A day in the life of an unemployed New Yorker
Applicants talk to potential employees during a jobs fair. David Zalubowski | AP

I am a musician, teacher, and writer, a skilled worker with skills not highly valued by a vulture market. In our society, racist, sexist, ableist, ageist, and other-ist capitalists make decisions amongst themselves about everybody else. Diversity and difference are twisted into a deadly tactic for paying some people less than others and for unequally conscripting workers, especially workers of color, into the pool of unemployed people.

It’s a terrifying reserve of discarded human beings which grows with every new boom and bust cycle. It puts downward pressure on and threatens everyone else into slavish submission, while banks, bosses, landlords, mortgage lenders and insurance providers root around in workers’ bank accounts, purses, back pockets, and pensions. Don’t forget also the stolen time and wages, unpaid overtime, free “on-call” hours and cut hours, benefits reductions, rising rents and interest rates, and taxes the rich would rather not pay.

I have worked at various points for the New York City Board of Education as a temporarily licensed music teacher and substitute teacher, as a People’s World stringer, and as a Starbucks barista.

I was also exclusively free-wheeling as a busker (street musician) for a time. Actually, my on-again-off-again experience in the lumpen proletariat milieu was working out for a little while.

Then Trump cheated the election. New York City and the rest of the country were plunged into panic, collective PTSD, depression, anxiety and, among so many other things, tips on the platforms of the MTA dropped 40 to 50 percent — way below a sustainable level. In addition, the subways didn’t get any warmer in December, January and February and the music gear didn’t get any lighter.

After campaigning and voting for Bernie and then Hillary, I ended up back into a more directly exploitable position, a phenomenon regularly visited upon small business owners, artists, and other precariously “independent” people living under capitalism.

I started working substitute teaching jobs, more recently got a few canvassing jobs during the primary election season, and was trying to break into organizing work. But then, one day, the alarm on my freebee phone didn’t go off during a training week, and I was back to square one.

Last week I found a job fair event at a New York Marriott Hotel near the Brooklyn Bridge in the highly affluent, post-gentrified (real-estate colonized) downtown Brooklyn. It appeared to be scheduled for today, October 30. According to the event description, “job seekers” would have “an opportunity to meet face-to-face with dozens of employers” in the “sales, hospitality, customer service, accounting, administrative, banking, finance, insurance, government, technology, restaurant, retail, and more” industries. The works.

“Perfect,” I thought.

Tuesday rolled around. I was still hoping to finish an article about New York elections and the struggle to flip the New York State Senate and U.S. House of Representatives before the middle of the week when the check writer is in the office, and also needed to busk for whatever cash I could get later that night.

But, I got myself ready, printed out a bunch of resumes on my girlfriend’s printer, walked out under a bright blue autumn sky — my favorite type of golden day — to the cafe, treated myself to a cup of coffee with a pile of quarters before hopping the turnstile, took the G train to the A train to Jay Street, and walked around the corner into the Marriott. I told the hotel worker I was there for the job fair.

“Yeah, there’s no job fair,” he said. “A lot of people have been asking about that. You can go up and look if you want.”

Annoyed, I dutifully followed through with the proper tasks of an unemployed person and rode the escalator to the second floor. A number of booths were set up with business-y looking people sitting behind pamphlets and tabletop displays, scrolling around on their phones and tablets, or talking, shaking hands, and bearing their teeth at other swanky people.

Fostering a hesitant optimism, I noted a banal row of variously named tech company after tech company – many of them obscure, and a few familiar corporate giants. Approaching a registration table at the end of the carpeted hallway, I was directed to a small computer-bedecked table where an event facilitator slid me a piece of paper to fill out.

The little white sheet asked for my company or government affiliation.

“How come this is asking for my job title?” I asked with a dying hope and growing indignation. “Is this a job fair?”

“No, this is a technology forum to discuss security issues.”

Creeped out, I strolled around with secret fury, aimlessly gawking at the rest of the thieves planted behind glossy corporate propaganda and briefly considered taking back the land by absconding with some free coffee, but felt too strangled by the stale aesthetics of the Marriott ballroom to waste more time in that lousy place or to put their horrible coffee inside my body, so I just asked another hotel worker whether there was a job fair somewhere else in the building on the way out, obtaining permission from myself to abort the mission.

Walking away, I overheard his co-worker striking up conversation about all the people coming around for the non-existing job fair. “Is there a way we can contact them …?”

Double checking myself in the lobby, the “event link” inside the description of the clearly dated October 30 job fair redirected me to another one on December 12.

I angrily started imagining various self-described “job creators” — coming together around their own stupid and perverse, economy-killing form of class solidarity, pushing the hotel to reschedule the job fair so they could rub toes and wink at their government representatives and jostle for lucrative contracts. All of this, of course, would be paid for by taxing working class people – in the same state security apparatus that hides its unemployment rates behind slave-labor employing prisons. And all of this parallels making people scared of their neighbors and all the other “aggressive” (developing) countries so that more social service expenditures can be redirected into the much more profitable police-prisons-military-industrial-complex.

Maybe they offered a higher rate for using the space than JobFair X, and New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge, absent all sense of obligation, was happy to provide assistance? Maybe it was a cancellation/postponement initiated by their operatives in the municipal government? Or maybe JobFair X is just another scam? Oh my god, I must be a special kind of idiot for following up with something so obviously fake as JobFair X, which also asked for me to “login” using my Facebook profile. Whoops. (I did later get a fishing call from Marriott saying I had won a lottery I never entered for a free trip to [utopian travel destination].)

In any event, for a lot of people walking away from the hotel today, it was just another hate-filled message from the suspender-snapping “risk-takers” and “entrepreneurs” that — like Black lives, immigrant lives, or trans lives — working class lives, of any race or gender, don’t matter to the exploiting class: The unemployed can eke it out another three months, and gain experience in high-risk negotiation with our landlords. Or, we can work it out with the shelter system later.

The real emergency is profits. Technology giants will get their contracts A$AP.

Unless we organize to change that.


Cameron Orr
Cameron Orr

Cameron Orr is a musician and writer living in Jersey City, New Jersey.