Current Trends    

Because there is one; unlike the flashy headlines underscoring debates on immigration, gay marriage, civil and voting rights changes, even what to do post the financial crisis aimed at prevention, discussions on has enough been done, has enough changed, coverage of events like Occupy Wall Street, the battle for wage equality, the opportunity to work and earn a living wage simultaneously remains largely under reported and mischaracterized. Realities of America’s employment situation are distilled into lower than expected jobs numbers present in a flagging recovery, poor policies coming from the top down in Washington blamed on the liberal mindset, to say nothing of the “welfare state” where people believe they are entitled, want something for nothing, not say bad business practices making getting a job today almost impossible. Young people’s continued joblessness post college, returning to their parents’ homes is couched into neat little boxes of taking out too much in student loans to go to a degree mill, refusing to work whatever job you can when that didn’t work out on top of old the standby complaints, choosing the wrong degree field, not obtaining an internship or practical experience, rather than a completely lack of internships, employers remotely understanding what obtaining a degree means, unwilling to engage in minimal training always gathered on the job before that would not only make degrees serviceable once more, but fill vital jobs now sitting vacant. All this thanks to the neo conservative trying to harken everyone back to yesteryear while attempting to point us in the direction they think will turn things in our favor. But are they correct; is what’s happening in America larger than illegal immigrants taking “our” jobs, a hurdle to the legalization of gay marriage removed a sign of the eroding family to be shied away from and a change to voting rights a sign of progress, the symbol of change they say it is? Or is it that politicians, analysts subscribing to this thought process are stuck in the 1950’s, 1960’s refusing to acknowledge the changed dynamics effecting how all of us function. And as citizens until we have garnered firsthand experience with the state of things, we are prevented from seeing the forest for the trees?

Sadly if you were at the bottom of the working totem pole, a blue collar or minimum wage, working for a living worker, you were always the target; none more so than today. Likewise striking workers is nothing new going back to the days before unions, safety regulations and a designated 40 hour work week, workers eventually rose up and fought for fairness, safe working conditions in their work environment, fought for rules governing work hours. By the beginning of the 21st century striking had become the way of sticking it to the conglomerate, the corporation garnering huge profits while vetoing increased worker pay, adequate health insurance, alleging discrimination, usually coming down on those baring a long reputation of such behavior, Wal-Mart for example. Unfortunately after the recession striking workers looking for increased pay, better chances at promotions, an end to known discrimination of women in management, minorities were suddenly seen as interfering with the free market and free market capitalism allowing our economy to function. Taking us to just about 3 weeks ago and striking fast food workers, striking in hopes of a living wage, to make $15 per hour vs. the 7.25 now standard as the national minimum wage, immediately sparking outrage from personalities, politicians aptly seen on Fox news incredulous anyone would think to elevate such a low wage, no skill job to paying that much; Governor Mike Huckabee asserting that if you have motivation, the qualities of a good worker you’re not going to remain in that type of job. Yet such statements make no room for the undisputed fact the bulk of the jobs returning to the economy are in retail, fast food and other minimum wage venues, make no concession for the statistically supported facts demonstrating who now holds these low wage jobs, that it is no longer just teens, underachieving degenerates, people forced to rebuild their lives after addiction, jail time or retirees supplementing their income; instead it’s just under half or just over half who are 18-35 attempting to raise families on $8 an hour and saying we can’t survive on that. Even the goals of the teenagers working said jobs have changed; where in the 1980’s, ‘90’s, even prior to the 2008 financial crash it was about saving money for high school class supplies in an elective, fixing up that old junker or making your car/insurance payment while your parents covered the opposite item allowing you to drive, now teens are funneling all their earned income to their struggling families to make ends meet, if they are lucky they try to cobble together a college fund, though usually because parents have no means to do so.

Over and over, story after story is of either persons who had no money to afford post-secondary education, couldn’t financially complete it or those who upon completion could find no other work facing humongous student loan debt. But again when the topic of wage equality is discussed at all, zeroed in on is the woman in the news piece above supporting a household of 7 on 8 dollars an hour; leading to the inevitable comments about why did you have so many kids, being African American the question is why aren’t you married to your domestic partner, why are you involved with a man who won’t work, who else are you supporting in your house you probably shouldn’t, who needs to stand on their own feet and stop being a bum? Forget if she is married and her husband is sick and can’t work, injured and can’t work, is currently looking for work, add in two children and the household number is at 4, maybe his parents are alive and sickly, her mother or father is in need of extra care and family vs. a nursing home; this is how you reach a household total of 7 struggling on one income. Maybe he doesn’t work because he takes care of the aging members of the family; she could have taken in her sister or bother’s children to provide them a home because their parents are in jail, on drugs or died of a terminal illness, in an accident and it’s just her and them. To say nothing of if employers are going to start asking for college degrees and 1 year experience for new cashiers, as one McDonald’s did evidenced by reading their job listing, then they should be paid accordingly period. Further if American society is going to demand people who have fallen on hard times, people trying to hold onto life and livelihood obtain whatever job they can, string together a series of part time jobs if they can’t get full time; then shouldn’t those job and/or jobs mean they can, as one striker put it, do more than pay one bill and put food on the table? Shouldn’t their effort amount to being able to save money, afford healthcare; these, after all, are the markers of a merit system society are they not?  Unseen by staunch politicians, political conservatives across every walk of life, in every profession is that’s exactly what is not happening. However you slice it we do have a wage equality fight in America having less to do with the recession, less to do with skills and more to do with employers who wouldn’t know a positive business practice, never mind a fair one, if it jumped up and bit them; getting a better job not nearly as easy as opponents to so called social welfare, higher wages, restrictions on kangaroo capitalism, they want to mistakenly call free market capitalism, purport it to be. We’ve all been duly warned about inappropriate social media postings effect on our employment prospects, the likelihood of keeping our jobs, achieving that promotion. We also understand that for physically demanding jobs we had better be in shape and up to snuff if we want to land it, then keep it. Still, denying jobs to workers who smoke takes on a different tone entirely; perhaps because employment is not adult recreation meant to keep individuals occupied, to maintain social order but is the means by which they earn the money to provide for their basic needs, a citizen’s fulfillment of the social contract, if you will, that states you work- you get paid. Thus you get paid and you buy the things you need, food shelter, clothing, medical insurance; employers reasons for adopting this stance are seemingly two fold both responding to new research on just how costly a smoking employee can be in terms of lost productivity through smoke breaks, sick days and increased need for medical care, higher cost of pensions along with the impending price hikes associated with the implementation of Obama care. Yet the latter is the excuse not the catalyst chiefly because we don’t know what the effects of Obama care will truly be, only speculations as to the impact. Analysts admit this research and subsequent ruling opens the door for employers to refuse hire to persons with chronic diseases or habits known to be more costly in the 21 states such actions already haven’t been banned; leading to the next logical question, where do you draw the line?  Because unlike the given example of a court ruling you cannot be a firefighter at 500 hundred pounds and out of shape, where the clear supposition is you can’t physically perform your job, smoking has no bearing on a person’s office duties, creation of an ad campaign, accounting, event planning, showing homes, social work. Plus there are a host of other things that can lead to decreased productivity via distraction family problems, debt, health issues, job boredom, annoying coworkers; missed work could be due to a toxic boss or emotional toxicity in the work environment, you see this a lot with people who have children missing work to care for them and employers who have attempted to thus not hire mothers or potential workers with families. In spite of this conservatives continue to boil it down to get a job, get skills, demonstrate the positive character traits to get a better job.

Speaking of debt, employers use credit scores to weed out applicants they say could become significantly distracted by their financial issues; unaccounted for are the realities you cannot solve financial problems, of your own making or not, without a job. Even more insidious for workers trying to get a job is what happens, or doesn’t happen, when those credit scores are inaccurate, not due to consumer inattention, but a complete failure of the scoring agency to correct errors brought to their attention. Below is the story of one woman who sued the credit score complier Equifax winning a multimillion dollar settlement after repeated attempts to correct errors on her report. Errors that are far from uncommon, nor is the reaction she received; as many as 1 in 4 credit reports contain such errors. Worse is the type of information that was incorrect; in addition to listing 40 creditors looking for their money, claiming she owed a debt, there were inaccurate birthdates and social security numbers included in said report costing her credit at 2 banks, hints the lawsuit. Now imagine you are applying for a job, desperate to get work, feed your family, fulfill your obligations, A- you don’t have time to spend hours and hours filling out standard error forms, on phones with representatives, also true if you are working, trying to get a better job; B- you can’t afford to have a company see this thinking you, your character, your financial acumen is represented by it. As an employer, beyond the debt detailed on a credit report; if they see conflicting social security numbers and birthdates it will make them think maybe you are an illegal immigrant, have something to hide, are at minimum untrustworthy and not someone they want to bring onboard their establishment. But not only are companies continually allowed to use credit scores in determining fitness of applicants, according to the conservative rules of the universe it’s your problem, you deal with it, we are not going to regulate businesses to death, even those responsible for something as important as credit scores.

intertwined in the wage equality fight is the political tug of war going on over social welfare programs like food stamps, sequestration’s impact on nearly everything but having stark, devastating consequences for the already vulnerable, particularly the homeless, slated to be cut from HUD programs due to budgetary constraints; GOP proposed changes to food stamps propelled by antiquated stereotypes would cut thousands, if not millions from the program, including those not working or participating in job training program at least 20 hours per week. Measures fueled by the supposedly noble concept of removing system abusers, people exerting no effort to change their circumstances, people purposefully achieving less than they can to continue receiving aid from programs, so others who actually need them can get them. All well in theory but rarely challenged is their ideas don’t stand up to the truth of food insecurity in America, the staggering number of food insecure who are children, not of lifelong welfare recipients, not of women continually producing children to receive benefits, who keep having unstable relationships with men; contrastingly comprised of working families where only one person can get a job, a retirement age couple making a third of what they did prerecession dependent on their local food bank to get by. One mother who got a job after months of unemployment and made just over enough to be removed from food stamps, her children disqualified from subsidized daycare where they received nutritious meals; one PBS clip showing her putting canned ravioli in front of her children going to the kitchen to eat a thin sandwich isolated from her kids, crying because she worked so hard, gets so much personal fulfillment from finally having a job, still unable be assured she can feed them. Unanswered is what happens when the local job placement programs in your area are less than 20 hours per week, you have graduated a program moving on to the applying for jobs portion meaning you are limited to a set number of hours a day you can occupy resources such as computers, get help with résumés, applications, interview prep; some only offering that help once per week. Securitized are the number of dollars allotted to job training, retraining programs, the number, ethnicity and work history of persons participating, combined with their success rate; did they complete the program, did reaching that completion ultimately end in the person/persons securing a job?  Unnoticed, unevaluated is the content of the program; does it coincide with what employers say they require, does it fit the jobs housed in the town, city or adjacent regional area, does it fit the demographic that comprises the majority of its users i.e., does it focus on experience opportunities for young workers just out of college, about to graduate, does it focus on ways for young workers only having possessed minimum wage jobs to get skills, does it try to fit retiree age workers into jobs that suite their capabilities, lack complexities that can confused older workers? Does agency staff have the training and knowledge to help participants craft their best résumé, are they giving correct examples of acceptable interview answers based on the persons situation, because the resounding answer to the bulk of those questions is no. And yet they, the politicians, those with a conservative mindset want to cut job training because it is deemed ineffective; blame placed on the users’ character, effort, desire to get a job.    

All the above puts a new perspective on conservative values summed up in “I don’t expect the government to take care of me,” that was Mike Huckabee “speaking as a self-employed person,” or Ron Paul who before screaming to disband FEMA was glaring at the American people in the early days of the 2012 presidential election telling them to sort out their own retirement, not depend on social security. Independent of the reasonable expectation employers provide health insurance is a far cry from expecting the government to take care of anyone, rather allowing people to take care of themselves and was aimed primarily at ginormous companies, huge franchises, like McDonald’s, like Wal-Mart who have the capital to do so, while whining they can’t afford it. Dovetailing into exactly why fast food workers suddenly want to be paid $15 an hour, forgoing that they realistically won’t get 15, maybe they could get 12; they want it so they can pay for the basics, can afford to get some type of health insurance, Obama care exchange or not, so they can have savings for emergencies, think about opening a retirement account. Conveniently forgotten is that employers have been providing benefit plans, including health insurance since the ‘70’s, or that regardless of the type of employer supplied insurance, the recipient is still paying a portion of the bill via copays and percentages not covered by said insurance. You can’t be responsible for your own retirement when employers don’t offer 401K’s, when it’s put something into a retirement account or buy your child’s school supplies, shoes, scrape together a little bit of Christmas for them and if you are putting in such small amounts of money sporadically, should that even be an option, it won’t yield enough to live on in your golden years, yet it’s all they have. As demonstrated get a better job is easier said than done and dependent on so many other factors than the 1950’s, ‘60’s model of a willingness to work and good worker habits; it even goes farther than the skills debate at the turn of this new century to walking gates, condition of teeth, credit score, cleanliness of your car, bizarre interview questions, college exit exams supposed to give employers indications of values and character. But yet the flag in the play is aimed at spoiled, entitled gen Y, the attitude of angry, bitter individuals possessing the mentality the world owes them something instead of the hiring managers who haven’t thought through what they need in employees, bypass meaningful interview questions for the new absurd ones, then wonder why the new hire isn’t working out, demand a host of skills but never reciprocate to the world at large offering internships to gain desired skills, or if you hire someone off the street, no experience providing job training not expecting them to learn their job by osmosis. The flag on the play is amid at the person who won’t quit smoking or lay off the cheese burgers in order to get a job above minimum wage, not your Fox news and radio listeners who fail to understand people like Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul are either so wealthy, successful because they won the so called birth lottery or because of their investments, vs. our assumption of hard work and sacrifice, attributes they champion yet don’t exhibit.       

Of course these are predictably the same type of people operating in Nevada currently being sued by California and other states for putting homeless people suffering from mental health problems on busses armed with one way tickets to a destination telling them to seek care there. The state of Michigan that had to be told they could no longer arrest people for begging because it violated their first amendment rights; at the same time another state tried to arrest members of a faith based charity providing meals to the homeless in a public park. Keeping in mind these are people who are largely homeless directly due to loosing first their job, then their home to the recession in direct opposition to areas who have used eminent domain to buy properties, not to replace them with commercial development but to rent, sell them back to former owners at more reasonable prices. These are people, average Americans who experienced one divorce, one illness, one missed child support payment, resulting in needing food stamps, people who have couch surfed, borrowed money from friends and family before landing in a shelter who may even be working and homeless; we already know working is no guarantee you won’t need food stamps, sans debates about who qualifies, who should, who shouldn’t. Not to mention the number of homeless people reflecting what they always reflect 46% disabled or unable to work (likely past working age), 22% are children in no way responsible for their parent’s choices, 13% are veterans who have served their country in some military capacity, last but not least leaving those with mental health issues, substance abuse problems using substances to self-medicate their currently untreated mental illness. This is who we allow selective news to criminalize, shame, not politicians talking about work who hardly have a day in their lives, because it makes us feel better to classify those people as undesirables totally unlike us rather than exactly like us. Hooray for American values and the American values police.