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Good enough for an Emmy, but not The Container Store

Nicole Duignan

Deborah Copaken has an impressive resume. She is a bestselling author, and Emmy Award winning television producer, a former war zone photojournalist and a graduate of Harvard University.

Last year however, she found herself in a situation that would unsettle just about anyone. Her marriage was ending, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and she lost her job-- along with her health insurance. Her COBRA benefits were terminated and she had to wait until the next enrollment period to apply for Obamacare. She needed an MRI to check the status of her cancer. Her bank account was empty. She needed a job.

Copaken recently shared her story in her piece on Cafe.com called, “How I got rejected from a job at the Container Store.” She applied for a three-month position as a holiday greeter at The Container Store (TCS) enticed by the promise of health benefits, only to find out the company had denied her application. "So what if it wasn’t the perfect job in my chosen industry?” she writes. “These days, a job is a job, and a job with benefits is a unicorn."

Having made her living between writing novels through magazine work and many other jobs in media, Copaken calls herself a member of the creative class. Speaking to Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Aaron Task, she highlights the recent difficulties she’s faced finding work in her field. “People don’t want to pay for content, and yet I spend my day writing stuff that gets used, and clicked on and provides advertising for companies and it’s now devalued to the point where a lot of us are really suffering,” she says.

Copaken concedes she may have been viewed as “overqualified,” for this job (and others) which she says often happens to women in her age-range. But Kip Tindell, CEO of The Container Store and author of the recent book “Uncontainable” has said "no one's overqualified" and pays salespeople an annual salary of nearly $50,000, twice the national average for a retail worker, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. He also told Business Insider that a key to the company’s productivity is his "1 = 3 rule," meaning having one “great” employee, is better than three “good” ones.

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Copaken hasn’t had further contact with the company since she applied for a job, but she says she loves The Container Store, which ranks 28th on this year’s Fortune's list of 100 Best Companies. She says her plight was not really about being passed over for employment by a specific retailer; “It wasn’t really a story about the Container Store…it was about desperation.”

“There’s a lot of shame surrounding money…there’s more shame surrounding money than there is about sex,” she says. “I think that there are so many people in my same boat who are putting on a good face and pretending everything’s okay.”

“The middle class is just being crushed and it’s scary; I’ve never seen this in my 48 years in America,” Copaken observes.

For Copaken, things are looking up; she now has a job with benefits as at staff writer at Cafe.com (which she describes as “Nirvana”), and she recently sold a pilot for a television adaptation of her bestselling book "Shutterbabe." While her current success his due in large part to her impressive resume, her experience during the previous year is all-too familiar to the men and women in this country who have struggled to find work and care for themselves and their families.

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