A lot of folks troll this page and the whole entire wide world of the internet. They comment on memes and statuses and articles written by 24 year old’s in a dimly lit, yet cheap 2 bedroom apartment. They’re generally going on and on and on and on (you’re catching my drift here) about how underemployment is a big ole crock of shit, and all of us big, bad, ugly millennials are just out here getting liberal arts degrees, aspiring to be a Bic lighter repair man, and expecting a comfy 100k a year for it. They think we should be going to trade school or going to college to get a “real” degree and a “real” job. For the sake of my word count, I’ll let you have that one this time. (Though, expect me to be coming back to that.) But, I have to wonder if any of those fine, fine folks have taken a moment to stop and think about the underemployed percentage that isn’t a millennial with a master’s degree in curtain hanging.
My grandmother is 64 years old, and she is underemployed. Severely. She’s currently a high school lunch lady. All of her life, she’s been a cook working mostly in restaurants. She went to the high school a few years ago in an attempt to make her work a little easier on her health. Summers and weekends off. The occasional week-long breaks throughout the year, and much shorter work days. She had to. After a knee replacement and heart surgery, she wasn’t left with a whole lot of other options, and simply not working wasn’t one either. But she doesn’t get paid jack shit.
My grandmother was also recently diagnosed with diabetes. She’s had it for around a year, but thanks to our crack-shit medical system in the good ole U S of A, no one told her until her kidneys got entirely bent out of shape and the doctor’s office accidentally stumbled over her sky-high glucose for a second time. But, again, another topic for another day. Now, diabetes isn’t necessarily a death sentence. People live productive lives with it every day. Even in my grandma’s case, where she’d gone undiagnosed for SO long, it still has some turnaround potential with the right diet, exercise regimen, and medication. The big problem here is, she’s terribly underemployed and her health puts her in a position where she can barely handle the job she has now, much less pursue a different, better one.
She has medical insurance through her job. She pays for it, somewhat heftily, but she has it. She’s not eligible for Medicare yet, and she makes “just a little too much” to be eligible for Medicaid. That means she won’t be receiving a drop of help from the government or anyone else to help pay for her testing supplies or her medication. That also means that, no matter how badly her health is deteriorating in front of our eyes, she has no choice but to continue to work to keep what little bit of health insurance she does have.
Now, you may say, “So what! She’s got health insurance, doesn’t she? I work 897 hours a week and I can’t afford to pay for health insurance and Obama took all of my tax refund because of it,” and so on and so forth. Some may say, “Who cares?! She only has another year until she can retire. A year isn’t that long!” And to a degree, you’re kinda right, she does have okayish health insurance right now. And, yea, she can retire in a year. But that’s a whole year, with just kinda okayish health insurance, at a severely underpaid position. I don’t know if any of you have any experience with diabetes, but it can be an extremely expensive disease to have. It requires a lot of monthly medical equipment – glucose monitors, test strips, lancets, a complete upturning of your diet, and a lot of exercise and hard work. All of which cost money.
Her insurance will cover part of the equipment she’ll need every month, but it doesn’t touch anything else. Gym memberships are not free, and the unfortunate truth in this country is, the healthy food is expensive. Sugar free snacks are 5x the price of Little Debbie’s, and the wheat bread is $4 a loaf, where the regular bread is a couple bucks. Fresh fruits and vegetable are usually astronomically higher than the high sodium, high sugar, canned ones. And her health insurance does not care about that. Which is whatever, no health insurance covers food, the issue is, she’s so underemployed that she can’t afford to either. Yet, she still makes “too much” to be eligible for food stamps or any kind of assistance. So, she’s left trying to figure out how to feed herself food that won’t contribute to killing her, while still keeping her lights on. It’s a tight rope to walk.
Then she’s left trying to determine how she’s supposed to get all of this exercise that the doctors keep recommending. Again, she’s 64, with terrible arthritis, heart issues, and she works full-time. By the time she gets home, she has about enough energy to cook herself and my grandpa some dinner before she’s down for the count. She can’t afford any of the programs or gyms that could help her exercise comfortably, because all of her money is going to medication, testing supplies, food she can eat, and keeping her bills paid. She’s left with virtually no options, because she’s drowning in underemployment. All she can do is hope that her health will allow her to work until she’s eligible to retire, and hope that the state of our country still allows her retirement to be there when she does.
There’s a problem in this country, and it is not just a dirty millennial problem. It’s an everybody problem. It’s a problem for the 24-year-old writing articles in her dimly lit 2 bedroom. It’s a problem for the 35-year-old single mother trying to support her kids on her own, and it’s a problem for my 64-year-old grandmother who’s trying to get her diabetes under control so she can squeeze as many years as she can out of this life with the ones she loves. It’s a fucking epidemic, and it’s affecting everyone. No one should ever have to worry about whether they’re paying the light bill or buying their medication this month. Especially not when they have a fucking job.
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Andrea is a freelance writer based out of Kentucky. She is the mother to a 3 year old little girl and step-mother to a 6 year old boy. She’s been married to her husband and best friend for 5 years. She enjoys fishing, camping, hiking and the occasional glass of wine by a bonfire.