By Livia Gershon
Tracy was working in her small yard when I saw her, vigorously raking up dead grass. She’s a renter, but she wants to keep the property in order so her dogs have a good place to play. It’s not easy because the yard backs into the bike path, and people tend to throw food wrappers and empty bottles around.
“There’s so much trash,” she said.
Tracy — not her real name — is 24. She looked bright and energized, perhaps partly as a result of all the exercise she was getting working on the yard. She said she tends to be an optimist. She’s not discouraged even though she lost her job a month ago and hasn’t had any luck finding something else.
“I’m pretty much open to anything,” she said.
Tracy’s been supporting herself since she left home and got an apartment at 17. She was her parents’ ninth child, she said, and they didn’t have an easy time financially.
“I wanted to be able to provide for myself,” she said.
She got a community college degree in nursing and went to work as a nursing aid, but after two years or so she found herself discouraged by the low pay for very tough work and the general atmosphere of the nursing home where she worked.
She’s also worked as a bartender, so she’s been applying for restaurant jobs, but with the number of people looking for work she hasn’t had any luck.
Tracy knows particularly well how tough the job market is. Her last job was at a staffing agency where she helped people find machine operator jobs that paid $8.50 an hour for 12-hour shifts.
“It’s kind of like sweatshops,” she said, with huge turnover levels. “You obviously feel a little weird” placing people in that kind of position.
But, she said, “some people just really need the money.”
Tracy said she isn’t looking for that sort of work. She doesn’t feel she could take anything that pays less than $10 or $11 an hour.
In an ideal world, Tracy said, she’d like to find a job in writing. She writes poetry and music in her spare time.
“If I were to have had money for school I would have pursued other things,” she said.
But Tracy doesn’t buy into the idea that people her age need to put their lives on hold because of the economy. She has a boyfriend who lives outside the city but helps her out as much as he can. He was hauling bags of trash out of the yard while I talked with her.
She’s not sure how optimistic to be about the economy and the chance of finding a job soon, but she’s OK with continuing to apply for whatever openings she can find.
And she said she’s enjoying spending time with her dogs, who are young and energetic and need plenty of attention.
“I live in the here and now,” she said.