Blog Archive - July 2012
Laura Flanders of The Nation interviewed Robert Pollin, author of the new book, Back to Full Employment. Pollin believes the Federal Reserve could take the lead in cutting unemployment by getting more money into the economy. His view goes against the experts who want to “cut, cut, cut” [everything except the military]. I like what Pollin is saying, but it sounds too easy [and too good] to be true. Our politicians and their rich patrons want to strip government and let working people fend for themselves. In this environment, I don’t see how a great plan like Pollin’s will ever get off the ground. I hope I’m wrong.
In today’s Chicago Sun-Times, Mary Mitchell introduces us to the people who are on strike against Caterpillar, a company that had a 67% increase in profits for the second quarter. Mitchell takes us beyond the cliché of spoiled union workers and introduces us to real people and the struggles they are facing. Take a few minutes to read this column. It gives voice to people who too often are ignored by the corporate media* and too often reviled by their fellow workers.
* Yes, the Sun-Times is a corporation. Unlike the city's other paper, it can sometimes look at issues that affect working people and the poor. The paper investigates issues that matter to Chicago, and it has great columnists in Eric Zorn, Mary Mitchell, Roger Ebert, and Rick Telander. Do I like all of its writers and editorial policies? No. But it hits more than it misses.
[“Sabbath” is this blog’s Sunday feature which wanders beyond the topic of jobs and careers.]
The Agony of My Feet
Yesterday I enjoyed watching the Olympics. Two of my favorite athletes Keri Walsh and Misty May won their first match in beach volleyball. Team gymnastics also was fun to watch. Even when gymnasts make a mistake, they are doing things that are almost superhuman. I won’t pretend to understand how gymnastics is scored, but it is exciting to watch.
Today I haven’t watched one minute of the competition. I don’t want to think about sports or competition. This morning I took the first tennis class of my life. It was great fun, but it confirmed several things: I am not coordinated. I am not a good athlete. Worst of all, I’m in terrible shape. We ended the class with a drill in which 3 player lined up and followed each other in returning shots. The drill went on for about 10-15 minutes. I thought I was going to have a stroke. Now it’s about 8 hours after the class. I’m just sore now and a little stiff. Tomorrow will be hell.
That said, I’m looking forward to next week’s class. It was fun to learn what I’ve been doing wrong for many years. Putting the lessons into practice will be another story. My goal is to learn what I can and have some fun. It’s a game.
Tomorrow I’ll watch the Olympics again. Not today, my feet are too sore.
Last week I ran into a client who had just obtained his LCSW designation (Licensed Clinical Social Worker), which will make it easier for him to get a job. When I congratulated him, my client seemed more depressed than excited. I asked him what was wrong. He told me that he was hesitant to apply for new job because he didn’t have experience.
How can anyone have experience when he or she is starting a new career? It’s impossible. We learn by doing, by failing, and by becoming confident that we can do the job. When I started teaching in my mid-20s, I was almost sick standing in front of a class. That feeling lasted for a few weeks. Then I realized that I could do the job and felt confident. However, we can’t achieve that feeling until we face the frightening and awkward first step into something new. Similarly, when I started writing resumes 10 years ago, I followed the models of other writers. It probably took a year before I felt like the work was mine, not a copy of another writer’s style. Experience takes time.
I told my client that he’s ready, but he doesn’t believe it. He won’t believe it until he convinces himself by taking the leap. That’s how it always starts, overcoming fear and growing confident. Experience will come over months and years. The first step is, well, the first frightening step. It’s hard, but there’s no other way to become a professional.
There is no louder or more passionate voice supporting American workers and unions than radio and TV host Ed Schultz. Ed’s been off the air for over a week, and now we’ve learned why: His wife Wendy has ovarian cancer.
As Ed has said many times on his show, Wendy “changed his heart.” Ed was a conservative. Wendy ran a social service agency, I think it was a homeless shelter or food pantry. She gave Ed a different way of looking at life and caring about people.
Now he will care for her, putting the love of his life before the cameras or the microphone. And that’s the right thing to do. We wouldn’t expect anything less from Big Eddie.
My thoughts and best wishes are with Wendy, Ed, and their family. Be well.
According to an article by Travis Waldron of Think Progress, 25% of the hourly workers in the U.S. have to make do with wages that are less than $10 per hour. Waldron documents that this kind of job is increasing. Many of these workers are employed by very profitable corporations.
Clients always ask me about unemployment, which I admit is a problem. However, wage stagnation and decline is a much bigger problem. Today I met a client who works in healthcare as a medical assistant. He has three certifications. A year ago he was working a 40 hour week and only making $14 an hour (about $28,000 a year, not much in Chicago). Last week he learned that his company had fallen on hard times, his hours have been cut to 28 a week and his pay cut to $12 an hour. Hourly employees have been given no indication that the company’s owners or managers have made a similar sacrifice. Is this the America that some call exceptional? I’d call it embarrassing.
[On Sundays, this blog examines the world beyond careers in “Sabbath.”]
Children of Cain
A few days ago, I read a great profile of the conservative pundit David Frum, which was written by Mark Oppenheimer in The Nation. It’s clear that Oppenheimer admires Frum, even if he disagrees with his politics. At the same time, the author tries to understand his subject by contrasting him with his mother, who was one of Canada’s leading liberal politicians. He finds the answer in an insight from another Nation writer, the great Naomi Klein, who summed up the difference between mother and son in one word: compassion.
Feeling for others. Frum is not alone in calling for a world where people have to make it on their own (while he was collecting a $100,000 salary from the American Enterprise Institute). Republicans and Democrats argue policies as if their sole purpose was to win an election. Their language seldom touches on compassion or sympathy. No one wants to give the poor a “free ride” (no that’s reserved for the super rich and corporations). The poor need to be responsible (You know, like the bailed-out banks and automakers were).
I posted a blog yesterday about the bottom 50% of Americans who have seen their wealth decline from 3% to 1.1% over the last 30 years. Maybe that’s not a big deal to some. It could be argued that the poor are still poor, just a little more so. But it’s hard not to wonder what it means – how it feels – to go from having a little to having even less. Once upon a time, our society had a safety net, social programs to help the poor, disabled, and elderly. More and more, that protection is going away, replaced by the simple message: “You’re on your own.” More to the point, we as a society are looking at our brothers and sisters and saying: “We don’t care.”
The same people who condemn the “Me” generation of the 1960s often preach the gospel of self-reliance. They say things like welfare makes the poor dependent. College grants and loans make students stay in school to avoid work (jobs that don’t exist for young people today). A few months ago I read a book called Hunger of Memory by Richard Rodriguez. Rodriguez is a great thinker and writer, but when it comes to having sympathy for people who don’t have the advantages he did, his solution is simple: I made it – why can’t you?
It’s disturbing how people who enjoy advantages of wealth and power – especially recently acquired wealth and power – have little sympathy for those with less. These people often forget how their achievement was not solely their doing. Rodriguez was lucky enough to be born to parents who put him in a good school. His family lived in a middle class neighborhood. It is absurd to compare his upbringing to that of a kid growing up in poor community attending a school where most of the children share a heritage of poverty, illiteracy, and violence. A child can want to succeed. However, her odds are minimal if she’s growing up in a gang-infested community where there are no jobs, most girls have babies in their teens, and most boys go to jail instead of college.
They need to be more responsible and make good choices. Those words are easy to say. They absolve us of any responsibility for our fellow human beings. We don’t need to sacrifice for others if we can simply say, “Go get your own.” Community means living together. Compassion enables us to feel others’ suffering. We have lost our sense of community and compassion. Think about the alienated young men turned killing machines in Columbine and Virginia Tech and Aurora, Colorado. When we cannot feel sympathy for others, is it any wonder that we are going mad?
“And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel they brother? and he said, I know not. Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9)
Laura Clawson of the Daily Kos has written a perceptive and disturbing article on wealth held by the bottom 50% of Americans. In 1989, this group only held 3% of the nation’s wealth. 18 years later (2007) they held only 1.1%. Clawson cautions that we focus too much on the 1% and forget the gulf of inequality in the country, especially for the very poor. As always, her insight is brilliant – and it will find no voice in the corporate media or our political debates.
All of the experts say that consumers need to buy for the economy to improve. If 50% of the American people have had a nearly 2/3 loss of wealth, how can they spend? More importantly, what kind of lives can they live? Is this American exceptionalism?
Writing in Common Dreams, John Buell explores how workers are afraid to confront their bosses. Moving from the scandal at Penn State to examples from the public and private sector, Buell shows worker fear to be pervasive and well founded. Workers who step out of line should expect to be fired. Buell ends on a ray of hope, the Mondragon* collective in Spain and similar organizations in the U.S., where give themselves rights by owning the workplace.
* Mondragon’s tagline is “Humanity at work.” For too many American workers, humanity at work is a very foreign concept.
Paul Krugman has posted two very disturbing blogs on wages. In one, he demonstrates that median earnings for full-time male employees have been flat since the 1970s. How do people compensate for inflation? Krugman answers this question with a second graph that shows rising levels of debt from the 1980s-2010. In his second post, Krugman contrasts a steady growth in productivity over 40 years with a flat line for hourly compensation since the 1970s. If this graph is accurate, who benefited from the increase in productivity? It wasn’t hourly workers.