Anjali Chatha spent a lot of time at the library when she was growing up. There was something about being surrounded by bottomless information and infinite stories that appealed to her. Throughout her high school years you could always find her at the Edmonton Public Library, studying for tests, writing essays, and doing a little light socializing with friends.
It was probably no surprise to her family when she told them she was going to go to school for Library and Information Technology at MacEwan University in the city. A two year program, the young Alberta woman graduated before she was 21 with dreams of being a librarian.
Now 24, she’s hoping this will be a breakthrough year that will see her finally work in her field. For now, though, she is employed at two fast food restaurants, trying to eke out a full-time wage to stay out of poverty while simultaneously not giving up on her dream.
It’s a quest not easily attained.
Anjali’s parents came from India 27 years ago, settling in Edmonton and working at various jobs until they felt secure enough to open a convenience store and gas station. Anjali and her two younger brothers could often be found helping out at the family business while they were growing up.
The family had a comfortable, middle class lifestyle once her parents were established, according to Anjali.
“My parents are typical, hard-working first generation Canadians,” she says. “They certainly demonstrated to us what kind of work ethic you need to succeed.”
Anjali was a good student, almost never dropping below a B grade in any of her subjects throughout all of her school years. She thought about going into pure sciences for a career in medicine, but the lure of the library was too intense. Even while studying there as a high school student, she would find herself re-filing books that were out of order.
While she went to school for her librarian credentials, Anjali lived at home free of charge and helped out her parents when she could. But once she had her specialized diploma, she wanted to move out of the family home to make a go of things on her own, bucking the trend of many millennials who are frequently choosing to stay with mom and dad.
She found a likeminded roommate who was in the child welfare program at MacEwan. Both of them had high hopes for getting work in their respective fields, right after graduating.
“It hasn’t worked out that way,” says Anjali. “It’s been nearly three years and I’m still hoping.”
While her roommate has a job at a laundromat, Anjali has two fast food positions that keep her busy with erratic shifts. However, they usually only net her between 30 and 35 hours worth of work combined, at slightly more than minimum wage.
Splitting costs with a roommate has helped their situations, although both have experienced poverty at various times over the last few years.
“I don’t really want to ask for help from my parents because I think I should be able to do this on my own. If things don’t look up, though, I’m not sure what the future holds for me,” she says.
The Workplace for Millennials
It hasn’t been an easy employment environment for millennials. The so-called cohort of 18-34 year olds has been saddled with high levels of joblessness in both Canada and the U.S.
The Toronto Star reported last year that aspiring librarians “have felt the erosion of permanent employment for positions demanding a high education level.”
Even those who find work at libraries are “trapped in entry-level jobs,” according to the Star’s source, Maureen O’Reilly, president of the Toronto Public Library Workers Union.
In Toronto, the newspaper reports that the average wait time for someone to be hired as a full-time librarian is 10 years – and that’s for people who already have a foot in the door working other jobs at the library.
Precarious employment has been rampant across Canada. This is defined as part-time, temporary, or contract work, often without benefits. More than half of Greater Toronto Area workers are in temporary, contract or part-time jobs, according to McMaster University. In large cities like Edmonton, the trend also holds, a truth for most of the western world.
Partly this is due to globalization, as huge multinationals have decided to keep their costs down for maximizing profits.
In addition to precarious work, a 2013 study out of Oxford University predicted that automation will cause 47 percent of the jobs in the U.S. to disappear within 20 years. This includes work of creative skill too, or requiring significant analytical power. Machines can now write prose, with a prediction that by 2030, 90 percent of journalistic writing will be done by computers.
Martin Ford, author of Rise of the Robots, says: “The machines are coming for the high-wage, high-skill jobs as well….Automation is blind to the colour of your collar.”
This is the kind of information that has Anjali feeling significantly less optimistic about her path then she used to. Her own precarious work has left her feeling anxious, despondent sometimes, and worried about her future. She even looked into mental health programs last year at a particularly low point.
When told about the concept of a basic income guarantee, how it would ensure everyone an income sufficient to meet basic needs, regardless of a person’s work status, Anjali thought this was a “great idea.”
“I want to work in my field, but having a basic income as a back-up would make me feel a lot better about everything,” she says.
She liked the idea of a basic income ensuring that no one would ever drop below the poverty line, or thereabouts.
“Even if I only got part-time work at a library, I might need something like this at first,” she says, recognizing its power to help her over the transition to a full-time job.
“With basic income, I could also upgrade my skills once I get my foot in the door. Maybe I would know better then what skills I might be missing then — what they would value,” she says.
For now, Anjali has decided she’ll spend some time volunteering at the closest branch of the library to where she lives. She figures if she gets to know some people who work there this could work to her advantage.
In the meantime, she says she will work to stay positive about her chosen life path.
“It’s not easy now to pay the bills, but I know this is something many young people go through. My parents have provided me with great examples, so I’ll stick with it.”
–This story was originally published at Case for Basic Income here.