Over the past several months, an online community has come together in the name of “Anti-Work.” There are several tenets that can be gathered from the unrest and frustration expressed in the thousands of posts across various social media platforms like Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter. On reddit, the tagline is “Unemployment for all, not just the rich!”
While the poor are getting impossibly poorer, the rich are raking in staggering profits like never before. The poor must work or face certain difficulty in attaining the basic means of survival – food, shelter, and other necessities. At the same time, the rich do not have to work to live in ridiculously pampered ways. Not only are workers not being compensated fairly for the profits they are producing, compensation falls far short of the means needed to survive. The cost of living is going up extravagantly while wages have largely stagnated for over a decade. This is to say nothing about the working conditions themselves, which are demoralizing and exhausting.
It also says nothing about how much the world has changed during the current pandemic. The United States has lost over 1 million people to COVID-19, and countless more (numbers pending) have been disabled, perhaps permanently, from long-haul symptoms.
The disabled community has been loudly urging the general population to take the pandemic more seriously. It doesn’t just kill, it maims. It doesn’t just pass, it returns. Losing workers to death and disability means the general working population is shrinking, leaving those who are still showing up with heavier workloads. This hasn’t led to raises, however. Companies are stingily raising prices and keeping wages low, reporting record profits that mostly funnel directly into the pockets of the CEOs and stakeholders.
As for me, I feel like I’m caught in the middle of an avalanche, trying to keep from getting smothered. I work, but I also don’t work nearly as much as someone with a full-time job. I simply can’t. I haven’t had a full-time job since 2017. Since then, I’ve had some part-time jobs where I got in trouble for calling out too often due to my incapacity to work. I also couldn’t do the tasks that required more heavy lifting, even when people twice my age could do these things just fine.
Every time I renew or review my food benefits with government workers, they are confused about how my income works. No, I can’t afford to buy my own food. I have to rely on my Electronic Benefits Transfer from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (EBT SNAP, or “food stamps”) to feed myself. I can barely afford rent. My main source of income is Patreon, a site that pools resources from my supporters to generate one paycheck a month. The rest of my income is totally unpredictable and unsustainable, but it’s the only way I know to meet my other needs: I fundraise on social media.
In some ways, I’m very lucky. I have a platform and following that I’ve been developing for years, and I started out with a small spotlight my parents generated. I know a lot of people who can’t just tweet their immediate needs and expect to raise enough money to cover costs. Instead, they’re stuck working jobs that are discouraging, demanding, underpaying, and pushing them closer and closer to exhaustion.
What are the options? “Just get on disability” is a laughable suggestion to anyone who is familiar with the process. It can take months or years to attain. You’re not allowed to work at all while undergoing the appeal process, so finding the means to survive while waiting is extremely difficult. My partner had no income for three years while waiting, and was entirely dependent on other people to survive during that time.
I am technically self-employed, putting me into the category of working, even though I cannot work a regular job. I am better off continuing to cultivate my own following and support system than trying to start over with getting on disability. I’m seeking legal advice on partial disability to supplement my income, but it will take a long time to get answers and longer to win a settlement. In the end, I may not gain enough through benefits to compete with my meager current income.
The cost of living doesn’t just include shelter and food. It also means someone must pay for healthcare and accessibility. Glasses are not covered. Hearing aids are not covered. Wheelchairs are not covered. People must pay for these basic accessibility devices out of pocket, fundraise, or go without. Working part-time often means foregoing benefits like mental, physical, and dental health care. Many huge businesses are using workarounds to avoid defining their laborers as employees so they don’t have to provide coverage. For instance, delivery and ride drivers are mainly defined as independent contractors, so the companies don’t have to provide benefits or adhere to minimum hourly wages.
From all the above information, I believe that as a society we need to completely overhaul how we handle the systems of labor, compensation, and the means to live. We need to acknowledge the growing and vast number of the population who are barely getting by, whether or not they are working. Yes, unemployment may be low, but employment doesn’t mean what it used to. Partial employment, self-employment, independent contracting, and underemployment skews the reports. We need to acknowledge the young disabled people who cannot work (like my partner) or are barely able to work (like myself). Furthermore, we need to admit the pandemic is still ongoing, and many people should still be working from home or being paid to stay home and not work at all.
We don’t have to exist like this. We cannot. This system is collapsing. Imagining a future where our needs are met, even if we cannot work, is necessary.
The means to live needs to be separated from work. This concept is difficult to accept because human beings have not always been able to do this. It was not possible for most of our existence. But it is possible.