[What follows is the interview protocol used by Jennifer Silva for Coming Up Short, beginning at p. 162.]
The purpose of this project is to explore what it’s like for young working-class people to make the transition to adulthood today. I will ask you a series of questions about your family background and relationships, your job, your education, your struggles, and your goals for the future. If at any time you feel uncomfortable or don’t want to answer a question, just let me know and we will move on or stop the interview.
- I’d like to start by getting a sense of your life history. Where are you from? What do your parents do? Have they had these jobs their whole life? Did they graduate from high school or college? Do they own their home? Are they married, divorced, separated, never married?
- Can you remember times when your parents seemed to struggle economically? Was there a time when they couldn’t pay the bills, or worried about money? How did they talk about this? What did they do about it?
- Do you know if your parents got or get benefits from their jobs, like pensions and health care? Is this something they talk about? What would you do growing up if you were sick?
- Do you have siblings? What do they do? How much education do they have?
- Whom do you live with now? How long have you lived there? How did you make the choice to live in this place? Can you remember any times when you worried about where you would live, or how you would afford to pay rent?
- Let’s think back to when you graduated from high school. Did you like school? Walk me through the steps you went through when you were deciding what to do after graduation. What kinds of choices did you have? What did your family think you should do? Did you think about college? About a job? About joining the military? How much education did you ultimately end up getting?
- What kind of work do you do now? How long have you had this job? How long have you been working? Tell me about how you found your job. What are your feelings about your current job?
- Walk me through a typical day at work.
- What are your relationships like with your coworkers? Boss? Customers? Are there times when it feel rewarding? When? How about challenging? Distressing?
- How do you see your standing at work? Why?
- Do you think there are opportunities for promotion? Do you get benefits, or could you?
- Does your job pay you enough to pay your bills? What kinds of bills do you have to pay every month?
- Are you in debt? Are you making payments on a credit card or student loans?
- When you were younger, did you imagine yourself working here? Can you think back to a time when you thought about your future, or talked to your family about it? Where did you see yourself at your age? What kinds of things did you want out of life?
- Are you married? Do you want to get married? Have children? Can you think of times when this seemed difficult to achieve? How? What stands in your way? What kind of partner would you want?
- How do you plan to get ahead? How do you think you get ahead in America? Where did you get this idea?
- What social class would you put yourself in? Can you walk me through a time when you felt like social class mattered in your life? How salient is class in your daily life?
- Can you remember any times when your race made getting ahead, or achieving a goal, harder for you? When you experienced discrimination?
- Can you remember a time when your gender made getting ahead, or achieving a goal, harder for you? When you experienced discrimination?
- How do you see yourself in comparison to your parents? (Economically, socially, etc.). What were their lives like when they were your age?
- Would you call yourself an adult? Walk me through a time when you felt grown up. What made you feel this way? What makes you not feel grown up?
- How would you define adulthood? Why?
- How would you define what it means to become a man or a woman? Are you able to meet these criteria?
- What do you think is the hardest thing about growing up today? Was there ever a time when you felt like people misunderstood what it’s like to be a young person today?
- Walk me through a time when you felt like you just couldn’t make it. What happened? What did you do?
- Walk me through a time when you felt hopeful about your future.
- What do you do for fun?