The Stigma of Unemployment
I couple of days ago, I had an exchange with a mother and daughter which left me frustrated with the persistence of class stereotypes. These two women, whom I've promised not to name because of the very stigma in question, are dynamic, highly intelligent, well-educated, talented individuals with impressive resumes. Yet, like many American, they've recently lost their jobs. And, like many middle-class Americans living paycheck to paycheck, it didn't take much to pitch them into poverty.
Being smart, strong self-starters, they immediately made use of appropriate community services to try to regroup, gain more education, and expand their support network. Yet they informed me that whenever they tell people about taking part in such programs, they frequently experience reactions of rejection and disgust. Their lack of a job makes some people want to deny them a job. Their need for social services makes some people less inclined to lend a hand. Instead of saying, "There but for the grace of God go I," some people seem to think that these women did something to deserve their situation. The mother told me it seemed clear to her that the discrimination was not about her race, but about class distinction.
There is another recent trend I've seen that is less obviously egregious, but can also create this sense of blaming the victim: the idea that if we put out positive energy we will not draw negative events to ourselves. It's true, putting positive energy out there is more useful than putting negative energy out there, and, while we don't always have control of our circumstances, we can control our attitudes. However, suggesting that people with bad luck somehow chose their problems so they could work out a spiritual issue strikes me as cruel at worst, and beside the point at best. Sometimes bad things happen to good people with positive attitudes who do everything right.
I cannot offer any but the most obvious solution to this problem of class discrimination. I know that compassion is plentiful on this networking site, so I may be preaching to the choir. But I also know that I always appreciate a reminder not to make assumptions: just because someone doesn't wear nice clothes, live in a nice house, or drive a nice car to a nice job... doesn't mean they have less potential or ability than those who do. Here's a well-worn, but always useful notion: If we're fortunate enough to be working, we can offer support to someone who isn't: a resource, a reference, a job, a smile. Maybe you and I can simply tell this story the next time we hear someone make an assumption about someone they don't know.
We cannot fool ourselves that America is a society that always offers opportunity without regard to class. But we can remember that America is a society where such opportunities are possible, if we all work together to make it so. About that I am positive.