I was unemployed for just over six months last year. Everyday - Monday thorough Friday was consumed with going to the unemployment office and or library and searching for jobs. On the days that I did have a "lead" and the money I would drive to the company and put in an application or drop off a resume. Friday afternoon through Sunday was consumed with being with my three oldest children (something that meant a two hour drive - or 96.3 miles round trip).
I "hunkered down" as I did not receive unemployment. I picked up bottles, scrapped metal (it's amazing what you can find), cut wood, painted a house, worked on a farm for a few days and did whatever I could find. At one point a MT poster let me know about giving plasma at a place in Toledo called Talecris that paid you for this. I even went there - only to find after filling out the initial paperwork that I lived outside of the 25 mile limit that they place on donors - boy was that a depressing day to use that much fuel only to be turned away. It was and is still a difficult time for my children and I as I try and "dig back" out of it after being employed now for just five months. During that time my savings was gone and I can honestly say that there were weekends that my children maynot have had food were it not for the wonderful folks at the Salvation Army - which BTW . . . because I had grown so tired of being idle I spent several weeks going in and out of as a volunteer helping clean and work in the food pantry.
I am writing all this because I don't believe that "waiting" is the new American dream. I came into contact with a lot of folks; younger, my age and even older, that were desperate to find some chance - some opportunity. One day on a "rumor" that an auto parts supplier would be hiring I went there only to be confronted with a line of more than 40 guys and gals who had also heard that rumor. Most of them were the same people that I saw at the unemployment office nearly each day.
I believe the dynamics of the "American Dream" has changed and that the average American Citizen had little to no control over the changing dynamics. NAFTA, GATT, the failure of our manufacturing industry to reinvest and remain competitive, short term "greed" that infected much of the financial industry, unfunded mandates placed upon State and Local governments that made it difficult (if not impossible) to offer business' tax incentives to reinvest, governmental agencies getting into the business of "speculating" and deciding who will or will not be "winners" and none of this addresses the very real disallusion that has been caused by Public Sector Unions over the last several years. Imagine if you are out of work and you read story after story of the pay and benefits of public sector folks . . . people being compensated from your tax dollars and how the Unions have (in some but not all - it's just that the "some" always make bigger headlines) refused any changes to pay or benefits. As a so called "Gen - X'er" I find it odd how many folks older than me talk about the "good old days".
The good old days when a man could get a job at Chrysler then move to Ford then finally settle with Monsanto for 30 years (like my father did). The good old days when Monroe Ford would hire folks. The good old days when . . . . well, ever consider that one of the biggest "killers" of the "good old days" are . . . . (boy do I hate to say this) . . . the "good old people" and the legacy cost that exist from all those years? A reality is that many of those same folks continue to occupy jobs that would be better served by people who are younger and may have more inactive, desire and creativity. Trust me - I am not saying that people should not work but . . . who is benefiting by paying people two or three times the going rate simply because they have 30 - 40 years experience? I don't want to force people into retirement, I want to ask them it they think staying for those "highest five years" of retirement pay will in the long run benefit the company and help it sustain for the future or if it is simply about "them". I find it funny that people talk about "corporate greed" (a very real thing when one does not consider the impact of your behavior) but never mention the folks who engage in this (what we used to call in the Army ROADS Scholar behavior (Retired On Active Duty) as it is the same type of greed. I have a friend that is a maintenance supervisor for an organization we both worked at. He is now 68 and has been scheduled to retire every year for the last six years. Each year he puts it off and take another (as he likes to joke) 155.00 a month in retirement pay. OK - except 155.00 x 12 x 6 = 11,160.00 in retirement that the "nonprofit" will pay out when they (and he) can see revenues are falling and the truth is, as much as I love him, he does very little except ride around on a golf cart, drink coffee and cut out of work early on Fridays. Of course - the company is also responsible because they allow it but so too is he . . . whatever happen to the "good oldies" when folks wanted to see the company they worked for do well and were dedicated to that company? Both dedication to the worker and dedication from the worker has died off in many sectors and for many reasons. Reality is that many corporations gave too much but at the time things were booming. Competition was week (remember when Japanese and Korean cars were laughed at) and America believed we would always be the HCIC ("head country in charge"). What we have found is that Gil Scott-Heron (the jazz poet) was right when he said (in 1981) ; "America has found that what we once thought was the second world has now made a firm down payment on the first, we have changed from the producers to the consumers . . . America will learn that once the producer names the tune . . . the consumer has got to dance".
We are not "waiting" we are wanting and trying to create that next opportunity. Imagine - (just speaking from my own experience) . . . you played by the rules, served your country in the Military, graduated from College and continue to only see positions that are "flat lined" (meaning REAL pay has not risen in 6 - 7 years and now employers require you to pay 25% (or more) for any of your benefits). Yep - that too is the new American reality. I have a friend who is working on her PhD in Pharmacy at Ohio State and she became highly involved with the "Occupy Columbus" folks. Because of my work I had to go to Columbus last October and November and was able to spend sometime there. What I found were people not wanting to "wait" or wanting a "hand out" (understand - I can and will only speak to my experience) but educated people who feel "duped, bamboozled, hoodwinked" by the system that has allowed the very real structural changes to our economy that is hurting them. Republicans blame one side (Unions, higher taxes, regulations) while Democrats blame the other (lower taxes, deregulation) when it seems more possible that the truth is someplace in the middle and that both sides are wrong . . . but - by protecting the argument they present they serve the interest of those who most financially support them and as such THEY continue to remain in power - all the while we get to do what . . . "wait".
Yesterday someone that I dearly love and respect said in the course of an exchange that, "life is not fair and once you realize that things get better". Of course, I know life is not fair . . . don't we all? But somehow over the last thirty of forty years "opportunity" has been eroded in many sectors and a lot of people who, in good faith, went into those fields only to see what to government, industry and colleges and universities sell was a product that at best was days old and headed for the recycle bin. The great majority of people are "making it happen" or are giving it there damnedest try. For me . . . that means working a full time job and searching with desperation for a part-time late afternoon / midnights job (if ya know anyone hiring . . . . shoot me a message ). It also means continuing to feel the frustration of things out of my control and battling to climb from that hole. Ya know - I work in Toledo which means a 92 mile drive everyday and it also means that I get to pay payroll taxes to the City of Toledo! Payroll taxes that are just . . . "poof" . . . gone! That was 296.00 in just a few months last year that I can never recover (just "filed" my City of Toledo Taxes yesterday) and I get 0 refund. So - sometimes you feel that the "good old days" of op pourunity are a bit "stacked" against you. But - then you wake up and realize that we still live in the greatest country on the earth with the greatest people in the world.
No country is a compassionate to others. No country offers the level of freedom and opportunity to dream. Yeah - I think we have gotten off course over the last few years but - I believe we will be better. I believe that because I want to and have to - I have four children that I need them to have a better financial life then I. I know that I am part of a generation that for many of us (lower middle class up bringing) will most likely not do as good as our parents because the "education" that was sold to us as the "panacea" of success is not the magic pill we were told. I can deal with that - but . . . for my kids . . . I will see a better America. An America that stops pining for the "good ole'days" and looks to the future.
No - we are not waiting . . . we are just looking toward a future that maybe not everyone can see but one that we know will be better for our children - even if we have to sacrifice ourselves - but that's just me.
Will, I really liked your post. I can see that it was made with a great deal of real thought and from the heart. It was also clear that you were trying to avoid most of the typical spin type political rants.
About OWS, that is pretty much the main message I have gotten as well.
Your observation about the business/worker problem of not caring about each other is a big problem. I personally despise the culture of workers simply being replaceable cogs, numbers and not people. I do not like that people do not care about their employers either. It does no good to place blame on which is the cause. However, I think the logical solution would be for business to care about employees and they will likely return it. Sure, even in the “good old days” some did not, and not all would still. I say business first because if every employee cared about their company, I think it highly unlikely that it would change how business views workers.
One thing that I do not get is the idea that worker wages, no matter where it is said, are too high, or benefits are too costly and the worker must absorb part. Are wages, all of them too high? I think of John’s “good old days” and when someone was out of work he could go to many other jobs that equally would pay a wage that a family could live on, almost all well enough to own a house. Can one do that in this age? I remember no one at all in the “good old days” having to work two or three part time jobs to survive, let alone do well.
Why educated individuals are systemically underpaid I cannot fathom. It seems that it is exactly the message... strive to be better and do better as a result. So, why is it strive to do better and don’t get to be better?
So, I do not get the drive to push wages lower, or stagnate them lower. Is there a real reason? I might be myopic, but I see the only motivator as corporate profits at the expense of labor. Maybe I cannot see a valid other reason?
One thing you said I was aware of, but paid not enough attention to. I am glad you said it. The costs of the “good old days” are a big factor in our problems. I had seen it as a part of things like pension costs, but not from the individual level. I had not seen the effect one person was having on the overall picture. I suppose there can always be exceptions; that unique individual that has knowledge that surpasses his wages and cannot be easily replaced. But, yeah, I have seen many as you noted, basically doing nothing and getting away with it because he/she has been there so long. I think that this must be a different setting than general workers, as most companies got rid of the older workers making more money to take on younger cheaper labor.
I guess I see our problems as being mainly business driven; devaluing workers and making them numbers only, and the drive for ever more corporate profits at any and all expense whether people or the environment. Others see it as the government “in the way” of them making extreme profit. Maybe on that the real answer is in the middle.
I do not mean that to sound anti business. I am all for mom and pop businesses that pay what they can for employees and probably care about them. It is the “too big to fail” climate that can dictate because of sheer size.
To me I want to see micro business promoted over “small” business. The corner store, the small machine shop, the independent electrician or plumber. Help them. I do not want to help “small” business that makes $300,000,000 a year because they employ only 5 people. Unfortunately, that is more the way of “small” business. The mom and pop store doesn’t even make it UP to being “small”.
Anyway, great job Will. I might not agree with you 100% but I very much appreciate the honest thought and care without trying to purposefully intending to be partisan.
I guess maybe I am biased. I saw your post as “people are important than personal greed” Kind of where I at least try to speak from.