Job-Seeking: It’s Harder When You’re Poor

Help Wanted


A pastor working with the homeless in San Antonio tells this story:

“Most of the persons who find themselves on the streets want to work. To hear their stories about trying to find and secure work reveal a lot about how our social service delivery system is broken. One man went to apply for a job as a dishwasher at a downtown restaurant. He was interviewed, and even though his employer knew the applicant was living on the street, the owner was desperate to fill the position and decided to take a chance with someone who needed another chance.

This man was hired on the spot. The employer was thrilled to have someone and the man was ready to get started.

‘How soon can you start?’ asked the new employer.
‘Right away, today, now!’ said the man with growing excitement.
‘Great, give me your photo ID so I can complete the paperwork.’
‘I don’t have a photo ID. I had a driver’s license but it was lost or stolen some time back,’ explained the applicant.
‘I’m sorry, son,’ replied the owner, ‘without a photo ID I can’t put you to work.’
‘Where do I go to get a replacement driver’s license?’
‘The Department of Public Safety should be able to help you out,’ was the answer. ‘Good luck, and as soon as you can get that ID, come back. If the job is still open, it’s yours.’

“Early the next morning our man with no identification spent his last $1.50 for a two transfer bus ride to the DPS office, took a number, waited in line for his number to be called. When he got to the service window, the DPS worker, asked,
‘May I help you?’

‘I hope so,’ our unemployed applicant replied. ‘I used to have a driver’s license but it was lost or stolen. I don’t think it expired, it is just lost and I need a replacement.’
‘Name on the license?’ she asked, and he gave her his name.
‘You are correct, your license is still valid, and it will take only a minute to complete the paperwork for a replacement.’
‘Great!’ said our guy. ‘This is just the help I needed.’

When she had finished the paperwork she spoke again, ‘Now all I need is a cashier’s check for $15, you can get your picture and be on your way.’

“‘But I don’t have $15,’ he said. ‘I told you my wallet was stolen!’ We imagine he became angry and disrespectful at that point, seeing the impossibility of his situation. Many of the people on the street don’t have a lot of social skills. They sometimes really don’t know how to get the simplest things done. The same thing may be true of the clerical workers hired at many county and state offices. Maybe he was just a hustler, or maybe he took his frustration at the bureaucracy out on the DPS worker, but her frustration mounted as well.”
“‘Why don’t you go get a job then!’ said the counter worker.”



John Flowers and Karen Vannoy, Not Just a One Night Stand: Ministry WIth The Homeless (Nashville: Discipleship Resources), 91-92.  

Photo: Egan Snow, “Help Wanted.” Taken June 7, 2008. Flickr Creative Commons.



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