Rashidah Johnson didn't mean to cry at Monday's vigil for the unemployed held at the Arch Street Methodist Church, but as she spoke, her voice was thick with tears. Here she was, 39 years old, and back in her old bedroom in her parents' home because she lost her job and could no longer pay her rent. When I spoke with her later for my story in Tuesday' Philadelphia Inquirer, I was struck again by all the indignities that people experience when they lose their work.
Johnson is luckier than most. She has a room in her parents' home and she's not sharing it with other family members who may be similarly displaced. And what I'm about to say is really a small thing, in the big picture. It's small, but it matters because it is just one more crappy element of being unemployed, of losing the dignity and stature that comes with work and a pay check.
Here's the scenario she outlined, and it made me very sad: No one would describe Johnson as a big drinker, but like a lot of us, she often enjoyed a glass of wine when she finished work. Even assuming she could afford the occasional modest bottle on unemployment, there's another reason why even that simple pleasure is now a thing of the past. Johnson's parents don't really drink, except on social occasions. In theory, she thinks, they wouldn't mind if she had a glass of wine. In practice, it would make her feel uncomfortable -- now that she is a guest in their home. This is the kind of daily negotiation that happens in this scenario. No big deal, really, yet emblematic of a life no longer ones own.