Wednesday, October 19, 2011
The Dream Is Collapsing
I don't generally swipe material wholesale from other people's sites, but a) what you're about to read really struck a chord with me, and b) it was posted in the comment section of Cesca's post promoting this week's Bob & Chez Show podcast, of which I'm obviously a part.
The person who wrote this is named Curtis Robert Tyree.
"I was listening to your show, and I have to say that it really hit me hard. I am working three jobs right now, one as a fre-lance reporter and the other two at museums. The museum jobs end in October and December. So I'm going to have to get at least one more job, maybe another. All of this while living at home because I can't afford an apartment and living expenses. I have a bachelor's degree in Communication and can't find a full time job, each position I apply for want MBA's or many years of experience, things I don't have. Plus, my student loans are coming up to be paid soon and it will be around $600 per month, which is more than I make right now with those three jobs.
On top of this, my father owns his own business, but he doesn't have any work right now because his drafting business deals with infrastructure, something that isn't being done right now. And my mother is a pastor at a church that doesn't have enough money to pay her full-time now, so she will be out of a job at the end of January. I'm seeing the collapse of the middle class every time I go home.
My grandfather, my dad's dad, was the shining example of the middle class. He had a manufacturing job, a pension, healthcare, and owned a home and new cars every couple of years. That dream is gone. Even when it comes to cars now. My car is 14 years old and has over 162,000 miles, my dad's car is 18 years old and over 150,000 miles and my mom's car is a 2004 with over 100,000 miles and all three are falling apart and we don't have the money to fix them. Living in appalachia, we do need them, there is no public transportation and for my three jobs I drive it's no rare occurrence that I drive upwards of 200 miles per day.
So to hear that people like me and my parents who aren't rich and that it's our fault really pisses me off. I do what I have to do to survive. My parents do what they have to do to survive. Herman Cain's parents did what they needed to do. Having 3, 4, or 5 jobs isn't, and shouldn't be, a defining thing about America but it is increasingly becoming our defining trait. Which is a shame. America used to be defined by boundless opportunity and hope, now it's just making sure the car works so you can shuffle between multiple jobs.
So to the people like Herman Cain, and those who cheered last night at the debate, tell me what I'm doing wrong."
First of all, to Curtis: I can't express enough sympathy and empathy and I couldn't wish more good luck to you. As Bob said in his own response -- you're not alone. Not by a long shot. And you're not doing a damn thing wrong.
Curtis's comment was likely a direct response to one particular segment of the podcast. In it, Bob and I talked not simply about the state of the economy -- with millions out of work and others forced to work far beneath their abilities -- but about the kind of country that those who contributed to it and who deny the average American's hardship seem to be willing to settle for. My point specifically was that Herman Cain speaks effusively about how his parents had no choice but to work three jobs to provide for him while he was growing up -- and he says this as if it's a point of pride. Sure, there's no shame at all in doing whatever you have to do to get by -- but there should be a monumental amount of shame in claiming that that situation is the ideal rather than the exception. I guarantee you that if you'd asked them, Herman Cain's parents would much rather have been at home spending time with their young son than working as a cleaning woman, a barber and a janitor just so that he could have something to eat.
You do what you have to do, certainly, but to claim that it's what you want to do and that it's the best case scenario is obscene. Occasionally that's just the way things have to be, but it's never the way things should be.
And that was the dream of the great American middle-class: the idea that a vast swath of this rich, powerful nation could and would work hard, produce, and take pride in its overall contribution to society -- and in return the people within that group could be reasonably assured that they would be able to carve out a small slice of the American dream. That there'd be roofs over their heads, food on their tables, that their families would be provided for and they'd be able to spend their golden years not living in fear. That was the contract America made with its people -- and it was always expected that each side would hold up its end of the deal. What's more, that's what made this country great. That's what made us powerful and the envy of the world.
How did we get from that to a crowd full of people at a presidential debate sociopathically cheering at the idea that it's the fault of 14 million unemployed people that they're unemployed?
How did we get to the point where Herman Cain feels like there's no shame or sorrow in holding up his very good parents' lack of any other choice as a new American ideal to which all our families should aspire?
Where the hell did we lose our way?