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?

31 comments:

QuadCityPat said...

This is exactly the problem with phony 53% movement. The guy who says I work 3 jobs so suck it up whiners drives me fucking crazy.

THIS IS AMERICA, you shouldn't have to work 3 jobs to make ends meet.

Fuck Herman Cain and his platitudes. Bastard.

Anonymous said...

As an individual, saying you have worked three jobs can be a point of pride, in that you are demonstrating a strong work ethic.

As a country, having people work three jobs to scrape by is a disgrace. Working long hours to barely scrape by is something one would expect to see in a third-world country.

Anonymous said...

Well, it seemed to become acceptable in the public consciousness when George Dubya Bush said, "You work three jobs? … Uniquely American, isn't it? I mean, that is fantastic that you're doing that." (to a divorced mother of three in Omaha, Nebraska, Feb. 4, 2005)

Kim said...

I was infuriated by what Herman Cain said. My parents worked every day of my life to make sure I would be able to have better than they had. They made sure I was educated enough to get into college on a scholarship and paid what was left so I wouldn't have to take out thousands of dollars in loans. My father died working to be sure I could finish school. I earned a Master's Degree while working as a TA and after school I found a decent enough job where I got promoted and was doing okay. I managed to get a car and a house in the suburbs. Then, in a puff of what I can only call flagrantly terrible management, the company I'd worked at for eight years declared Chapter 7 and threw a thousand people nationwide out of work in one afternoon. Thank goodness for unemployment, because I cannot just decide not to pay my bills. Finding a new job has not been easy--many of my former co-workers were also educated and skilled people and 200 of us have flooded our local job market (combined with nearly simultaneous mass layoffs at a local hospital). I've worked since I was 17 years old. I have never been fired. I am not lazy and I'm most definitely not stupid. Yet somehow I'm now a parasite on society because my former employer's board of directors didn't feel like paying back their debt to Citibank.

People seriously need to think about how close they are to landing where I did. There was nothing I did or didn't do to lose my job. It was a string of bad business decisions made far away from where I was, made by people who had their escape plans ready months in advance, people who are now comfortably ensconced in other boardrooms or made enough to live on until their next opportunity rolls around. They didn't think too hard about us. They sent boxes to pack our things in and told us not to steal anything on our way out. And we're left to pick up what's left and try again to get back to where we were.

Anonymouse said...

Word of warning, I am in a pissed off mood having spent the last five hours writing code to determine the heat load for a theoretical building.

If I could, this is a direct response to Curtis...

I am sorry you chose the easy way out in college. For whatever retarded reason, you picked a field that has ZERO fucking job prospects. I am sorry you got a shit load of loans to pay for a degree that anyone with the common sense that sponges have, would know was worthless.

I'm sure that you could claim you learned critical thinking or shit like that getting a useless degree in college...I only want to point out the fail in the notion that it required a huge investment in time and money to learn this.

I'm sorry that the combustion engine is confusing to you. Apparently the idea of maintaining an engine with simple repairs is alien to you. While 162K miles seem like a lot, its quite possible to keep a car running much longer than that...if you take the time to actually learn the basics about simple maintenance.

I am sorry this is coming off like an asshole rant, but I fail to see how else to put it that you are a fucking moron. YOU, no one else but YOU, chose to pay a large amount of money in a field with almost ZERO prospects. Short of you drinking fucking bleach, I am not sure how you could have fucked up more.

I am sorry that when you default on your student loans, I, and the rest of America, have to pay for it, because you chose the easiest fucking path possible.

I am sorry you think this is fault of everyone but you. This makes me sad as it drives home the point of how fucking sick this country is.

What exactly do you expect to do with a fucking communication degree? What do you think you are qualified for?

Nick said...

Where the hell did we lose our way?

We quit paying attention to what we believed to be obvious buffoons and self-caricatures in both the White House and Congress. As a result the assholes felt free to take millions in bribes from sleazebags, political whores and PACs (but I repeat myself…) to quietly gut the Republic.

In itself that is bad enough. But apparently someone’s been lacing our drinking water with a combination of Xanax and Ambien because we have failed to vote any of these criminals out of office, much less indict and jail them.

Instead we’ve been chewing our collective cud, lowing our way to economic destruction since Carter (who did try to warn us, remember.)

The only non-violent solution is to remove every sitting member of Congress next November. And to repeat that action every election cycle until such time those running for elected office do so in order to serve, not be served.

But I’m guessing, based on past experience, that won’t happen.

Which does not leave a lot of happy options.

CNNfan said...

For there to be a collapse, there must be a structure constructed from several parts. A dream is not a structure. In reality, there are opportunities out there. Think outside the collapse.

Chez said...

Anonymouse, when I can stop myself from laughing at the absurdity of your little rant (for the record, it's been about ten minutes and no luck so far) maybe I'll post a nice response to it. Then again, maybe not -- better I just post your comment and let it speak volumes for itself, eh?

You can go back to theoretically making things now.

Razor said...

Anonymouse really did provide one of the dumbest, least thought-out, over-the-top grumpypants comments I've ever read on the internet... and I frequent message boards about comic books.

There are a lot of options with a communications degree. Considerably less than a decade ago thanks to rampant media deregulation, but it's not like everyone with a communications degree is trying to be an anchor on NBC News. The advertising field is a goldmine for that degree when the economy isn't in shambles... but you could say that for just about every job field right now.

And even if he wanted to be a talking head, is that where we are in America? "You followed a dream, fuck you!"? I work in radio, the one job field where layoffs aren't just common, they're expected. But I make a fairly comfortable living after scratching and clawing for 8 years and I do something I genuinely enjoy. I don't hate myself for getting out of bed in the morning like Anonymouse clearly does... I'm not going to apologize for that.

Harvey Jerkwater said...

Oh, it's an easy choice. Because the only other alternative is to admit to ourselves two truths: (1) rewards don't necessarily correlate to effort, so the winners may not be winners purely through their own virtue; and (2) that we are, to some small degree, responsible for one another, and our not doing anything -- or, to be more accurate, as little as possible -- is a moral nightmare.

Both ideas are just too goddamn horrifying and frightening for some people to accept.

So, instead, twist the world into a neater, simpler shape, then blame and cheer.

YAY!

FabMax said...

I've got a response, Chez, if you let me. It's not nice (or funny), though.

Anonymouse, think about it. He could have studied something where he learned coding, like you. Imagine, you both applying for the same job, and him getting it. Would suck for you, hm?

Your post is indeed an asshole rant, as in you are an asshole because you only think of your poor self. If you'd think a bit further than the tip of your nose, you'd see that if everybody would study something "useful", there would a lot of jobless "useful" people out there. You might be among them.

IrishGirl said...

"Where the hell did we lose our way?"

We lost the American dream when the vast majority of people are not rewarded based on meritocracy but on cronyism, corruption, and profiteering. Because at the heart of the American Dream is the concept that if I work hard enough, I will have not only earned it but I WILL achieve it. Many of us have worked hard enough and we've earned it but the results simply aren't there.

In truth, everyone knows that success (and I don't mean the highest level attainable) but the ability to live a fairly sustainable, healthy life in America also rests on luck. That it's not all hard work. Only the extremely naive would expect to actually get everything you worked for. We all know, deep down, that sh*t happens in life (divorce, disease, accidents, etc).

The problem is that our country used to have fall back plans for such things, the safety net. So even if you had bad luck we had a net to help catch us (at least some of us). Now, we don't even have that.

So what happened? We have a small group of kleptomaniacs who discovered, before the rest of us figured it out, that they could use corruption, profiteering and cronyism to get ahead. And they fed off of our safety net and the entire economic body until there's neither meritocracy nor a back up plan for bad luck.

Congratulations you 1 percenters, you killed the American Dream. Keep on sucking out the life blood and the entire host will die soon enough. The only problem for the leeches will be that they often die right along with the host.

kanye said...

Isn't viewing college-as-trade school a big part of the problem?

To answer your question, Chez: 1940, when Congress enacted the Smith Act.

Anonymouse said...

Hey guys....I thought it was pretty clear that I was tired and in a pissed off mood, hence the asshole attitude. Keep Gandhi up past his bedtime often enough, he would get bitchy.

But with a clearer head on my part, lets look at Curtis' situation. He has a degree in communications...and lives in an rural part of the US. Whether or not Curtis is able to get employed in his location has nothing to do with anything other than does he possess a set of marketable skills for the location. Nothing else matters. Not the degree, not where he went. It all comes down to can he get people to pay him to do things. He says he is underemployed so obviously he cannot.

Curtis has two options...either move to where his skills are in demand, or change his skill set.

Until he at least tries one of those things, I do not feel sorry for him. He is again, taking the fucking easy road and complaining about the consequences.

Ned Hades said...

Or, anonymouse, Curtis moved back home due to being broke. Living in any urban area in this country takes money, and if you lose your job (as I did) or can't find one right away your reserves get drained pretty quick trying to keep up with rent, utilities, etc. A new job isn't a guarantee that you'll make enough to cover, and it's pretty easy to get caught in the trap of not being able to save enough for first and last month's rent in a new place, no matter where it is and how much cheaper it is. And your payment history goes with you, so fall behind and your renter's application may be rejected due to missed payments in the past.

Sometimes staying with friends/relatives is all you can do, even if you feel like you're dying inside. That there's no demand for his skill set in his area is the cherry on top of the shit sundae Curtis has to eat.

Just for the sake of balance, where do you live anonymouse, and approx. how much a year to do take home? Curiosity gets the better of me.

(For the record, I got laid off in 2002 and went through some rough years. I'm working now and have a place and pay my bills, but putting in 50+ hrs. and getting paid for 40 sucks. Srsly. And don't tell me to get a better job; other than retail the major manufacturers in the tri-county area have all declared hiring freezes until next year. No apps being taken. And the retail chains are closing their doors, one by one. Good times.)

Razor said...

"Hey guys, I thought it was pretty clear I acted like an asshole.. why are you calling me an asshole?"

It's not like he got an art history degree in Death Valley. He has a communications degree in Appalachia. There are news outlets in Appalachia, there are radio stations, there are businesses that need someone to work in advertising or PR, surely there was once demand for a copy writer, etc. Hell, he works at TWO museums, it's not like we're talking about the middle of nowhere here.

The problem is, no one is hiring because businesses have found out how to cope. They don't need to hire someone else when they can make some underling do the jobs that two or three people were doing for no extra pay and no overtime. You want a raise? GTFO!

There was a point, not that long ago, that you could walk into your boss's office and ask for a raise. Now, you'd be laughed out of the office and they'll tell you "just be thankful you still have a job." That's the new normal. That is bad.

The end of pensions, the end of raises, the end of job security, the end of overtime, the end of weekends, these things are all piling up and the American worker is expected to suffer through it, because if they don't like it, someone else will do it. We're pretty much immigrant labor at this point, we'll work for shit wages and shit hours because we don't have any other choice.

Anonymous said...

As Chez and Bob Cesca and many others have said, over and over - our country built a middle class based upon a contract with its people that NO ONE deserves to be poor. Our strength was in how we took care of our people, and we were strongest when we were taking care of each other the most (1940-1980).

For you (anonymouse) and other Boot-Strap Dickheads, I give you an argument you can't walk away from: Don't take care of the poor and unemployed and they won't simply disappear, they will starve-and-live-and-fuck-and-die in the streets, and you will have to walk over their bodies and waste EVERY day to get to your "well-earned" job. Now that is a great life, huh? If you are too much of a cold, selfish bastard to want to help people, think hard of the REAL quality of life you will endure in your libertarian paradise.

namron said...

Anonymouse: I am tired and pissed off, too. But, I am a senior citizen with the good luck to have accumulated some wealth and I have not been materailly affected by the Great Recession. So, I have the right, the ability, and the duty to say this: You are a popped-collar, fraternity boy douche bag, educated enough to be clever without any hint of self awareness. You sound like one of the Ayn Rand sycophants that would happily eat the peanuts from her fossilized turds. On behalf of the rest of civilization, go fuck your self-entitled, self-adored ass and eat shit and die. If I were a better writer with a gift for scintillating metaphor and a detailed knowledge of cultural references I am sure that my response would be a whole lot more personally satisfyng than GFY. My Metamucil just kicked in, so I gotta go now. In about 5 minutes I'll be thinking of you.

LK3 said...

If only sleep would remedy that type of asshole attitude... we could slip you, Wall Street/ CEO's abusing the system and the Republicans currently in Congress (& running for President) some ambien...

Anonymouse said...

Razor- Businesses are limited in providing compensation by the consumer. The simple truth as to why wages, benefits, and job security is gone is because we collectively are unwilling to pay for it. The American consumer is so damn demanding on the cheapest product, they ignore the long term consequences.

Namron-Feeling better after that? I find your comment a bit funny. See, I'm in college because I was in the military for six years. If you are ever in Baltimore on a Sunday, there is a shelter I volunteer my time at. I end up meeting a lot of fellow vets and its pretty heartbreaking at times, but I feel really good about helping those that have really hit rock bottom.

I'm not in a frat, I got all the homo-erotic hazing done in bootcamp. Oh here is something else that is interesting...I had to learn how to walk at 12. I was born with spina bifida so from the age of 3 till 12, I was pretty much dead from the waist down.

So I guess yeah, I have to work pretty hard to do pretty much anything. I remember when I was in first grade, my teacher complained to my mother in front of me, that I was a "waste of time" and "retarded". My mother taught me never to take anything for granted or any insult personal. So I don't really care namron, that you lashed out at me for daring to have a different opinion. You being able to express a different opinion than me is the primary reason I joined the military (I ended up navy because they got the looses physical standards).

So enjoy your benefits and I apologize for pissing you off.

Anonymous said...

You forgot to also say that you donate half of your paycheck, every Sunday, at church.

God Bless you John Wayne Anonymouse.

Marsupialus said...

Ah yes, the invisible hand of the market with customers demanding the lowest paid goods. Maybe a little government intervention that doesn't allow multinationals to exploit the lumpen proletariat of every third world country. And guess what, a report out this week that workers in India have done so well with call centers over the last few years that their wages have gone up. Suddenly, US companies are moving their call centers OUT OF INDIA to the next backwater where they can pay a penny a day to the employees. What if we didn't reward companies that exploited these differences in labor markets? What might happen then? But that would mess with the markets. We wouldn't want that.

Chugga said...

I don't understand why wages are so low in the US, even for jobs that don't require a degree. I'm currently a full-time uni student, so I work 2-3 day a week at a tech support company. I make $20 an hour plus commission (usually $10-20 a shift, so not a huge amount but not bad). The commission is paid out as a bonus, so I'm making a little over $600 after tax a fortnight. It's not a huge amount but it's plenty to live on, and even gradually pay back the money I owe to a friend who helped me out when I was unemployed.

What I don't understand is this: why is the gap so huge between between America and Australia now? I used to think America was pretty rich relative to Australia, but that no longer seems to be the case. I was shocked the first time I saw a post on a forum from a guy saying he hated his job packing groceries, but was making good money at $11 an hour so didn't want to leave. Australian minimum wage is $10 an hour, I was being paid that much working in a video store at 16!

Sorry for the rant but the amount untrained workers get paid in your country is just so incredibly low that I find it shocking.

namron said...

OK, Anonymouse, if your story is true, then I had that coming. Now that I have purged my
ill-will in so many ways, let me be more rational.

I have worked with financially distressed people for many years. Most are neither lazy nor stupid. They tend to be less than "sharp." They have not made the best of decisions, but they have followed what they have been lead to believe are the rules. They never expected to get rich or to be powerful. Your analysis of Curtis' choices and the results is probably accurate. But, like the doctor with a shitty bedside manor, you delivered it without even a hint of compassion or feeling. "Yes, Madam, you have cancer, and sorry, there is nothing we can do now. Maybe we will find an effective treatment, but it's too late for you. Oh, well. Hope I am not late for my tee time." That hard clinical diagnosis with a hint of cynicism is not what Curtis, as our Everyman, needed. Yeah, he fucked up, but he (we) need to believe there is a chance to fix it. The truth is more palatable when served with a side of hope.

Anonymouse said...

I totally agree with you namron...and everyone else that states I came off like an asshole. I apologize for doing so.

America needs to have a serious discussion about education. We are heavily subsidizing education across the board and getting diminished returns. We are selling kids the idea that it makes sense to take out a large amount of debt (the equivalent of a mortgage without the house) with little thought of how the debt will ever get paid off. We are basically encouraging the next generation to tie a noose around their necks and expecting them to succeed.

For some reason we collectively put more emphasis on getting a degree, any degree, over getting experience or training from say a trade school. I know this is unpopular to state this, but we all cannot follow our dreams and just do something we love.

And I have to be honest, if my parents had let me, I would be in Curtis' situation...having to make extremely difficult decisions. We cannot artificially create enough well paying jobs to absorb the tremendous number students leaving American colleges without marketable skills.

I generally self describe myself extremely liberal except for the situation involving college finance. I cannot see how anyone can make the argument that by having the US government subsidize higher education, it hasn't been a disaster. Tuition will continue to skyrocket as long as students are giving obscene amounts of money from the government. Eventually the bill for all this college debt will become due. It honestly scares me that the US government is on the books for approximately $1 trillion and we have to ask, are we getting our money's worth?

I honestly don't understand how the occupied movement took this long to happen. This generation has been fucked by their parents.

Vermillion said...

Seeing as how everyone already tore Anonymouse a new one, I really see no need to pile on. I do, however, want to comment on one thing:

What exactly do you expect to do with a fucking communication degree? What do you think you are qualified for?

This. This mentality. This idea that there is only one, maybe two ways to skin a cat successfully, and that if you don't want to skin a cat, you are stupid.

But there is this ever growing meme that only certain field of study are profitable, so only those field should ever be examined, regardless if your interest, talents or anything lies in that direction. This meme, which was codified with NCLB but definitely not started there, has generated a very dangerous apathy in education, creating worker drones following a set program for financial success at the cost of personal achievement, exploration and growth. This is the same mentality says that studying the arts or humanities or social sciences is pointless, which is fucking scary, to be honest.

It seems to me that, in a supposed capitalist society like ours, there should be no such thing as a "useless" degree. If a person has the right skills and the drive and talent to use them, he can find a way to apply it to any possible situation. A person SHOULD be able find the occupation that fits them, not try to squeeze themselves into a pre-fab position. If people are doing the jobs they are qualified to do, then doesn't the system benefit?

What happened to the Renaissance Man? What happened to the idea that we as people can and should strive to be well-rounded and well-educated individuals who can find achievement in multiple endeavors? Why do we have this lockstep IKEA-style thought process where there is only one or two paths to success, and anyone who doesn't follow them exactly is a fool or a dreamer? Hell, what's so wrong about being a dreamer, goddammit?

I don't know if I am making my point clear enough. I actually barely passed my communications course (as part of my general curriculum), due to my dislike of expressing myself in certain venues. So I will never slam someone for being able to do something I cannot.

Mart said...

Bit OT - But found this funny...

http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1011/66258.html

Politico holds a blind taste test of five pizzas with a righty, a foody and a lefty. One of the five is Herman Cain's own Godfathers.

IrishGirl said...

Anonymouse- the reason the cost of higher education is going up has nothing to do with Government subsidizing it! In fact, its the opposite....the states are paying out less so the student has to pay out more, then you have the normal Cost of Living increases that everyone faces, then you have increased use of technology (which ain't cheap), competition for professors on a global scale, etc, etc. Like all other people-centered services colleges and universities are facing what is known as "cost disease". So your whole point about the Government being the problem is simply not supported by the research.

Note: I am a former professor for a for-profit university.

smitmaul said...

I'm just pissed reading anonymouse's comments. I don't have a college degree. I've worked as a secretary/administrative assistant/clerical worker/keyboard puncher/appointment maker for most of my life. And I'm probably old enough to be his mother. I don't want much; I don't expect to die rich doing what I've done. But damn it, I do expect to be able to find a job. I've moved around enough, and I know there's a need for what I can do. But because I DON'T have that piece of paper, I'm not qualified for many of the kinds of jobs I used to do. I was unemployed for two years, and now I get to worry about finding enough temp work to pay the bills. I don't entertain false hopes about what I can buy with my paychecks; I just expected to be able to get a paycheck. It sucks that I can't.

CNNfan said...

I just got an email sent from the White House from President Barack Obama to CNNfan.com

The war in Iraq is over.

All troops in Iraq will be home for the holidays. I was surprised this news was not up on CNN.com.

So I emailed CNN PR.


__________________________________________________
NOTE: This is a serious comment, no joking around.

whatever said...

Finally, an easy question.
The answer: greed and arrogance.
It's not complex. It's that simple.