A few years ago, the newspaper USA Today carried a story by former Wall Street Journal reporter Les Gapay, now living out of his truck as he travels around national parks. Unable to find a job, Gapay uses library computers to freelance as a writer and publicist. Approaching sixty, he fears many jobs will go to younger colleagues.
Gapay’s story is an inspiring one because he refuses to give up. He reports increased income this year — he no longer qualifies for food stamps — and expects to be living in a real home someday.
How did an educated professional fall so low? Gapay matter-of-factly says he falls through the cracks. Self-employed workers do not qualify for unemployment and state agencies have no idea how to help. Insurance remains tied to employment, although more and more of us have joined the Free Agent Nation.
I believe we are in the middle of the greatest social transition since the Industrial Revolution. Then as now, millions of workers were displaced by forces beyond their control.
Two books offer a realistic perspective. William Bridges’s book JobShift and Daniel Pink’s Free Agent Nation. Both argue that traditional jobs will soon be obsolete, yet government, insurance, health care, and credit institutions haven’t caught on.
If you’re disturbed by these trends, I encourage you to write to your legislators, reminding them that unemployment benefits were designed for a different era. For most of us, self-employment is a matter of when, not if. Change won’t happen overnight, but we need to encourage our congressional representatives and senators to begin making laws for tomorrow’s world..
“How a Regular Guy Gets Homeless,” by Les Gapay. USA Today September 22, 2003 page 3B