Help wanted, but only if you can put the job first


I have recently started searching for employment in earnest. My contract with a very progressive family-friendly employer was unable to be renewed, so now I’m pounding the metaphorical pavement. In the week that I’ve been actively responding to job ads, I’ve realized just how lucky I was to have worked for an organization that allowed flexibility for family needs.

So many of the jobs available right now that are ideal for my skillset just don’t work with my reality.

“Valid driver’s license and access to a vehicle essential.”

“Must be able to to work evenings and weekends.”

“Will involve frequent travel around the province.”

I do have a license, but I don’t have (or want) a car. That rules out a lot of opportunities in my field. Evenings and weekends aren’t an option, as it would likely cost me almost as much as I’d earn to pay for childcare to work. And travel? Once or twice a year, I can ask for help from family. Anything more than that, and I’m out.

Then there are the unwritten barriers that prevent me from applying to some positions:

“Location: an hour or more from your children’s school.”

“Start time is earlier than you can make it after dropping your kids off at school in the morning.”

These are related, but different. If it takes me an hour to get from the school to work, it’s impossible for me to work full-time hours in the time the kids are in some form of care (school, aftercare). If I am an hour away from the school and one of the kids gets sick or injured, that’s a commute that’s not acceptable to me. If the start time for a position is set in stone and there’s not enough time for me to make it to work after dropping off the kids at school, it’s not a job I can do. At 9 and almost 11, my kids are not quite at the point where I’m comfortable with sending them on the 30+-minute streetcar ride to school alone, and I can’t figure out what other options I have in that situation (and that’s only looking at age and maturity, not the potential for who knows what kind of autism-related disaster that could happen in that time between the two of them).

To be eligible for Employment Insurance, I have to be ready, willing, and capable of working each day, and I have to be actively looking for work.

“Willing to work” is defined as willing to accept all types of work that your abilities, skills, training, or experience enable you to do, and you are willing to accept labour market conditions (for example, going rate of pay, hours of work).

I have to be willing to accept conditions that I cannot actually accommodate. There are factors in my life that make some labour market conditions untenable. That does not mean being picky. It means that I don’t fit. And I am by no means alone in this dilemma. If I’m struggling with this reality with all of the privilege I have, imagine what it must be like for someone whose children aren’t school-aged, who don’t have a (recognized) post-secondary education, who have even less local support than I do.

There is a waiting list of 18 000 on the child care subsidy list in the city of Toronto right now. The waiting list for housing subsidy is years long. Minimum wage in Ontario is now $10.25, which is much better than it used to be, but if a single parent without childcare subsidy worked only during the hours the children were in school (assuming they are of school age), that parent would be making just under $16 000 per year.

It’s still very early days in my job hunt. I’m optimistic I’ll eventually find work that works with my family circumstances. While the narrow definition of “willing to work” does complicate things, I’m resourceful and have a tonne of community support right now in my search. I only wish everyone in my situation had as supportive and connected a network.

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3 Comments

  1. mudmama said,

    March 3, 2011 at 10:28 am

    I’ve discussed this with another friend who is also a single mother of a child with an ASD and we both agree that the ideal would be to share a house with another single parent so that you can share child care. The ASD makes finding that compatible housing partner really really difficult though….another option we discussed (and this works well in an urban centre with graduate university programs) is finding a grad student who would accept reduced room and board for child care help – less stable maybe but the reduced rent is a good carrot.

  2. dantesdaughter said,

    March 3, 2011 at 11:23 am

    Great post, sorry it’s so accurate but it certainly is.

    You can, of course, extend this into other areas; single women are often silently penalized for being in their fertile years, employers don’t know what you’re likely to do if you meet someone and fall in love and they’re reluctant to hire you when there are other options, women who have recently left marriages or marriage-type relationships who work to improve their lives by getting an education are halted in their tracks by employers who demand that you have a car and/or other specialized equipment before you work for them and I’m sure there are other silent barriers too.

    I’m not sure when it became ok to demand a person had a certain level of affluence before they can be considered for employment but that does seem to be the case in our society right now.

    As for mudmamma’s house idea – it’s well meaning and cooperative, innovative even but many of us don’t want to go through the adjustment of taking on a new family unless it is going to be part of an ongoing intimate relationship. Frankly, it sounds like a variation on convent living to me and I would not want it. Privacy is something most writers need and real privacy cannot be obtained in a communal household, no matter how well it’s functioning.

    And having been asked to serve in the position of the grad student, I can tell you from experience that is a much more fraught situation than you might think. It brings up issues of live-in servitude, entitlement, equal dignity, the value of a person’s personal time and so on.

    What’s the answer? I don’t know but I’m not sure it lies in accepting the situation as it is. Working with these types of constraints has not helped to improve conditions, in fact it seems to have made things worse.

    I left Early Childhood Education and Care in part because someone made me realize as long as I was willing to sacrifice myself to make an unworkable system work, I was supporting it.

    Furthermore, I was supporting it well enough that people thought they could make things even worse for me and then there was also the fact that I passed my acceptance of my own exploitation down to the children who were my responsibility to guide meaning they learned to suffer that way too.

    That idea resonated with me and still does. I have had to make different sacrifices, equally painful ones including being childless, as a result but I will not cooperate with a system that expects me to seek out my own exploitation.

  3. Bad Mummy said,

    March 3, 2011 at 11:57 pm

    @vandyke Brown – according to CAS, there’s no reason my ex can’t leave our 5-yr old alone in his apartment. I was given the impression that there is no written rule…but (shock and awe) I wouldn’t be surprised if that CAS worker was lying to me

    @PlastykGyrl – I’m experiencing some of the same challenges. My daughter is 5 and in daycare, but they’re only open 8-5:30 and located in the downtown core (on the Queen streetcar line). I’ve been looking for work for TWO years since losing a full-time job (restructured from a position at a non-profit, very soon after asking for accommodation for mental health issues). I’ve been working part-time at a job since Sept 2009 but it doesn’t even pay half my rent; I’ve drained savings and my severance pay, exhausted EI and am now rely on financial support from my parents to make ends meet. Only recently have I picked up some part-time temping (paid under the table) work that is helping take the pressure off.

    I don’t have my pick of jobs, since I never went to college or university, and I’m sure I’m competing for the same non-profit admin roles as MA graduates. Unfortunately, with rent at $1200 and no child support, I haven’t figured out a way to live on minimum wage. I’m still hoping that some miracle will happen, but every week my job area widens, and I try to think of what I would say in an interview if I was asked about working evenings and weekends.

    Come September, she’ll start school and I’ll have to find before-and-after school care, which seems to be even harder to find. Thankfully I get the daycare subsidy now, but that means even more work trying to find a childcare that will accept subsidy for before-and-after school care.

    I really do like your line about not being picky, rather being a case of not fitting. That’s exactly how I feel. Sure, I could apply for that job at RIM in Mississauga that a friend sent me, but besides childcare, there’s transportation issues and my skill set falls within an entirely different sector and I’m just not quite ready to give up my non-profit program management skills for making coffee and arranging a CEO’s calendar. Thank you for helping me clarify that for my own self.


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