet to find full time employment. So you'll excuse me while I go into Sir BragsALot mode, but I'd like to use myself as an example to start out:
-While I was a student at SUNY Oneonta, I was credited with completing 750.25 volunteer hours of community service. My volunteer work included working on the SUNY Oneonta Undergraduate Philosophy Conference, the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center (which I also served on the Advisory Committee of after I graduated), and the Student Association Supreme Court, among other organizations.

-While I was still living in Oneonta, I also volunteered at a local emergency room and as an EMT for a volunteer fire department.

-Currently, while I am also doing coursework towards a possible Criminology degree at Wilkes-University, I am also doing an unpaid internship with a local law enforcement agency in Wilkes-Barre. While most of the time I am observing court cases, I have also done clerical work as well.

-For the past three years, I have been writing reviews of LGBTQ related films and now have an archive with more than 100 film reviews that I can call my own. While this arguably has little objective value, I do like to think that these reviews have added to a general understanding of queer cinema.

-On top of all of this, I also work out on regularly on a daily basis in the hopes of pursueing a career in either law enforcement or emergency medicine.

-Most recently, I am now volunteering as a researcher for the Quist, an iOS/Android LGBTQ/Queer history app.

Perhaps this is the height of arrogance, but I would like to think that thanks to my history of volunteering and educational pursuits, that I am not only the opposite of lazy, but that I just might be able to call myself a productive member of society. I just happen to not have been able to turn my productivity into a steady paycheck, yet. I cannot imagine that I am the only person who is unemployed and has spent many hours volunteering in an effort to make the kinds of connections that will lead to a paid position.

Of course there is the possibility that I am some kind of special case and the ranks of the unemployed are filled to the brimming with the lazy and unmotivated. Perhaps, but consider the fact that historically speaking, military veterans have generally faced unemployment rates much higher than the non-veteran population.

Call me perverse, but I look forward to the day when the same politicians who argue that the unemployed are the unmotivated scourge of society, go on national TV and argue that members of the U.S. Military have a poor work ethic.

This is all before we get into how privilege and minority status affects how readily one can find employment. One of the most frustrating aspects of an economics class I took this summer, was the circular reasoning that was taken by one of the required texts regarding this phenomenon. People of color are more like to be unemployed because they are less "productive" workers and the reason they are less productive is because they are less educated then white folks. Do I need to point out the not so minor issue with that argument, even if we accept as true? Like oh I dunno, that racism just might create a barrier to higher education for people of color?

Then there was the argument from the same text about the reason a pay gap exists between men and women. Which is apparently because women are also less productive. Now one reason for the productivity disparity was because women are less likely to pursue higher paying careers in traditionally male dominated fields. The possibility that women were less likely to pursue careers in male dominated fields because of sexist social conditioning never crossed the authors minds. They also attempted to use the "mommie factor" (that is women taking time off of work to raise kids) as another reason women are less productive than men. I will simply point out that this is a sexist argument in of itself, as it immediately dismisses the bearing and raising of kids as not being a form of productivity.

Continueing in this vain but did you know that sending out a "gay resume" means you're less likely to get called by an interested employer? Oddly enough, the same holds true for resumes with "African-American sounding" names. If this is true, we must assume then that your name or sexual orientation must be a reliable indicator to an employer of ones work ethic. Because otherwise things like racism and homophobia actually exist and admitting they exist is so very, very hard.

I do not wish to promote the idea here that one's ultimate worth as a human being is somehow tied up in ones employment status or any such nonsense. I just want to say that ultimately, what's really truly lazy is painting an entire population with the same brush. There is no effort required when it comes to promoting stereotypes.

Further Reading:
National Statistics on Transgender Unemployment - Transgender Workplace Diversity
My Name Is Jason, I’m A 35-Yr-Old White Male Combat Veteran…And I’m On Food Stamps
Homeless Veterans, By The Numbers - Thinkprogress

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