Article 43


Monday, May 07, 2012



Falling Off The Economic Treadmill

By brooklynbadboy
Daily KOS
May 6, 2012

After World War II, a simple idea settled into the American character if not the American body politic. It goes like this: If you are willing to work hard and play by the rules, America is a place where an you can achieve success in any endeavor. Implicit in this idea, this AMERICAN DREAM if you will, is the idea that what success means is up to each individual. If success means a lot of money in the bank, you can get that. If it means uncovering the secrets of the atom, selling flowers, publishing a book, getting elected to public office, raising a child, or finding God, America is the place were any person with a little moxie could succeed. This also implies the inverse: If you don’t achieve success, however you define it, there is something wrong with you, not America. Hold this thought. I have a brief story to tell.

I have a friend from a previous job who is, by my reckoning, a fairly typical Midwestern White American man. He grew up with the things you’d expect: parents, suburban house, not much money but enough to eat and change clothes every day. Pop culture, high school football, etc. He served in the Navy and worked through college, got married a couple of times and is raising two kids. We’ve kept in touch over the years through a mutual love of boxing, which brought about a long overdue phone call about the big fight this weekend. We talked boxing, bills, children, a little politics. then things turned personal via my invitation. The last few years have been rougher than some previous, at least in financial terms. Like so many others in this country, he’s fallen in to the trap of UNEMPLOYMENT, FORECLOSURE, and bad CREDIT. He’s at a loss figuring out why he hasn’t been successful.  I had already known about some of the troubles from my last visit to his house in Reading, PA. Just recently things had gotten worse. I enjoy talking, but as an aspiring writer, I enjoy listening even more. “I feel like I’ve been running on a treadmill and just fell off,” he said.

Now you and I, the politically well informed, know about all the things that have happened over the past 30 years and especially the past four or five. We know about how the decline of UNIONS, the decline of inexpensive education, globalization, free trade, deregulation, and technology have all contributed to the substantial decline of upward mobility in this country. We know that factors beyond my friend’s control are the primary factor in why he’s a STATISTICAL NORM and not a statistical asterisk. We want to put a bunch of policies in place to fix those numbers. Others believe these things are self correcting. But what do you tell someone like my friend who believes his falling down is his fault? How do you explain to him why it is some folks manage to remain intact in these times, while others do not? Perhaps we need to take a look at the basic tenet set forth in the American Dream.

What is the policy that will fix the American Dream? I don’t mean the policies that will repair what the American Dream is meant to provide, but the very idea of the American Dream itself. My friend probably thought at some point that he too could climb up into the sky and go to the moon as an astronaut. But in actuality, the path there was and will remain the province of a select few military engineers and others lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time. You yourself may have thought that daydreaming about being president meant that all you had to do was work toward it and boom! You’re in the oval office. But alas, most of those who dream of being president will never actually see it happen no matter how hard they work toward it. However, a few will get there. Why them and not you? Our national ethos doesn’t take into account the whims of fate and luck. In my view, these are the things that govern our lives far more than how hard we work or our national policies.

Who we are as a people is not just the age old debate about the role of government and individual liberty, although those questions certainly spring from it. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness have been our North Star since the beginning. Perhaps we need to add “good luck” to our national ethos. Obviously we cannot legislate good luck, but we can mitigate the effects of bad luck. We could put in place policies that do this with a better, more functional political system. More important, in my view, is teaching our people that not everything is a merely a matter of legislation or self-improvement. That fortune plays a key role in where we are born, to whom we are born, and the opportunities and adversities that come our way throughout. Sometimes people just draw a bad hand. When they do, we should help them because it could happen to any of us. But none of us should FEEL like my friend, that every national calamity is a personal failure of some sort. Hermain Cain’s famous edict “if you’re not rich, its your fault” is lacking IN A WORLD where often things are beyond any individual’s control.

I thought a lot about my friend, recalling the last time I saw him. The bags under his eyes. The worn sneakers with holes in them. The look of weariness on his face. Eyes with some glint of hope, but saddened by FEELINGS of inadequacy and failure. The hurt and slight anger as he reluctantly accepted my $20 bill. He needs a a good night’s sleep, if not several. There should be a morning when he can examine his running form and check the mechanics of the rollers. Then get back on that treadmill. I told him so: “With a little luck, you’ll find a job. But right now, go home and go to bed.” Our country could use a good night’s sleep. Some self reflection on our creed. Policies that at least somewhat tame the whims of fate. And a bit of good luck.



Being Poor In America

By DarkSyde
Daily KOS
June 2, 2013

A few months ago a friend of mine asked me to tutor her son in Algebra. I had a good rep with her, I got her husband through Calculus in college. She asked me what I would charge and I told her all I needed was a healthy meal. She also wondered if I’d tell the lad how important math was. I remember thinking, what am I going to say? Bust your ass learning this hard stuff and maybe, one day, you can teach it to a kid for food while his math challenged father makes 10 times what I make? Because that’s the truth in the world today.

I was a stockbroker for years, I’ve run teams in contact centers, I am comfortable with technology and handle emotional customers well. I’ve worked at this particular company for three years and in 2012 I was the top performer in the entire department of hundreds of people and have turned in similar results at other firms. I can rip through the hairiest math you can imagine. In short, with a facility for very complex subjects and decades of success explaining complicated things to the general public and co-workers, I’m the guy you want in your contact center.

But all I have to show for that hard work is a goofy-looking coffee mug and a heart attack. It’s as though, somehow, millions of people like me have been secretly placed on the economic equivalent of the no-fly list.

I am a new member of a new group of poor people: the college-educated, middle-aged working poor. When you make what I now make, about $1,500 take home, forget about saving any money, every cent will be spent. It’s not a lifestyle choice or lack of discipline, it’s just math. Take out $600 for rent, $400 for bills and what’s left over has to cover co-pays for my heart meds and cardiologist, food and sundries, and any unplanned expenses. That means you’re always running out of things you previously took for granted, from toilet paper to shaving cream. Things like an iPad are unthinkable luxuries. Going to a movie is a splurge.

It doesn’t matter how good your credit is, on that kind of pay you can’t qualify for a modest mortgage. Probably for a good reason: sooner or later something in your house will have to be repaired and you won’t be able to afford it even if the mortgage payment is low. In fact, credit in general is not an option anymore, you’re on a cash basis. At this pay rate, you’ll have problems getting any kind loan outside of small payday advances and other predatory scams.

Idolizing the wealthy has always been a lucrative trade. No matter how flaky or cruel or mentally disturbed the powerful may be, there’s always someone willing to tell them what noble, merciful, misunderstood creatures they are. The flip side of that is how the people like me are treated. We are mostly either invisible or held in contempt by the public at large. There is callous indifference to our plight. People just don’t give a shit.

So, when you become poor in America, it comes complete with shame, isolation and detachment. Young people who are just starting out, with whom you now have much in common economically, don’t want to hang out with an old fart. People your own age see you as a loser. When you go from affluent to poor, even some of your oldest and best friends fall away like leaves in winter, retired family members who worked during times when labor had some clout simply don’t understand the dynamic at play now. Holidays are a prescription for depression. A barrage of ads on TV and radio pitch products you can’t even consider buying. It’s tough to maintain any kind of existing relationship, romantic or platonic, with your non-poor friends because you can’t afford to do any of the fun things you used to do with them. Life goes downhill fast, from rich and colorful to a drab, lonely ordeal.

Always there is the underlying assumption, sometimes spoken aloud right to your face, that somehow, this is your fault. You must be a lazy slacker, a degenerate gambler, or a heavy drug addict; maybe you’re just not trying hard enough. Or maybe your expectations are too highyou expect the government to take care of you? FWIW my expectations are damn reasonable: a small home, a reliable vehicle, health care that I won’t lose if I get laid off or sick. Maybe a cheap vacation every year or two. But every single one of those desires is an exercise in fantasy for me now, let alone all of them.

I think it’s more comfortable for your peers to believe that you are exaggerating, or that something, anything, must be going on, than to accept a person can really work his ass off, be great at their job, be intelligent and have a good education, and still face the threat of homelessness because of terrible pay, or death by lack of health insurance, every single month. But that’s how it is, folks. There may have been a time when the wealthy understood that if they shared just a little bit of their gravy with their employees, the employee would have a real stake in their continued success. If so, that time is long gone and I’m living proof of it.

When I hear an exec making six figures complain about how stressful their job is, I have to try not to laugh and mock them. It gets worse the more they make. Pretty soon you have guys like Romney, who honestly believe the reason they’re worth a million times more than a roofer is because they work a million times harder.

When thinking over just how bad things have gotten, it’s easy to find scapegoats. The entire grassroots base of the GOP runs on that anger. They know at the gut level they’re being economically screwed, but the GOP is great at bait and switch: the cause of it all is the same people the GOPחand plenty of Democrats if we’re being honest hereserve with complete fealty: the super wealthy.

That never ends well.

Time and time again we’ve seen this sad drama play out, in this nation and throughout history. Great wealth becomes concentrated in a tiny number of hands, some of those fortunate people then use their influence to insure they get even more money and power, at the expense of everyone and everything. A small sliver of the population gets much richer, the rest of us suffer immensely. Eventually, the wealthy rig the system so much in their favor that the entire edifice crashes and burns, the cycle of boom and bust continues that has enslaved humans since the development of agriculture and civilization.

You have to wonder, could there be a better way?


Posted by Elvis on 05/07/12 •
Section Dying America
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