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West Town man’s relentless approach to getting by garners $4,097 on Kickstarter

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Updated: January 23, 2013 6:04AM



West Town resident Andrew Edwards awaits his job assignment each morning to research real estate — a contract job that is the latest in nearly four years of work with no paid vacation, no benefits and no medical coverage.

Edwards, 30, has learned the many skills he can use: Sorting mail on the graveyard shift; surveying families about vaccinating their children against illnesses; traveling constantly to research childhood obesity factors, and dressing as the “Super Mario” videogame character, complete with big mustache and raccoon tail, and dancing with other Marios to promote a new videogame.

Edwards’ video about his Super Mario experience won him a top posting on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter, where he posted the video to raise money to write a book about his experiences.

He has titled his book, “Working Through the Great American Recession: One Man’s Adventure Taking Jobs You Didn’t Know Existed.”

He has compiled 21 chapters — each describing a short-term job by putting a light-hearted touch on the dreariness, exhaustion, frustration and hopelessness involved.

“I’m showing what some people do to make ends meet when times are tough,” said Edwards, a native of West Des Moines, Iowa.

The Kickstarter campaign was so successful, Edwards collected $4,097 from 85 backers — nearly double his $2,200 goal. In November, he submitted his manuscript to Amazon.com’s self-publishing arm, CreateSpace.com.

Edwards has no intention of using the book for activism or to parrot Barbara Ehrenreich’s 2008 investigative book, “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America.” Ehrenreich wrote of her voluntary efforts to make a living while working as a maid, a waitress, a house cleaner and other entry-level jobs.

“I don’t regret these experiences,” Edwards said. “I’ve been able to travel and do some crazy things.”

The exhilaration has given way to reality.

“As I get older, it’s more and more stressful, having to worry about paying the rent,” he said. “I’m not able to save any money. You’re not paying taxes toward unemployment benefits in these contract jobs, so you cannot collect unemployment when you finish the job.”

Edwards’ story starts with his quitting a full-time accounting job in Fall 2008 to be part of a six-week project to save endangered sea turtles in Punta Banco, Costa Rica. He said he “vastly” improved his Spanish and learned to live with little privacy and no Internet access in a remote area where a snake bite can mean death.

Yet he enjoyed experiencing living with people he described as “incredibly happy and who appreciated what they have.”

Edwards taught the local children to play “ultimate Frisbee.”

“We’d walk the beaches in the middle of the night” to keep poachers away from the sea turtles and their eggs, he said.

Edwards spent a second six weeks in Costa Rica taking Spanish classes.

When Edwards returned to Chicago, the economy had fallen off a cliff — and he was having a change of heart about pursuing an accountant’s job. Edwards earned his bachelor’s degree in accounting in 2005 from the University of Iowa.

He started exploring whether he would enjoy an outdoors job by working as a seasonal accountant in the summer of 2009 for Glacier National Park. He hiked every day, took a few backpacking trips and went rafting on the Flathead River.

He volunteered to travel to Peru on a medical mission trip run by his aunt, Mary Edwards, where doctors do high-level surgeries for needy children. Edwards returned to the United States on Thanksgiving 2009 and started writing about his part-time work experiences.

Edwards’ experience reflects study results that show Generations X and Y — those ages 18 to 47 or 18 to 34, depending on varying definitions — are most at risk of never having a defined-benefit pension and being pressured to manage their own 401(k) retirement savings as they switch from job to job. That’s despite the fact that the unemployment rate among people ages 25 to 34 stood at 7.9 percent in November, close to the national rate of 7.7 percent, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

A workplace expert says Generation X, which he defines as ages 30 to 47, is the most stressed out because they’re stuck waiting for Baby Boomers to retire — a potentially long wait given the slow economy — and have a tough time finding new jobs.

“Today’s careers are a labyrinth,” said Dan Schawbel, founder of Millennial Branding and author of Me 2.0. “People always have to be opportunity seekers because nothing is trusted and sure. It’s about constantly marketing yourself and positioning for the next opportunity.”

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