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TESS VIGELAND: We’ve reported before on some of the ways folks are supporting themselves while they’re looking for work. Today we feature a story of creativity, mixed with not a little desperation.
From San Francisco, Heidi Pickman profiles someone close to her who’s used to living on the edge.
Heidi Pickman: My friend Kat Beight will do almost anything to earn a buck in this economy. One recent Monday night, she picked up a bed.
Kat Beight to client: The mattress… I think the mattress is a little big, so it’ll have to hang over a little bit.
The bed didn’t fit in the client’s new apartment in San Francisco. He offered $125 on Craigslist to move it to his mother’s house in Las Vegas. Kat was headed to Vegas anyway, if she could round up some cash. Out of 15 responses, she got the gig.
I’ve witnessed more than three years of her unemployment spell. After a personal tragedy, she sold everything and left her customer service job at a jewelry manufacturer after 10 years.
Kat: I went to wandering for a little while, and when I came back, it was just the wrong time to re-enter civilization.
Yeah, like trying to find a job at the beginning of a major recession. For now, Kat’s doing what she’s done on and off for 20 years.
Kat: I will street vend until I find a job.
She’s earned a decent living selling crafts at street fairs, like this one in Berkeley, and she’s traveled cross-country to work music festivals like Lollapalooza and Bonaroo. She’s traded hair wraps for wrapping hula hoops in colorful tape. It takes her 15 minutes to make a hoop. They sell for $25 and up.
Kat: I did not mean it to turn into a money-making enterprise full time, but it’s actually paid my rent over the summer.
A year and a half ago at big concerts, Kat would net an average of $700 a day; this year, she averaged about $200. After paying vendor fees, some days she was lucky to break even.
Kat tells me she that she really does want a job with benefits, but finding a regular stream of income has been tough. For every available job, six people want it, even entry-level positions.
Kirill Elistratov works for Rubicon Programs, a job placement organization. He says professionals are squeezing out those with fewer credentials, like Kat, who doesn’t have a college degree.
Kirill Elistratov: Places like movie theaters and customer service and work in cafes, coffee shops… You know, there’s much more competition and people who are more experienced are willing to take those positions.
Last year, I helped Kat re-vamp her resume. She applied to over a 100 job openings — warehouse work, taxi companies, waitressing, and of course, customer service jobs. Nada. She can’t even get a minimum wage job at a convenience store.
Kat: My economic situation is in the toilet. I am literally living hand to mouth.
She had to get creative.
Kat: In life, my experience has taught me how to hustle up small gigs and random odd jobs.
She’s stood on corners counting foot traffic — that paid 20 bucks an hour. She’s bartended at the occasional party. About once a month, Kat does product demos for beauty care products. And she’s participated in market research studies, which often pay $75 an hour. One time, she had a bunch of wires attached to her head with gel.
Kat: I felt like a Borg. And they would have you watch a screen and respond by pressing a button. I believe they were testing subliminal messages.
Kat’s seen the headlines that the economy is on the upswing. But until the good times become more than a number on a page, people like her will keep cobbling together small jobs to get by, even if it means hauling a bed to Vegas.
Client: Here’s a portion of cash. My mom will give you the rest.
In San Francisco, I’m Heidi Pickman for Marketplace.
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