It seems appropriate at this point to say a few words about myself. I was, at the time I entered the course, a 41-year-old single mother on welfare who had been out of the workforce for seven years. I had left my last paid employment shortly before the birth of my second child and shortly after the dissolution of my marriage. My older child was eleven at the time I entered the course. My previous paid work experience had been clerical. I am comparatively well-educated, with three years of university.
I had moved to this small community from Vancouver when my son was nine months old. I knew it was an area of few employment opportunities, but finding paid employment had not been one of my priorities at the time. I left the city to escape a rental crisis and harassment by my ex-husband. Though I consider myself a feminist, I have never felt that work outside the home equals liberation. With the present employment climate, I feel that women are not given access to jobs that give them financial independence from men. Instead, women are being asked to take on low-paid work and the dubious privilege of the double work day while we are also still forced to rely on a man or the state in order to adequately support ourselves and our children.
I was neither typical nor atypical of the women who took the course-they ranged from young single mothers of preschools to women in their fifties whose children were grown. Some I were on welfare, some on U.I.; at least one was financially independent and taking the course not out of necessity, but to give herself something to do.
I decided to take the job re-entry course for a number of reasons. By 1989 there was a lapse in the recession, giving me hope that I might obtain a credible job in the community I had grown to love. My youngest child was now in school, so childcare seemed less of a concern. The year before, the Ministry of Social Services and Housing (welfare) had declared single mothers with children over six months old to be "employable". By being in a training program I could avoid being hassled to take just any job. There was also a training allowance from Canada Employment, the sponsor of the course, and I was allowed to keep $100 plus 25% of this allowance over and above my welfare cheque. I was still, however, skeptical about Women's Job Re-Entry. When the previous courses were run (during the recession) a friend had remarked that it seemed more like a way to create jobs for the instructors than employable skills for the desperate women taking the course. I was inclined to agree, but perhaps things would be different now that the economic climate had improved.
I feel I should say a few words about the subjective mental state I was in when I entered the course, as well as my state of political awareness. The course began a few days after I'd had an abortion. I was (and am) in a happy relationship with a man who had himself been having career problems. A skilled tradesman, he had been thrown out of work during the recession, and had recently found steady employment after five years in a career limbo. It was, however, heavy physical work. As a middle-aged man with back problems, he was not able to offer a great deal of help with my increased work load. Nor did he feel secure enough in his own new-found employment to offer financial assistance should I not find a full-time job at the end of the course, though I have never been financially dependent on him. Nor was he capable (again because of physical pain) of giving his usual emotional support. Had we not already known each other for three years our relationship would not have survived the burden placed upon it.
My eleven-year-old daughter had been chronically depressed for a long time and was refusing to see a counsellor. I was seeing two counsellors - one to learn how to deal with her, and one for myself. My son was fine at the beginning of the course, but his reaction to having a stressed-out mother was to become the sort of child no one was willing to baby-sit after school. I mention all this, because I think that a family can be pushed over the edge into "dysfunctional" by society's refusal to acknowledge the work a parent does in the home.