While we may not hear much about it in corporate mainstream media, today, more and more people in the west are facing unemployment, underemployment and general economic despair. This includes well educated, (formerly) middle class people that have seen their jobs down sized, outsourced or completely disappear as well as those that have spent years and a small fortune (much of it borrowed and expected to be returned with interest) on fancy university degrees only to be unemployed or underemployed after graduation.
How do I know this? Well, for starters, I am among the latter. With over a decade in university, a PhD from a very fancy school and numerous “prestigious” awards and accolades, I find myself unconventionally and sometimes marginally employed two and a half years after graduation. Traditionally, PhDs—especially those with research awards and academic publications—were almost guaranteed to find a tenure track teaching position or professorship. Today the reality is much different: Many PhD graduates are having trouble finding even just sessional or adjunct teaching positions (which typically come with much less pay and no health and pension benefits). And if you didn’t somehow manage to rack up years of teaching experience while completing a doctorate—which was my reality but is not true for all doctoral students—then your chances are more slim.
So it is that despite my fancy education I was ‘forced’—admittedly, I’m primarily a writer. I enjoy teaching university but it is not my first passion—to join the world of freelance writing and editing and become part of what is often referred to as the “sharing economy” or peer-to-peer (P2P) economy. While my freelance and contract work allows me to dedicate time to my personal writing (such as this blog) and other projects and passions, it also means less money in a world that is becoming more and more expensive to live in. Still, I am more fortunate than others. The overly educated and under-employed, as I like to call my sub-group, are fairing better than the outright unemployed, a segment that is climbing at an unacceptable rate in the west.
What we are really experiencing is the fallout of a failing or failed economy; an under regulated economic system that has allowed corporate oligarchs to outsource jobs to the uber-exploited (and under protected) people of the developing world in the name of neoliberal globalization. Hip and cool phrases like sharing economy or peer-to-peer services, which refer to platforms that allow people to ‘supplement’ their income by renting out their homes or personal services, such as Air bnb or Uber (and to a lesser extent online message boards like craigslist, kijiji and the like), are lofty euphemisms that hide the reality of the failed economy and a betrayed working public. People using these alternative platforms are not necessarily just ‘supplementing’ their income, many are downright economically desperate and looking for a way to make money.
So the next time we use new en vogue terms like “sharing-economy” or P2P, lets stop and reflect on what they represent. On the dark side, it reflects the increasing reality of economic collapse and economic despair.
But on the bright side, it is also a positive example of human resilience, interdependence and ingenuity! Perhaps one day we will grow a co-operative (informal) economy that is so robust it will put Big Business right out of business. Perhaps if we continue to work together and rely on each other, through trading skills and services, promoting small local business, etc., we can one day turn our backs on the current economic system before it fully impoverishes all of us.
Just some things to ponder…