Recently, in a series of queer events also known as ‘That’s Life’, I found myself mid-semester with no teaching job. Although I am semi-retired, that extra money comes in very, very handy. I thought I would try my hand at retail since I have five years retail experience (in the foggy past) and the Holiday season is soon upon us.

I am well used to the mind-numbingly long applications for positions in education. The finger prints, the scan through the FBI and Department of Justice. The documents and certified documents; names, dates, places, times, etc. You get the picture. I have come to accept that as part of We Are Working With Children. I didn’t expect that for a job paying $9.00 an hour and selling nuts and bolts.

So, the applications for several major retailers are, “Fill in the application and it must be online”. What if you don’t have a computer? You then have to go to the public library, have a library card and fight with all the other gits who are also there for the same thing. Your computer time is strictly controlled because so many people use them.

The applications ask for specific names, dates, addresses and phone numbers. What happens if you forget to bring all that information with you and leave some of the spaces blank? Does HR automatically throw out your application? Good question.

Okay. You have your little folder, you have been through the drill before and you  have all your pertinent info to fill out the form. Great. Now that is done, now you proceed to have to take the ‘test’. The test is approximately twenty minutes long and is timed. (Remember you are on a computer at the library and everything has to be done within your two-hour per day time limit.)

So, we start the ‘personality’ test. It asks a series of strange questions like, Do you lie? Do you steal? If you saw someone at work a) lying or b) stealing, what would you do about it? Do you get angry easily? Are you happy? Are you depressed? Are you a person who is generally happy or generally depressed? Do you get along with people? Do you like working with people? What is your reaction if someone makes you mad? Etc., etc., etc.

I have three college degrees and two of them are in psychology and I had trouble with these questions. Do they want the truth? What if you lie in your answers? What if you don’t always like to be around other people and yes, others can make you angry and you have been known to lose your temper at work? Does this make you a bad person? Do you reveal any of these darks secrets or keep them locked up in the dungeon of your heart? Are you quaking in your boots because you yelled at someone once? So on.

Additionally,  I also have a lot of years working experience and know, for a fact, that many ‘good’ employees don’t always want to be shoulder-to-shoulder with their mates and yes, people, good people, do get mad on the job. It does not make you a ‘bad’ person, it makes you human.

Uh, oh. Not that. These complicated HR ‘tests’ have been designed by people who have PhD’s in tests and measurements and are designed to ferret out unacceptable personality traits in applicants. Wow! All that from a test. Golly.

By now, the nervous, palm-sweating applicant is managing to get everything finished and inputted into the computer before his or her time is up. All the while other library patrons are lining up for the computers and giving him the evil eye for taking so damn long.

Now thankfully, this applicant is the owner of a college degree, knows the ins and out of computers and can also read fairly well and understands all the vague and uncertain language contained in the application and  personality test. Good for him. Maybe he will get that job at the hardware store for $9.00 an hour!

Now, once again, in the far distant past, in the 70’s, when I was just getting started on my career life, we used to have a department called Personnel. Personnel was usually down the hall, in the corner, behind a door. It housed two or three people; maybe a secretary or two and a Personnel Manager. You would go into the office, fill out an application (pen and paper,) hand it to the girl. She would say something like, “Fine, and I’ll give this to the Manager.” In those days, that usually meant the manager of the department that you were applying for. Not anymore. Today, that department is no longer Personnel, it is Human Resources. The manager is the Manager of HR. Once you have leapt past the hoop of the first girl or two, then your precious document lands on the desk of the HR manager and only when it passes muster there, will it then be sent (with conditional approval) to the manager of your department for consideration.

Now what about this Manager of HR? Well, the tail of the dog (Personnel) has morphed into the tail that wags the dog and in fact, might very well today, have become the dog.

FYI, in case you don’t know it, job applications have become legal documents. If you lie on the application and that is found out, that very lie, and nothing else, are instant grounds for dismissal. Ah. So, the ‘girls’ in the office are now busy doing doc research and/or making phone calls to verify that what is stated on the app is, in fact, the truth.

What is this Manager of HR, the great Oz behind the curtain doing?  They manage ‘talent’. Talent includes things like your age, your race, your ethnic heritage, the amount of experience each job requires, the amount of education, your age, your height, your weight, what you look like, sound like and act like. They manage whether or not the corporation has the correct quota of per-race employees and per-age employees. They are the ones that set the standard for what the company can and cannot ask of employees. They are the guardians of the gate, the protector of the corporation from attack and future lawsuits. They are definitely behind the curtain because you never, ever get to see them or meet them.

These are the people who are advising, constantly, the heads of companies. These are the Iago’s who are whispering, ever in low voices to the powers that be and who hold the purse strings. These are individuals who decide whether you (the applicant or employee) either lives or dies. Thumbs up or thumbs down as in ancient Rome. And it is never more the case in our modern society whether you get that lowly (or highly paid) job or not.

HR managers are sworn to ‘protect’ the corporation. They are probably the master-minds behind many a scheme to yank the rug out from underneath  employees just before they reach that twenty-year anniversary and receive that long awaited and promised pension/benefit package.

Having no conscience or morals themselves, time and time again, they cut the legs out from underneath long-term employees and then congratulate themselves on a good job saving the company money.

Back to our applicant. He/she has gotten the dreaded application filled out and turned in. The app is reviewed by the HR manager. Every applicant over the age of forty or fifty (personal preference) is tossed. Applicants under age forty or fifty are hired because they are a) physically stronger b) won’t take time off work for illness (not true, studies show younger people are definitely sick more) and lastly, c) won’t stand up for themselves and complain about the low wages.

Finally, what does all this have to do with homelessness? The effects of the 2008-2009 recession are still being felt in this country. If a person was fortunate enough to have had a really good paying job before the recession and developed a strong resource ‘net’, they were probably able to weather the recession. That includes enough earned income to score high points with Social Security, pensions with companies who made good on their promise to pay, savings and ongoing and regular medical care.

People who did not/don’t have these things will rapidly find in this modern age of escalating housing, food and medical costs, that whatever resources they may have squirreled away, rapidly fading. Those on the edges of the work world; not making high enough wages during their most productive years, having little or no savings nest, low living resources, may surprisingly enough find themselves so far on the out, that they are literally on the outside and homeless.

The homeless situation in this country has escalated to new and unbefore reached heights and it has occurred since the 2008 recession. These things cannot be unrelated.

As more and more big businesses drive out the little guy competition; the role of The Corporation and the HR Manager become more and more significant in our society. The Oz behind the curtain has no personal contact with the many applicants that knock on their door. More better some say; that way they don’t have to see the desperation in the people’s eyes. So, as one person famously said once, “Let them eat cake.”