Article 43

 

General Reading

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Desperate Men

image: old man needs a job

Although certain types of jobs - such as working in a customer-service CALL CENTER - are more likely to be downers, the working environment tends to have a greater impact on mental health than the job description itself.

...we found that those respondents who were unemployed had significantly poorer mental health than those who were employed. However, the mental health of those who were unemployed was comparable or more often superior to those in jobs of the poorest psychosocial quality.  The current results therefore suggest that employment strategies seeking to promote positive outcomes for unemployed individuals need to also take account of job design and workplace policy.
- No Job Vs Lousy Job

Men at work
The age of austerity has transformed work, but what it means to be a man has not caught up

By Allison J, Pugh
December 15, 2015

When Gary Gilbert lost his job, it was devastating. A tradesman, he had joined his employers company only because he thought it offered a bit more security than endlessly chasing the next gig as a freelance operator, and that he could then provide a better future for his son. The layoff came without warning. “I was crushed,” he recalled. “Oh God. I’ve cried at night about it.”

While the layoff shattered his hopes and, Gary believes, was unwarranted, he refused to blame his employer. “I had no reason to take that job,” he explained. “I thought I was going to make a more stable environment, you know. And I was wrong, you know, but that - that was my fault. I shouldn’t have done it. I never should have let my guard down. I never should have put my livelihood in somebody else"s hands. It was the biggest mistake I ever made.”

Gar’s response is not untypical; recent research shows that Americans are more likely to blame themselves for job insecurity, even when it results from structural changes in the economy. I interviewed 80 people up and down the class ladder, and with varying experiences of job precariousness. I found that we do a lot to keep our strong feelings away from the employer, we shrug our shoulders in resignation, we talk about layoffs as new opportunities for growth, we even convince ourselves we are glad not to keep working there anyway. Most of all, we blame ourselves. And while that blame can be corrosive for both men and women, there is something unique in the scarring that results for men, who often see work as a primary measure of masculinity.

For working-class men, it is something of a crisis. There’s a lot of critical talk about the moral character of working-class men - generally conceived of as those with less than a college degree - and most of it revolves around work, reflecting some latent anxiety about who is shirking and who is carrying. We know they watch more television and do less childcare than working-class women, and are less likely than more affluent men to work long hours. Working-class men themselves value being “hard working” among the qualities they prize the most; for the white working-class men who march in the reserve army of US talk radio, working hard is highly prized, and deeply respected. It forms the bedrock of their outrage at those who, talk-radio culture likes to say, “refuse to work.” (For their part, black men value work but also talk about collective solidarity). Underneath the moral language on both sides is the notion of work as the arbiter of honour in the US.

Yet the landscape of jobs in the US has radically altered the configuration of who does what and for what benefit. In contrast to a few decades ago, a much higher percentage of women and people of colour are in the labour force: about 47 per cent of workers today are women, compared with 38 per cent in 1970, while the 36 per cent of non-white workers is almost double their proportion in 1980. Meanwhile, the proportion of men with full-time jobs has shrunk, from 80 per cent 45 years ago to just 66 per cent. The jobs men do have are also increasingly insecure at first due to shifts in types of work across the economy but, since 1996, likely due to the spread of layoffs as a management tactic.

Work might still be a moral measure then, but the distribution of work is increasingly uneven, with some men working too much and many men working too little, and both ensnared in conditions not entirely of their making. For men at the top, work colonises ever more of the days’ 24 hours, while those at the bottom, such as Gary, can face despair, hopelessness, even as was reported recently 0 declining life expectancy. And mens’ changed relationship to work bears implications for their changed relationships at home.

Masculinity has long been written in men’s relationship to work and, despite the onset of feminism, involved fathering, and the slacker, this is even truer today. In 1979, there was a certain rationality to the link between income and hours: the more you made, the less you worked. The bottom 20 per cent of earners were more likely than the top 20 per cent to work very long hours. By 2006, that relationship had reversed. Now, the more money men make, the more likely they are to put in what are often called killer hours. What is behind the reversal? Why would rich men work longer?

Scholars debate the causes. Some credit the long-hours, premium that professional-managerial class men earn meaning the extra money they get for near-constant availability and work - while others point to pay discrepancies within occupations acting as incentives for increased hours (men want to earn more than the guy in the next cubicle), and still others attribute the trend to anxieties about job insecurity that grew in the 1980s and 90s for white-collar workers.

But these arguments overlook the emotional resonance of work, its profound capacity to tell us something about ourselves. What it signals to men is a form of honourable masculinity, as expressed in the moral code of “work devotion,” demanding an enormous time investment and emotional commitment to the career or employer.

Men of the professional-managerial class are the big winners in this transformation of work. For them,"ёinsecurity" can look like “flexibility,” as they jump from company to company in search of a better match for their skills. Highly educated workers are less likely than blue-collar or low-level service workers to suffer job displacement, and when they do, they experience less of a pay loss.

Still, it is well to remember that even at the top the choices can often be strangely constrained: for most men, their only “choice” is either to work intensely or to get off the train. This all-or-nothing scenario has dramatic implications for men, women and families, impeding many men from being the fathers they want to be, funnelling out of promising careers many women who resist the extreme schedule and, for heterosexual couples, creating families that can explode over mismatched goals and possibilities, or conform to more traditional norms than the couple ever planned.

The transformation of work might have quickened the pace of the treadmill for professional men, but it has thrown other men off of it altogether. In the past 50 years, the number of men working full-time has fallen from 83 per cent to 66 per cent; between the 1970s and the ґ90s, the proportion of jobs lost by prime-age working men almost doubled. The change was even more dramatic for black men, partly because disproportionate numbers of them in the US were employed in the dwindling manufacturing sector, not to mention the disproportionate impact of incarceration policies. 

For those men who do work, pay has stagnated, with the purchasing power of the average hourly wage peaking more than 40 years ago in 1973.  These changes have accompanied the withering of unionised labour’s power, which the latest report puts at just 6.6 per cent of private-sector workers. Today, there are more than one and a half times as many contingent workers’ as there are union members in the US.

What does it mean to prize something to understand it as a primary measure of what it means to live a life of value - when it is becoming scarcer? How do men reconcile themselves to the likelihood of their own failure, particularly men with just a high-school degree, who are unemployed at more than three times the rate of college graduates? If work is what it means to be a man, what do you do when work disappears?

One option is to get angry. When I interviewed laid-off men for my recent book on job insecurity, their anger, or more often a wry bitterness, was impossible to forget. By and large, like Gary the laid-off tradesman, they were not angry at their employers.  At home, however, they sounded a different note. I have a very set opinion of relationships and how females handle them,ґ Gary told me, rather flatly. Itґs what Ive seen consistently throughout my life.Ғ On his third serious relationship, Gary talked about the hurt thatґs been caused to me by a lack of commitment on the part of other people, and he complained that Ғmarriage can be tossed out like a Pepsi can. In the winds of uncertainty, Garyђs anger at women keeps him grounded.

Most Americans might expect very little from their employers as one layoff survivor told me: ҖJust a paycheck and a certain amount of respect, I would say. They might shrug their shoulders about job insecurity as the inevitable cost of doing business in a globalised economy (even though some economists have found that layoffs usually end up costing firms rather than boosting stock prices or productivity). At home, however, workingѢclass men expect more of their intimate partners, and brittle yearning turns those expectations into betrayal if they fall short. Abandoned by both employer and wife, Gary aims his ire at just one of these.

It is wrong, however, to read this anger as simply the outrage of a dethroned king who has lost his prerogative. Working-class men such as Gary long for a time when they had rights to women
s loyalty, deference and caring labour, and when, in their view, they earned that right by virtue of the hard work they themselves contributed. The transformation of work dislodged their ability to put up their share of this bargain, one that netted them benefits, to be sure, but also involved years of their backbreaking labour. It is this morality tale that enables them to count themselves wronged, and lends such intensity to their concerns about those mythical emblems of entitlement: able-bodied people who refuse to work. What they want, they maintain, is the opportunity to work hard for their rightful place, to be a working-class hero.

Perhaps a more powerful response to the transformation of work is to change what counts as honourable masculinity. Some men I spoke with seemed to be pursuing a form of independenceђ. They owed employers as little as they themselves were owed which they maintained was not very much indeed ֖ and, at home, they cultivated a careful freedom, even when their feelings ran strong.

Stanley, an actor who had been laid off from several day jobs, was in the middle of a divorce. Bringing up the common trope of working on a marriageђ, he said that we need to redefine the term. Because the work changes,ђ he said. The work can be in letting go. Thatђs the right thing to do. So, yeah, thats all the work. Because I think bottling it up or denying it, if thatҒs what happens, its not going to work either.Ғ Independence dislodged men from domesticity, but although they sometimes celebrated it as freeing, their accounts often echoed with loneliness.

Others try to reshape masculinity not by shrinking obligation but by redirecting it towards the home. Clark had been laid off repeatedly, and was now struggling to bring in enough money by working part-time in retail and playing in a band on weekends.  He talked a lot about how he was raising his daughter making her home-cooked meals, meeting her at the bus, warning her about social media. ֑I wanted her to have a secure life, where she knew there was somebody there for her, he said.

The news is full of stories of involved fathers doing it differently than their own distant dads. To be sure, stay-at-home moms still outnumber stay-at-home dads by about 100 to one and, while fathers who live with their children have doubled their childcare time, they spend fewer hours with children than do mothers; meanwhile the percentage of non‑resident fathers has increased sharply since 1960, with more than a third of children now living without their dads. Still, many men today are finding purpose and meaning in a close relationship to their children.

When I talked with men who were active caregivers, they would often inveigh against those well-meaning but clumsy comments from others exclaiming over their extraordinary dedication; as Owen described them: ґWell-meaning people making comments like: Oh, gosh. Most men would have walked away.Ӕ Yadda yadda yadda. And that used to make me so mad I used to get offended by that.Œ Characterising what they do as a commendable choice is annoying because it implies that they might not have stepped up to do this refashioned masculine duty. It is precisely that it is not a choice, but instead part of their good character, their honourable soul, that makes active fatherhood an alternative heroic masculinity.

Nonetheless, most working‑class men such as Gary are trapped by a changing economy and an intransigent masculinity. Faced with changes that reduce the options for less-educated men, they have essentially three choices, none of them very likely. They can pursue more education than their family background or their school success has prepared them for. They can find a low-wage job in a high-growth sector, positions that are often considered womens work, such as a certified nursing assistant or retail cashier. Or they can take on more of the domestic labour at home, enabling their partners to take on more work to provide for the household. These are “choices” that either force them to be class pioneers or gender insurgents in their quest for a sustainable heroism; while both are laudable, we can hardly expect them of most men, and yet this is precisely the dilemma that faces men today.

What does it take to turn the anger of despairing men into violence? The grief and antagonism that erupt after every school shooting focus on either a prevailing gun culture or mental health problems, but masculinity is surely an indispensable component. Research has shown that the roots of these paroxysms of violence are in the toxic relationship between ґmasculinity threat Җ a mans individual perception that he cannot live up to the ideals of dominant masculinity - and a cultural betrayal, the sense that men are owed something they are no longer getting.

In the meantime, the code of work devotion is nothing but lucky for employers, part of the moral glue that keeps us all beholden to the job. But if theres a love affair happening with work, it is in large part unrequited. Employers have backed away from the old reciprocity norms, while affluent men labour ceaselessly to prove their mettle, and less advantaged men languish in despair. Is there any way we can respond?

It is worth pointing out that work precariousness is not inescapable; policies that encourage longer-term employment do exist in other countries (and some states). They are of three kinds. The first rewards employers who want to offer stable work, through such ideas as ґshort-time compensation, or the use of unemployment insurance to enable work-sharing instead of layoffs. The second builds stronger relationships between employers and workers, including incentives for workplace training, or an improved accountability framework holding employers responsible even for subcontracted or outsourced labour. The third makes it easier for workers to do their jobs well, such as paid parental leave or measures to improve unpredictable scheduling.

But there’s reason for skepticism about any policies that fall short of those that amplify labour’s voice, which in the US is now quite muted. Other rich countries with higher union density take steps to enable both employer flexibility and worker security, through income supports and retraining. In the US, better enforcement of labour law provisions that protect the right to organise would enable workers to slow down or impede layoffs, or to shape how they happen. A more subtle outcome would nonetheless be just as important: some scholars think that, just like the black church seems to do for black men, unions could remind more white working-class men to prize not just “hard work” but also solidarity and other values. 

While we can tackle the distribution and character of work, it is less clear whether we can dislodge its moral monopoly. Given radical economic shifts, perhaps more men will redefine the honourable, so that dominant masculinity reflects other traits and qualities, perhaps even contributions that more of them can reliably make. Still, we must not underestimate a core attribute about masculinity: it has long involved social norms that are widely understood and upheld but that only a few can actually live up to. Given that history, we cannot assume that the increased scarcity of a decent job will weaken the hold it has over honour, nor lead to masculinity’s remaking. That will require another seismic shift, this time in the cultural landscape.

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Posted by Elvis on 08/10/17 •
Section General Reading
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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A Poverty Of Understanding II

image: no money

Jenns Words
By Poor As Folk
Ferbruary 19, 2014

Today, I did something I never thought I’d do. I YELLED AT my son for being hungry. Oh sure, there are many parents nodding in agreement because they’ve done the same thing. Many have yelled at their KIDS for asking for one more snack right before dinner was served or for wanting to eat junk food out of boredom.

That’s not why I yelled. I yelled because I didn’t have extra food to give him, and I was taking my frustration out on him. He wasn’t doing anything wrong. He’s just a kid, a 7 year old who is full of energy and constantly growing. Of course hes hungry often. That’s what kids do. However, I didn’t have enough food for anyone to have extras. Everything has to be rationed out over a week or more. Food stuff needs to be stretched.

Already angry and frustrated with our situation, I lost my cool when my child asked a simple question - because I knew there was nothing I could do to change it in that moment. My anger turned to worry, another constant feeling in my daily life, as I wondered if this would create food issues in my child. Will he be afraid to eat, knowing that we might not have enough the next day?

I’m 35 years old. I am a mother and a wife. I am college educated, degreed, and I have held a professional license. I have been working since the age of 18. Until now. I live in POVERTY. I am poor. My family is poor.

When I say I am poor, I don’t mean that its going to take me two weeks to save for a new iPad or the next iWhatever. I don’t mean that I’ll need a coupon to shop at J.Crew. I mean that I have saved my kids Halloween candy for times when my blood sugar gets too low after a day of not eating because I can’t afford enough food for 3 square meals for the entire family. It means that having my heat set above 60 degrees is a luxury. It means that the needle on my gas gauge is constantly hovering at E. It means that we wear our clothes several times before laundering because we cant afford the fees to use the washing machines. It means the thrift shop is damn expensive. It means so many more things that we don’t often think about unless were living in poverty. As a culture, we are disconnected to the idea of not having access to the most basic needs. Consumerism and materialism are supposedly signs of a healthy economy and successful nation, environment be damned, and a blind eye towards those less advantaged is a requirement.

Our story of poverty doesn’t come with credit card bills, expensive cable packages, luxury toys. Its not that anyone should be judged for why they are poor, but people naturally ask, mostly out of curiosity and sometimes to find information to justify their lack of care for your position, for a way to blame you for your own situation. It makes it easier to detach. We have both been hard workers for over a decade. We have played by the rules. It still got us.

I am currently UNEMPLOYED - and that’s not for a lack of effort. My husband lost a fairly good job over a year ago and we’ve been pulled down a spiral ever since. His period of unemployment meant we burned through our savings and our emergency fund. While I am still unemployed (to be fair, I do walk dogs or babysit on occasion for some cash, but those times are few and far between), my husband is currently working three jobs. Three jobs. My husband is not college educated. He has worked on the warehouse/shipping/receiving side of retail for a very long time and is good at what he does. Hes very strong, enjoys physical labor, and is a hard worker. His three jobs are retail-based. Two of them pay exactly minimum wage. The third pays just above that. He is constantly applying for jobs on a weekly basis, as am I. With three jobs, you can imagine he works many hours. There have been weeks were he worked all three jobs back to back with maybe an hour or two in between. THANKSGIVING to the New Year were brutal. He would often work nearly 30 hours in a row, come home to sleep for a few hours, then go back for another cycle of 30 hours. I’s been brutal on his health and our family.

Will someone stop for a moment and tell me in what world is it considered moral for a person to work three jobs and still be unable to support their family. It just isn-t right.

Living in poverty is like being punched in the face over and over and over on a daily basis. It’s pulling yourself out of a hole, only to fall over a cliff. Every step in the right direction is rewarded with a hearty push several steps back. The changes to ones mental health when living in poverty can be astonishing. I suffered a miscarriage years ago and I knew anger and sadness then. I made my way through it and survived. I didn’t think I would feel such strong emotions again. I was wrong. The anger is back. Anger is for everything. I’m angry I am in this situation. I am angry I’m not good enough for proper employment. I’m angry my children are living through this. I am angry at my husband. I’m angry at Christians who preach against me, ignoring the words of Christ. I’m angry at politicians who vote against people like me. I’m angry at A SOCIETY that views me as a leech, as a welfare queen, as someone who deserves the be on the bottom of humanity’s shoe.

There is jealousy. I’ve never been a materialistic person and neither has my husband. We have never felt the need to keep up with the joneses no desire for brand name clothing, big screen TVs, or the latest electronic gadget. We’ve never had cable. I liked to shop when I genuinely needed things, but I wouldn’t overspend or buy things I couldn’t afford. I never owned a credit card. Fashion magazines were fun and Id laugh at the implication that a woman should spend $200.00 on a pair of jeans. Now, I’m jealous at anyone who can afford to buy $15.00 jeans on sale at Old Navy. Friends post their OMG! Kohl’s haul! on Facebook, posting pictures of their new boots, sweaters, jeans, yoga pants, etc. Where I would once say, “oh, those boots are cute,” I am now filled with plain old bitter envy. I wish I could just look at my boots, the ones with the rip in them, decide it was time to buy new ones, and walk out the door to buy a new pair. I wish I could say, “O Gee,” I sure am sick of wearing the same two shirts day in and day out, and go to a store a buy a few new shirts that actually fit. I can’t. I have clothes that are finally showing their age and their wear. Threads are falling lose, seams opening, little holes throughout fabric, buttons are disappearing. An acquaintance said to me recently, You actually LOOK LIKE a poor person. Gee, thanks. I didn’t know there is a certain look for poor people. My husband spent a few months with holes in his work pants. I sewed them up as best I could, but eventually the fabric would be worn down so much that there wasn’t much to sew. He took to wearing black shorts under his pants (also black) so the holes wouldn’t be a noticeable. Thankfully, he received a couple of new pairs for Christmas. He also spent months walking with holes in his shoes. His sneakers literally fell off his feet one day and he was left with boots that were no longer waterproof and had a hole or two. He’d walk to and from work in rain and snow in those boots. Forget socks. He doesn’t own a pair without holes. We were blessed by a couple of friends who chipped in to buy him and new pair of sturdy, waterproof work boots.

Jealousy isn’t limited to clothing. I’ve been JEALOUS that friends can do wild and crazy things like buy a full tank of gas, get new brakes for their cars, buy a pack of toilet paper, eat. Food is a big one. In this age of social media, one can guarantee that at least 3 ultra-filtered Instagram photos of a friends lunch will scroll on by on their computer screen each day. Back in the day, I would just note that so-and-so had a bagel for lunch and I’d go on with my day. Now, I just sit there and wish it was me. I wish I had a plate full of good food to obnoxiously photograph, but I don’t. It’s the food that really drove the issue home for me not too long ago. I had taken my children to Ikea. We werent there to buy anything. It was damn cold, we were tired of being cooped up in the house, and there weren’t many options for a free place to play. Ikea has a play zone for my older child. My daughter is more than happy to walk around the store, sitting on sofas and chairs. I love Ikea because it’s fun to imagine having different furniture and organization. While there, I bought my kids lunch. They had one of their specials going and kiddie meals were free! My kids each had a meal, which included drinks. I didn’t get anything for me. As they ate, I would pick at their plates, stealing a bite here and there. I looked at everyone eating around me and thats when the tears, which I fought very hard to hold back, started to flow. I wanted so badly to be able to order something for myself. I was starving and the little bites of steamed veggies and mac ‘n cheese weren’t very filling. I hadn’t eaten yet that day and found myself just staring at the plates of strangers, wishing I was free to get myself something to eat. I found myself glaring at people through my tears as they took plates and bowls half full of food to the trash center - what a waste of food! Never before had I been tempted to say, hey, I’ll take that, than I was on that day. My son noticed me wiping tears and asked what was wrong. I lied and told him I took a bite of his sister’s squash and it must have had some sort of spice on it and I was reacting to that. He believed me for a moment, taking a last bite of his mashed potatoes before pushing the plate over to me and telling me he was full. More tears to fight off.

That brings me to the hunger. The hunger is extraordinary. There is a constant gnawing in your stomach, an empty feeling that has taken up permanent residence. Even as you’re eating a meal, you feel the hunger. It never goes away because you don’t know when you’re going to eat again. You don’t know if your next meal will be something proper or if it’ll be half a fun-sized bag of M&Ms that you hoarded from your kids Halloween haul or nothing at all. ItҒs an ever-present gastric uncertainty. As food stamp benefits continue to be cut and food pantries struggle to feed communities, that uncertainty will just continue. I hate to think of my children feeling the same way. They get first dibs on all food that comes through this house. There are many days when my kids get their three meals and I get half of one and my husband.well, I never see him because he is working all the time, but he barely eats, too. This is obviously unhealthy. Our health has tanked over the last year. I’ve been told I constantly look tired. My eyes are more sunken, devoid of light. My skin is dry, blemished, and overall just blah. My hair is brittle and I lose a lot of it on a daily basis. I’m constantly weak. My husband is a very strong man, but he has lost an alarming amount of muscle and strength in the past year. The two of us are constantly exhausted. Part of that is the hunger, part of it is emotional.

The emotions certainly take their toll. HOPELESSNESS IS UNBEARABLE. I was once someone that my friends would always look to for a positive thought and encouraging words. I always managed to see the good in every situation. I try my best to hold onto that, but its been slipping away quickly. FEAR is constant. You’re always afraid of what’s next. I’m afraid of opening my bills to find new late fees. I’m afraid of losing utilities. I’m afraid of being evicted because we can’t afford our rent. You want to think positive, but THE IDEA OF WHAT ‘S NEXT IS ALWAYS LOOMING. Things that might seem minor to one person can spell disaster for a family in poverty. Last week, my husband told me my tail light was out. This is typically not a big deal for many people. To us, it’s terrifying. We don’t have the money for a new tail light. But, it’s illegal here to have one out. Our cops here are very good at pulling you over for broken lights, outdated stickers, etc. Obviously, its the law to keep your car in check. We know this. I’ve always been great at keeping my car well-maintained. My inspections were always done on time, lights would be replaced immediately, oil is always changed, I never drove on gas fumes at the needle hovered on E. It’s all different now. Small things are big things. Monumental things. The idea of needing a tail light, an inspection, or a new tire due to the 100Ҕs of pot holes created by tons of snow this Winter is enough to send me into a panic. Weather is terrorizing these days. Two of my husbands jobs can be called off due to snow or ice because the trucks cant get to them, so they tell staff to stay home. We’ve had storm after storm after storm this season. My husband has missed so much work, not by choice, due to snow and ice. We added it up and discovered that he missed enough to pay for nearly two months of rent. Same for me no doggies to walk in this weather because people are staying home.

Poverty is isolating. FRIENDS eventually fade away because they think you’re ignoring them when you constantly turn down their invites to dinner or events. They take it personal no matter how many times you insist its not. Your children’s social lives suffer for the same reason you can’t afford to send them to many birthday parties or playdates. Trips to zoos, museums, and other fun places with admission fees are extremely limited. People eventually tire of you being unavailable to come out for fun and they stop calling and texting. And maybe I should say those people aren’t friends in the first place, but it doesn’t take the pain away. It doesn’t make me hurt less for my children. Conversely, you have friends who know you’re in poverty and they try to brainstorm, try to help you through it. You say thank you a million times, but its not enough. After a while, trying to save you is boring and when they realize they didn’t fix you, they get annoyed. Ive been called everything by people who were supposed to be my friends. Because I can’t snap my fingers and make things work perfectly and because that fact depresses the fuck out of me, Ive been called useless, manipulative, worthless, unmotivated. No one wants to hear that you have tried all the options that they suggested and they didn’t work out. No one wants to hear that you know exactly why a suggestion wont work. They don’t understand why you cant “just move” or just “declare bankruptcy” or just swing around a pole (note: no one ever suggests that my husband sell his body for cash, but quite a few people have presented it as an option for me). This isn’t to say they are not well-meaning - and they certainly are not under appreciated by me - but they eventually get exasperated when you explain time and time again why certain suggestions don’t work. They want to fix you, fix you now, get you to shut the fuck up about being poor. It’s hard for others to deal with the overwhelming depression and HOPELESSNESS that accompanies poverty. It’s hard for them to hear that you don’t want to get up in the morning anymore, that you just want to end it all. So, it’s sometimes easier to be angry at the poor person, to convince yourself that they just don’t want to work for it, and keep your distance from them. Many friendships have been strained by poverty.

However, no one can be as hard on you as you are on yourself. I spend hours per day telling myself how much I suck. If only I had done this or done that. I know our circumstances were beyond our control. I know how hard we try every single say. But, it doesn’t stop me from doubting myself, from putting myself down. It doesn’t stop the shame. I feel like a leech. I’m told by my friendly clergymen, my wonderful politicians, and by people I know and once called friends that I am a burden on society. I’m a taker. If only I worked harder. If only I wanted to stop being poor and getting handouts, then everything would turn around and I would be rich. If only I would PRAY harder, attend the correct church, and read an ancient book that I have read cover to cover many times in the past. Then God would just bestow His blessings upon me. Or, I should really just consider putting some positive energy out into the Universe. If I meditate and tell the Universe that I want money, money will come and everything will be fixed. The constant shouts from society’s peanut gallery telling me how the poor or worthless and damned help shape my inner dialogue and I begin to agree with them. I am worthless. I deserve the shame I feel.

It’s hard to accept help when your inner dialogue tells you that you are useless. People tell me to be willing to accept help, Ill be able to pay it forward someday. Without friends and the kindness of strangers, we wouldn’t have had a Christmas for our kids. My car payment would not have been paid for a couple of months, my husband would still have holes in his boots, and my car would still be uninspected and I’d be in deep shit. And were still here, still in need.

I sit here now, writing this at my desk that is piled with overdue utility bills and a statement from my landlord telling us they are pursuing legal action against us because our rent is currently 17 days late. I have multiple windows open on my computer - several for job applications for me, several job applications for my husband to look at once hes home from work, a few for charity searches, another for PRAYER requests, and another for a site that offers emotional support and solidarity for people like me. The future is more than uncertain and it feels that the ground under me can open at any moment and swallow me whole.

And so I do pray. I do hope. I work hard to get our family out of this hell hole and so does my husband. I am grateful in ways that I cannot fully express for all the help that has come to my family in recent months from both friends and strangers. It reminds us that even though life is pure shit right now, there are bright spots. The good exists. So, we continue to focus on that. I hope to eventually write about how we struggled, survived, and came out on top. Until then, be nice to the poor folk. You can have all the assumptions in the world about how they got there, how the feel, how much they “take,” but you can never really know their true story - humans deserve compassion.

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 02/21/17 •
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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A Toxic Work World

By Anne-Marie Slaughter
NY Times
September 18, 2015

For many Americans, life has become all competition all the time. Workers across the socioeconomic spectrum, from hotel housekeepers to surgeons, have stories about toiling 12- to 16-hour days (often without overtime pay) and experiencing anxiety attacks and exhaustion. Public health experts have begun talking about stress as an epidemic.

The people who can compete and succeed in this culture are an ever-narrower slice of American society: largely young people who are healthy, and wealthy enough not to have to care for family members. An individual company can of course favor these individuals, as health insurers once did, and then pass them off to other businesses when they become parents or need to tend to their own parents. But this model of winning at all costs reinforces a distinctive American pathology of not making room for caregiving. The result: We hemorrhage talent and hollow out our society.

To begin with, we are losing women. America has unlocked the talent of its women in a way that few nations can match; girls are outpacing boys in high schools, universities and graduate schools and are now entering the work force at higher salaries. But the ranks of those women still thin significantly as they rise toward the top, from more than 50 percent at entry level to 10 to 20 percent in senior management. Far too many discover that what was once a manageable and enjoyable work-family balance can no longer be sustained regardless of ambition, confidence or even a partner who shares tasks equally.

Every family’s situation is different; some women may be able to handle with ease conditions that dont work for others. But many women who started out with all the ambition in the world find themselves in a place they never expected to be. They do not choose to leave their jobs; they are shut out by the refusal of their bosses to make it possible for them to fit their family life and their work life together. In her book “Opting Out? Why Women Really Quit Careers and Head Home,” the sociologist Pamela Stone calls this a “forced choice.” “Denial of requests to work part time, layoffs or relocations,” she writes, “will push even the most ambitious woman out of the work force.”

A young lawyer I know from Virginia was offered a general counsel position, which she determined she could take but only if she could work from home one day a week to be with her two children. Her employer refused. Still another woman wrote to me about her aspiration to an executive-level position and the predicament of doing so with a 2-year-old at home: The dilemma is in no way the result of having a toddler: After all, executive men seem to enjoy increased promotions with every additional offspring. It is the way work continues to be circumscribed as something that happens in an office, and/or between 8-6 that causes such conflict. “I haven"t yet been presented with a shred of reasonable justification for insisting my job requires me to be sitting in this fixed, 15 sq foot room, 20 miles from my home.”

The problem is even more acute for the 42 million women in America on the brink of poverty. Not showing up for work because a child has an ear infection, schools close for a snow day, or an elderly parent must go to the doctor puts their jobs at risk, and losing their jobs means that they can no longer care properly for their children - some 28 million and other relatives who depend on them. They are often suffering not only from too little flexibility but also too much, as many low-wage service jobs no longer have a guaranteed number of hours a week.

This looks like a “womens problem,” but its not. It’s a work problem the problem of an antiquated and broken system. When law firms and corporations lose talented women who reject lock-step career paths and question promotion systems that elevate quantity of hours worked over quality of the work itself, the problem is not with the women. When an abundance of overly rigid workplaces causes 42 million American citizens to live day to day in fear that just one single setback will prevent them from being able to care for their children, it’s not their problem, but ours.

The problem is with the workplace, or more precisely, with a workplace designed for the “Mad Men” era, for “Leave It to Beaver” families in which one partner does all the work of earning an income and the other partner does all the work of turning that income into care the care that is indispensable for our children, our sick and disabled, our elderly. Our families and our responsibilities don’t look like that anymore, but our workplaces do not fit the realities of our lives.

Irene Padavic, a Florida State sociologist, Robin J. Ely, a Harvard Business School professor, and Erin Reid from Boston Universitys Questrom School of Business were asked to conduct a detailed study of a midsize global consulting firm where top management thought they had a ғgender problem. The firm had a paucity of women at the highest levels ԗ just 10 percent of partners were women, compared with nearly 40 percent of junior associates.

After careful study, Professors Padavic, Ely and Reid found that an equal number of men and women had left the firm in the preceding three years, a simple fact that contradicted managements women, work and family story. Some of the men also left because of the long hours; others ғsuffered in silence or otherwise made do. The firmԒs key human resources problem was not gender, as management believed, but rather a culture of overwork.

The firms leadership resisted these findings. They didnҒt want to be told that they needed to overhaul their entire organizational philosophy or that they were overpromising to clients and overdelivering (for example, making hundred-slide PowerPoint presentations that the client couldnt even use). They wanted to be told that the firmҒs problem was work-family conflict for women, a narrative that would allow them to adopt a set of policies specifically aimed at helping women work part time, or be mentored, or join support networks. As Professors Padavic, Ely and Reid wryly concluded, their attitude required a rejection of evidence on the part of evidence-driven analysts.Ӕ

Bad work culture is everyones problem, for men just as much as for women. ItҒs a problem for working parents, not just working mothers. For working children who need time to take care of their own parents, not just working daughters. For anyone who does not have the luxury of a full-time lead parent or caregiver at home.

But theres good news. Men are also beginning to ask for and take paternity leave and to take lead parent roles. According to a continuing study by the Families and Work Institute, only a third of employed millennial men think that couples should take on traditional gender roles. Some tech companies warring for talent are also beginning to compete by offering longer paternity leaves, which will hardly affect the average American workplace, but is a sign of changing cultural attitudes.

EVEN if men and women join forces to demand changes in the workplace, though, we cannot do this alone, as individuals trying to make our lives work and as workers and bosses trying to make room for care. Some other company can always keep prices down by demanding more, burning out its employees and casting them aside when they are done. To be fully competitive as a country, we are going to have to emulate other industrialized countries and build an infrastructure of care. We used to have one; it was called women at home. But with 57 percent of those women in the labor force, that infrastructure has crumbled and itҒs not coming back.

To support care just as we support competition, we will need some combination of the following: high-quality and affordable child care and elder care; paid family and medical leave for women and men; a right to request part-time or flexible work; investment in early education comparable to our investment in elementary and secondary education; comprehensive job protection for pregnant workers; higher wages and training for paid caregivers; community support structures to allow elders to live at home longer; and reform of elementary and secondary school schedules to meet the needs of a digital rather than an agricultural economy.

These proposals are not so far-fetched as they may seem. President Obama put forward proposals to expand access to affordable, high-quality child care in his 2016 budget. Hillary Rodham Clinton has made providing a foundation for working families, including child care, one of the central aspects of her campaign. One of the few states that offers paid family leave (workers pay the cost out of a small increase in their payroll tax) is New Jersey, under the Republican governor Chris Christie.

Republican senators have sponsored a bill that would allow employers to offer employees paid leave hours instead of overtime pay; some polls show that a majority of women who vote Republican support paid family leave. Senator Kelly Ayotte, Republican of New Hampshire, is co-leader of a bipartisan caucus across both the Senate and the House devoted to assisting family caregivers. She follows in the footsteps of former Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Republican of Texas, who successfully sponsored legislation to allow homemakers to contribute to retirement accounts the same way that salaried workers can. And as the baby boom becomes an elder boom, we can expect a whole new constituency for care, on both sides of the aisle.

Change in our individual workplaces and in our broader politics also depends on culture change: fundamental shifts in the way we think, talk and confer prestige. If we really valued care, we would not regard time out for caregiving for your children, parents, spouse, sibling or any other member of your extended or constructed family - as a black hole on a resume. We would see it as engaging in a socially, personally and professionally valuable activity. We would see men who lean out for care as role models just as much as women who lean in for work. We would think managing kids matters as much as managing money.

Impossible, right? Yet I grew up in a society where my mother set out little vases of cigarettes on the table at dinner parties, where blacks and whites had to use different bathrooms, and in which almost everyone claimed to be heterosexual. That seems a lifetime ago, but I驒m not so old. Our world has changed over the past 50 years, vastly for the better from the point of view of African-Americans, the L.G.B.T. community and families who lost loved ones to lung cancer. Given the magnitude of that change, think about how much we can still do.

We can, all of us, stand up for care. Until we do, men and women will never be equal; not while both are responsible for providing cash but only women are responsible for providing care. And though individual Americans might win out in our current system, America as a whole will never be as competitive as it ought to be. If we do not act, over time our families and communities, the foundation of our flourishing, will wither.

The womens movement has brought many of us the right to compete on equal terms; it’s time for all of us to claim an equal right to care.

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Posted by Elvis on 09/20/16 •
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Sunday, August 28, 2016

Cant Find A Qualified US Worker Redux 6

image: habib

Displaced American STEM workers spur Senate hearing

By Beryl Lieff Benderly
Science Magazine
March 3, 2016

The plight of the shrinking middle class has been a resonant theme in the 2016 presidential campaign. The issue of job loss for American science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workers has now also entered the enduring national debate over high-skill guest workers, as illustrated last week at a HEARING of the Senate Judiciary Committees Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest.

At the hearing, titled “The Impact of High-Skilled Immigration on U.S. Workers,” subcommittee chair Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) kept the discussion focused on the MOVES by a number of U.S. companies to replace long-serving American workers with workers on H-1B skilled guest worker visas and to force the laid-off Americans to TRAIN THEIR REPLACEMENTS. As Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) explained, Congress intended the H-1B program to allow an employer to hire a skilled foreign worker in a specialized occupation when the employer could not find an American worker with needed skills and abilities, and for many years the debate has focused on employers claims of a STEM skills shortage. But, Sessions said, “the sad reality is that not only is there not a shortage of exceptionally qualified U.S. workers, but across the country thousands of U.S. workers are being replaced by foreign labor.” As H-1B expert Ron Hira of Howard University in Washington, D.C., testified, ԓover the past year, in addition to the Southern California Edison case, a number of other casesincluding Disney, Northeast Utilities, the Fossil Group, Catalina Marketing, New York Life, Hertz, Toys R Us, and I could keep going onחwere highlighted by the press. But these were only the proverbial tip of the iceberg. There are many more cases out there. Testimony by labor force expert Hal Salzman of Rutgers University, New Brunswick, in New Jersey added that “all evidence and events suggest [that] the substitution of guest workers for U.S. workers is accelerating.”

Testimony by economist Chad Sparber of Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, who co-authored a report published by the Partnership for a New American Economy, a group whose co-chairs include Disney CEO and President Bob Iger and former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, presented a contrary view. “Immigrants and native-born Americans do not directly compete with each other for jobs in the same way that a lot of people might imagine, and when foreign-born STEM workers enter the U.S. labor force, it creates an opportunity for native-born Americans to respond by doing other types of work, including managerial occupations, that often, though not always, pay higher wages,” he stated. Sessions noted, however, that people who come to the United States to take a specific job under a time-limited guest worker visa are not immigrants.

The hearings emotional high point came in the testimony of Leo Perrero, an information technology (IT) worker with 20 years of experience, more than 10 of them at Disney. In a voice choked with emotion, he told of being invited to a meeting with a company executive in 2014. Because of his previous excellent evaluations, Perrero said, he went in expecting a bonus or promotion. Instead, he abruptly learned that his job would end in 90 days and that, to receive severance pay, he would have to spend his remaining time with the company training his replacement. “[M]y team, along with hundreds of others, were displaced by a less-skilled foreign work force imported into our country using the H-1B visa program,” Perrero said. “The former Disney employees, with far superior skills and knowledge, were the trainers, and the guest workers just entering the technology field were the trainees. During the months of training,” he said, he and his colleagues “all felt extremely humiliated.” Sessions asked Perrero whether he or any of his laid-off colleagues had found higher paying work, managerial or otherwise; Perrero responded that none had.

“What happened at Disney is not an accident; it was clear statutory design,” testified attorney and former computer programmer John Miano, co-author of a recent book about the H-1B visa. “In 1998, Congress made it explicitly legal to replace Americans with H-1B workers,” he said. “Then, in 2004, Congress changed the H-1B prevailing wage system to allow employers to pay these workers extremely low wages.” Normally, the prevailing wage is the median wage, the 50th percentile, but for the H-1B program, the normal prevailing wage is the 17th percentile. In normal-wage areas, this creates a wage differential with domestic workers of about $20,000 per worker, and in high-wage areas like Silicon Valley, it creates a differential of about $40,000, with predictable result[s], he said. The law, he added, is needlessly complicated and this complexity seriously hinders enforcement.

When 10 senators sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Labor in 2015 wanting to know if Southern California Edisons replacement of American workers with H-1B workers who were $40,000 a year cheaper was legal, the department responded that it could not investigate because it had received no complaints from workers, Hira said. The reason for that lack, he continued, was company gag orders that workers are forced to accept, which prevent them from speaking about their experience. These gag orders, Durbin said, are ғhurting us dramatically in gaining information about the situation. (Perrero stated he could testify because he had abandoned his career in the IT industry.) Nonetheless, ԓin the face of the intimidation from gag orders and the threat of being blackballed from the industry, some brave workers stepped forward to file complaints, and the Department began investigating, Hira continued. Ultimately, the ԓlabor department affirmed [that] American workers can legally be replaced by Ņ H-1B worker[s], who ԓcan legally be paid much less than American workers, he said.

Although employers often claim in public statements that shortages of domestic talent prevent them from finding workers, they tell a different story in filings to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Salzman noted. ԓAccenture states that restrictions on guest worker supply would result in new or higher minimum salary requirements and increased costs.ђ Another firm says they would have to replace existing offshore resources with local resources, namely U.S. workers, at higher wages.ђ That is, without the congressional discount for guest workers, the highly profitable IT industry would have to hire more U.S. workers and pay them more than guest workers.

In practice, Salzman said, the ԓprimary function of the H-1Bԗas well as other temporary worker programs including L visas and the Optional Practical Training programדis to support offshoring low-cost labor. He questioned the premise that ԓsearching the globe for the best talent leads to finding only one specific demographic group of very young workersԗprimarily recent graduates from India. The claims of a worker shortage come from an industry that keeps average wages at levels from the last century, fires more people in a year than H-1B guest workers it hires, Ӆ is allowed to discriminate in hiring at levels unprecedented in half a century [, and is] one of the most profitable industries on the planet, he continued. ԓMeanwhile, the tech industry spends $15 million a month in Washington. Perhaps this is the level of lobbying necessary to drive the wedge separating policy from evidence.

“The fight for changes in the laws that serve the interests of American people has begun in the Senate,” Sessions said. “A number of senators have introduced bills S.2266, S.2394, and S.2365, which would protect American workers’ jobs against replacement by workers on visa,” he added. Whether any will become law, however, remains to be seen.

SOURCE

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Monday, July 04, 2016

Demonizing The Poor 2

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It Is Expensive to Be Poor
Minimum-wage jobs are physically demanding, have unpredictable schedules, and pay so meagerly that workers can’t save up enough to move on.

By Barbara Ehrenreich
The Atlantic
Jan 13, 2014

Fifty years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson made a move that was unprecedented at the time and remains unmatched by succeeding administrations. He announced a War on Poverty, saying that its “chief weapons” would be “better schools, and better health, and better homes, and better training, and better job opportunities.”

So starting in 1964 and for almost a decade, the federal government poured at least some of its resources in the direction they should have been going all along: toward those who were most in need. Longstanding programs like Head Start, Legal Services, and the Job Corps were created. Medicaid was established. Poverty among seniors was significantly reduced by improvements in Social Security.

Johnson seemed to have established the principle that it is the responsibility of government to intervene on behalf of the disadvantaged and deprived. But there was never enough money for the fight against poverty, and Johnson found himself increasingly distracted by another and deadlier war - the one in Vietnam. Although underfunded, the War on Poverty still managed to provoke an intense backlash from conservative intellectuals and politicians.

In their view, government programs could do nothing to help the poor because poverty arises from the twisted psychology of the poor themselves. By the Reagan era, it had become a cornerstone of conservative ideology that poverty is caused not by low wages or a lack of jobs and education, but by the bad attitudes and faulty lifestyles of the poor.

Picking up on this theory, pundits and politicians have bemoaned the character failings and bad habits of the poor for at least the past 50 years. In their view, the poor are shiftless, irresponsible, and prone to addiction. They have too many children and fail to get married. So if they suffer from grievous material deprivation, if they run out of money between paychecks, if they do not always have food on their tables - then they have no one to blame but themselves.

In the 1990s, with a bipartisan attack on welfare, this kind of prejudice against the poor took a drastically misogynistic turn. Poor single mothers were identified as a key link in what was called the “cycle of poverty.” By staying at home and collecting welfare, they set a toxic example for their children, whoimportant policymakers came to believe - would be better off being cared for by paid child care workers or even, as Newt Gingrich proposed, in orphanages.

“Welfare reform” was the answer, and it was intended not only to end financial support for imperiled families, but also to cure the self-induced culture of poverty that was supposedly at the root of their misery. The original welfare reform billa bill, it should be recalled, which was signed by President Bill Clinton - included an allocation of $100 million for “chastity training” for low-income women.

The Great Recession should have put the victim-blaming theory of poverty to rest. In the space of only a few months, millions of people entered the ranks of the officially poor - not only laid-off blue-collar workers, but also downsized tech workers, managers, lawyers, and other once-comfortable professionals. No one could accuse these “nouveau poor” Americans of having made bad choices or bad lifestyle decisions. They were educated, hardworking, and ambitious, and now they were also poor - applying for food stamps, showing up in shelters, lining up for entry-level jobs in retail. This would have been the moment for the pundits to finally admit the truth: Poverty is not a character failing or a lack of motivation. Poverty is a shortage of money.

For most women in poverty, in both good times and bad, the shortage of money arises largely from inadequate wages. When I worked on my book, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, I took jobs as a waitress, nursing-home aide, hotel housekeeper, Wal-Mart associate, and a maid with a house-cleaning service. I did not choose these jobs because they were low-paying. I chose them because these are the entry-level jobs most readily available to women.

What I discovered is that in many ways, these jobs are a trap: They pay so little that you cannot accumulate even a couple of hundred dollars to help you make the transition to a better-paying job. They often give you no control over your work schedule, making it impossible to arrange for child care or take a second job. And in many of these jobs, even young women soon begin to experience the physical deterioration - especially knee and back problems - that can bring a painful end to their work life.

I was also dismayed to find that in some ways, it is actually more expensive to be poor than not poor. If you cant afford the first month’s rent and security deposit you need in order to rent an apartment, you may get stuck in an overpriced residential motel. If you don’t have a kitchen or even a refrigerator and microwave, you will find yourself falling back on convenience store food, which - in addition to its nutritional deficits - is also alarmingly overpriced. If you need a loan, as most poor people eventually do, you will end up paying an interest rate many times more than what a more affluent borrower would be charged. To be poor - especially with children to support and care for - is a perpetual high-wire act.

Most private-sector employers offer no sick days, and many will fire a person who misses a day of work, even to stay home with a sick child. A nonfunctioning car can also mean lost pay and sudden expenses. A broken headlight invites a ticket, plus a fine greater than the cost of a new headlight, and possible court costs. If a creditor decides to get nasty, a court summons may be issued, often leading to an arrest warrant. No amount of training in financial literacy can prepare someone for such exigencies - or make up for an income that is impossibly low to start with. Instead of treating low-wage mothers as the struggling heroines they are, our political culture still TENDS TO VIEW THEM as miscreants and contributors to the “cycle of poverty.”

If anything, the criminalization of poverty has accelerated since the recession, with growing numbers of states drug testing applicants for temporary assistance, imposing steep fines for school truancy, and imprisoning people for debt. Such measures constitute a cruel inversion of the Johnson-era principle that it is the responsibility of government to extend a helping hand to the poor. Sadly, this has become the means by which the wealthiest country in the world manages to remain complacent in the face of alarmingly high levels of poverty: by continuing to blame poverty not on the economy or inadequate social supports, but on the poor themselves.

Its time to revive the notion of a collective national RESPONSIBILITY to the poorest among us, who are disproportionately women and especially women of color. Until that happens, we need to wake up to the fact that the underpaid women who clean our homes and offices, prepare and serve our meals, and care for our elderly - earning wages that do not provide enough to live on - are the true philanthropists of our society.

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Posted by Elvis on 07/04/16 •
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