Article 43

 

General Reading

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.

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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

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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.

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Posted by Elvis on 08/28/16 •
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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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Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Despair Deaths

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Middle-Aged White Americans Are Dying of Despair

By Olga Khazan
The Atlantic
November 4, 2015

Even as longevity increases across the rich world, uneducated white Americans are living sicker and dying earlier. Two economists speculate on the reasons why.

Since 1998, people all over the world have been living healthier and living longer. But middle-aged, white non-Hispanics in the United States have been getting sicker and dying in greater numbers. The trend is being driven primarily by people with a high-school degree or less.

That’s the sobering takeaway from a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published this week.

Even as longevity increases across the rich world, uneducated white Americans are living sicker and dying earlier. Two economists speculate on the reasons why.

The study authors sum it up:

Between 1978 to 1998, the mortality rate for U.S. whites aged 45 to 54 fell by 2 percent per year on average, which matched the average rate of decline in the six countries shown, and the average over all other industrialized countries. After 1998, other rich countries mortality rates continued to decline by 2 percent a year. In contrast, U.S. white non-Hispanic mortality rose by half a percent a year. No other rich country saw a similar turnaround.

That means “half a million people are dead who should not be dead,” Angus Deaton, the 2015 Nobel laureate in economics and co-author of the paper, TOLD The Washington Post. “About 40 times the Ebola stats. Youre getting up there with HIV-AIDS.”

The reasons for the increased death rate are not the usual things that kill Americans, like diabetes and heart disease. Rather, its suicide, alcohol and drug poisonings, and alcohol-related liver disease.

The least-educated are worst off: All-cause mortality among middle-aged Americans with a high-school degree or less increased by 134 deaths per 100,000 people between 1999 and 2013, but there was little change in mortality for people with some college. The death rate for the college-educated fell slightly.

White Americans in this age category are also experiencing worse self-reported health, the authors write, and one in three say they experience chronic joint pain.

The PNAS analysis represents a confluence of several public-health disasters that have slammed white Baby Boomers in recent years.

Deaths from drug overdoses among people aged 45 through 64 INCREASED 11-FOLD between 1990 and 2010, and nearly 90 PERCENT of people who try heroin for the first time these days are white. (Most FOUND HEROIN through prescription painkillers, which treat the chronic pain this age group struggles with, but can also make it worse.)

In January, a CDC VITAL SIGN REPORT FOUND that alcohol poisoning kills more than 2,200 Americans a year, three-quarters of them adults aged 35 to 64. A 2012 HEALTH AFFAIRS STUDY found that life expectancy for white, female high-school dropouts has fallen so much over the past 18 years that these women are now expected to die five years younger than their mothers did.

Obviously, no one can be blamed for his own addiction or depression. But the causes of death this study highlights are the kinds of things - drinking, doping, suicide - that people who feel good about their lives don’t tend to do.

So, WHAT’S EATING ess-educated Boomers?

One persuasive explanation, and one the researchers put forth, is financial strain. Jobs in fields like manufacturing and construction, which were historically filled by people without college degrees, have been evaporating quickly over the past 15 years. As I’ve written previously, less-educated people are more likely to be unemployed and to make less, so they struggle to afford things like therapy, GYM MEMBERSHIPS, and recreation that isn’t drugs. Without jobs, they may lack the social networks and sense of purpose that have shown to reduce mortality.

Nearly half of Americans in their 40s and 50s don’t have enough money saved for retirement to live as they’re accustomed to, even if they work until they’re 65. All of this is crashing down on Boomers, who were raised on the promise of the American Dream.

As Deaton and his co-author, his wife and fellow Princeton economist Anne Case, put it, After the productivity slowdown in the early 1970s, and with widening income inequality, many of the baby-boom generation are the first to find, in midlife, that they will not be better off than were their parents.

Deaton and Case note that middle-aged people in other countries also faced dire financial straits, especially during the 2009 recession. Yet they’re not dying like American 50-somethings are. One difference is that in those countries, comfortable pensions for retirees are guaranteed, so the prospect of an impoverished retirement might not loom as large in Europe as it does here.

“The U.S. has moved primarily to defined-contribution pension plans with associated stock market risk, whereas, in Europe, defined-benefit pensions are still the norm,” Deaton and Case write. “Future financial insecurity may weigh more heavily on U.S. workers.”

Tragically, that weight seems to be crushing these Americans before they can even retire.

SOURCE

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Why Are So Many Middle-Aged White Americans Dying?
A new report offers one explanation as to why the mortality rate for uneducated white Americans has risen - even as people elsewhere are living longer and healthier.

By Olga Khazan
The Atlantic
January 29, 2016

Late last year, A STUDY in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that middle-aged, white Americans have been getting sicker and dying in greater numbers, even as the rest of the world is living longer and healthier.
The authors of that study attributed the trend to what we called DESPAIR DEATHS: mainly SUICIDES, drug overdoses, and alcohol-related liver disease.

Now, a new analysis from the Commonwealth Fund suggests there’s more to the story. The report, by David Squires and David Blumenthal, notes that between 1999 and 2014, mortality rates in the U.S. rose for white Americans aged 22 and 56. Before that, death rates had been falling by nearly 2 percent each year since 1968. Squires and Blumenthal call the difference between the those two mortality trend lines - the expected, declining one and the actual, rising onethe “mortality gap.”

In 2014, they write, the mortality gap was so big that it accounted for an extra 100 dead, middle-aged white people for every 100,000.

By digging through CDC data, they saw that the reason death rates failed to decline as expected was not entirely due to suicide and substance abuse. Although those factors explained about 40 percent of the gap, the rest was attributable to the leading causes of death - things like heart disease, diabetes, and respiratory disease. Though there are still fewer people dying from those diseases than there were in the 1960s, according to this analysis, the rate of decline has slowed.

That means not only are middle-aged white people drinking more, using more opioids, and killing themselves at higher rates, more of them are getting sick with the diseases that usually kill older people. And when they do get sick, they dont get better.

This trend was especially concentrated in the South, they found. In seven southern states - West Virginia, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, and Arkansas - the gap between actual and expected mortality in 2014 exceeded 200 deaths per 100,000 people. In West Virginia, mortality rates were higher than at any time since 1980, they write. The report was not published in a peer-reviewed journal, and its raw data was not made available.

It’s worth noting that, because of historic racial injustice, health outcomes for African Americans still lag behind those of white Americans in many areas. African Americans die an average of four years younger than white Americans do, for example. However, the mortality rate for African Americans is declining, and that of white Americans is increasing a historically anomalous trend.

Squires and Blumenthal think the worsening economic standing of uneducated, middle-aged whites might have played a role.

“On a range of social and economic indicators, middle-aged whites have been falling behind in the 21st century,” they write. “They have lower incomes, fewer are employed, and fewer are married.”

This does not mean whites are worse off than minorities, they note. But it could mean that they are the canaries of a coal mine of broader societal problems that have deleterious health effects, such as “less-educated workers increasing disengagement from the mainstream economy; declining levels of social connectedness; weakened communal institutions; and the splintering of society along class, geographic, and cultural lines,” they write.

The findings are also concerning BECAUSE FOUR of the seven worst-off states the researchers highlighted have opted not to expand Medicaid as part of Obamacare. And although health insurance alone likely won’t be enough to turn the tide of premature deaths, it’s certainly one of the few immediate interventions that could help.

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Posted by Elvis on 04/05/16 •
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