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Carla Shutak Headshot

Just Get a Job, They Say

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It was the early '90s, I was fresh out of college and raring to go. My degree in Communications Studies offered me two choices. One was a position in the college town where I already lived as a travel agent. The other was a 40 minute commute for management training at a national department store. I chose the local option and became a travel agent. Shortly after I started my tenure there, I realized I had been outright lied to about the compensation structure. I had been told in my interview I would be making a base hourly rate plus 10 percent commission on every bit of travel I sold. No. I made $4.21/hr plus $2 for every flight on two specific airlines, $5 for every vacation package, and $7 per cruise. Fresh out of college and I qualified for food stamps working full-time.

Eventually my bitterness at being lied to caught up with me and I moved on to another crappy college town low-paying job with an employer who would be happy to replace me and hire a student looking for beer money. At one point I applied for a $10/hr three-quarter time job. They gave it to someone with a PhD., who I'm sure was happy to have it in order to live in that quaint university town. This is a cycle that repeated itself for about a decade. I finally realized that if I ever wanted to realize my professional potential I needed to start my own business, so that's what I did. The first year it was successful beyond my wildest imaginings. The timing, however, was not the best. The economy was beginning to feel the first twinges of unrest while brick and mortar stores were rapidly becoming obsolete in favor of online options. After that first year I discovered the two years we had tried to conceive had finally paid off, and the third year in business I went with my baby daughter in tow. Then my husband was told at work his office was moving to a location 40 miles away. Our bungalow home that was once perfect had become suddenly crowded with the birth of our daughter, so the thought of moving was appealing. The ultimate conclusion was a complete relocation. You can read that story here.

By relocating, my husband's salary was raised enough to more than make up for what I was making financially. His professional degree was a much better wage winner than my liberal arts background. I was happy to be able to focus on being a mother. Now, after almost a decade since that choice I find the goal of reentering the professional world full-time to be virtually insurmountable. My decades of experience and higher education are overshadowed by my status as a mother. Ironically, being a mother has been the most challenging position I have held. I have developed amazing organizational skills along with superior creative compromise and diplomacy. As far as budgets, I can feed a family of four a mostly organic diet for over $200 less per month than the national average cited by the USDA for a nonorganic bill. My research abilities are phenomenal. I have treated skin issues and allergic reactions with more success than the dermatologist we visited.

These accomplishments have been made while holding down a part-time job at a major home improvement store. When I say part-time, what I really mean is as many hours as possible without actually receiving benefits. That's about 30 hours/week of putting vanities and toilets on carts for customers while standing on concrete for eight hours straight.

Every waking moment is filled with laundry, dishes, cleaning, cooking, and working. Yet I still manage to find time to scour the Internet for full-time positions for which I am qualified. These positions would have to pay enough for childcare during the summer because I can't leave the kids home alone. I was offered one retail management position at $10/hr. Three months out of the year I would have been paying to go to work. I had an interview for a visual merchandising position at a national department store. I fit the qualifications exactly and the assistant manager who scheduled the interview was excited to speak with me. The first question the store manager asked me was "How do you plan to balance working full time and being a mother?" Now I do not have a law degree, but I'm pretty sure that would be considered a discriminatory question.

I was considered such a valuable employee at my part-time position I was able to secure an interview for what would have been my dream job. It would have meant relocating which was very attractive. My husband could have gone back to school for his master's degree. I had a wonderful 45 minute phone interview, however toward the end of the conversation the interviewer said, "This is a hard job to have if you have a family. I've basically made my wife a single parent for 12 years doing this." My interpretation of that statement is that it's okay for a man to do that, but for a woman, not so much. I guess I should have thought of all this before I had kids, right?

This educated mother gets a little offended by the statement "Just get a job." Oh. Okay. I'll do that. Here's another one, "You're being too picky. Go work at McDonald's or Walmart. They're always hiring." Yeah. Well, my part-time employer was pretty much that equivalent, and working there full-time wouldn't cover childcare. Would you like to babysit for me so I can go earn $9/hr and help all the other deadbeats they employ make their shareholders more money in a year than I would make working there for a lifetime? Sorry, was that too bitter? I should just be thankful for what I have while I take my calculator and coupons to the grocery store so I can feed my family. People who attempt to improve themselves and their situation don't do so because they aren't thankful for the wonderful things they already have. My desire to be employed in a professional position where I am fulfilled and feel as though I am valued has nothing to do whatsoever with my ability to enjoy my family.