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Plight of the Underemployed!: Part 2

Today I lost another job. I wasn’t fired. I just wasn’t hired. Again.

For two years now, I have been searching for work that will in some way let me use the college degree my parents and scholarships so generously funded. I was laid off shortly before Christmas in 2002, and spent all of 2003 looking for full-time work. (I got close twice.)

The first time I landed a nanny job that little did I know included a placement agency that liked to play head games. The second time I moved to Palm Springs – home of old people, heat that sucks the moisture completely out of your body, and a squirrely news staff that left me more cagey than when I had no job. Needless to say, I left after deciding I’d tried to prove I was superhuman in the face of adversity long enough and could finally go home without dragging my tail completely between my legs.

Four long days and a stressed out cat later, I arrived back home in Indiana – home of the low-wage earners, job reduction and steel mill pollution. I freelanced for my hometown paper, an old employer, and tried desperately to get back on staff. They continued to work me five days a week, led me to believe HR would call and then filled the position without giving me so much as a ding letter or “Sorry, Charlie.”

So for the last 18 months I have served in the glorious position of front desk gal at an after-school recreational facility. That translates to mean I am the resident change-maker (penny counter), human bookbag and personal popcorn maker. My work area is as littered with wrappers from microwave popcorn and homework papers as it is anything resembling work that requires a brain cell.

Throughout this time I have continued to send off resume after resume. Out of all the paper, e-mails and faxes sent out, I have garnered exactly three interviews. The first was from a friend of my father, and it still led nowhere. The second was for a job at a furniture design house (Did I mention I am going back to school to try my hand at interior design?). They rejected me after telling me to call them and never responding to my messages.

The third happened just a few weeks ago. Out of 50 applicants I was one of 6 they interviewed. Things looked promising. They were upbeat, and I knew them, having covered the entity once before. I sent them a thank you note and was waiting to get a call back about a second interview. That call came today, when I was informed that my seven years in the business were not enough. I should go back and write for the papers around here maybe. The candidates being asked back have all served as reporters and editors. So have I.

The short answer is that for whatever the reason, in this horrific job market, they managed to find someone with more years in the field willing to earn substandard wages for their experience.

For me that means I will continue to work for ramen noodles at a job that does not pay for sick days. (Did I mention that the reason most people get sick at work has to do with the fact some snot-nosed child has been breathing their germs in our general direction?) I will hand out bandages, bark at children to stop running and play fighting and answer mundane questions by parents of regular club-goers (i.e. “What time do you close?” “Can I speak to my child?” This second question is usually followed by a long pause as if they expect me to identify which of the 200-plus children in the building belongs to them simply by the sound of their voice.)

And I will do all this while pretending the $8 an hour is a glorious salary that allows me to pay bills accrued while I actually had an income that could sustain the basic needs of a person (like rent, food, car insurance, gas, etc.) I will smile and be pleasant and not get upset when a child has refused to answer the phone after their name was said over the P.A. for the fifth time. Why? Because I am college-educated, and am supposed to be civil and good-natured. After all, they are children.

I will just “keep plugging away until something better comes along,” “hang in there,” and “look on the bright side.” And then, I will slap the face of every cliché-spewing do-gooder who offers me unsolicited advice from their perch of the gainfully employed.

Q's Quips: The under-employed are a bitter, overworked lot, struggling for your table scraps. Throw them and be gone or don’t throw them. Either way is fine. Just don’t throw a bone of vague, useless advice. You’re liable to lose a hand.

• Rae Ann Rockhill once again lives with her parents while she tries to dig her way out of the world of the underemployed. Send cash donations or job possibilities to The Quintessential Q.