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$6.40 an hour for nine years: how I got stuck in a career as a Walmart employee

The Guardian – By Robert M Galbreath – Thursday 18 May 2017

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Photo: I felt like a failure with no future, no money, no assets, and lots of credit card debt’. Illustration: Rob Dobi.

You don’t know shit!” is a hard lesson to swallow, but it was one of the first things I learned when I started my nine-year career as a sales and inventory control associate at a Walmart in Laramie, Wyoming.

When I was hired by the company at $6.40 an hour, I believed I would only be working there for a few months before I landed a cool gig at a non-profit in Denver, or had my manuscript discovered by Random House. I had dropped out of college to pursue my dream of becoming the next Stephen King. I thought I was wise beyond my years and looked down on many of my new co-workers: soon I would be living in Denver, Santa Fe, or even New York City while they would still be stuck at the local Walmart.

Of course, my Gothic novel was not picked up by a fancy publisher, and soon the harsh reality set in: no one would be hiring a kid from Wyoming with only a high school degree and no work experience in the midst of the recession.

Almost nine years later, I was still working at the same store. I was broke, in debt, and Walmart was one of the few employment options in town.

I earned around $2,000 a month after putting in a lot of hours and snatching up overtime whenever it was offered, working 11 days in a row or taking long shifts. After paying $475 for rent, $193 a month on my car, $75 per month for car insurance, utilities, phone, basic cable, food, minimum payments on my credit card debt that were over $100, taxes (single working people making over the poverty level usually do not get any tax deductions), and $230 a month for health insurance, I had little left over.

I felt like a failure with no future, no money, no assets, and lots of credit card debt. The small savings I accumulated would quickly disappear into an emergency car repair for the six-mile round trip to work (especially necessary during the cold, windy winter), or were used to pay the doctor for necessary care out of my pocket because my health insurance plan had a $7,500 deductible.

Walmart did offer steady hours and, if you could afford the deductions from your paycheck, provided health, dental, and disability insurance. We received paid sick days and vacation time – although you had to work an entire year before you were granted a single precious week of vacation.

I was disillusioned with politicians on both sides of the aisle who didn’t seem to give a damn about people who weren’t in poverty but made less than $30,000 a year. I made too much to qualify for federal tax credits to buy inexpensive health insurance under Obamacare. My premiums rose every year, and soon health insurance was my second highest personal expenditure after rent. Politicians gave lip service to tax cuts and programs for the “middle class,” but never seemed to mention the “working class.”

And before you ask why I did not do everything I could to leave, well – I truly felt working at Walmart was the only option open to me at the time. Few places in town offered the steady hours and limited benefits that Walmart did. I lacked the self-confidence to return to college as a non-traditional student, had limited financial resources to move to a different city, and perhaps most importantly, I didn’t believe I had any social connections outside of Laramie to help me start a new life somewhere else.

These factors fueled anger and resentment. I am ashamed that on occasion, in order to hide my own personal frustrations and insecurities about my queerness, I participated in racism, sexism, and homophobia in an attempt to fit in with the guys at work.

However, most of my anger was directed at older co-workers who had worked at Walmart for a long time. My biggest fear was becoming one of “them,” a “lifer” stuck at Walmart, and I treated them with contempt.

Thankfully, a co-worker named Nathan taught me humility, kindness and respect for those who worked hard and cared about their jobs in the low paying service sector.

And eventually, I got the courage up to take out loans and finish my undergraduate studies at the local university.

I quit Walmart after my acceptance into a graduate program that offered free health insurance and paid a stipend comparable to what I made working full-time.

Read entire article here

PS This is a portrait of a true wage slave.

Posted by Teri Perticone

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