Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A Generation of Journalists Uninsured: Writing Without Health Insurance

This week, New York magazine ran a cover story on the "Young and Uninsured," or the "Young Invincibles," as the insurance industry apparently likes to call them. The story explains how young (20-30), healthy, non-salaried workers are stuck in this insuranceless, safety net-less void between graduation and a long-term job with benefits, and the phenomenon is only growing due to the migration away from '50s-style lifelong jobs.

The entire time, I couldn't help but think about journalists.

I often hear about how rough the job market is, especially in a major urban area, for young people. Many of the workers profiled in the New York article were working unrelated jobs - in restaurants, retail, etc. - to support their true passions, like art. We hear about this phenomenon all the time - but do we think about what happens when someone gets a cavity? Or gets hit by a taxi?

I've been having frequent, nervous conversations with others about the prospect of being without health insurance. And it's coming fast - so, like many others, I'm rushing to get myself "situated" before it expires. But what about after school?

I don't expect to receive a salaried job right away. Am I stuck watching preventative care fly out the window? And what if something unforseen and terrible happens? I'm certainly one of the more invincible young invincibles, but I'm still human - and I still live in a big city.

In a previous post, I mentioned the difficulty (read: impossibility) of a new graduate or new journalist in trying to make ends meet on only journalism internships (entry-entry-level, basically). I didn't even mention health care. What if you're out of school and older than 24?

You're screwed, that's what.

And I think that's just one more side-effect of a system in journalism that keeps its most entry-level workers at benefitless hourly wages (and no, worker's compensation is not what I'm talking about. I don't forsee any major damages incurred from typing and complaining too much about what I'm typing about.). This is what I'd like to call the Pursuit of (Journalistic) Happyness syndrome - new job, new industry, no benefits.

So I'd like to open up the forum and ask you, readers and journalists: Have you spent a time in your life uninsured, particularly as a journalist or related profession? Did something happen? Were you able to cope, financially? When did you finally get benefits?

And what about you Gawker editors? Alex Balk, Emily Gould, Alex Pareene, Brian Lam, Gina Trapani, Ben Popken? Does Denton give you the goods?

Or are you all members of the Freelancers Union?

Readers, allow this post to be your own profile and post your own stories. Anonymity is OK. I'm especially interested in those twentysomethings that are out there now in the big cities. How do you manage?


Meranda said...

I just came across your blog today and enjoyed it so much I added you to my RSS reader. Your opinions are spot on in many ways and you're talking about things many of the other journalism blogs I read don't hit.

I wanted to comment on this post, even though it's a few weeks old, because I did have this experience. Well, sort of.

I graduated with a journalism degree in December. I accepted a job at a mid-size daily a week or so later, and started in mid-January.

The week before I began here I broke a tooth. Broke it like it hurt so badly I had to go to the emergency room just to get to sleep that night (a Sunday before a holiday of course). Then, I had to go to the dentist. I had to pay the cost to have the tooth removed (because filling and capping and fixing it would have honestly been waaaay out of my broke, I have to move to a new city in a week and I don't even have money to eat budget -- luckily it was in the back of my mouth not somewhere obvious) out of pocket. Because when I was no longer a student my dad's insurance dropped me before it happened.

My job does have benefits. BUT they didn't kick in until 90 days. In fact, this week marks my 90-day mark, and I'm in the process of trying to figure out what the heck plan to sign up for and realizing even with the company paying a big portion of it, bare-bones health, dental and vision insurance is going to cost me a lot of money each month. But, I guess, not as much as it would if something did go wrong. And I am definitely not invincible. I am a disabled list frequent offender.

It really is crazy to imagine how many people are without health insurance. I know, even with health insurance that covered most of my expenses, there were things I avoided in college because I couldn't even pay the difference. Even with my current job and benefits, my budget (a good portion of which is headed to student loan payments and credit card bills) doesn't leave a lot of lee-way in terms of unforseen circumstances. So here's to hoping some of that invincibility rubs off on me.

The Editorialiste said...

@meranda: I've got to say, your comment made my day today. Thanks for being brave enough to dig through old entries -- it makes me happy that some of those old, still-useful posts aren't forgotten!

So thank you for adding me to your RSS. The ultimate honor, for sure.

As for your story - phew! You're exactly the person I was talking about! You did everything you could to be a journalist - got the degree, joined a paper, rock and roll, yeah? Except -- you broke a tooth. And that sent your world spinning -- financially, stress-relatedly, and so on. Being on track to getting health insurance as the accident happened? The bitter icing on the cake. The irony is startling, and could happen to someone who isn't a "disabled list frequent offender." Heck, I consider myself a pretty healthy person, but we've all gotta go to the dentist, don't we?

I hope you get your tooth fixed, and it doesn't cost you the arm you write with. Best of luck in Indiana -- and thanks for reading.

The Editorialiste.

Inari said...

People should read this.