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5 Cures for the Unemployment Blues

You can always learn to say "Would you like fries with that?" But who wants to eat made-in-a-factory E. coli burgers, much less sling them?
 
 
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So you're unemployed. Big fucking deal. There are 15 million in America just like you.

When you add in discouraged workers and the involuntarily underemployed (such as yours truly), the number of schlumps pounding the pavement or clacking the keyboard in search of enough dough to pay the bills and still enjoy a pint of beer is more than 26 million desperate jobseekers, or 16.8 percent of the workforce.

It's an ugly economy out there. For those harboring fantasies of a replay of the revolutionary romanticism of the 1930s, forget about it. The country is teetering on the brink of a Depression, but there is nothing Great about it.

Even before the free-fall began, about 30 million Americans were experiencing "low food security" -- bureaucratese for going hungry. Some 62 percent of personalbankruptcy filings these days are due to medical bills, which could total 900,000 cases in 2009. Home foreclosures hit a record high of 360,149 in July. More than 1 million schoolchildren were reported homeless as of last spring, an increase of 50 percent in just a few years. And tent cities are popping up from the redwood forests to the gulfstream waters. (Not that all is bleak: Wal-Mart tent sales are up 36 percent as more Americans "find their inner Thoreau.")

Meanwhile, Washington has been so busy ministering to investment banks, hedge funds, bondholders, automakers, insurance companies and other downtrodden billionaires that it has spent all the money you hoped would go toward a new Works Progress Administration that would pay you to plant trees, build parks, paint murals and compose stirring proletariat musicals.

So what to do? You can always learn to say "Would you like fries with that?" But who wants to eat made-in-a-factory E. coli burgers, much less sling them?

And forget about seeking refuge folding sweaters at the Gap or pulling shots of espresso at Starbucks. For one, they're corporate sleazebags, and $9 an hour ain't going to do much for your retirement. Moreover, these days, they are both folding up more stores than they are opening.

Maybe you should have gotten a business degree like your parents urged you to, instead of that useless liberal arts degree. Sure, it enriched your mind, but not your wallet.

It's time to take stock and think about your options. No, not grad school. Getting a Ph.D. in musicology or philosophy isn't going to do anything but leave you older and poorer, all for the privilege of having a few more letters to tack onto your name.

Of course you can just drop out. "Live a life free of work and money," as some say. Sure. But it's also a life free of health care and housing.

What you need to do is get some cash, quick. Then you can buy yourself a shack in Argentina and have enough left over to live off the savings.

You Have Five Basic Options:

Entrepreneurship

The Great Recession, as The New York Times has dubbed it, is turning many a corporate refugee into an "accidental entrepreneur." Maybe you're a good cook, have a craft or have invented the next great consumer product, like hair-in-a-can spray.

All you have to do is beg, borrow and steal every bit of cash you can from your family and friends. Then set up shop in your apartment or garage. Just be prepared to work 16 hours a day, seven days a week for years and hope some corporate giant doesn't steal your idea and dispatch an army of lawyers to tie up your claim in court until the universe goes cold.

Even then, unless you have business skills and a knack for marketing, your enterprise could falter at any time for a thousand different reasons.

Speculation

Contrary to popular belief, the financial markets are not purely random. You can make piles of cash through speculation (as opposed to investment) -- just ask George Soros. It only requires tremendous study, an understanding of group psychology, mathematics and financial instruments and nerves of steel.

The housing bubble may have popped, but there's always a new one inflating -- in currencies, gold, carbon trading -- in which money is chasing after money. Assuming you can get over the ethical qualms of being a parasite, you're swimming with sharks who will eat you like chum, if you give them half a chance. Plus, you need at least $10,000 to begin with. And, yes, you can be wiped out overnight if you're not careful.

Criminalization

Many a '70s-era millionaire was made smuggling in smoke or blow over the Mexican border. Back then, you only had to worry about some hick sheriff and his dimwitted half-brother trying to bust you. Now the DEA, FBI and Pentagon want to nab your hippie ass and lock it away forever in some Supermax.

Forget about heroin or crack, unless you're into guns, pitbulls and paranoia. Your best bet is to move to Humboldt County, where the district attorney made it legal to grow up to 99 pot plants yielding super-hybridized dank bud that is almost worth its weight gold. (Just don't smoke all of your profits.)

Primitive Capital Accumulation

Use your brawn, not your brains. Who's going to get rich becoming a day laborer, you say? I'm not suggesting you line up at Home Depot at  6 a.m. with Latino immigrants, hoping to get eight hours of work and trusting you'll actually get paid. Mainly because immigrants will work harder and longer for less than your coddled American ass ever will.

What you can do is decamp to the Great White North, where there's an oil rush in Alberta, Canada's Athabasca tar sands. With a little training, you can soon be making $50,000 or more a year hauling a rig or fitting pipes in some of the most beautiful wilderness in the world (which, incidentally, you would be helping to destroy). Just pack plenty of thermal underwear for those days when the high temperature is minus-37.

Professionalization

Go to medical or law school. You rack up tons of debt, but your earning power is vast, as long as you're willing to slave away for 15-20 years. You can do something noble like "help the poor," but then what's the point of incurring all that debt?

You can make a fortune, but it will probably involve liposuctioning the man boobs off middle-aged wannabe Casanova, or defending sleazy telemarketing companies. Not very palatable. Your better option is to become a physician's assistant or pharmacist. Both degrees require much less time and money, but you can still command a six-figure salary. Just be warned: You'll have to listen all day to old people complaining about their ailments and no-good children as you either write their prescriptions or fill them.

 

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To be fair, there are many noble vocations that won't leave you in the poor house -- becoming a schoolteacher, a social worker, a civil servant. While you're spending 30 years trying to make progress one kid at a time, just hope that Wall Street, and an increasingly emboldened (and crazy) right wing, doesn't bankrupt your pension funds or Social Security.

Or, you could just become an activist and know that despite your self-imposed penury that you fought the good fight. But it sure sucks being poor.

Arun Gupta is a founding editor of The Indypendent newspaper. He is writing a book on the decline of American empire for Haymarket Books.
 
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