Did you see the Open Letter To My CEO, about a starving (well, kinda starving, we’ll get to that) young Yelp employee?
On one hand, YES. Rent is insanely high. Especially in cities, which is where job opportunities are. Entry-level jobs are paid so poorly they almost require either a second job or generous parents. College loans are insane. The gap between the wealthy and the struggling continues to grow.
On the other hand… the letter-writer wants a job being funny on the internet, but is complaining about having to put in a year on a lower rung first. Expecting your first job to be your dream job, and expecting to turn funny on Twitter into financial security is pretty much why people say millennials are entitled. She complains about the type of free foods stocked at her office, and also that the free snacks are only replenished on weekdays, even though she has to work weekends too. Working weekends in order to move up is pretty much textbook career advice. (Turning free work snacks into a meal is also a respectable career move, check the press room for the complimentary bagels and free coffee.)
There are SO MANY ways that the system is stacked against people beginning work. SO MANY. And I hate all the narratives that new grads are required to pay one’s dues through unpaid and underpaid starter work (which goes double in creative fields where you’re supposed to write, design, draw, etc. for the sheer love of it, never mind wanting to pay your rent). I hate that professional work in your field is unpaid because you’re promised you’ll get valuable skills and experience, and that the retail or food service work you take to get by is poorly paid because you’re told it doesn’t require skills. I hate that my gut reaction to this piece was You have health insurance! Quit your moaning! like the ability to see a doctor is some kind of heavenly peak that only the elite could aspire to reach. I hate that we keep repeating this narrative about working hard at whatever’s available until you get promoted, like we’re not watching my generation getting crushed under rounds of layoffs, salaried jobs turning into contract jobs or thirty-five-hour “part-time” jobs, stagnant salaries, and mounting interest on mounting student loans.
This open letter though… ugh. It’s not at all a sympathetic account of struggling to make ends meet. It isn’t a story about the compromises of living with too many roommates for the space available, or the exhaustion of working nights in a second job. It’s really hard to read. In the letter, she asks her CEO to pay her phone bill. She also recounts a story of telling her manager she didn’t have the $6 fare to get to work, a situation I can’t possibly imagine. I mean, I can imagine needing train fare (been there), I can’t imagine calling my job to ask what I should do about it. She describes the poverty that led her to write this letter, and also leads her to include Venmo, Square Cash and PayPal donation options at the bottom. She’s eating only rice, she can’t afford to turn on her heater, she’s drinking water to make her stomach feel full. Except, is she really?
There’s been an unsurprising backlash of folks going through her social media (now mostly private, but someone’s archived her work-hating tweets and cupcake-baking ‘grams at That’sALotOfRice) and coming up with evidence that she’s lying about her poverty. There are a lot of fancy meals, drinks, and cupcakes for someone who claims to be living on rice and water.
But I don’t think that automatically means she’s lying about the finanical trouble she’s having, because it’s quite easy to exaggerate or present a different story on social media. My own timeline includes lovely shots of my bay window reading nook, artfully angled to hide the restaurant dumpster outside the window. The internet police force doesn’t need to sift through this girl’s social media in determine if she bought unnecessary meals out, we can see that the system is flawed when there’s a massive debate about under what circumstances a college grad who’s working full time deserves to buy herself something nice, ever.
Even if her account of surviving on rice and water is bullsh– hyperbole, the system of high rents, low wages and college debt presents a real problem. Do you remember Mike Daisey’s iPhone story on NPR? And the retraction? I don’t think I posted about it here, which is odd because I think I told everyone I know, several times, how angry I am because now all the real information about the very real exploitation in Apple factories in China is going to be tainted with his exaggerated, falsified story. It’s the same thing with this Open Letter and the plight of entry-level employees.
In conclusion, yeah, it’s entitled and ridiculous to expect to graduate and land your dream job, to expect to live in an expensive city with no lifestyle compromises, to write a callout letter and be surprised when you get fired.
But the rent really is too high, college tuition is too high, interest on college loans is too high, entry-level salaries are too low, mid-level salaries are stagnant, and the gap between haves and have-nots is growing all the time. So many of us have followed the instructions to go to college, earn a degree, get a job, start on the bottom, work hard and you can move up, but we’re finding that doesn’t really lead to a solid middle-class life anymore. Eventually we’re going to have to see this as a system failure and not the result of individual mistakes.