Jessica Ellis
February 21, 2016 8:49 am
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It’s not just you. It’s getting harder and harder out there for almost everyone, and this week, a young customer service representative came forward to tell her story of going hungry while working for one of the most ubiquitous Internet sites in the world. And then she was fired.

Talia Jane, 25, is like a lot of late-era Millennials. She went to college, but stopped with her Bachelor’s degree at a state school so as not to rack up additional debt. She didn’t major in a STEM field, like we’re all supposed to these days, but stuck with something she liked and had a knack for, English literature. She hoped to turn it into a career in media, and so took an entry level customer service job at Yelp/Eat24, told that she’d be able to hone her skills and transfer into the department she wanted.

If she made it that far.

Detailing her struggles first in a series of tweets, then a post on Medium written as a letter to Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppleman, Jane described her life as a worker at Yelp. Unable to afford Bay Area prices, she took an apartment 30 miles away from work and skimped on every area of life to continue working at her job—including groceries. Unable to afford food, she bought a 10 lb bag of rice to sustain her at home while surviving otherwise on free snacks at work. She tells a mortifying story of not having enough money to get to work on public transit one day, only to have a very friendly CVS worker give her the meager $6 she needed but didn’t have. Her manager’s solution was that she should drive in, getting a $35 ticket for illegally using a FastTrak lane that at least she wouldn’t have to pay that day. She can’t afford to turn on her heat.

Before anyone starts railing about how she should’ve become a chemical engineer, or should’ve found work somewhere other than the Bay Area, or asking if there are no prisons or workhouses, let’s honestly recap: Girl goes to affordable college and majors in a subject that should lead to a sensible job. Girl gets job at what she believed was ideal major corporation with a path to promotion. Girl can’t afford food or heat.

Of course, there are people who start out far more disadvantaged or have physical, mental, or environmental conditions that make their lives much worse than Talia Jane’s. She’s not the poster child for starvation or institutionalized racism or any of society’s other most serious issues. But she is someone who, had she followed this education and career path 30 years ago, would be on her way to a comfortable middle-class existence—yes, even in the Bay Area, where rents have soared from a median of $850 for a two-bedroom apartment in 1986, to $5,000 per month in 2015. Instead of getting her issues addressed, of maybe opening her company’s eyes to the situation their employees are in, Talia has been fired. Her CEO had this response on Twitter:  

We can’t, of course, say for sure that Talia was fired in retaliation, but according to her Twitter timeline, her work email was revoked during her posts, which sure suggests some fishy timing.

Also, the CEO’s response to the Bay Area being expensive is that they’re moving entry level jobs out of state? That seems like a bandaid, at best.

So if you’ve been feeling like the only one struggling to pay rent and wishing you could turn on the heater, Talia’s story has let you know you aren’t alone. This is real. This is how the economy works now. And what we choose to do with that knowledge is what will shape the future.

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