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10 Non-Jobs: Career Alternatives in a Broken Economy

Posted on Oct 18, 2011
Photo collage from Smithsonian and flik

The economy is getting better. Didn’t you notice? We’re in a “technical recovery,” which is economist jargon for “screw you.”

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About 25 million Americans are unemployed, underemployed or have simply given up looking for a crappy job. Millions more—the lucky ones—are unhappy and underpaid. More than 6 million Americans have not worked in 27 weeks or more.

With a lost generation graduating into this jobless economy, we’re going to have to come up with some creative ideas for staying fed and housed without a paycheck. Here are 10 survival schemes, ranging from adventurous to asinine. Hey, beggars can’t be choosers—and we’ll all be begging soon enough.

(One rule: no freebies. Internships may be good for résumé building, but unless they come with three squares and a cot to sleep on, they don’t qualify.)

Go Back to School


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Now would be a great time to get that master’s in sustainability—especially if you qualify for student loans to cover the saltines and ramen you’ll be eating for the next couple of years.

You don’t need to get a full-blown postgraduate degree to get loans, either. Try picking up a cheaper certificate or taking classes. I have a friend who lives off of the loans he got for a distance learning animation mentorship, whatever that is. The debt he picked up is scary, but so is homelessness.

Join the Peace Corps

In exchange for 27 months of your life, the Peace Corps will fly you to an exotic land and pay a stipend comparable to what the locals live off—in other words, just barely enough to keep you alive. When you return home (hopefully to a friendlier job market), the Corps will provide $7,425 in “transition funds.” Other advantages include free language training, possible student loan deferment or cancellation, and “affordable” health care. On the downside, you could end up as a glorified sanitation worker in the Kyrgyz Republic. Adventure!

Teach Abroad (or For America)

As long as we’re globetrotting, why not make a little money while we’re at it? According to “Good Morning, Vietnam,” teaching English is a rewarding and oddly comical experience. It also pays (unless you’re volunteering with those Peace Corps hippies).

There’s another way to go: Some people hop around the planet from post to post, teaching the children of diplomats and admirals at schools that specialize in American education.

Either way, the cost of living in foreign countries can be significantly less than it is in the United States.

Not a fan of the Travel Channel? Teach For America is looking for idealistic young people and aspiring lawyers to go to work at schools right here in the States. Like all teachers, the work pays (not well) and, as a bonus, you get to help raise children while politicians and business leaders talk about what a terrible job you’re doing.

Occupy Someplace

From Liberty Square in New York to City Hall in Los Angeles, urban camping is all the rage. Bring a tent and some signs. Donors will provide food and whatever else they can. It helps if you’re in a city like Los Angeles that supplies restroom facilities, trash bins and a sympathetic local government. No rent, free food and good company—who says the American dream is dead?

Start a Business

It’s popular in politics to point out that small businesses create jobs, but what if nobody’s hiring? Why not start a business of your own? Getting a loan from anybody for anything is difficult these days, but it can’t hurt to try. The Small Business Administration has a super-fun website that gives IRS forms a run for their money. Bless the bureaucrats who decided “7(a)” and “CDC/504” would be good names for loan programs. That’s not at all confusing or opaque. Anyway, dream big. You might just have the next Godfather’s Pizza sitting in your brain. Actually, half of all small businesses fail within five years, but hey, five years from now Banana Republic might be hiring again.

Then again, why deal with all the fuss of a business when you can just create, scavenge and sell on Craigslist, eBay, Amazon, iTunes and the like? A friend picked up a stack of L. Ron Hubbard books on tape that had been donated to would-be Scientologists. “You’re an L. Ron Hubbard fan?” I asked, incredulous. “What? No,” he explained. “eBay.” Speaking of L. Ron Hubbard …

Join a Cult—or a Monastery

Yes, there are still monks, not to mention nuns, and they take applications. There’s a downside for fans of sex and worldly possessions, but who even has worldly possessions anymore?

Don’t believe in God? Fake it until the jobs come back.

Failing that, there’s probably a creepy collective out there willing to feed worshipers of His Holiness John Doe. Just don’t drink the Kool-Aid—seriously.


Congratulations! You just won a free trip to Afghanistan (return flight not guaranteed). Try not to bomb anybody.

The military has long understood the power of economic suffering to drive recruitment, hence the college tuition, signing bonuses and free health care. But with troops withdrawing from Iraq and the Pentagon facing the threat of budget cuts, it’s not quite the meat buffet it was under George W. Bush. For the first time in years, the Marines have a waiting list.

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By ardee, October 22, 2011 at 3:43 am Link to this comment

Queenie, October 21 at 3:30 pm Link to this comment

For the Gals:
Get married. Two, three, four times, and get good pre-nuptual contracts.

The purpose of a pre-nuptual agreement is to keep ones wealth separate from ones current marriage contract, thus negating your premise.

Report this

By Tobysgirl, October 21, 2011 at 3:33 pm Link to this comment

Payson, you make some really good points. Have you seen Sir, No, Sir? It’s best to rent it because the extras are fantastic.

I’ve been wondering if any of the many homeless vets have joined an occupy site. The video of the marine telling off the cops in NYC is really moving.

And the best people to talk to young people about the military and the wars are vets such as yourself.

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Queenie's avatar

By Queenie, October 21, 2011 at 3:30 pm Link to this comment

For the Gals:
Get married. Two, three, four times, and get good pre-nuptual contracts. Yes, you have to start out small, but by working out and getting tit augmentation, well, the sky’s the limit!
You can parlay the first divorce into upward mobiity, always investing something back into the ever-aging body. Hell, movie stars do it all the time and it’s legal!
hint: Always keep tokens of esteem (jewels,condos,yachts,etc.) and turn them into cold, hard cash deposited into untouchable off-shore accounts.

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By Dr_Snooz, October 21, 2011 at 9:44 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

START YOUR OWN COLLECTIVE!!!!! For God’s sake, industrial capitalism is collapsing. Prepare by joining a self-sufficient collective of like-minded people. If none exists, start your own. Pool your resources with your family and friends. Buy land somewhere remote and learn to farm. Then drink your homemade beer and laugh while the world burns. (Not really. Welcome refugees a more laborers for your crops.)

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By ardee, October 21, 2011 at 5:22 am Link to this comment

kerryrose, October 19 at 7:30 am Link to this comment

Don’t mock these ideas as shallow!!!  Those of you who mock have never had to be creative to survive!!

My own opinion is that what Scheer Jr. suggests is accepting the inevitability of the current economic condition and finding ways to live within a gradual descent into third world status.

I refuse such negativity and passivity and prefer to explore ways to put financial criminals in jail, restore the nation to its proper economic course and fight to do so.

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By Payson, October 21, 2011 at 4:15 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

To: “thethirdman”
Accusing me of killing children is disgusting.  Most soldiers never kill anyone in
this new age of drone strikes and computerized weaponry.  The men in my unit
who lost their lives were killed by the bombs and shells of unseen attackers. 
One of the soldiers in my unit shot himself.  You, like most critics who attack
soldiers rather than policy makers, have something in common with those who
blindly support endless wars: you don’t have any idea of what actually happens. 
If a person already inclined to wrongdoing joins the military, ineffective
leadership won’t stop it.  You use one or two examples of gross misconduct to
judge and lie about the majority.

It is also offensive to equate being poor with being stupid or from Arkansas, as
if either of those factors has anything to do with one’s intelligence.  I happen to
be from New Hampshire.  My family have been farmers since they settled there
in the 17th century.  If stereotypes are applied, I should be a lawyer and belong
to a country club instead of the son of dairy farmers who barely make a living
despite being college graduates.
Believe me, I had some dumb guys in my unit, but even they knew right from
wrong and wouldn’t accuse someone of running down kids as an absurd
method of arguing against wars that are obviously hurting us.
Your attacks wont stop the wars or help the cause but returning soldiers who
have witnessed what is really happening may.  We were there to see the
deliberate waste of American tax revenue.  We were there to see American
diplomats encourage corruption so they could write reports claiming progress. 
We were there to see our friends wounded and traumatized and then treated
like animals when they were sent home.  Were you there?  Veterans who
witnessed these things and return to a crumbling America will be more effective
at arguing against these wars.

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By Payson, October 20, 2011 at 7:14 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“Fuck the troops”?  Judging others should be on the list of non-jobs.  Judging
people is very easy and gives you complete control of the “facts.” 
Despite promises to the contrary, I didn’t get a free education.  I didn’t join the
military to commit atrocities and become a mindless killing machine.  Soldiers
are not to blame for the lies of politicians, lack of planning, contractor
corruption and lust for more conflicts.
A young American raised in a working poor family has few options.  If you
remain unemployed or work at a minimum wage job that defies the cost of
living you are blamed and reviled.  If you join the military, you are blamed or
reviled.  Enlisted men and women don’t profit from war.  You get a temporary
job that allows you to survive and I as well as most of those with whom I served
did our best to do as much good as the situation allowed. 
I don’t need or want sympathy.  My point was that most soldiers are coming
home with a greater awareness and understanding of what is happening to this
You want to hate eighteen-year olds for thinking the military is the only way to
avoid poverty?  For being young and easily manipulated?  For being optimistic
enough that their service can do a tiny bit of good in an awful situation?  We
don’t have much in America these days, but we have freedom of speech, so
spew your hate all you want.
I was a gay kid raised by hard-working poor people who had a brain and a
heart and thought at the time that joining the military would allow me some
help with tuition in exchange for serving my country.  I know what it feels like
to be hated, but I also know that hate is easy. 
I teach urban kids who have it so much worse than I did and they get plenty of
mindless criticism as well.  I view my work much like I did my time in the
military.  I am in an awful situation where I can either do all I can to make a
positive impact or do nothing.  Either way, there are plenty of people who will
criticize you.
My experience opened my eyes and made me even more sympathetic to other
people.  I chose to teach poor kids because I want them to know that at least
one person on this earth believes in them and is working to help them succeed. 
So go ahead a judge me.  Hate me.  Blame me.  That doesn’t make you any
better than the politicians who put us in this situation and deny the young and
impoverished any good options. Between the politicians and the haters it isn’t
surprising that so many young people believe the military or prison are the
primary options in life. I believe that lessons learned the hard way create a
valuable opportunity to teach those in similar circumstances.
You think your way is better?  Why don’t you try blaming those who actually to
blame or, better yet, doing something positive.

Report this

By mandymc, October 20, 2011 at 2:41 pm Link to this comment

I want to strongly reiterate Nicholas’s post, and I am
really surprised no one else has mentioned this,
especially the article itself…start a garden! You will
atleast learn to feed yourself, and as you learn more and
more, you will be able to help feed your community.
People will always need food (inherent demand ) and
because most people in the US today are fed by the
petroleum based industrial agriculture that is sure to
topple sooner or later, you will be leaps and bounds
ahead of the rest who will be struggling to feed
themselves. Look into permaculture, a wonderful
philosophy that works with nature to create
abundance while minimizing labor.  Nature is a great

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Project Mayhem's avatar

By Project Mayhem, October 20, 2011 at 11:52 am Link to this comment

mrfreeze: “Every time I see someone wearing those ridiculous camoflage outfits at the grocery store or at the airport (or anywhere) I can’t help but think they are just one more symbol of our failed empire.”

Can’t begrudge you that. I feel exactly the same way whenever I enter an airport or train station and see all the TSA drones, attack dogs, and surveillance devices. But, hey, at least we’re “safe”, right? Let’s just hope the sun sets on Pax Americana before it’s too late.

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By faith, October 20, 2011 at 11:21 am Link to this comment

Clever, clever young Mr. Scheer !  Enjoyed the article (or it made me ill-either way
it was spot on).

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By mrfreeze, October 20, 2011 at 11:06 am Link to this comment

Project Mayhem - Your words to thethirdman:

“At the very least, your fellow misanthrope mrfreeze seems to grasp that it is the winnowing away of any other options that continues to bloat our war machine with fresh blood.”

I’m hardly a misanthrope…..I prefer to think of myself as a mismilatariothrope (I like the sound of that!). Every time I see someone wearing those ridiculous camoflage outfits at the grocery store or at the airport (or anywhere) I can’t help but think they are just one more symbol of our failed empire.

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By donmac14, October 20, 2011 at 7:27 am Link to this comment

Mr. Scheer: witty, funny, smart.

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By cherilyn, October 19, 2011 at 10:02 pm Link to this comment

This is hilarious, sad and true. Great column, Peter.

Here I add one idea: Write a novel.

JK Rowling did it when she was out of work in England, and it sure worked for her.
Today’s version: Harry P’Occupy vs. Goldemort-Sachs.

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By Project Mayhem, October 19, 2011 at 5:46 pm Link to this comment

@ thethirdman: “I reverted to an emotion appeal and lost the debate.  Because our brave men and women never kill innocent Iraqi civilians.  I now support them in their efforts to keep the world safe from terrorism.”

Ah, classic straw man tactics. Sure didn’t see that coming.

Why don’t you confront my arguments directly instead of indulging in snide, insipid rejoinders that address none of the points I’ve made? I’ll assume it’s because you can’t. What OWS and future movements don’t need are down-the-nose, class-based assumptions about rank-and-file (fill in occupation here) that culminate in blanket indictments and stereotyping. Soldiers are easy targets, as you’ve so aptly demonstrated. But so are auto workers (fat, overpaid, lazy, union), teachers (overpaid, lazy, union, ridiculous vacations), and government workers (overpaid bureaucrats who don’t do any ‘real’ work). You don’t see this as problematic?

Are atrocities committed in war? Yes.
Are they committed by the “boots on the ground”? Yes. Should those who commit war crimes be held accountable? Yes.
Should we assume, by extension, that all soldiers bear responsibility for war atrocities? Yes, according to thethirdman.

The point is, when we engage in reductionism, we lose. When we employ the tactics of division and stereotyping, we lose. When we let our select, anecdotal experiences stigmatize our understanding of a profession that employs (and, yes, helps) millions of our fellow citizens, we lose. You didn’t lose this debate because I’m “too smart”, thethirdman. You lost it because your argument is weak, wrongheaded, and entirely counterproductive.

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By thethirdman, October 19, 2011 at 4:25 pm Link to this comment

Project Mayhem,
You’re too smart.  I concede.
I reverted to an emotion appeal and lost the debate.  Because our brave men and
women never kill innocent Iraqi civilians.  I now support them in their efforts to
keep the world safe from terrorism.
And this American structural violence is just too strong in dictating our every
action.  Those mysterious 1%ers behind the scenes are pulling their strings again. 
I just wish they would leave some room for individual autonomy.  Dang.  What can
we do?

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By Project Mayhem, October 19, 2011 at 4:02 pm Link to this comment

thethirdman: “When the “victim” is holding an M203 grenade launcher and just blew up Hassan,
Ali, and Nashia on their way home from school.
I don’t dismiss the social forces that lead Billy Joe from Bumfuct, Arkansas to sign
up for his sacred duty, but let’s not pretend that the tango can be danced alone.”

Emotionalist pablum. This is exactly the sort of tripe that accompanied the “Baby Killer” demonstrations against returning veterans of the Vietnam War - again, the sons of the working- and lower-class - and which helped destroy the credibility of the Left in the eyes of the very same people who MUST form the core of any movement for social justice. Petty, middle-class sermonizing accomplishes nothing but to further the already too-wide divide between two groups of people who need, more than anything, to stand united if they are to realize meaningful reform. This, too, should be fairly clear, but idiocy like “fuck the soldiers” nonetheless seems to be the rallying cry for those who’d rather finger the triggerman than go after the bosses. As for your “insider knowledge” of the “boys and girls who don the cammies”, so what? For every supposed anecdote you can supply about behavior unbecoming a soldier, I and others can supply five more about behavior that affirms their courage and humanity. Seriously. This is what passes for “critical thinking” in your book?

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By GW=MCHammered, October 19, 2011 at 3:28 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Why work?

Just put a million dollars in the bank. Then withdraw $500 per week for 40 years until you’re ready to retire. A billion dollars stuffed away will give you $500,000 dollars per week for 40 years.

That’s PER WEEK and all minus interest on the initial deposit. Nice to have a million dollars, right Mister CEO man? Of course, most uppity-ups fox tens of millions per year off worker/consumer backs.

American workers need a National Strike in addition to OWS and Oct2011. But only because politicians are NOT on the side of the people.

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By WhiteTrashInWasilla, October 19, 2011 at 3:16 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Hell us poor white trash figured out how ta live under ta radar long time ago!  Here’s some suggestions frem a respectable white trash male.

Work a seasonal job in a place like Denali Nat. Park, where you get almost free room and board, then get a 2nd job and save every dime ya can for the summer.  Resist the urge to party with you co slaves. 

Take that money you made and get yerself an older say a 1976 20 feeter.  The object here is to buy somethin ya can live in fer free, and small enough you can move it around cheaply, and park in more fortunate friends driveways fer a week or so.  Another plus is nobody will ever want to repo it cause it’s a hunk of sheeeett. 

Find a gym that offers month ta month memberships, or better yet one where ya can work a little in exchange fer membership.  Now ya got a place to sheeet shower and shave, since that peice of sheeet motorhome ya bought dont have a working shower or sheeeter.

Go to and get yerself a couple of sets of nice yuppie looking clothes ya can wears around so you don’t look like the homeless sack of shit you really are.  Now the police will think you’s respectable, and leave you alone!

Most important is this.  Be resilient, and resourceful.  The system is rigged ta work against ya, so ya can’t play fair and square with it.  Just remember ta play fair and square with reglar folk, and most likely they will play fair and square with you.

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By thethirdman, October 19, 2011 at 2:35 pm Link to this comment

@Project Mayhem
“Since when is blaming the victim productive?”
When the “victim” is holding an M203 grenade launcher and just blew up Hassan,
Ali, and Nashia on their way home from school.
I don’t dismiss the social forces that lead Billy Joe from Bumfuct, Arkansas to sign
up for his sacred duty, but let’s not pretend that the tango can be danced alone.

Report this

By thethirdman, October 19, 2011 at 2:27 pm Link to this comment

Your point is well taken and I concede my gross overgeneralization of how
much critical analysis went into signing on that dotted line.  But as much as you
may defend the playa and hate the game, I am not unrealistic or naive about
the reality of the common soldier’s empathy toward human life in general.  I am
well aquatinted with the boys and girls that don those cammies and it is my
personal experience that leads me cast blame upon the individual as well.  I do
not underestimate the disgusting MIC that has been sewn into the very identity
of most Americans.  But allow me to reiterate, I could give a fuck about a
soldier’s intentions.  His or her personal responsibility is not absolved because
his desire to protect America was pure.  Weren’t there some trials of some sort
that already went through all this…
As for post tour-of-duty enlightenment, I agree with you that it needs to be
more common and highlighted at every opportunity.

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By Project Mayhem, October 19, 2011 at 2:12 pm Link to this comment

@ thethirdman
It is imbecilic to equate an impoverished youth who enlists as being a selfish, myopic - and, apparently, possibly sociopathic - defender of empire and the one percent. And my refusal to recognize such imbecilic ranting as legitimate does not equate to my support of the MIC. To those possessed of a brain, this should be obvious.

As I understand it, in an education system wherein “schooling” revolves around processes of dehumanization and numerification (read: testing regimes), wherein community - instead of being built - is shattered, there are literally tens of millions of bright young people who are marginalized and disillusioned even before they get to high school. With no sustainable work, and no appreciable technical skills (thanks to massive cuts in the Arts & to vocational programs), what, exactly, are these people supposed to do? Many do not choose the military (welfare & petty crime are also available!), but to skewer those who undertake military service as a means to a sustainable future (as Payson did) is to demonstrate an absurd disconnect with the realities of life for many, many millions in this increasingly sorry excuse for a country. Since when is blaming the victim productive? At the very least, your fellow misanthrope mrfreeze seems to grasp that it is the winnowing away of any other options that continues to bloat our war machine with fresh blood.

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By cpb, October 19, 2011 at 1:45 pm Link to this comment

“Any misconception of your sole purpose
in the ARMED FORCES should be cleared up during basic
training.  With simple access to the internet you have
no grounds to plead ignorance on this one.  You may have
been right 60 years ago, but get real man.  If you are
not aware of the US’s actions around the world in 2011,
it is because you choose to remain

- thethirdman

You are clearly missing out on some life experience,
you’ve clearly never spent time in the lower strata of
the socio-economic experience, or you are seriously
lacking empathy.  Your awareness is clear enough on many
significant global issues I would guess, but you’re
overlooking the key CONTROL MECHANISM (Military
Industrial Hollywood Disney 24-hr News Cycle Bullshit
Complex) that is part of the status quo that you rail
against.  Keeping people ignorant at home is what allows
maintenance of Empire abroad, don’t overlook the former
while calling out the latter.  As the author said, the
military has understood this for a long long time;
ghettos are a critical component of the structure if you
want a steady supply of willing ‘volunteer’ recruits.

Call them stupid if you want, and in many cases you
won’t be wrong.  But presuming intent as you do and
further presuming such across the board only clarifies
your ignorance of ‘the other’ in this case.

PS.  Check the video of the soldier defending peeps on
the street and verbally going after the po po the other
night in NYC.  Who knows what he thinks about Iraq - he
certainly has some passionate ideas about the rights of
the citizenry.

PPS.  Witness Iraqi Vets Against the War, and other Vets
groups and individuals who, despite possible PTSD,
dedicate enormous amounts of energy to fighting the lies
that led them overseas in the first place.  I was very
impressed to see a contingent of IVAW who made the trip
to last years G20 protests in Toronto.

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By boxoatoc, October 19, 2011 at 1:15 pm Link to this comment

Funny, I joined the Peace Corps and was holding out for EXACTLY that job—sanitation in Kyrgyzstan.  It’s a really neat country, seriously.

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By Samantha Regens, October 19, 2011 at 11:54 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Excellent satire with digestable doses of cynical truth. Finally something worth reading. I will offer one more option that could have been on the top ten list - Vanabode (my husband and I have been doing this for 2 years now)

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By thethirdman, October 19, 2011 at 11:39 am Link to this comment

Poor career choice?  Is that serious?  There is a difference between working for
Whole Foods or Walmart due to a misunderstanding of macroeconomic concepts
and loading hellfire missiles onto a UAV.  Any misconception of your sole purpose
in the ARMED FORCES should be cleared up during basic training.  With simple
access to the internet you have no grounds to plead ignorance on this one.  You
may have been right 60 years ago, but get real man.  If you are not aware of the
US’s actions around the world in 2011, it is because you choose to remain

Report this

By Sodium-Na, October 19, 2011 at 11:31 am Link to this comment

For the attention of Peter Scheer:

It seems to me that you are as good as your Daddie in writing about the daily reality most Americans have to encounter and put-up with. Excellent piece.

However,while reading your excellent piece,sometimes I felt like crying and sometimes I felt like laughing.

Based on my past experiences with crying and laughing as I read excellent or lousy piece,I must say it has not been a good sign at all.

Thank you,Peter,for allowing me to feel I still have feeling,inspite of the misery I witness in this world.

Keep up the good work coming…........

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By taikan, October 19, 2011 at 11:16 am Link to this comment

There are many young men and women who have been brainwashed by their parents and/or their community into believing that service in the military is in the best interests of the United States, and that if they go to Iraq or Afghanistan they will be helping to protect the US from terrorists. 

Assuming you believe that their misperception isn’t sufficient grounds to excuse their joining the military, do you also believe that anyone else who makes a poor career choice due to a misunderstanding should be condemned for having done so?

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By GradyLeeHoward, October 19, 2011 at 10:22 am Link to this comment

Payson has learned his lesson so don’t pick on him.
Thanks Payson for your honest account. Thanks for
teaching high school math. Even the Tillman brothers,
who should have known better, got duped by patriotic
talk. (see After Pat’s Birthday article from several
years back in which Kevin discusses the same issues
as Payson- on this site)

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By thethirdman, October 19, 2011 at 10:09 am Link to this comment

@ProjectMayhem (I assume you are alluding to FightClub with your name yet
support joining the military???)

I didn’t know poverty was a reasonable justification for traveling around the world
to kill, maim, and destroy men, women, and children.  Oh, those poor, noble
young men and women “just trying to get through life the same as anyone.”
Wrong.  They see personal gain and are willing to commit atrocities to better their
own lot.  MrFreeze hates the system; I also hate the individual who justifies his
actions by defending my freedom.  What a joke.  So again, fuck you and fuck the

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By Jayne Thomas, October 19, 2011 at 10:04 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Peter, I can’t believe no one mentioned the best non-job of all: being a
craftsperson!  I haven’t held a regular job since the 70’s when I left
teaching (art in high school) to make a living offering my wares (textile
arts, then pottery, now jewelry)  at fine craft shows.  I sell at 13-15 big
shows a year and many small markets.  And, yes, it’s a decent living. 
My partner is also self-employed as a cabinetmaker with his own shop. 
Our close circle of friends is made up mostly of similar folk:  creative,
artistic, independent people who get by pretty well.  The better craft
shows attract a public appreciative of original work and hard to believe,
but there is still money out there for such purchases.  I believe most
people are creative and can learn a craft that would benefit them
financially.  Of course, all the reason to not continue cutting art from
our poor schools.  OK,  got to get to the studio to work!  Ciao!

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By bill desmond, October 19, 2011 at 9:39 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Thanks for this.
Am I too naive to think that the Peace Corps and Teach America are still good options for some young people?
Are we too jaded for a new version of “Ask not what your country can do for you…”
Is it not better to work, in common cause, to alleviate problems worse than your own, in a world that desperately needs such action, including in the U.S.?
I know some of the suggestions (hopefully not all) were tongue in cheek, and sadly it seems that the military is increasingly the only option esp. for poor black and white kids (shades of Viet Nam - though not an “option” then).
And though much in America and elsewhere seems to be broken, there is still much to be admired.  Your First Amendment, for example- a shining beacon for all the world.
It’s not too late to seek a better world, for all of us.
or is that just too corny and outdated for the times?
-Bill in Canada

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By mrfreeze, October 19, 2011 at 9:06 am Link to this comment

lancemfoster - Let’s be clear….our military is “voluntary.” This means that whenever the Media, corporations or whoever uses returning troops to sell stuff to us (car companies, lenders, you name it) your whole notion of “all the reasons why young people go into the service” becomes a bit absurd. Face it: young people go into the military because the 1% have set things up so that Americans DON’T HAVE CHOICES. Who better to protect their interests? As you yourself point out, there are a lot of vocations (that dirty word in today’s “technology-only America) that people can choose…...but they don’t because those at the top have determined it’s college or nothing…...why fund schools to teach “the little people” skills????

And for the record, I revile the military not because of those in it. I revile the notion that our military has become nothing but an adjunct to the welfare system in this country. I resent the fact that the military are treated as a “special class” of Americans (even though they are treated like trash). The fact that people volunteer to join a military that itself could not (refused) to defend the rights of gays (and lots of other groups) was/is hypocritical beyond belief.

Yes, indeed, it has become one big “jobs” program….and it’s absurd.

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By caped amigo, October 19, 2011 at 8:57 am Link to this comment

Damn, Peter you are good at this writing a column thing. I thoroughly enjoyed your words of wisdom. Unfortunately, not many of the people who would benefit from your guidance log-on to truthdig. As a fed-up retired guy, I am going to weigh my options. Thanks Peter.

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By Project Mayhem, October 19, 2011 at 8:54 am Link to this comment

Thank you for telling it like it is regarding military service for young men of the lower- and working-class. And for throwing it back in the faces of a couple ignorant and insensitive twats. Such impotent, misdirected rage from supposedly educated people is just pathetic.

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By robinhood, October 19, 2011 at 8:20 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I robbed a bank

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By lancemfoster, October 19, 2011 at 8:16 am Link to this comment

LOL, re: boilermakers… I meant $40K-60K a year and up

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By lancemfoster, October 19, 2011 at 8:13 am Link to this comment

My own two cents advice for young people. Don’t think of education only as a
ticket to a job. It is less and less that. Think of education as something more
like working out and getting a fit body. You need a fit mind to face the
challenges at all levels, from personal to national. You need to be able to think
clearly and critically. Don’t be a sheep, either for the left or the right. Learn how
to think for yourself, and how the forces of our society try to shape your mind
for their own ends. Question EVERYthing. Make real relationships, put down
those electronic gadgets sometimes. Take a break from screens for a day or
two a week. Education must be actively engaged in for you to have any benefit.
Be an autodidact, teach yourself all the time, learn to evaluate sources critically.

If you want a job, don’t forget the option of being an apprentice at some skill or
trade, even old school ones like blacksmithing or horticulture. Boilermakers
have been known to start at $40-60 a year and go up from there. Explore your
options while you are young. And make REAL relationships, be loyal and reliable
though thick and thin, and that’s your best shot to make it in the weird world
that is developing.

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By lancemfoster, October 19, 2011 at 8:02 am Link to this comment

Young people who join the military join for lots of reasons. In my area, well, if
you are young and just graduated HS in my area, it’s tough to find any job at
all, even fast food places have too many applicants. If your parents have
connections, you will have more luck. But the working class youth don’t have a
lot of options. Get drunk, fight, scramble between 2-3 minimum wage jobs if
you are lucky to get one. Live off mom and dad, or go to college. If you weren’t
much of a student, community college has open admission, and you can live off
student loans. Unfortunately many young people are brainwashed into thinking
getting a degree = automatically getting a decent, good-paying career. A
significant number just go to get student loans to live on. Some hustle and
work hard at odd jobs while living at home or with friends or a significant other
(which usually means babies are born which puts more stress on the young
parents). But sooner or later, whether fresh out of HS or in a situation that isn’t
working economically, one solid option is the military. It provides direction and
security, especially for those with families and few other options. Don’t judge
unless you have been in their shoes. I teach a couple classes part time as an
adjunct, and I have young veterans in many of my classes. They are just people
trying to get through life the same as anyone. And they have dealt with some
pretty horrific stuff. Don’t judge them unless you have been in their shoes.
Read some Joe Bageant for a clue as to the cultural roots of working class
ending up selecting the military. Saying “fuck this or that” is just plain ignorant
and low, especially from people who post such things from the safety of
anonymous posting. You don’t know what these vets have gone through. Now I
guess I will probably get a “fuck you” too from some anonymous poster.

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By mrfreeze, October 19, 2011 at 7:43 am Link to this comment

@ thethirdman - Thank you for writing down the revulsion I’ve felt for a long time: that somehow our military is a jobs program. Payson is emblematic of many young people these days. In “volunteering” to go fight in what every last one of them knows are illegal and unjustified wars, they rationalize doing it for their own selfish reasons. It’s not about defending anything, it’s about “what’s-in-it-for-me, and if they can kill a few of the “enemy” in the process, well golly gee, they can put that on their resume as well.

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By kerryrose, October 19, 2011 at 7:30 am Link to this comment

Don’t mock these ideas as shallow!!!  Those of you who mock have never had to be creative to survive!!

These are great ideas, and I have tried several of them… living off student loans, and writing and applying for grants.  I have even contacted The Sisters of St Joseph because two of my Aunts were educated (MA & EdD) and employed through SSJ. My most ambitious Aunt was sent to Dublin and taught for years at Trinity College until she returned to Boston and ran Regis College.

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By traynorjf, October 19, 2011 at 6:49 am Link to this comment

Sad. We’ve really come down since the end of WWII. Back then we thought it was
over. Then came Korea and ...

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By ardee, October 19, 2011 at 6:26 am Link to this comment

Perhaps I am a bit to serious minded, but I find this article to be a sophomoric, shallow and almost cruel exposition about a really serious problem facing so many Americans.

I guess it helps when Pop owns a forum, huh?

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By Frank, October 19, 2011 at 6:22 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

You missed the most lucrative one of all, get elected to Congress. Free Medical, great retirement, corporate contributions out the wazoo, it does not get any better. Plus the less you do, the more likely you are to keep your job.

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By thethirdman, October 19, 2011 at 6:22 am Link to this comment

Hey Payson,
With all due respect, Fuck the troops.  And Fuck you for lending your killing power
to the Empire for a free college education.  If you are looking for sympathy, I think
you are on the wrong board.

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By tovangar2, October 19, 2011 at 3:03 am Link to this comment

“Occupy Someplace

From Liberty Square in New York to City Hall in Los Angeles, urban camping is all the rage. Bring a tent and some signs. Donors will provide food and whatever else they can. It helps if you’re in a city like Los Angeles that supplies restroom facilities, trash bins and a sympathetic local government. No rent, free
food and good company—who says the American dream is dead?”

Mr. Scheer, I cannot speak for the group as a whole, but this “Career Alternative” suggestion will not be entirely welcome. Occupy LA is not Party Central for all comers. It’s a dedicated group of people who are committed to the Movement. Individuals in the encampment are expected to make meaningful, worthwhile contributions to the overall goals as a condition of being included.

Please do “bring some signs” and participate in the marches if anyone wants to help on a less dedicated level. Also, the General Assemblies are open to all, every night from 7:30 until 10.

Please do get involved. People will be more than welcomed at whatever level they can participate, but when it comes to the encampment, there’s too much work to do, too few resources and too little space to accommodate freeloaders.


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By tom buck, October 19, 2011 at 1:13 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

there’s always work even in a recession, the products or services might change but people still need things. Things like below market house purchasing, financial advice, gambling all increase in depression. It’s a question of trying to find the things people need in a changing market and finding a way to provide them.

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By Mike O., October 18, 2011 at 11:42 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

[Congratulations! You just won a free trip to Afghanistan (return flight not guaranteed). Try not to bomb anybody.]

Enlisted personnel don’t operate the bombers that bomb people; those billets are filled by the college-educated officer corps which is shrinking each day in all service branches. There is a greater chance of an enlistee, regardless of service, remaining stateside in a mission support function than getting a free trip to Afghanistan. Not every military member deploys to a conflict area; in fact, deployed forces constitute a minority of total military personnel.

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By lancemfoster, October 18, 2011 at 10:38 pm Link to this comment

How about the old standby, move in with Mom and Pop, or amenable relatives or
friends? Surprised you didn’t list that one too.

Or cobble together a couple of part time things when you can find them, odd jobs,
live in a rented room in the bad part of town, and pray you don’t get sick. That’s
what I do, and have done for the last 5 years. Not so good when you are young,
but even worse when you are over 50 like me. “Hope” is just another 4-letter

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By Payson, October 18, 2011 at 8:41 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I joined the army in an effort to avoid student loan debt.  Fortunately, I survived
one tour in Iraq and two in Afghanistan.  “Support our troops!,” you hear over
and over again.  Ha!...Once you enlist, no one cares.  Most Americans have
absolutely no clue what is going on in the endless wars and it seems they
would rather not think about it.  When I was first deployed in 2004, the care
packages from church groups and “patriots” were a welcome relief to many
soldiers with no one at home.  Those packages are now as rare as an honest
discussion of what is actually happening.  You know things are bad when even
the dumbest private has figured out that something is very, very wrong.
If you are intelligent and stay out of trouble, the military makes it very difficult
to leave.  They make big promises.  At least I had been warned by countless
others who listened to them. 
I survived.  I finished college and managed to get some help from the military,
though the promises at enlistment were incredibly overstated.  I am a teacher in
a public school where I am told I could be laid off due to cut backs next year.  I
teach upper level math.  Who needs upper level math, right?  I fought for my
country and now am told that I, a public school teacher, am part of the
problem.  If I lose my job, the current GOP drones will say it is my own fault.  I
heard a Fox “analyst” say how wonderful it is that returning vets from the
current wars are not stigmatized like those returning from Vietnam.  I suppose
there is no need to stigmatize us simply for serving in unjust wars.  Just say, “I
support our troops” as evidence of your “patriotism” and stigmatize vets for
being unemployed, disabled or ruined by trauma.
Peace Corps, protestor, ebay seller, military…Take your pick.  The outcome is
likely to be the same.

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By scalene, October 18, 2011 at 8:27 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Teach English in the JET Programme in Japan. Best years I ever spent.

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By Nicholas, October 18, 2011 at 8:10 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Learn to garden.  It’s not easy so try and acquire all the information you can from elders in your area before they die and take the info with them.  Chickens are a good source of eggs, by the way, and plenty legal if you weed out the cockerels.  Besides that, grow your own marijuana and brew your own beer!  Good luck, post America!!

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By gerard, October 18, 2011 at 8:09 pm Link to this comment

Not very funny, considering . . .

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By Bob, October 18, 2011 at 7:53 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Beggers with Guillotines can be choosers.

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