Strangling on Our Own Bootstraps.

I have spent most of my adult life poor. Not because I don’t have a work-ethic (the number of credits and accomplishments I have to my name shows otherwise) or because I work in the arts (which pay better and more reliably than any other job I’ve had) but because pervasive poverty [1] is the norm for many Americans of my generation and the generations after me. We work harder, for less, with less stability and security than any American generation since the Great Depression, and less than some even before that.

We are laboring in a system increasingly rigged to cost us more than we can ever afford to save, and this situation has grown more and more unsustainable since the early 1980s, when I entered the workforce.

And yet, we continue to be told it’s our fault. And many of us continue to believe it.

Bootstraps

Casual selfishness and even cruelty [2] is the rule, not the exception in the American workplace. I have caught managers whiting out time cards at a minimum-wage job, had a boss who refused to pay me for time I had worked because I had quit when she refused to take my wedding day off from work. I had a manager at a moving company who stole goods from our customers and then sold them to second-hand stores while letting innocent employees get hung out to dry for his thefts… it goes on and on and on, and all the while we continue to be fed media narratives that it is the poor – even the working poor – who are lazy, unmotivated, reckless spenders, entitled, incompetent, “wanting something for nothing”… the litany goes on and on and on, and even people who are themselves victimized by this practice buy into the bullshit.

Hell, these days being poor and overworked and exploited by the system is even being sold as sexy. “The gig economy,” they call it, as if this was something we’re doing for fun, not out of desperation. It’s chic, it’s cool, it’s about paying more for an “apodment” or a “microloft” than we would have paid for a rental house a decade or so ago. We’re exhorted to “clear out the clutter” so we can move into tiny houses. In truth, it’s a nice way to say, “get sick and you’re on your own.” No benefits, no stability, and nothing to fall back on when mortality and ill fortune strike.

Meanwhile, the paychecks get smaller and the hours get longer and the stockholder shares continue to rise... until they don’t, and then it’s yet another story about how millennials are killing everything again.

Doers

Here’s the truth: We are being lied to, manipulated, literally stolen from and then played against one another by the people who are abusing us under the guise of “job creators.” The Trump administration’s naked corruption simply goes to show that these parties don’t even feel they need to hide it anymore. They’ll shout OHMAHGOD THEREZQUEERZIN YERBATHROOM! and half their constituents will jump on the bandwagon. They’ll point at fictional “very bad hombres,” and their adherents will scream “BUILD THE WALL!” They’ll continue to send an endless parade of young people into the shredder with non-stop “wars for freedom,” and then drop the vets off at the nearest homeless shelter and will still have military people voting for them next election, even when the man who’s eager to send their kids into battle is a draft-dodging tin soldier.
It is a literally gods-damned scam, and it gets more blatant every year.
And yet, these thieving parasites continue to wave the Bible in one hand and Horatio Alger in the other, hoping you’ll never twig to the fact that neither book says what they tell us it says.

Folks say I’m angry. You’re damned right I’m angry. Seriously, I’d much rather not be. I have better things to do with my life than rant about stuff like this online. Hell, I had planned to play myself some much-needed Skyrim this evening. Instead, I found the following article by Barbara Ehrehnreich [3], read it, and found myself hammering out yet another screed about this bottomless subject because some days that’s all I can feel like we can do: shout into the void while we strangle on our own bootstraps, trying to do more than we did before with less than we made 20 years ago, and wondering how the hell we’re ever going get down off this cliff that seems to grow ever-higher each passing year.

 

 workingpoor_title

 

_____________________________
1 – “…One-quarter of American workers makes less than $10 per hour. That creates an income below the federal poverty level. These are the people who wait on you every day. They include cashiers, fast food workers and nurse’s aides. Or maybe they are you.The rich got richer through the recovery from the 2008 financial crisis. In 2012, the top 10 percent of earners took home 50 percent of all income. That’s the highest percent in the last 100 years…

…From 2000 through 2006, the number of Americans living in poverty increased 15 percent. By 2006, nearly 33 million workers earned less than $10 per hour. Their annual income is less than $20,614. This is below the poverty level for a family of four. Most of these low-wage workers receive no health insurance, sick days or pension plans from their employers. That means they can’t get sick and have no hope of retiring.

During this same time period, average wages remained flat. That’s despite an increase of worker productivity of 15 percent. Corporate profits increased 13 percent per year, according to The Big Squeeze by Steven Greenhouse.

Between 1979 and 2007, household income increased 275 percent for the richest 1 percent of households. It rose 65 percent for the top fifth...

, Income Inequality in America: Causes of Income Inequality (theBalance.com, March 25, 2018)

2 – Like that of my now-former the boss at Saxon Shoes, who had a manager take me – after a workplace accident caused by shoddy shelving – to a private clinic where the doctor was a friend and customer of his. That doctor gave me a neck brace, told me to take five days off, and handed me a bunch of x-rays and stuff to take back to the boss. He told me to call him back for a follow-up appointment after those five days. I did as I was told, but when I returned to work the entire incident had “disappeared.” My boss and the managers acted as though I had stayed home of my own volition, and refused to acknowledge that I had been hit in the head by a falling shelf full of shoes.  Oh, no – that never happened. The boss refused to pay me for the time I had been out, and scolded me for staying home when no one had told me to do so. I called the doctor. his receptionist hung up on me. I contacted a lawyer; he called me back to tell me that the doctor and his receptionist had never even heard of me. All records of the incident vanished. It was my word against my employer’s, and no one would take my side. This shit happens ALL THE TIME in American business. I know two other people personally with similar stories, and those are just the ones I know about.

3 – …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 can’t 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…
– Barbara Ehrehnreich, “It is Expensive to be Poor” (Atlantic, Jan 13, 2014)

 

 

About Satyr

Award-winning fantasy author, game-designer, and all 'round creative malcontent. Creator of a whole bunch of stuff, most notably the series Mage: The Ascension, Deliria: Faerie Tales for a New Millennium, and Powerchords: Music, Magic & Urban Fantasy. Lives in Seattle. Hates shoes. Loves cats. Dances a lot.
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