#562: Shared to Death

November 30th, 2015

“Poverty is a relatively mild disease for even a very flimsy American soul, but uselessness will kill strong and weak souls alike, and kill every time.

“We must find a cure.”

— Kurt Vonnegut, “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater.”

This morning I got up early to write a post on how the CTA bus ad for the Holiday Train looks like a monstrous Santa Claus is about to devour an ‘L’ car before wreaking Godzilla-style havoc on the terrorized cityscape behind.

But I’m not going to write that. Instead, I’m going to ask for your stories of feeling useless.

Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich recently posted a video about the “sharing economy.” The sharing economy is a tidy euphemism for employers tossing aside labor law because workers are desperate enough to agree to it.

It’s the economy of independent contractors instead of employees. It’s the economy of the self-employed, temp work, short-term contracts, of freelancing, free agency and all things free free free so you don’t realize you’re working four jobs from coffee shops and have to pay out of pocket to see a doctor for the cold you’re getting.

I live it and I’m angry about it. But I know my story. I want to hear yours.

A good friend of mine (and mother of “the tiny overlord”) thinks I should write a book about the sharing economy, sort of a “Nickel and Dimed” for the twenty-teens. I like the idea, but don’t want to add another project to my continually hiatused magnum opus on the South Side steel mills. So I’m starting small.

If you have a story about the sharing economy and your life in it, I want to hear from you. And I want to write about it in the digital pages of this site. If a book eventually comes, I’ll get back in touch and see where things sit.

It can be anonymous if you want. Other than that, the only thing I can promise is something better than a sympathetic ear. I’ll give you a critical one.

I’ll push back. I’ll ask questions. I will cajole for details and mitigating factors so that whatever ends up coming from this will be sourced and evenhanded enough no one will be able to write you off as a whiner. People reading your stories might not agree with your concerns, but I’ll put enough research and diligence into telling your story that they won’t be able to say those concerns don’t exist.

Depending on which website you’re reading, either John Steinbeck or Canadian essayist Ronald Wright said “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”

I consider socialism along the lines of marijuana and ska — OK to experiment with in college, but a somewhat silly place for grown adults to live. But that last part, the bit about being temporarily embarrassed millionaires, is where the real millionaires prey.

We let “the sharing economy” exist unchallenged because we work in offices, we type for a living. So somehow we see ourselves as different from a factory worker pulling double shifts on the line or a retail employee pressured to fudge timesheets so the store makes budget.

We consider labor protections, the very rights some people literally fought and died for, as something for poor people. And we’re not poor. We’re graphic designers. We’re lawyers. We’re writers and data analysts and college-educated temporarily embarrassed millionaires so, sure, I’ll sign a 1099 instead of a W-2. Sure, I’ll take that 40-hour-a-week job as a contract. Sure, I’ll work hand-in-hand with people who get health insurance when I don’t. It’ll all come back around, right?


I can’t take your boss to court or file your SS-8 for you. I can’t give you health insurance or keep your work week below 50 hours.

But if you trust me with your story of making ends meet in a world with a fancy new excuse for employer malfeasance, I can let a couple people out there know they’re not the only ones.

My email is 1001chicago@gmail.com. Put “My story” as the subject line.

And good luck.

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