Disconnects. There are disconnects. You become aware of them when you pass from one reality into another. From employed to unemployed is one such transition. It’s hard to understand unless you have gone through it. I would compare the experience to going to war…without all the weapons and death.
Though, for some people unemployment can bring tragedy and much suffering. Again, to those who have never been through it, it’s difficult to understand what the big deal is. It’s sort of like what’s going on now with Occupy Wall Street. What’s the big deal? Maybe they should just get jobs and stop all this nonsense. If they just got jobs they wouldn’t be making messes in our cities, causing traffic jams, having those god-awful drum circles, and ultimately getting pepper-sprayed, dragged, beaten, arrested, kicked, screamed at, barricaded, pelted with rubber bullets, &c.
Wait a minute. Did someone just suggest that the occupiers should just get jobs? Yes. In fact, that has been one of the standard refrains from the opposition. Take, for example, the comfortably cynical office workers around Zuccotti Park who dropped hundreds of McDonald’s applications down to the protestors. Gee, thanks!
This is where the disconnect resides. There are those who have been through the worst our economic system has to offer and those that have not fallen through those trap doors. You don’t learn about them in school. You don’t even realize they are there until you fall through one. But there are many such trap doors and over the last thirty years policy changes have added even more.
It is very possible that by the time my children are ready to enter the economy, there will be even more for them to contend with. If things continue as they have been, they will have no mobility whatsoever and any step they take will lead them further down the economic scale. In fact, economic mobility in the United States has significantly declined according to a recent Pew study. What mobility there is tends to be downward. Moreover, according to a recent study by the OECD, the United States ranks as one of the worst nations in terms of income inequality.
So, let’s get back to “Get a job.” One of the respondents to our recent OWS survey put this as a response. This is to be expected. This is the disconnect once again. This person obviously has not encountered any of the trap doors yet. Perhaps, he/she is insulated by wealth and nepotism, or simply has a job still.
In my experience in architecture thus far, I have come across many trust-fund babies, many who may pursue architecture without concern of financial gain. They can play at will without risk of falling down the economic ladder. Good for them.
But, then there is the rest of us, the majority who took out student loans to realize our dreams of becoming architects, who try to work their way up in firms, or who strike out and start our own firms. Most of us deal with economic risk every day and aren’t insulated from the harsh realities of the present economy as those just above us are.
When I was unemployed I heard “Get a job!” more than a few times. It was usually written in the comments for some article I’d written about the economy. I guess I was ruining the illusion that everything was OK for these people. My perspective now is that they simply couldn’t understand because they haven’t been through it…and hopefully never will.
Thirty years of destroying the American Dream have brought on a divided population. Not just in terms of economic prosperity, but in terms of ideology and belief. Just ask Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard Law Professor who has been one of those shooting up flares to get the attention of the American public about the dangers of this. It’s almost like climate change. How long will it take for the skeptics to finally admit that this is real and dangerous? Probably when more and more fall through those trap doors.
So, for my unemployed architecture brothers and sisters out there, you have not been forgotten. And, now that Occupy Wall Street has become Occupy Everywhere, you do not have to feel alone anymore. There are literally millions of fellow Americans who now understand they are just as screwed as you are!
For all you skeptics who still believe in Milton Friedman, Ronald Reagan, and trickle- down theories, it might just be a matter of time before you have to change your tune. After all, once there are enough “freak” weather events and catastrophes even the skeptics start to admit that the climate has indeed changed.
Next week: A personal story of unemployment.
I write THE CRIT, Archinect's new series on criticism. I also co-author CONTOURS, Archinect's featured column on the culture, politics, and business of architecture. I'm a frequent contributor to Metropolis Magazine, GOOD Magazine, Architectural Record, The Architect's Newspaper, and Architect ...