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COMMENTARY: The Abyss Of Being Underemployed

My good friend Deb is a substitute teacher in the Racine Unified School District, but she's in this really weird place with her career.

I had coffee with my friend Deb this morning at my house. And as we spoke, I realized she is in the precarious position of being underemployed and uncounted in those monthly unemployment numbers. The reason is that she’s not unemployed, but she is seeking a job and having a hard time finding one.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in art in 2000 and got a teaching certificate three years ago. She’s also really close to getting her master’s degree in teaching art. So right now she’s a substitute teacher.

And while she’s consistently getting some work through , she doesn’t get benefits through them. Last year she taught biology, and she was assigned to follow five special education students through their general school schedule to assist them in any way possible. She didn’t have a degree in biology or special education, but did have a little bit of training in special education at Cardinal Stritch. This year she’s teaching Spanish, and she has no training in that either. She’s proud of her ability to adapt.

“Teaching is teaching,” she said. “I can teach just about anything just as long as the information is spelled out in the lesson plan.”

Still, she wishes she had a full-time job and she’s interviewed for a number of full- and part-time jobs in a number of school districts, but she hasn’t been able to break the barrier from part-time sub to a full-time employment.

Don’t get me wrong she’s happy to have the work. But she struggles to make ends meet and is in the process of filing bankruptcy because she doesn’t have enough cash flow coming in the door to pay her student loans or credit card bills. She doesn’t like the feeling of having to file bankruptcy, but she’s at a place where she feels like she has to do it.

“I’m angry,” she said. “I got my bachelor’s degree based on the information that I was told – that there would be jobs. But now there are none.”

Now she’s actively seeking a part-time job, a full-time job, or any job she can to help her make ends meet. But even that has become a challenge. She just applied for a job as a banquet server position where she wouldn’t even handle money, and yet the employer said they’d be doing a credit check. The job pays $9 an hour and she’s pretty sure she won’t be getting it. She’s now applying for positions that high school kids usually get, and she’s often told she’s overqualified. But she keeps showing up, keeps applying, and keeps trying.

But she’s frustrated.

“I feel like suing the government,” she said. “The credit card companies call me all the time, and I’m trying the best I can. I’ve got $5 in my checking account, and now they want to sue me.”

She can’t file for unemployment in the summer because she has a reasonable assurance of continuing substitute teaching in the fall.

“Which I really don't understand because construction workers receive unemployment during their downtime and they also have a reasonable assurance of work when weather permits,” she said. “Oh, and not only was I told that there would be jobs, but I was also expecting to receive all of the benefits that used to go along with being a teacher. Yes, I would LOVE to sue the government and make them buy back my degree and time spent. However, I wouldn't be subbing now without a teacher certification.”

Deb wants to work. She loves teaching. But somehow she’s in this precarious place she never planned on and never expected to be in, and right now she’s having to adapt her American Dream to mean getting a job, any job that has benefits and where she can make ends meet.

Jeff Woosley September 19, 2011 at 12:53 PM
I'm in the same boat. I'm starting my third year substituting in Racine and my second in another district. I was lucky this year and I've also managed to nail-down a part-time spot at a private school. For the first time in three years I'll be able to actually budget and know I will have at least X dollars coming in on a regular basis. As a substitute you can never count on any income. Sure, work seems to be pretty steady, but without warning there can be a dry week or two. On top of the uncertainty of being a substitute, we have to deal with Governor Walker attacking educators and other public workers in the state. I too have wondered about the possibility and efficacy of a class-action suit against Walker over his invalidation of thousands of college educations with his short-sighted attacks.
Brian Dey September 19, 2011 at 11:56 PM
I would like to feel sympathetic, and I was until politics came in. Just because you have a college degree does not guarantee that you will land a job in that profession. Does it stink? Yes. Is the teaching profession in Wisconsin alone in this? Absolutely not! I know someone who has an IT degree and is delivering pizzas. Another in the IT profession works at a car dealership. In this economy, there are millions who would even love to be in your position of at least getting some type of work and at least you are gaining experience in your field. Does it stink? Sure does. Is it Walker's fault? Absolutely not! In the short term, it HAD to be done. There were no funds to steal from to continue to pay for employee's better than average benefits and a pension that most in our society have no access to. No one in government ever promised you a job. Heck, universities and colleges can't even promise employment. It stink's and I wish you and the other 15 million unemployed better days. I mean that sincerely. But really, I wouldn't waste your $5 savings account on trying to sue Walker. #1, you can't sue the government and #2, you have no case.
Rees Roberts September 20, 2011 at 12:32 AM
I want to respond to you Brian on so many levels. The issues here is a lack of hope, helpful suggestions and correct information. But it appears from this side of this conversation that you certainly do not wish to convey any hope to Deb, Jeff or anyone in their situation. You seem smug in just providing your point of view irregardless of how it may hurt how they feel. I suggest that we, as a people, need to work together better to resolve this huge problem. We are digging our collective employment graves if our neighbors think there will not be a future. Brian, your right, so right but dead right. To Deb and Jeff, I will tell you that there will be challenges looking forward. But as I see it, our lives will evolve into a work place that will not look like it has been for the past 20 years. It will involve to a more collaborative society. It will be people sharing resources. Most importantly, it will be very "local" in nature. Business will no longer be able to afford the transportation costs involved. For example, our food we eat averages 1500 miles to our plates. As the cost of fuel increases it will necessitate growing our own food locally. But this will turn our economic problems into opportunities. Think, for example, what would happen if we farm locally, manufacture locally, service locally. Multiply all those local locations and you have a solution to unemployment. Surprise! We now have huge numbers of people working again. Just another idea.
Rees Roberts September 20, 2011 at 12:35 AM
I meant to say "It will evolve to a more collaborative society."
Duane Michalski September 20, 2011 at 12:47 AM
I can think of a several school districts around the state that just hired new teachers. ALL because of Gov. Walkers work. Also i just read in a newspaper from Indiana that there at least 30 districts hiring there. This may not be the answer you seek but it is out there. I am very confident that there will be some hiring for teachers within a few years.(locally) I think the biggest part of this piece is the story of the UNDEREMPLOYED. I figure if you add the total unemployed and underemployed the total would be about 16-18% total. This is a disgrace, And I know you won't agree with me but this is Obummers economy. Not Gov. Walkers. I wish i could help out more, but i can't. I will be happy to post any jobs I hear of on here. In fact Maybe Denise could set something up on Patch for just that purpose. I know of 2 companies begging for help right now. And one pays VERY well!!
Brian Dey September 20, 2011 at 01:34 AM
Rees- Collaborative is right, but how do we get there in this political environment? Our society has changed from the time I got my first paper route 35 years ago. We had it rough when I got out of high school in '82 and again in '85. I certainly didn't blame the Governor for my misfortunes, nor the President. And I wasn't alone. We did what we had to survive and we worked jobs well beneath our qualifications. I went from being an Account Executive with a national magazine to shoveling fat at a tannery within one week of Black Friday. Then I worked at a factory for the next 15 years and was laid off in 1999. Knowing that factory work was an iffy line of work, I started a small lawn care company part-time in 1988. When I was laid off, I went full time and that's where I am today. Not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life and not what I went to school for. Point being is that for a lot of people, over many years, dealt with it and didn't blame or threaten lawsuits. We moved on and adapted. It is only the end of the world if you choose it to be. Whne life throws you lemons, make lemonade. We have to stop coddling people and tell it like it is. That is what will make ou society great again!
Jeff Woosley September 20, 2011 at 01:05 PM
Duane, the teachers hired by the districts are overwhelmingly teachers who were laid off in the spring being hired back. The number of true, new hires is very small. Governor Walker's attack on education has scored a hit and has damaged education in this state for years to come. Brian, please don't let me get in the way of your high horse, but I've done a lot of scut work over the years, both with and without a degree. When you were working those jobs, having a hard time finding work, it was in a down economy. Now, we have a down economy and a Governor who had decided that he doesn't want public education. He and his Fitztwits have decided to make sure that even when the economy does improve, education will take longer to bounce back. They've made sure that teachers will have a hard time finding work for the next four or five years. Of course, that's an education cycle, so by that time, when suddenly there is a demand for teachers, there probably won't be enough to fill the demand because all of the students who would have studied education at University will have decided they want to be able to find a job, and studied something else. So then districts will be in a position of hiring teachers who aren't fully qualified and the public, with notoriously short memories, will forget that Walker's attack on education put the districts in that situation. He and his cronies legislated against entire professions, that is what makes today different from yesterday.
Brian Dey September 20, 2011 at 01:52 PM
Jeff- You couldn't be further from the truth regarding public education. He, as well as many of us who have served on school boards, want better public education and collective bargaining was wasting a lot of money that could have been better spent on our children, not lining the union leaders pocketbooks. Just look at what WEAC was overcharging the districts for health insurance. What did the teachers care, they paid nothing into it. WEAC wasted alot of money that could have been used in the classroom and it is a crime that they took advantage of our children in that manner. What is different today is people expect handouts and have an over inflated opinion of themselves because we didn't teach about winning and losing. We coddled our children much to their detriment and now rather than hard work, we expect that everything should be handed to us.
CowDung September 20, 2011 at 03:08 PM
I disagree with your statement that most of the teachers being hired are the ones who were laid off last spring. My local district didn't lay anyone off in the spring, had 10 teachers retire and hired 22 new teachers for the current school year. Even if your statement was true and districts are rehiring teachers that they had laid off, that doesn't indicate that Walker's alleged "attack on education" caused bunches of teachers to be unemployed. If they were unemployed, or if districts had no money to hire teachers, the districts wouldn't be hiring them back... http://shorewood.patch.com/articles/23-new-teachers-prepare-for-first-day-of-school Despite the plight of an Art teacher's underemployment, Walker's "attack on education" seems to have put most school districts in a more favorable position for hiring teachers. BTW--who told Deb that earning a bachelor's degree in art will provide a 'guaranteed job'?
Hudsoner September 20, 2011 at 06:32 PM
Brian Day, I think you are wrong with your statement that teachers did not pay their share for WEA insurance. Not only did they pay through reduced salary increases, but they also paid a certain monthly contribution and deductibles (at least in our school district). They now have to pay a lot more for the new health insurance, b ut get less services and higher deductibles. i do not understand how WEAC money could have used in the classrooms since WEAC is financed through teacher contributions and not from the school district, In my opinion, most of the money for education is wasted in overblown administrations and with superintendents that want to create little fiefdoms . This money is missing a the point of engagement teacher/student, I know many teachers who use their own money to buy certain classroom supplies/aids! (and no, I am not a teacher, but I used to be a member of a school board). I loose you totally with your statement that that people (do you still refer to teachers??) expect handouts! I think it is kind of obnoxious to make such a bold statement that we, as parents raised our children to become whiners who hold their hands open for hand-me-outs. My son works three different jobs to make ends meet, and yes, he has a college education, but cannot find a job in his field, but he is not whining about it! I loose you totally with your statement that that people (do you still refer to teachers??) expect handouts
Brian Dey September 20, 2011 at 08:26 PM
Hudsoner- In Racine, that is not the case. To get a $10 co-pay and a $29.00 premium contribution for family coverage, we had to give the unions 4.5% increases for 2 consecutive 2 year contracts. The medium teacher salary is $54K with the low at $39K and the high at $72K, plus they received a $1500 signining bonus. As far as WEAC, it has been proven that WEAC's insurance was overinflated and kickbacks were given for local unions to negotiate their health insurance over other private insurers. I am in total agreement about the waste in administration and have strongly advocated downsizing our staff. However, that doesn't exonerate the unions. And not a bold statement; an honest one. We have taught our children that we are all winners and there are no losers, we don't keep score at soccer anymore and everyone gets a trophy. Not as individual parents, but collectively as a society. And how often do you go into a store and see a parent give in, rather than tell a child no. And it was proven by the ridiculous display we saw by so-called professionals in Madison and still see to this day. When your healthcare contributions went up in the private sector, that behavior would have gotten you fired. If your pension was converted to a 401k, and you acted like an idiot, you would have been shown the door.
Hudsoner September 20, 2011 at 09:08 PM
Brian Dey, it seems that Racine is totally different from Hudson, Here the lowest pay is about 30 k and the highest about 60 K (Masters plus 48 grad credits or PhD, and minimum of 15 years of service - as far as I can remember), and no signing bonus! This shows that we cannot discuss on the same level of parameters if we throw entire Wisconsin into it! Because of this, I will leave this discussion.
Brian Dey September 20, 2011 at 11:02 PM
Hudsoner- The parameters are different and that shows a real lack of union brotherhood on behalf of WEAC. The loudest voices, i.e. Milwaukee, Madison, Racine and Kenosha got the most, even though the state funding was distributed evenly. In the private sector, the parameters virtually stay the same state by state, with or without union representation.
Hudsoner September 21, 2011 at 04:06 AM
Brian Day, you are kidding aren't you? Saing that private employers keep the parameters the same all over the country! During my working life I was employed by two of the bioggest companies in the world, and my position in one company allowed me to see the income/work parameters of almost every employees in the US. I can assure you, there were fast differences for similar positions form state to state and even in one state or even in one complex!

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