Saturday, February 1, 2014

The REAL State of the Union

(Last night, I got an email from a friend in Florida, one responding to a letter I wrote him the year before last! And in this email, he told me that he was better off at 20 than he was now. My friend Bob's a consultant who's worked with NASA and has personally known people whose names you used to read in the headlines all the time. And despite being a highly trained consultant for NASA, he's fallen on hard times as NASA's budget has taken a sledgehammering as have so many of us. This is the full text of the email I'd just sent him and I think it was good enough to explain not only my own situation in particular but our collective situation as a nation.)

     We were all better off financially at 20 than we are, now. Except if you're in the 1%. Back in 1978 when I went out on my own, I could earmark just 25% of my meager, minimum wage income for rent in a rooming house, eat out every night and still be able to put money in the bank. Try living in a rooming house nowadays if you make minimum wage. If you're lucky enough to work 40 hours a week, which almost no one ever does, at $7.25 an hour, that would be just $290 a week, gross. Let's figure in about 15% for taxes. That would be $43.50 in withholding, leaving about $247.50 net for all your expenses.
     Now, with rooms in rooming house now going for about $150 week (at least here in MA), that already leaves you, after working a full 40 hours a week, with less than $100 for food and other expenses. Forget about health insurance, even if your job provides it. Before ObamaCare, that could easily eat up over half of that meager $97.50 you're left with. With more and more rooming house slumlords also charging for electricity, that further erodes your income. Forget about getting on SNAP. If you're making nearly $1200 a month gross, whatever you'd get from your local Office of Transitional Assistance would be a joke.
     If you need a car to get to your minimum wage job, well, now you're talking about $50 a month in auto insurance, not to mention gas, repair bills, annual excise taxes, license and registration renewal, inspections, etc. Obviously, this would require a second job at a time when even one job is hard to come by. I saw a study recently that showed there isn't one state in the union where a minimum wage job is sufficient to keep body and soul together. Some states have cost of living figures so high (such as California and New York) that even two minimum wage jobs isn't sufficient.
     Add to this toxic mix the fact that people even applying for low-paying jobs have to submit to humiliating credit background checks, as if that's an accurate indicator of character and future job performance. Did you ever have to submit to a credit background check in the 70's, Bob? I never did. And how are you supposed to keep your credit rating in 4 digits after losing your job due to downsizing or outsourcing and have been out of work for years as I have? The guys with the best credit ratings are the same psychopaths who've done the most damage to the world economy.
     You and I, Bob, are from a generation in which we can compare the America we knew as young men and compare that to the one in which we now live. It's like a completely different country. The American Dream is now a fever dream in which corporations run everything, commit the most horrendous crimes against their own workers and get massive tax breaks for offshoring our jobs overseas under the ridiculous rubric of "remaining competitive." Just a couple of years ago, some outfit in Marlboro and Devens, MA named Evergreen Solar, which made solar panels, shipped over 800 of our jobs to Wuhan, China. Just one year before, they got a $52,000,000 tax break from Gov. Deval Patrick to bring jobs to Massachusetts. But the condition was that they do so for only a year. Barely a year after that scummy under-the-table deal, they immediately began laying off hundreds. They even built a new factory in Wuhan, China.
     It cost $50,000,000.
     Criminals are running our country. They're gouging us in our bills, polluting our environment, writing our legislation, they're sending our jobs overseas so they can scrimp on overhead, they steal our pensions and 401(k)s and instead of being marched to the guillotine like in the 18th century, we put their jiggling pusses on the cover of Forbes and make them richer than ever. And they still want more. One scumbag named Tom Perkins recently compared that criticism of the 1% to the Nazi purge of Jews. Yes, he actually compared it to Kristallnacht.
     If you're 55 like me and have been out of work for close to five years as I have, then that's pretty much the French kiss of death in our youth-obsessed nation. Hiring managers automatically figure if you've been out of work for 5 years, there's something seriously wrong with you without once considering people like them ARE the reason I've been unemployed for so long. And if you're me, then the odds of finding a decent job that can actually keep body and soul together are roughly comparable to winning the Powerball jackpot.
     This isn't the America I once knew, Bob. The USA we used to know had no problem with keeping a compact with the American worker. "You show up for work on time, do a good job, stay with us for 20 or more years, you'll be able to buy a house, put a kid or two through college, pay all your bills, buy a new car every few years and you can retire with a good pension."
     That's a pipe dream nowadays. All the money has been vacuumed up to the top. Last year, about 85% of the new wealth that was generated was gobbled up by the 1%. The average American has a .69 stake for every billion dollars of wealth, whereas the figure goes up to $43 in Norway. Wages of have remained stagnant for the last 30 years while CEO pay has shot up to about 400+ times what their average workers make (In the 60's, it was about 50 times). And these cocksuckers are still screaming about our Socialist president and having to pay 35% in corporate taxes that many of them don't even pay. When I was a kid in 1975, the minimum wage was $2.15 an hour. nearly four decades later, it's barely $5 more than that and is still well into single digits. My senior Senator Elizabeth Warren once famously said last year if the minimum wage was consistent with production, the minimum wage would be $22 an hour.
     Obama's proposing a raise to $9 an hour, still well into single digits and these 1% scumbags are STILL screaming at the top of their lungs about it going up even by so much as a penny, even though Congress hasn't raised it since 2006 and it being frozen for 11 straight years starting with Goddamned Reagan.
     After I pay my rent today, Bob, I don't know where we'll be in a month. My heating bills are through the roof, I have to renew my registration in less than a month (another $50 out of my pocket), both the IRS and DOR are after me, ME, for back taxes while these tax-dodging executive scum have massive tax rebates sent to them every fucking year courtesy of guys like you and me, allowing them to pay negative taxes.
     Meanwhile, in many cities, we've actually criminalized not only indigence but also altruism. It's now a crime to feed the poor and homeless. Shelters in Florida are actually charging as much as $43 a night for a bed. And some whackjob in Hawaii is actually taking a sledgehammer to the possessions of the homeless as if that'll cure the problem and the local TV station seriously asks, "Does it help?" in an online poll.
     We've turned into a nation run by the cruel and stupid, this nation that was once renowned the world over for openly inviting those abroad to come to our shores for a new and better life, the one pursued by my Italian grandparents and countless of tens of millions like them. Now we demonize immigrants, ignore our own homeless and indigent and criminalize any attempts to alleviate their suffering.
     I was telling Barbara just last night that if by some miracle we win the lottery, I'll gladly leave this country for good and jettison my citizenship for that of a more progressive country. I'd hate to do that but considering what this country has turned into, I'd be left with no other choice.
     I'm glad you've recovered from your pneumonia and hope for your continued good health. If you don't hear from me in a month, it's because Barb and I got evicted because right now, it's looking pretty fucking grim. And I don't see any way out of this mess either personally or macroscopically.
     Fare well, my friend.


At February 3, 2014 at 6:09 PM, Anonymous Anton said...

When I was 20-something, I recall being able to pay rent, have some $ left over for medicinal - recreational herbs, have plenty to spend on books & food, get my cousin to co-sign a car loan, make payments, take courses at local colleges, go to rock's all lost in this rapacious rerun of the Gilded Age. Time to solve the hunger problem of the underclass by EATING THE RICH!


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