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My Sims 3 social experiment: Living on part-time wages

12 Dec

I’m a social scientist. Well, at least that’s what my master’s degree says I am. I’ve decided to take on a social experiment that could reflect how many people in our society live — on part-time wages.

The number of people living on part-time pay because they cannot find a full-time job is astronomically growing. Last Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that nearly 8.2 million people classified themselves as involuntary part-time workers in November, according to NBC News. This means that they settled for less work because they couldn’t find more. That’s around double the number of involuntary part-time workers from 2006, before the economy went south. The number of people who are involuntarily unemployed has gone down since it hit nine million in the depths of the recession, but progress has been slow.

Many of these people work multiple — sometimes as many as four — part-time jobs. This number includes full-time workers whose incomes are not sufficient enough to meet their needs.  The New York Times quoted a woman working multiple part-time jobs as saying she works 70-80 hours per week. That’s a schedule held by most lawyers or investment bankers, with just a fraction of the pay. People in this situation come from all walks of life and all educational levels. Young college graduates are finding themselves in a bad labor market and with tens of thousands of dollars in student loans to pay off.

I’ll be joining these ranks very soon. I just took on a part-time job because I haven’t managed to find anything full-time after losing my job. I’ll be working full-time when I do my VISTA job, but it won’t be much money — at all. I’ll soon be making above minimum wage, but not by much. I’ve also had to buy pants for my work uniform I’ll have to wear, as well as shirts with a collar that are long enough to be tucked in. Belts are required, and I don’t believe my studded “metalhead belt” will be acceptable. I’m already incurring work-related expenses before even starting the job. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very grateful to have it, but life isn’t going to be sweet. I’ll also be working retail during the holiday season. Ugh. I’ll also be juggling this with my gig as a stringer. I also just got an e-mail saying my student loan payment is due. I’m trying for a deferment.

I didn’t get a master’s degree for this.

Until I get started at my new job, I’ve had a lot of time at the apartment to either sit and veg out, or try and do something productive. I have to watch every dime, so I can’t be roaming the roads and burning gas unless it’s absolutely necessary. So, I’m stuck here reading, playing guitar — or playing The Sims 3. I got an idea to try out something new with the game that I believe fits in with the blog theme. I created a family that lives on part-time wages.

Here’s how I’m doing it. First of all, I’m using absolutely no cheat codes with this particular game. That way, I play according to one of the things the game teaches — living on a budget, and starting out in life with very little. Playing with no cheat codes doesn’t allow me to play with my sims’ moods, perking them up in an instant when I need them to do something. They have to eat, sleep, pee, etc., just like the game teaches you about real people. Even though I have the Supernatural expansion pack, the sims I created are just humans with no supernatural powers to help them out.

Now, for the storyline. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the Cornell family.

Dad: Jason Cornell

Dad: Jason Cornell

Mom: Kim Cornell

Mom: Kim Cornell

Teen Daughter: Lori Cornell

Teen Daughter: Lori Cornell

Younger Daughter: Megan Cornell

Younger Daughter: Megan Cornell

Dog: Priscilla

Dog: Priscilla

Cat: Domino

Cat: Domino

I set up the family this way to basically create a family that, on the surface, seems like something straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Don’t get me wrong. I’m an edgy liberal who, among other sims, have a family that consists of a happily married gay male couple. One is a werewolf, and the other is a vampire. Their teenage daughter is a werewolf, and their younger daughter is a vampire. They live in domestic bliss. I also didn’t want to do what I often do and create really bizarre sims, create sim versions of myself or friends and family, or create sim versions of celebrities. I gave them fairly normal, somewhat boring,  personality trait combinations — but included some that allow for special skill development. I’ll explain more of that later. On The Sims 3, your sims can get full-time work and in the field they want by simply driving out to the workplace at any time and getting a job. Granted, their first jobs in their fields stink, but they’re working full-time in their chosen fields. I decided to ignore this and make them drive out to get part-time jobs. In reality, we can’t always get full-time work, and getting it in our chosen fields is even harder. The teenage girl can get a part-time job, but the female child cannot. Oh yeah, all of these part-time jobs on The Sims 3 are in the evening.

Jason is a good cook, and he wants to be a full-time chef. He is now stuck working at a graveyard. Kim is a good writer and could work well in the journalism track. Instead, she’s working as a receptionist at the day spa. Lori started out balancing school and work at the local bookstore, and little Megan is having enough trouble just trying to keep up with school. I bought them a house within the budget they were given. Unfortunately, I had to download a house (No cheat codes are required for this. I was in the clear.) because no two-bedroom house was within the family’s budget. The Cornells settled into a very, very modest two-bedroom, one-bathroom (very small and to be used by four people) house.

Working multiple part-time jobs isn’t permitted on The Sims 3, but sims are allowed to develop skills that can earn them some side cash. I’m having all members of my family do this for their own survival and to illustrate what it’s like to juggle multiple income sources. I gave them special traits to build on. Jason has the “angler” trait, which means he loves to fish and learns the fishing skill quickly. Fishermen/Fisherwomen can sell their fish at the grocery store. Kim has the “bookworm” trait, which makes her a good writer. Writers can write novels and earn royalties from them. Lori is a “virtuoso”, which means she’ll learn a musical instrument faster. Once she reaches Level 5 of her guitar skill (Skills on The Sims 3 have ten levels.), she can play for tips at various places around town. Megan has the “artistic” trait, which helps her master painting faster, and she can sell her paintings once they are finished.

However, earning this extra money is not as easy as it seems. Because skills have ten levels, it takes some serious time to master them. Furthermore, people with the higher skills are the ones who earn big money. Musicians can’t even earn a dime from tips until they reach the fifth level. So the Cornell family, being that I’ve just started working with them, have minimal skills — and make little to nothing with their side incomes, even though they keep trying.

Megan is only a Level 2 painter right now, and her pantings only give the family about $20.

Megan is only a Level 2 painter right now, and her pantings only give the family about $20.

Kim is trying to finish her first novel, so she hasn't earned any royalties yet.

Kim is trying to finish her first novel, so she hasn’t earned any royalties yet.

Jason only caught $15 in fish on this trip because his skill is still low.

Jason only caught $15 in fish on this trip because his skill is still low.

My free Word Press account won’t let me upload the video I shot of Lori’s present guitar playing. Let’s just say she isn’t ready to try and earn ANY tips right now.

Here’s a big thing that keeps your sims from really working on their skills and earning money: Needs. They have to take out time to eat, pee, shower, have fun and keep their stress levels down, and socialize. Couple that with time they spend on work and school, and you’ll see why Lori can’t go to the park and earn tips with her guitar. Your sims’ responsibilities also affect their needs, and their needs affect their responsibilities. For example, the kids have to do homework every night. So after a long day at school, they have to come home and work even more. Teenagers like Lori who have part-time jobs leave for work as soon as they get home, then come home to homework. Lori had to quit her part-time job, even though the family needs the money, because she was too tired to finish her homework after work. Her grades were suffering, and she couldn’t work to build up her guitar skill. That guitar skill, once fully developed, can earn a sim more than what a full-time job would make.

Lori is desperately needing sleep, but she still has homework to finish. She's clearly not happy about that.

Lori is desperately needing sleep, but she still has homework to finish. She’s clearly not happy about that.

When sims’ needs aren’t met, they don’t finish homework, their job/school performance goes to the pot, and they don’t want to work to build their skills and earn money from them. If they’re miserable, they’re not productive at all.

Your sims also can’t afford the best of anything when they’re starting out, but they especially can’t when they’re working part-time. Right now, the Cornells have one car for Jason, Kim, and Lori to drive. Anyone else who can’t get to the car quickly enough has to ride a bicycle. Their cheap appliances are accidents waiting to happen. The family’s cheapo computer fried, and their “bargain John” toilet is a constant source of frustration for them.

Jason is working to repair the computer on his own. Because he has no mechanical skill, he risks death by electrocution. The family can't afford to call a professional.

Jason is working to repair the computer on his own. Because he has no mechanical skill, he risks death by electrocution. The family can’t afford to call a professional.

The Cornells’ pets are nice, and provide them with some relief from their miserable lives. However, one aspect of both pets causes serious problems for them. Both Priscilla and Domino have the “destructive” trait. This means Priscilla is constantly chewing things up, and Domino is constantly clawing on furniture. Priscilla also likes to knock over the outside trash can. Whenever a pet claws/chews on something, you have to pay up money to replace it. Otherwise, your house will look like hell. Because Priscilla ravaged the couch, no one wants to sit on it. The Cornells can’t afford to replace any of the furniture their pets have destroyed, so their home is quickly going to the pot.

Bad, bad kitty!

Bad, bad kitty!

Personal relationships also suffer for the sims whenever their work/school/skills take up all of their time. Couples don’t have time to be romantic, parents can’t spend time with their children, and no one has time to make/keep friends outside or inside the family. Their social interactions also become more negative, especially in romantic relationships. Kim wanted to have some “intimate” time with Jason, only for Jason to push her away because he hadn’t slept. The two want another child (how they’ll afford it is highly questionable), but that’s not going to happen if they keep pushing each other away. Work schedules also affect their personal relationships. Kim works on both days Jason has off. Both Jason and Kim work Saturdays and Sundays, the days their daughters are off from school.

Anyway, this part-time lifestyle could have serious implications on whether or not this family even survives. If you liked this post, I’ll keep the updates on the Cornell family coming!

Current music: Alice in Chains, “Sunshine”

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No rest for the unemployed — at all

7 Dec

I’m unemployed! So, I guess it’s time to lie around playing guitar, eating Cheetos, and watching soap operas! Right?

Oh hell no.

One thing I’ve realized about unemployment periods is that — providing you want to get out them — you’re more pressed for time than when you were working! The Flat Broke Diva is going to explain how this works.

First, you have the matter of unemployment compensation. You could easily spend the entire day at the unemployment office, spending hours standing in lines, sitting in waiting rooms with everyone who’s going as crazy as you are, etc. I described my personal process in an earlier post. I’ve swapped a few horror stories with people who have been through it since then. One is a guy who, on top of the bureaucratic nightmare, got stuck in a jam-packed elevator. He’s also claustrophobic. The time you have to spend with unemployment doesn’t end at the office. Not only do you have to make certain numbers of job contacts every week, your case may also have special circumstances that merit even more bureaucratic time. Mine is one of them. I have a hearing Monday morning to determine my eligibility. Oh yeah, I’ve been out of work for two weeks now, and I have yet to see a dime in unemployment benefits.

Then, you have to hit the pavement to look for work. I’ve tried hitting concentrated areas so I can be more productive and use less gas. I’m living on severance pay right now. You enter, get turned down, and prepare for the same to happen at the next location — over and over again. I try to search and apply online as much as I can because of the gas expense concerns, but you have to show your pretty face at a lot of places to get anywhere. When I was first out of work after graduating with my master’s degree, I went to the state capitol armed with a stack of resumes. I spent the entire day there. You also have to hit the pavement by phone, too. Thank God I have unlimited minutes.

Like I have, you might catch a lucky break to where you don’t have a full-time job with benefits, but you get something part-time or freelance to at least keep SOME kind of change in your pocket. That’s awesome, but this also will have you running your guts out, especially if you have multiple interviews or have to take on multiple jobs. Let me give you a little example with my schedule for the latter part of the week. Wednesday, I had two job interviews at retail stores, and there was only two hours in between the interviews’ start times. The following night, I had a meeting to cover for my stringer gig. Tonight, I have a second interview at one of those two stores.

Maybe I’ll finally get some rest this weekend…

Current music: Alice in Chains, “Head Creeps”

 

What a difference a week makes!

3 Dec

I know I had talked about doing a consignment store piece on Twitter, but tonight, I’m in such a major daze that I didn’t want to just slap something together on an entry like that. Today marks the one-week anniversary of my being thrown onto the cheese line and restarting this blog, and oh what a difference a week can make!

One week ago yesterday morning, I was another supposedly secure bureaucrat getting for another day in her walled-in cubicle. Ever heard the awesome Alice in Chains song “Man in the Box”? Yeah, I gave that song a whole new meaning. Before I could have my usual lunch at a nearby Indian buffet, I was carrying all of my belongings to the parking garage and headed home to a seriously uncertain future. I spent the entire day either crying, fighting the migraine from hell, or in bed because I just didn’t want to face anything this world had to offer.

Even then, I knew I had to take action. Fast-forward to today, and I have a stringer gig, the upcoming VISTA gig, today’s job interview, another job interview I have to schedule tomorrow, another stringer story to do tomorrow…. Whoa! I’m still sitting here quite often, having to stop myself and recount all I have to do or that’s coming around the bend. Whoever wants to peg the unemployed as lazy and unproductive is seriously wrong. Well, I just know it hasn’t been a time for me to lie on the couch and eat Cheetos.

I guess the lesson to be learned here, folks, is to never, ever let a time of personal crisis be a time for you to simply lose your head. It’s also not a time to just lie down and die. If you think about it, those who are against you WANT you to lose your head. They WANT you to lie down and die. Do you let them win? Hell no.

Current music: Alice in Chains, “Man in the Box”; Alice in Chains, “Sunshine”; Drain STH, “Stench”

You’d be well advised not to plan my funeral before the body dies

30 Nov

I know I’ve expressed my love of Alice in Chains until I’m blue in the face. But after this harrowing week, I believe the band and one of its songs is especially relevant for me. It’s called “Grind”, off the self-titled album commonly called “Tripod” because of the three-legged dog on the cover. It’s a song about being stomped on and fighting back like a hellcat, basically. That’s what has happened to me in just this past week. I practically had people dancing on my grave Monday all to make TWO comebacks, one of them major. I’m still dumbfounded, but majorly thankful, for it all.

The first few lines always stuck with me, even when I was first listening to it as a teenager. They are:

In the darkest hole

You’d be well-advised

Not to plan my funeral

Before the body dies

That has been me so many times in my life. I’d rather not go into too much detail about them because I do have to watch what I say online when it comes to future employers. I do want a full-time job with a regular salary and benefits someday, you know? I will tell you the story of the first few months of graduate school…

When I entered grad school, I came in as a provisional admit. I BOMBED the GRE and my undergraduate grades, while OK, weren’t spectacular. However, the Political Science department decided to give me a chance. I was to make all As and Bs during my first semester before I could be fully admitted. If I made just one C during that time, I was OUT. I had given up the journalism career I had loved so much to do what I did. There was no way in hell I was going to shrink down when faced with tough odds and not fight for what I wanted. I wanted that master’s degree in my hand so badly I could taste it.

There were moments of really serious doubt. Graduate school in Political Science means hardcore scholarly research and academic writing. Journalistic research is (when done the proper, old-school way) deep, but Political Science at the graduate level is six feet under. Furthermore, my writing style had to radically change. My graduate advisor looked me in the eye before I began the program and said, “A sentence is NOT a paragraph!” I got my first few quizzes back in one class, and I thought I was done for. It was either fight or flight.

I chose to fight.

I was very fortunate to have totally awesome professors who made sure to tell students to come and see them if they were struggling with anything. I took full advantage of that. I joked that I should have kept a toothbrush in one of their offices. Another professor I would have the following semester helped me out considerably with another class’ project even when I was not yet her student. My graduate advisor pulled me through both my academic and my personal troubles that struck. They all went over outlines with me, combed over drafts and marked the living hell out of them, wrote full-page commentaries about what was good and what needed to be improved… Their help is not to be confused with hand-outs. They made it clear I was to bust a move if I wanted to survive their classes! But they were more than willing to give me a hand-UP.

I not only survived that provisional semester. I made a 4.0 GPA. Guess what I did thereafter? I kept and graduated with that 4.0 GPA. The provisionally admitted ex-journalist with a terrible GRE graduated with a 4.0.

I’ll never forget what our department chairwoman told me when I came to her literally with tears of joy after I found out the news I graduated with that GPA and after coming in provisional. She said, “You know? Sometimes it’s good to be underestimated.” I agree. The harder the fight, the sweeter the victory 🙂

There are lessons to be learned from my experiences. (I hope.) If you want something badly enough, don’t sit at home just thinking about how much you want it. Get it, for crying out loud! No matter who you are, you will always find people ready to dance on your grave just like I have encountered. Rise from the ashes — and above them. You often have to be creative and fight even harder than you would normally have to just to survive. But survive, you will. And thrive, you will. You’ll be all the better person because of it.

Here’s the killer video for “Grind”. If you haven’t watched it or heard the song, you need to. I hope you can find it as empowering as I have.

Current music: Alice in Chains, “Grind” (Of course!)

 

 

Wal-Mart Adventures: Always the place where no one can drive, always

29 Nov

Yesterday, I got my severance pay check, and the bank finally credited my account with it at midnight. Thank God because I was literally in the red until then. I finally had the chance to go grocery shopping after literally days of conserving food and getting ready to fight Vampire Cat for his Friskies and Whiskas. So, I headed to the local Wally World fairly early so I could beat the holiday shoppers. I quickly realized I should have gone at 4 a.m. when I was fighting off insomnia.

Here’s something I’ve always seen at Wal-Marts, and it was clearly evident today: No one can drive — outside OR inside the store.

I don’t know what it is about Wal-Mart that makes a housewife in a Subaru station wagon want to drive like someone on Grand Theft Auto. The bad driving, though, extends to the store’s inside, where the housewives, retirees, broke college kids, and people both rich and poor (mostly fairly poor or middle-class) can’t even drive a buggy.

I first came in from the highway and pulled into traffic that moved at a lurch that was slower than most zombies. Obviously, “work hours” were still not a good time to come to Wal-Mart. I then proceeded to park in the boondocks and walk inside. In the process, someone in a Lexus SUV let me cross after first getting ready to mow me down like a West Virginia deer. Taking roadkill home to eat is legal in this state (no joke), so I guess the driver was a cannibal.

The real challenge was inside the store.

Inside, I was nearly slammed into by just about everyone at every turn. It was like a bad demolition derby! Around every corner, everyone was so obsessed with getting that Great Value cereal or whatever that they were just plowing through the aisles. Maybe the whole thing was just contagious. Maybe everyone started getting this, “Oh, so you’re going to run me down! Hell, I’ll run everyone down!” attitude.

I admit that I almost got that way myself when I made it to the register. At the register, I was right behind a woman who held up the line for a good five minutes (that felt like five hours), talking to the cashier about her Christmas tree. Here I was with a buggy full of frozen and refrigerated food, and I still had to fight through ridiculous traffic to get home after this. She finally got out of the way, and I thought I was home free.

Alas, the bad drivers were still out in full force.

I ended up having to snake through the parking lot because a driver on one side of the parking lot nearly backed into me, and another one from the other side backed into me. A woman who passed me said, “Be careful. They’ll run you over out here.” I said, “Yeah, and they’ll do that inside the store, too.”

Current music: Don Henley, “Dirty Laundry”

A little light in the darkness

28 Nov

OK, so I have good news for once! A local newspaper is allowing me to do some stringer work for them. The pay isn’t much — at all — but it’s at least a way to start clawing my way back onto my feet. Not to mention this old muckracker gets to go back to racking muck for the first time in more than two years!

Let’s hope this is just the first of what could be a comeback for yours truly.

Current music: Veruca Salt, “All Hail Me”

I walked the (unemployment) line

28 Nov

Standing behind a piece of duck tape on a dirty floor, I anxiously awaited my turn. At any moment, yours truly, then known as “next”, was going to be called forward. No, I wasn’t auditioning for “The Voice”. I was doing the first in what seems to be a hundred thousand steps in the unemployment benefits process. The things I do just to get a few bucks on which to barely survive…

I don’t wish the unemployment line process on anyone. OK, so maybe there’s a few certain people who, in the evil corners of my mind, I would like to live as I did for at least a day. Nevertheless, it’s an experience where people of almost all backgrounds, education levels, current/former social standings, and circumstances are forced together for hours because they all have one struggle in common. They also experience the biggest loads of BS ever imaginable together, too. To say it’s eye-opening is a serious understatement.

My day started at home, trying to find a way to apply for benefits online as I had done in other states before. No, in West Virginia, you have to file in-person. At least the 10 (literally) pages of paperwork you initially have to fill out are available online to save you some time at the unemployment office. You have to arrive at certain times for what are called “group interviews”. I’ll explain that process here in a bit. So, I sat down in the waiting room with a dirty floor, but at least halfway comfortable chairs and listened to quite a few really sad stories. Multiple people were in from one company that had massive layoffs. A few coal miners who were some of the scores of coal miners in this state recently laid off were in there. Some people were anxiously awaiting this process to be over so they could pick up their children, something I fortunately don’t have to worry about at this time. Some had to bring their children with them.

A lot of people get this image in their heads of lowlives and bums when imagining the lines of people who are applying for any type of government assistance. Yeah, there were some people who looked a little rough around the edges. But you know what? They were all very nice people. One man, a recently canned truck driver with a long beard, had been fired because he was in an accident. That accident happened because he swerved to miss a vehicle with children inside. Not all people who get fired deserve it. Also, one woman in our group had her materials in a leather portfolio, and was professionally dressed. Another man was wearing a dress shirt and tie. Not all people applying for assistance are in the blue-collar world, either.

Later on, just less than 20 of us were called into the back of the building and herded like cattle into a room the size of an efficiency apartment — in Tokyo. We had to sit through a video through which most people cursed under their breath or played on cell phones through while the unemployment office lady was out of the room. It was crowded. We were all having to sit on top of one another, practically. It was miserable. A lot of people continued to curse, sometimes out loud, or play on their phones even after the unemployment office lady came back into the room. One woman left because she just couldn’t take anymore.

After the unemployment office lady signed off on our 10 pages of paperwork — plus gave us more to look at and/or sign — we were sent BACK to the dirty waiting room. There, I watched a man play with his young daughter and saw even more people standing in line behind the duck tape. I sat and played on my phone, installing the Word Press app so I can try to keep you updated while I’m on the go, and messaged friends who were gracious enough to keep me company throughout that mess. One in particular stands out in my mind. I love you, lady. I don’t know what I ever did to deserve a friend like you.

Then, the blessed moment arrived in which I was called to the back again to talk with someone individually about my case. She said, “Are you going to file a grievance here?” I told her, and I’ll tell you, that I don’t know if I want to put myself and my family through more drama because of my now-former job. My family and I have been through hell through most of 2012. I don’t want this to be the breaking point for anyone. Still, it would be nice to have some justice served. Served cold and moldy.

If I get approved, I get back pay for whatever time I spent waiting. Meanwhile, I have to look for work at least once a week and report that I did so every two weeks in order to keep my benefits. If I get benefits, I can’t earn more than $60 a week without whatever goes above $60 being deducted from my benefits. So, if I get this freelancing gig or maybe something in retail because of the holiday season, I could be penalized. That’s a nice way to encourage someone who’s trying to pull themselves up by the bootstraps, isn’t it? It gives you a nice incentive to try and find something else, doesn’t it?

OK. I’ll try to make sure most of my new blogs aren’t such downers and try to get back to the junk-pile-hunting you all adore. I just believe that it’s important that we all learn a lesson from my experience, and I personally don’t want this to be in vain. Let’s hope and pray this ends VERY soon.

Current music: Veruca Salt, “Earthcrosser”