Sunday, October 7, 2018
It's Winter in October for Older American Workers
Winter Arrives Early for American Workers,
Especially Older Ones Like Myself
Pastor Paul J. Bern
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“....for the worker is worth his/her wages.” (Luke 10: 7)
“Do not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain.” (Deut. 25: 4)
“Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.” (James 5: 4)
The US Department of Labor's announcement on Friday of this week about US unemployment numbers for September were simply stunning, primarily for their untruthfulness. Really now, 3.7%, this is what those inside the Beltway expect us all to believe? Granted, jobs are plentiful, there are no two ways about it. But this figure is only for those working full time 40 hour per week jobs. What is being swept under the rug is the huge drop in wages that has been gradually ongoing for decades. Moreover, those who are working multiple part-time jobs are not being counted at all. Neither are those such as myself, who have simply given up looking for work permanently. America's unemployment rate may well be at 3.7%, but the quality and pay rate for those jobs are abysmal.
In point of fact, due to the minimum wage here in Georgia where I live being a paltry $7.25 per hour, many people who work still rely on public assistance, mostly for groceries and utilities. The minimum wage in over half the country is still stuck at this level. In a country that bills itself as the world's richest, a minimum wage of only $7.25 hourly is a crime against humanity! There are even those who work who are homeless and living in shelters or with relatives – even sharing living quarters with strangers. Such is the state of affairs for the average American worker here in the early 21st century. We have all been sucked into a whirlpool of debt slavery!
I was among the least fortunate. After being forced out of IT after the dot-com crash in 2001 I changed careers, putting myself and my small pickup truck to work as a contract delivery driver for a local courier company. I did just fine for over 3 ½ years, and I stayed busy the majority of the time. But then I suffered a stroke in March 2006, 4 months after my 50th birthday. Although I did recover from my stroke after a week or two, I had a hard time handling the heavy boxes of printed matter and other small freight jobs that were my bread and butter. Then my van abruptly broke down. It needed an $800.00 fuel pump, and I only had half that much, so my days as a courier were over. After a 4-month period of homelessness during the summer of 2006, I managed to re-enter the technology field I was trained in that I had left 4 years previously.
I had the good fortune of landing a job as a phone rep working at IBM's main call center in Sandy Springs, Georgia, an Atlanta suburb. The following year, the agency I was working for laid off all the oldest people, and I was one of the first to go. Over the next 6 years, I bounced around from one IT staffing position to another. All the jobs were temporary, even though I wanted permanent work. While this was happening, the frequency of those temporary assignments gradually decreased. By the fall of 2008, I could only find short-term assignments, and that's when I ran out of money and unemployment benefits. For the second time in three years, I found myself homeless and unable to sustain myself, and this time I was without a car. One day I wandered into a homeless shelter asking for help, and the next thing I knew I was on my way to a hospital. It turns out I had double pneumonia, plus blood clots in my legs, and I had no idea I was in that bad of shape. I was also suicidal after being homeless and on the street for the previous three weeks. I was a real mess.
I'm now in my tenth year of recovery from the gradual but complete collapse of my physical and mental health from 2006-2008. Personally, I credit my faith in Christ's healing power for pulling me through. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, chronic depression, and PTSD, not counting my cardiac issues. I've since learned that recovery from mental health issues are similar to addiction recovery – I take it one day at a time. But, as we all know, the first step to any recovery from a health crisis, whether it be physical, mental or spiritual, is to be honest enough with ourselves to admit to the existence of the problem. Only then can one recognize that it is advantageous to find ways of dealing with one's illness – not only for oneself, but for all we know or come into contact with.
My original plan once I was released from the hospital was to get well enough to return to the workforce, but after being out of the job market for nearly 2 years, all attempts at obtaining employment in my field – either as a contractor or an employee – proved fruitless. So I looked into retraining for a new career as a long haul truck driver, only to be told that I didn't qualify for financial aid because I had a poor credit rating due to my unpaid medical bills (I had no insurance when my stroke occurred). While all this was happening, the bottom fell out as far as wages were concerned within the IT industry. Technicians and support personnel like myself who used to make $20-35 dollars an hour are now being paid $10-$12 dollars per hour for essentially the same work, and that's assuming they're lucky enough to have a job. Financially speaking, it is a profoundly sad state of affairs.
But that is only half the story for myself and for the multitudes of others who suffer various ailments that are brought on by being under extreme stress. The rest of the story for nearly all who are managing a physical or mental illness diagnosis, and especially those who are suffering while not yet diagnosed, can be summed up in two words: Economic devastation. During my recovery I discovered that reentering the job market was nearly impossible for a man in his fifties like myself. After an additional 1.5 years of searching fruitlessly in my field (I was a computer/IT pro with a total of 21 years experience), I was forced to settle for being put on disability instead. I hate depending on the federal government because I do not trust the government! Any country that spends more on wars overseas than it does looking after its citizens at home is a government gone mad. I wanted to return to work but I was prevented from doing so, partially because I can't afford to own a car anymore. That, and because companies won't hire older workers because we won't work for 8 bucks an hour (we know economic slavery when we see it). In effect, the system has kicked me to the curb unjustly, and my case is only one of tens of millions.
But, if America had a system in place for retraining American workers who can't afford a student loan, I and the millions of others like me would have a way to train for new vocations and professions without having to pass a credit check. If I could have had a way to do this, I could have gone back to work as a long haul trucker and became a taxpayer again. Instead, I subsist on my tiny little disability check, living off the taxpayers when I would rather be contributing. Tough luck for me, I guess. But even though I'm in my sixties, it shouldn't have to be this way for formerly hard-working American taxpayers like myself who can still be productive. So now you know why I continue to work from home without pay, blogging and writing nonfiction books about my passion for social justice and equality, as well as for my faith.
So, I am forced to conclude that the American system is rigged. I can't go back to work even though I'm still healthy enough to do so and would like to. I can't go back to school due to an artificially constructed financial barrier known as student loans. Although I'm certain that I could be successful in learning a new trade even at my age, that does not matter because I can't pay the price of admission. The for-profit health care system that we are currently stuck with is the same way. Health care and higher education in the early 21st century US are easily available for those who can afford it while both have been intentionally put of out reach for those who cannot. And that, people, is a recipe for revolution any day of the year.