When you read a lot of Help Wanted ads, you begin to notice certain patterns. One thing I’ve noticed is how common drug testing has become–for hourly jobs. In fact, if the employer is a midsized to large company, mandatory drug screening is now the norm for hourly workers. But not for most salaried employees. And the higher up you go, the less likely it is that you’ll encounter a drug testing requirement.
I was wondering why that might be. Are people who make very little money really more likely to spend that money on illegal drugs than people with plenty of discretionary income? That doesn’t seem likely. I admit, the constant stress and fear of not being able to pay your bills can make escape from reality a tempting proposition. Except, of course, that drugs tend to cost money, and it takes a hell of a lot more than a low wage job to finance a drug habit.
Maybe it’s just that employers, like many middle/upper class folks, have a rather low opinion of low income people. Poor people are lazy and have no work ethic. That’s why they’re poor, you see. Plus, they lie, steal, cheat, and they’re probably druggies too!*
It’s also possible, of course, that employers would love to drug test all those professional and managerial types as well, but they’re afraid people with options wouldn’t stand for that kind of privacy invasion. So they focus their ought-to-be-unconstitutional drug screening efforts on people who have few options. My partner and I strongly object to drug testing, but will that keep us from applying for a job that requires it? Sadly, no. Because we desperately need the work.
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My partner and I are poor. Really poor. We live in a small rental and we can’t afford many of the things most people take for granted: a car, TV, high speed Internet, health care, furniture. I was about to say we can’t afford anything that isn’t an absolute necessity, but then I thought of all the things we can’t afford although they are necessities, such as the aforementioned health care or even a winter coat. We’re part of a growing number of Americans who work hard, pay taxes–and barely scrape by. And there is almost no chance that our situation will improve.
From the government’s perspective, we’re doing fine. We don’t contribute to the unemployment statistics or the welfare rolls, so where’s the problem? It doesn’t matter to the powers that be that our lives are a daily grind of all work and no play. It doesn’t matter that we sleep on the floor and sometimes freeze in the winter because we can’t afford to run the heater. It doesn’t matter that we’re forced to ignore symptoms of ill health and suffer in agony because seeing a doctor or dentist isn’t financially feasible. It doesn’t matter that we own nothing, have no savings, and struggle to survive, although we’re working full time and paying taxes.
Speaking of taxes, last month we were forced to borrow money to pay our tax bill, and we’ll be paying back that loan for the rest of the year. Not because we owed such a huge amount, but because any amount is a hardship when you often don’t make enough to cover your bills and eat. What? You thought the working poor get a nice fat refund come tax time? Some do, but we’re self-employed. Self-employment taxes ate up our entire refund and left us owing Uncle Sam more money than we had. Hence the loan.
As companies increasingly hire independent contractors rather than take on new employees, more people will find themselves in our position. Although we’re technically freelancers, close to 90% of our income comes from four companies that hire us year round. We’re grateful for the work, but would we prefer steady employment with benefits? You bet!
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