I recently stumbled across the blog of a girl I met on my first trip to the U.S. in 2008. When I met her I was 19 and still very ignorant about the way the world works. I think for a long time I just assumed that Australia’s financial fortune would be reflected in the U.S. and that employment, housing and a good life were just as accessible there as they are here.
I can understand my ignorance. For many years, if not decades, America has been portrayed in film with rose coloured glasses . It is undeniable that at one point in history America seemed to be a place where you could build a dream and start a new life that promised something more than simply living and breathing till you die. It promised the opportunity to build a career, live in a stable environment and, as long as you were willing to roll up your sleeves and do the hard work, it was a country that would make you more than average.
How was it changed? Has it changed? Or has the world just become smaller, more self-aware and less willing to work for the dollar? Between pruning the lemon tree and plum trees in my backyard, I took some time out to do a little research and learnt something new.
Back in 2007, the cogs that turn the global economy began to struggle and we all started to feel more than a little queasy about our economic prospects and future living standards. Australia took quick and decisive action and I clearly remember the day I discovered that the Australian government had given me over $1000 to simply spend. Our national fiscal response was to spend money to save jobs and that is exactly what many people did. We aren’t completely in the clear, but we survived and did it well.
The U.S. was not nearly so lucky, and since the global recession it appears that many mid-wage/ mid-skill positions have been replaced with low-wage and low-skill roles, resulting in a hollowing out of the workforce and even greater disparity in wealth.
In one article, a mature aged worker discusses how she went from an annual salary of $75,000 to temporary positions, an unpaid internship and has had to move in with her 86-year old father to survive. Her applications to employers like Target have gone unanswered.
So when I read the blog of a past acquaintance this afternoon and discovered that since 2008 she has applied for hundreds of positions and struggled to secure full-time employment to support herself and her child, I realised just how lucky I am to live in Australia where I have the opportunity seek and find employment with relative ease and am supported throughout this process.
What makes this all the more pronounced is that last week when I found myself once again job seeking I was able to turn the situation around within seven days and secure a full-time role that my history degree and library certification helped me secure.
Ironically, a great quote to surmise the position I have found myself in was made by the second president of the U.S, John Adams.
I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain – John Adams, May 1780.
I can only hope that my children have the opportunities that I have had growing up in Australia and that the smart girl I met in the U.S who is now a mother to one, will also have those opportunities and in her words, does not look back in years to come and think, ‘damn, I really wish I lived my life’.