Wednesday, November 20, 2013

If They Would Rather Die, They Had Better Do It

And decrease the surplus population.

The story of Ms. Barrington-Ward was sad and infuriating and horribly familiar.

Debbie New York, NY
I work my butt off for 65%-75% less than what I formerly earned, have moved 4 times in the last 2 years, and had to declare bankruptcy myself. It is so really depressing. I haven't had my own place to live in 4 years, I am approaching 60, and what else can I do but put one foot in front of the other? But lately, as another cold dark winter approaches, I feel utter despair. And i live in NY, where at least there are many of these retail jobs. Not that you can live on the salary here. That's the cruel irony. I tried the Southwest for a year, but there are no jobs either, or few. My whole life is in storage, and I fear letting go of all of it will strip me of a good part of my identity. I don't know who I am anymore, all my friends are married and settled, and this feels like a nightmare from which I cannot wake up. Yeah yeah, I've tried looking on the bright side for 4 years, but it doesn't change the facts.

JKilcrease San Francisco
I am fourteen years into a good job, making a solid salary in a very stable company... yet still a sense of unease reading this article. Close friends have spent years in intermittent employment after loosing jobs held for decades. How many of us are feeling uncomfortably attuned to the temporary nature of seemingly sound employment?

Businesses suddenly reorganize, shedding older and higher paid workers. These were "higher" paid staff, not highly paid. The difference is one of 25-30K for new hires versus 45-50K after twenty-four years of unbroken service.

Julie SCT
This article would have been more useful if the reporter had contacted some companies and asked, point blank, why they don't want to hire someone who's been unemployed for six months. Skills don't erode that quickly. In a poor economy where so many are out of work, why is unemployment such a stigma?

DeeMontclair, NJ
I too, am living the dream. I found myself unemployed after more than thirty years of hard work. After years of paying into insurance I was forced to choose between eating and paying COBRA. A few months later, I fell and the medical bills wiped me out. It is very dispiriting to find that you can work your whole life and be wiped out by a fall. This is happening all over the country. We are becoming a country of haves and have nots. This is why the tea party has grown, people in the middle are afraid and have adapted a hoarding mentality.

After a disaster there is always the follow up feel good reporting of how people pulled together. Think Sandy or 9/11. Yet we are in the middle of a catastrophe and we are not pulling together. Corporations are taking advantage of these depressing economic times, to boost profits. The frightened middle class is being fueled by wealthy businessmen like the Koch brothers, who want to defeat government regulation and scare people. They are succeeding.

Tom Hughes  Bayonne, NJ
I don't know if there has ever been as broad and deep a disconnect between employers and people who desperately want and need to work. Perhaps that desperation shows through in the very few long-term unemployed who are actually able against all odds to secure the rare opportunity for an interview. Being unemployed is not simply one of the obstacles to gaining meaningful employment, it has been the primary barrier for more than half a decade. And there is no "cure" for it. Human resources managers have become inured to the struggle faced every hour of every day of the "unemployable" unemployed. That insensitivity, though, not only permeates the desperate situation faced by the jobless.

csprof Westchester County, NY
This has been brewing for a while. When the dot-com bubble burst in 2000, many of my IT friends were laid off, and never got back into the industry again. Some took early retirement, some tried for years to get back in, burning through their retirement savings before giving up. One became a vet tech, another started a business selling classified ads until that industry collapsed. None of them made nearly as much money as before, and none of them have been able to rebuild their savings. I keep reading that there is a mismatch because not enough people know how to program or do IT work - so how come none of my friends could ever get rehired? They DID have the skills

Donald Surr Pennsylvania
Note Ms. Barrington-Ward's age! Let's be honest. HR people also have been given the word not to hire anyone over 50, because their health insurance rates are too high. That word came down from the bean counters at the top.

pdxtran Minneapolis, MN
As a proverbial unemployed Ph. D., I worked for temp agencies for three years during the Reagan Recession, when the official unemployment rate in the Twin Cities was 11%.

I was registered with four different agencies, each of which I phoned daily starting at 7:00AM.

During that time, I worked an average of three days a week, not enough to allow me to move out of m parents' house.

Fortunately, college teaching jobs eventually opened up, and I was able to find a full-time job in another state. But I know that even the temporary agencies can be overwhelmed with job seekers. 

Vicky CA
My husband is 53 and for most of his life made over 100K per year and now has been unemployed for over 4 years. The interviews for anything are rare and he never gets a call back. He is so depressed and discouraged that I'm afraid for him and our family. All of my friend's husbands are unemployed and committing suicide. I'm not kidding. Two funerals within the last year. If you are male and over 50 you are either employed in a good job or on the bread line. My son who is 20 cannot find work either. All positions he applies for are taken my older workers who in a better economy would never be in those jobs. I am the only worker in the family and pray that I'll keep my lousy job. Retirement? It will never happen for me. Vacations? We haven't been on one in 10 years. Spending? I am lucky if we have extra to replace old underwear. We watched Cinderella Man the other evening and our situation is becoming like those people's in the 1930's depression. Not enough money to always keep the lights on or enough money for food. Who is saying our current economy is in better shape? The Great Recession is not over for our family by any means.
NoName NYC
It is just a horrible and demoralizing experience. I had a good job doing audit and compliance for a major bank. I had the bad fortune of being laid off at the age of 57, in 2008, during the downturn (our entire division was laid off). Employment has been scarce since then. Older workers do not get offers of meaningful work, if they get any at all. I was looking at homelessness for a while; pretty terrifying after 35 years of being a wage earner and productive member of society. It doesn't matter how good your resume is, how well you tailor it to the job, paring off experience so as not to appear "overqualified", recommendations on LinkedIn-none of it matters after you reach a certain age. There doesn't seem to be an interest in changing this situation. I don't envy younger workers either, who are being encouraged to integrate their live/work experience. You can train for years in a profession and have it be replaced by a robot, or a human in Bangladesh. Live for your job, work 80 hours a week, neglect your family (if you have time to even have one) then your company gets downsized and you are cast aside like an empty husk. The employment climate in this country is way out of balance and I don't know what the answer is.
And finally, in direct response to the Anonymous commenter in the previous post who was contemplating ending his or her life, please do not do so. Please do not do something that you can never undo. Please read this and reach out to someone. Anyone.
Jen D  New Jersey 
"The long-term jobless, after all, tend to be in poorer health, and to have higher rates of suicide...." How well I know this. I have written before about my brother who committed suicide in July 2012 at the age of 60. He was laid off early on in the Great Recession and thought his IT skills would be valued by employers. No. He sent out hundreds of resumes, had few interviews and no job offers. All employers saw was an older guy who had been out of work a while. When he died, he had an old car to his name and over $30,000 in debt that he had no way to pay. He had even tried to start a business, but with no marketing background, it failed miserably.

I think of my brother every single day. I still startle myself when I think I need to email him an interesting story and then I realize all over again that he is gone. If anyone who is reading this is feeling desperate, please think of the devastation your loved ones will feel. Please open up and talk to someone. My brother didn't say a word and left no suicide note; the questions and "what ifs" will haunt his loved ones forever.


Paul said...

Thanks for this roundup. Leaves a major pit in my stomach. I'm 44-year-old graphic designer. I have many technical skills, and lots of experience in communications. But I realize how tenuous my grip on middle-class status is.

The people commenting, according to the right, are "moochers" or "lazy." Amazing how a political movement (and corporate Wall Street culture) managed to wipe out empathy in a large swath of our society. People are just numbers, and they don't raise the stock price of a company. All messaging about this pain and suffering is done at the macro level, and we lose more empathy.

Dog eat dog: That's what the "greed is good" culture taught us. But there are some workers daring corporate America to take the work elsewhere. You might have noticed a story out of Washington state about Boeing machinists turning down a crappy contract offer. Boeing is trying to gets its massive tax breaks from the state AND undercut the workers, too. Boils down to this: Human capital and institutional knowledge basically have no value to corporations.

Sadly, if you look at Boeing's experience with the Dreamliner production you'll see that all of those planes had to come back to the Northwest for fixes. Because the smart workers, the good workers are here. And because human capital and institutional knowledge matter.

The individual stories you highlight here show that: On a personal, institutional and national scale.

Dennky Smith said...

I narrowly dodged this bullet and made it to "retirement." I know many who didn't, and won't. Upon leaving my last job, I was told, "This is a business, not an orphanage."
The 1st commenter has it exactly right--this is the new reality. What have we done?

Lumpy Lang said...

Capitalism long since forfeited its right to exist in any moral sense.

For a while the presence of a 'communist bloc' imposed a certain rationality on the bourgeoisie in the West. For a few decades, some sense of self-preservation compelled them to tolerate significant concessions to the working class in the form of wages, pensions, reasonable expectations of long-term employment etc.

In the decades since the USSR's demise, the bourgeoisie everywhere has returned to a 19th century 'smash and grab' mentality... with the difference that the industrial and commercial possibilities of a century ago have largely been tapped out.

Capitalism's senile dementia comes with costs in human suffering that will make the savagery of its robust childhood seem mild in comparison. This system can't be fixed, it must be gotten rid of.

Len Boatman said...

Being is Dead. Only Doing matters. There is no "station in life" in the U.S., just keeping up or falling by the wayside. The Hunger Games is not a metaphor.

steeve said...

Capitalism didn't fail. Republicans failed. People pretend that our issues are somehow deeper and more complex than simply getting rid of republicans, but they aren't. Never vote for any republican, anywhere, ever again, and the supposed "new normal" will be discovered to not be so normal after all.

Don P said...

Over the summer, I saw a brief video clip of a John McCain town hall. McCain was consoling a 50ish woman who had lost her job, and had fallen in financial distress because of medical issues. She was reduced to standing there apologizing for looking ahead to Obama care, and whimpering "I'm not a moocher, I'm not a moocher".

McCain did the human thing, and consoling her with "You're not a moocher, you're not". But all I could think of was what assholes these Republicans are. That they drive people like that to this point.

(Unfortunately the google has failed me and I can't find the clip)

Cliff said...

For a while the presence of a 'communist bloc' imposed a certain rationality on the bourgeoisie in the West.

Was that it, or was it the hangover from the first Gilded Age that prompted the populace to push for massive social reforms?
Not to mention that the USSR wasn't so hot on the exploitation front either - Africa and the Middle East will bear the marks of the Cold War for a long time.

Capitalism didn't fail. Republicans failed.

Democrats get a hell of a lot of money from the financial sector too. They're tied into the system, they vote to support it at the cost of their constituents - they don't get exempted from this.

So I think it's safe to say that capitalism's got some major fucking flaws. Forgive me if I don't light off a firework every time the DOW hits a new peak.

steeve said...

No, the oligarchy has some major fucking flaws. The oligarchy legislates away the competition and informed consumers that defines capitalism.

When the republicans are gone, of course we'll still have imperfection. But it won't be soul-crushing and world-destroying anymore.

Anonymous said...

@Don P - and the thing of it is that's she's NOT a "moocher" whatever the fck that is. We all pay taxes on pretty much everything we make or buy or consume and all these taxes go into a pool that helps us when we need it. I am so damn sick and tired of this sort of framing that people who actually want or need to access the government services that they have paid to support are somehow unworthy. The word "moochers" should be banned from our vocabulary and anyone who uses it, in particular right wing asshole pundits, should be strung up until they're almost dead then thrown into dungeons to try and eke out some kind of life until they croak. I mean it. These people are beyond the pale.

Cliff said...

Find me capitalism devoid of oligarchy and I'll eat my hat.

Monster from the Id said...

What Cliff said. Any large-scale capitalism will inevitably become oligarchical.

Human nature indicates that human beings who hold advantages will NEVER sit by and allow "The Magic Of The Marketplace" or "Creative Destruction" to take away those advantages.

Rather, they'll use their vast wealth to buy the political system, in order to rig the economic system to favor them and their descendants perpetually, and also to use the internal and external security agencies of the political system to jail, torture, and/or kill anyone who objects to their privileged positions.

The defenders of capitalism have no good answer to this.

Retired Patriot said...

All these desperate, unhappy and poor people are just "man on a horse" away from organizing into a serious political force. I'm sure many of them thought Obama would be that man. One must admire the evil genius of the GOP/plutocratic class that has so effectively bought and closed the political space that a good Republican like Obama is still called a socialist and reviled by the very same poor desperate people. Not only closed, but their appearance is even barred entry now in pretty much any conventional media method. Instead, we have Kardashian, X-Factor, Morning Joe and NFL football to occupy our time and sap our collective will. What a dream world it is!

And what an opportunity for political organizing for the Democratic Party; yet it is opportunity that will never be taken since that party is owned by the same oligarchs that own the GOP (just a different mask to the public).

What comes of it? Dmitri Orlov postulates that these newer arrivals to the great American underclass will be much better prepared than those still employed when the economy does finally collapse under the weight of plutocratic greed. I believe he is right. And when the right man on a horse shows up, these folks will become the shock army of that new world. And the plutocrats better hope the horsed one is of their ilk, for if not, the shock army will be coming for them first.


mary said...

These stories are heartbreaking and familiar. I agree with Lumpy Lang. I also have come to believe that it was the threat of socialism/communism in the 1950's-1970's that won concessions for the working class in this country. It still continues today with the 'we're #1' and 'we're exceptional', most Americans have no idea how well citizens in other countries live.

Anonymous said...

Retired Patriot:

Even if that man on a horse is one of theirs, he may well not remain one of theirs once he has power. They should be worried about that too.

-- Nonny Mouse

Anonymous said...

After losing our business (furniture and kitchens) in 2008 we went through a couple of dreadful years, including bankruptcy. However, we have now developed a relatively stable lifestyle, albeit much leaner, were able to keep our modest home, I have partial retirement and a steady part time job, my husband works for a wonderful local company that offers benefits and profit sharing, we are almost self sustainable for food and live in an extraordinarily supportive community. These stories break my heart, because it could so easily have been us. And DON'T DARE touch my Medicare (new hip hehe)

Monster from the Id said...

To follow up what Nonny said, our plutocrats need to remember that the German plutocrats of the early 1930s thought they could control that cranky little disgruntled WW1 veteran with the mustache.

Maybe our plutocrats DO remember that--a lot of them seem to have switched to the Dinocratic Party as their favorite vehicle. Maybe THEY decided the Reptilians are just getting too scary.

Cue Drifty to insert his preferred "Tomorrow Belongs To Me" clip here. ;)

Monster from the Id said...

As usual, I lack the cyber-savvy to make a hyperlink on the user-hostile Blogger, but maybe Drifty will consider this worth re-posting.

From Alternet: How the GOP is literally killing its own voters.

Mister Roboto said...

How the GOP is literally killing its own voters

Off-topic: I just switched to Google Chrome from Internet Explorer, and it's like trading in Archie Andrews's jalopy for a Ferrari. Yeah, you can get better versions of IE, but you shouldn't have to go through the expense and bother of swapping out your operating system the way Micro$oft would have you do in order to enjoy the benefit of a halfway decent internet browser. With GC, one size fits nearly all.