Elizabeth is a 24-year-old woman who lives with her boyfriend in Cottage County and works locally as a group home care-giver, augmented by other pick-up work. Her commitments were such that it took some time to schedule the interview, which took place in my home office. Elizabeth commuted to Littletown to acquire Personal Support Worker qualifications but was unable to make a living because of work conditions. She owned and lost ownership of a house when a previous relationship broke down; her current boyfriend has his own business. Her brother, Steve, and step sister, Sally, were also participants in the research.
FM: So, let’s start with a bit about your family – how many, ages, where you were raised, what the family did for money, etc… Just to contextualize you a bit.
I’m the oldest of two kids. My mom is a hairdresser, my dad does construction. My brother is doing an apprenticeship for electrician. My parents split when I was 9 years old. I lived with my mom the majority of the time, but at my dad’s every other weekend and Thursday nights. We lived in town Riverville until I was 13 and then moved on to a farm a little ways out of town.
I moved out when I was 18. I got my own apartment and then I bought a house when I was 22 and sold it when I was 24.
Editor's Note: Elizabeth's many moves are numbered.
FM: [#1] Moving out of your mom’s home. What was that about?
I had got a full-time job at a group home in a nearby village so I thought to myself that I had a full-time job, I could get away and I wanted to be independent.
FM: Talk a bit about the apartment, what kind of shape it was in, how much it cost relative to your wages, i.e. how affordable. Etc.
Okay, so the apartment I moved into – he had redone the whole thing, new carpet, repainted the apartment. I paid $600 a month all inclusive which included hydro, and satellite. I paid for groceries and my home line plus cell phone. And my car. How I afforded it was I took $300 out of each paycheck and put it away so it was available at the end of the month. The rest was for phone bills and car payments. And food.
FM: So was it affordable at the rate that your job paid?
It was affordable while I was working there. And then a month later after we were all hired full time, 12 of us got laid off because they didn’t have funding. Which I don’t know why they hired us if they didn’t have funding, but…
[#2] After that I moved into a different apartment with a room-mate – it was $200 cheaper. At this time I was only part-time and once the winter time came, our hydro bill increased a lot because it was base-board heating.
[#3] We ended up moving into the basement of my room-mate’s parents for 6 months and we only had to pay for half the groceries and we paid $100 each a month.
FM: Was this a boyfriend or a room-mate?
[#4] Boyfriend. In May of 2010 we bought a house in a smaller village outside of town.
FM: How could you afford to buy a house when you had been stretched, I think, with expenses, let alone rent?
In March of 2010 I got a part-time job at a group home on the edge of the county which part-time hours were technically full-time hours so I could afford to live there.
FM: And what kind of work did your boyfriend do?
He was a salesman at a car dealership.
FM: Wages or commission?
Both. He got an hourly wage and then if he sold a car, he’d get half of his commission.
FM: So was he doing fairly well?
FM: Did either of you leave the county for education?
We both did. He went to [community college] for mechanic, and I went to [community college] in Littletown for Personal Support Worker. And I’m currently doing on-line Child and Youth through [another college].
FM: When you went to Littletown, did you move there?
No, I was still living at home and I drove every day.
FM: Which is about 100 km one way, right?
FM: How did that change the educational experience for you, not being on campus except for classes?
I didn’t get to meet as many people. I never had the experience of living on campus. I never really got the chance to be on my own while at school.
FM: Do you wish, looking back, that you’d done it another way?
In a way, yes, just to have the experience. But living at home I saved a ton of money.
FM: Speaking of that, how much of a debt load did you carry, at its max?
My mom paid for me to go because it was a $3000 course. I had a part-time job at a clothing store so I paid for my own gas, I paid for my books. If I wanted to buy a lunch down there, I bought it.
FM: So you got away without student loans?
FM: Which would be an issue when you applied to borrow money to buy a house – your credit would be in fairly good shape?
Yes, my credit is in good shape but while I was in school, I had bought a car, cash, so it was paid off but I only had to pay for my insurance. With 2 months left at school, that car broke down so I had to take out a $4000 loan and bought another car, basically to get me through the rest of the school year.
FM: Just a question here; the first car, did you buy that or did your family?
FM: Using what for money?
The money that I saved up working at the clothing store during high school.
FM: Well, we could talk about your boyfriend’s financial situation if you and he were financially interdependent. Were you?
Yeah. While I got laid off, he was paying for some of my car payments, paying for rent, and that was when we decided to go to his parents for a little bit, and then I got the job at the second group home and I was able to start paying for my own expenses.
FM: So did he have a lot of debt, student or vehicle or whatever?
He had a student line of credit that he paid once a month, and he paid for his truck.
FM: So when both of you were employed, finances were fine, but if either of you had a hiccup in earning power, you were in some trouble?
Basically it was just when we were living paycheck to paycheck. Sometimes we couldn’t do what we wanted to do with friends because we wanted to be sure we had that money in our account.
FM: So you said you sold that house 2 years later.
Yeah, we sold it this year.
We broke up.
FM: And neither of you could afford the house without the second person’s income?
I could afford it if my job was permanent fulltime but I’m only temporary full-time and I didn’t want to take that risk knowing that I could go back to part-time at any given time. And he didn’t want to take it on on his own.
FM: Did you take a bath on it? i.e. lose money?
FM: Would you talk a bit more about the income insecurity, the idea that the size of the job can change with little warning, and your earning power along with it? Is that usual with jobs in this area, in your experience?
Yes, because kids are in the group home for treatment and once it’s over, they go home and it could take up to 30 days to get another kid in there. And the kid I worked with went to a foster home and there’s nothing in the works at the house I work at to have another kid. So right now we have 1 kid – we had 8 staff, now we’re down to 4.
FM: I would think that arrangement would tend to make you suggest that no kid is ever ready to go home….
Yeah, because the one girl we have now, she is there but [the plan is to] go home and then, if she’s good by January I’m out of a job.
FM: Do you think getting this Child and Youth Worker qualification will make your employment any more secure?
I think it will because it opens more doors for me. There’s more opportunities to work elsewhere.
FM: But your first certificate was in PSW, which is a big kind of job in this area because we have so many old people. And it sounds like you didn’t even work in that field with that qualification? Is that right?
I did work at a nursing home in [a village 50 km away] for about 4 months, but I was nights – so I’d drive in for 11 at night and be done at 7 in the morning. And then I worked for [a local organization] for almost a year which was a lot of – basically my pay checks would go to gas. Because you don’t get paid to go to your first client and you get paid to -- well: I don’t get paid to go to my first client, because that’s like getting paid to drive to work. Same with driving home. So they’d put my first and my last client the furthest from my home. And all the driving in between was my expense.
FM: And did you have full-time hours?
I only had 5 hours a day but they were stretched out so, for example, I’d have a 6 a.m to 7 in the morning and then I’d have an 11:00, and then you’d go back somewhere for 7 p.m. So you only get paid for the hours you spend with the client, even though it’s stretched out over the whole day.
FM: Did you get paid for travel time?
Not for our time. I get so much a kilometer to drive but not for the time.
FM: So on their books, you were considered full-time but your paycheck was partial hours?
FM: And did you get benefits?
No. It wasn’t unionized and they only have so many actual full-time workers because after 35 hours a week you’re classified full-time so they try to keep most employers under 30 hours a week because you’re classified part-time so they don’t have to pay benefits.
Because I remember when I did my training the lady said there’s hardly any full-time jobs. Like in this area, there was only 10 full-time jobs; the rest were all under 35 hours a week.
FM: So that’s the way that industry organizes its labour force? At least here?
FM: Is it more widespread than here?
Probably further [away], Littletown area, Middletown, etc. it would be better. Because I think it’s a bigger area so they have more clients you can go to.
FM: And they live closer together.
Yeah, like you can go to a home and do 5 people just there.
FM: Okay, so your employment as a PSW was such that you couldn’t get enough hours, but you also couldn’t get another job to fill the gap?
Because if I did have another job, those would be the days they’d call you to fill up your entire day. Or they would call and say they have another client and add a few more hours to your day.
FM: So did you think they were actively discouraging employees from getting a second job?
FM: Why? What’s in that for them? Why would they do that?
Because then they can use you whenever they want you. Knowing that you don’t have a second job. Basically you’re waiting for them to call you for work. You don’t have other options.
FM: A bit dastardly. Okay… we’re at where did you move after you sold the house?
[#5] So now I’m living with my new boyfriend in his house. It’s in the same village as my first house.
FM: And what does he do to earn a living?
He owns his own business. It’s a specialized part of construction.
FM: And he makes a good living?
FM: And is that why you can afford the time and energy to go back to school? Having him at your back?
No, because I started going back to school when I was on my own, and just paying for each course as I could afford it.
FM: And it’s distance learning?
FM: How does that work for you? It’s not everybody’s idea of good.
It works okay for me because I can do a lot of it when I’m off, because I only work 3 13-hour shifts a week. I can pick up one [additional] shift in a pay period – I usually get 70 hours of pay and one 10-hour shift to put me at 88.
FM: Because after you work 44 hrs/wk, they need to pay you overtime?
FM: Just for interest, did you work with E-learning to hook up with this course, or somebody else, or just do it on your own?
On my own.
FM: And you were comfortable with that? Not intimidating or confusing?
No, because I did it to better my education and I did it on line because I can pay for each course rather than paying all at once so I can do it affordably.
FM: Okay, now I’m going to tell you something I heard just the other day and you tell me if you think there’s any truth to it. This person told me that when he took a Child and Youth Service training, his placement boss told him they would not hire him when he finished because they couldn’t afford to hire qualified staff, they had to hire anyone ‘who could breathe’. Whaddya think?
I think that if it’s an unlicensed home/ group setting, that they will hire anybody because they’re not going to be checked by the Ministry to see who is qualified. But at a unionized or a home that’s funded by the government, you have to be qualified to work in them.
FM: So you think your employment future will be fairly secure with that qualification?
FM: And do you think you’ll be able to find long-term work in that field in this area?
If I stay where I am now. Because there’s constantly kids coming and going out of the houses.
FM: But what about what you were saying before, the kids go, the staff gets laid off?
Because at 2 of the houses the beds have always to be filled. But at the house I’m at, they don’t have to be full. Because it’s funded by CAS [Children’s Aid Society]. Each house is funded differently for different treatments.
FM: Okay, so with qualifications and seniority, you’d weather the ups and downs?
FM: Okay… is that the end of this story? Anything else?
No that’s basically what I’m doing.
FM: I know what I want to ask. How satisfactory do you find the social life that’s available to you here? is it too small, too …country, too?
I feel like up here everybody has their group of friends that they hang out with on a regular basis. Sometimes I feel like it is too small because everybody up here knows everybody’s business.
FM: would you ever think about moving to the big lights?
I would never want to live in the busy city. If I ever moved, I would go more north.
FM: Are you really close to family here? Your family is all here, right?
FM: I mean, would it be difficult to consider moving away because of leaving family?
It would be difficult to leave because I am close to my family. Right now I can drive 5 minutes and see them. But if a good job opportunity came up, I would do it.
FM: What changes in how this county runs would make it easier for young people like you – and both your boyfriends, and probably most of your friends who are here – to live here as young people?
Probably to know that they all have – they’re secure with their jobs. A higher pay.
FM: So mostly availability of secure, well-paying jobs. Year around jobs?
FM: Okay… To shape your story a bit for readers: What would you say is the Most Important Event in your story that influences your potential success going forward? Could be something that happened, something that didn’t happen, a relationship, whatever?
Well basically at the beginning of my story I was not secure with jobs and to go forward I have finally found something that I’m basically secure with now. And I’m going back to school to get qualifications to better myself and get more education for more windows to open so I can feel more secure to live up here and feel comfortable with it.
FM: Okay. Just a thought: if someone younger asked your advice about whether to take a PSW qualification, what would you say?
I would tell them to [do it] because there is opportunities to do it. There are nursing homes up here that are hiring. It’s not full-time but it’s a way to get the foot in the door. So if they want to do that sort of work, they should do it. But they could be better off getting a job in a bigger city in a nursing home or Red Cross, etc. It’s always needed everywhere, actually.
FM: Okay, a couple of similar questions about advice in a minute, but now…the people who will read this story will kinda want to know how it turns out. Are you, at this time, fairly optimistic that things will work out well for you in your life, or are you worried you might get derailed in some way? Optimistic? Or not?
The only thing I worry about is going from being temporary full-time back to part-time because right now I have a steady paycheck and I know what I’m getting bi-weekly, but part-time it’s going to vary weekly. And the kind of work it is, it can happen to anybody.
FM: Is that before you get your qualifications, or in any case?
Before I get my qualifications. Because once you’re permanent full-time there, they have to give you work, so unless they go out of business and close down. But..you never know. Just like so many places have shut down.
FM: Okay, first advice question: What advice would you give to your younger self, whether or not that younger self would take it, that would make it easier or more confident or more efficient to lay a good foundation for your adult life?
I wish now that I did all my schooling, got it done and over with instead of taking a course and working. Because now I’m at the turning point in my life when I want to own a house and be on my own, but I’m paying for school on top of it. So the advice I would give myself is finish your school first, get a good job, then buy a house, buy a car.
FM: Have kids?
Have kids. Just get it out of the way and then…I’m not saying anyone is ever too old to go back to school, but it’s a lot easier if you just get it done and get it out of the way.
FM: But do you seriously think you could have survived your post-high school years without a vehicle in this community?
Living full-time up here, no. But if I did it again I – my younger self – I would be in residence so I’m just walking to my classes and taking busses and all that.
FM: Okay. Advice question number two: What advice would you give to those of us who would like to helpful to young people making these choices, what would you advise us to do, or not do, or whatever?
Well, there are pros and cons to both, like living at home, not paying rent or buying food, having your own car, paying for the gas. Or living at residence, having to pay whatever it is to live in res, to buy your food, plus pay for your books, your loans. Basically I would just calculate it all out and look at the numbers to see what’s easier for them and their family.
FM: Do you think education just plain costs too much? Is it worth it?
It does cost a lot but nowadays you have to have some sort of qualifications to work anywhere. You have to have your grade 12 to work at McDonalds. Before you could just apply somewhere, they’d hire you, but nowadays you have to have some sort of college degree or diploma to get a job anywhere.
FM: Yes, times have changed and perhaps not for the better. I think, sometimes, that people have always been personal care giver and child and youth workers without the specific training, and done not too bad a job at it. Sometimes I think it’s a bit of a cash grab – you can’t not get education, but to get it costs a lot of time and money. But that’s me….
I agree with you. Because anybody could have one of these kinds of kid, like a troubled kid. They don’t have training to know how to look after it. You have to learn as you go and basically if you just –you have to go with the flow, go with the kid, you learn day by day what they like to do, what they don’t like to do, you’re going to have good days, you’re going to have bad days, it’s just a learning process.
FM: Okay, we’ll leave it there...