Normally, in American politics, Democratic and Republican politicians come to compromises where each party gives its constituents something they want.
In the Republicans’ case, that usually means lower taxes (especially lower corporate taxes) and less regulation on businesses. It can also mean higher spending on the military.
In the Democrats’ case, that usually means increased spending on public goods, such as healthcare and education. It can also mean tax cuts specifically targeted at people who don’t make a ton of money.
But in this case…
a Democratic politician (Obama)
is trying to cut a deal wherein he will reduce federal benefits for retired and disabled people that have remained untouched for decades (Social Security)
in return for higher taxes on the wealthy, which is one of the better ways to reduce the deficit, yes, but can anyone put it in their pocket? No.
Actually, he really wants to reduce benefits for retired and disabled people AND implement a highly regressive tax hike on middle class and low-income working people – according to the budget overview released by the White House, they’re “using a chained measure of inflation for cost-of-living adjustments throughout the Budget,” (emphasis mine) “with protections for the most vulnerable” – no word on what exactly those protections are.
Now mind you, Obama’s budget proposal doesn’t entirely suck. There’s a long-overdue increase in the minimum wage, to $9/hour. There’s increased investment in highway and bridge repair, and in scientific research. There’s also another proposal I’m kind of iffy about, namely a universal preschool program funded by a tax on tobacco. It’s the kind of thing I would have been wholeheartedly behind when I was a teenager – I mean obviously this country is way overdue to have universal preschool, and I don’t smoke, in fact just being around people smoking makes me physically sick – but having experienced life as a member of the working poor, I’m now not so sure it’s a great idea, because tobacco taxes are deeply regressive. They’re a sales tax – regressive in itself because it’s not tied to income – and also, from what I can see anecdotally, the number of smokers seems to go up the lower you go on the socioeconomic scale. Which I can understand on a personal level too, as someone who’s struggled on and off with binge eating. We all have addictive behaviors we turn to under stress, and if you’re lower-income you’re going to have more stress, and it’s not like you can relieve it by taking a vacation or going to a spa or doing “retail therapy” the way the women’s magazines all seem to assume you should do.
But really…cutting Social Security? I smell a rat here. This is political suicide for the Democrats if the Republicans actually take the deal. It’s classic austerity: raise taxes on everybody, cut spending on everybody. Which of course is supposedly going to reduce the debt, but actually ends up killing the economy. I advise readers to follow very closely which politicians get behind this stinking cow pie of a budget “deal”, and see how much they’re getting in campaign donations from the finance sector. I think the results will be very revealing.
REMEMBER, PEOPLE OF AMERICA: DON’T LET THESE ASSHOLE POLITICIANS MAKE “TOUGH CHOICES” ABOUT THE BUDGET ON YOUR BACKS. IT ISN’T TOUGH FOR THEM.
Ah, the subtle art of reading job market statistics. Akin to reading tea leaves, except that those who do it for a living are more likely to be white guys in suits than women in interesting dresses.
The US Labor Department just came out with a report showing lackluster hiring this month. So everybody’s looking around for someone to blame. As someone looking for a job that doesn’t completely suck, I count myself in this number.
On the PBS Newshour Friday, Mark Shields (their resident “left” commentator) and David Brooks (their resident “right” commentator) had a discussion on the topic that I think was actually fairly intelligent, and therefore worth quoting at length.
There was a sense — and I had been hearing from economists, from businesspeople that we are finally reaching takeoff, because the housing market has been looking a lot better. The private debt has been looking a little better. So all of the fundamentals seem to be fine that we’re taking off. And that clearly is not the case, or probably not the case.
And so now we’re stuck in this frustrating economy. And, politically, you began to see everybody rallying around their favorite causes. Why does this happen? Some people pick on sequestration. But the timing isn’t quite right for that. The sequestration is probably going to hit, to the extent it does, later. Then, oh, maybe it’s because the payroll tax was raised or restored to earlier levels.
But, again, retail, jobs were down, retail sales not so much down, maybe health care. Well, it’s hard to see.
Well first of all, thanks for not immediately going “it’s the Republicans’ fault” or “it’s Obama’s fault”. Second of all, let’s look more closely at retail. You say later in the program:
You go into a drugstore now, it used to — there would be four cashiers checking you out. Now there’s four automatic machines and one person helping out the four machines.
Yes. That’s it, exactly. And the average number of hours someone in retail worked per week last month: 31.7. The average hourly wage was $16.57, but anybody who’s ever worked in retail can tell you what kind of picture produced that number: store managers and retail buyers earning high wages for 40-50 hours per week of work, while salespeople and stockers earn close to minimum wage with hours that vary between 20-40 per week depending on immediate business needs. The report also says that employment continued to trend up in temporary help services. Which could explain what Stephen Bronars, chief economist of Welch Consulting (PhD in economics from the University of Chicago, so probably not a raging liberal) had to say to ABC News about the jobs numbers:
In February, the country showed a large increase in part-time jobs.
“Another month of data will help decide whether this was an anomaly, or whether part-time jobs are taking the place of full-time jobs,” Bronars said.
Bronars also expressed concern that the labor force participation continues to lag.
“Much of the decline in the unemployment rate has been due to people giving up their job search. A decrease in the unemployment rate and an increase in labor force participation are needed for a healthy recovery,” he said.
According to the above-quoted report, the S&P 500 is at an all-time high. Now what does that tell you?
What I’m trying to say here is, I think the shitty economic numbers are due to deliberate decisions on the part of employers to hire part-time workers, sometimes-part-time-sometimes-full-time workers, and temporary workers instead of creating living-wage jobs. Why? Because they can. Let’s not sugar-coat it here by saying it’s due to “globalization” or “technology”, impersonal forces that let the bosses off the hook. The “gee-whiz” types will try to do that, as in, “Gee whiz, isn’t it amazing that I can videochat with people in China on my iPad? And that I can play ‘Jeopardy’ against a supercomputer and ride in a driverless car? Some uneducated workers will lose their jobs because of it, but hey, that’s the price of moving into the future.” It’s bullshit, a way of avoiding talking about the impact government regulation has, the differences between laissez-faire economies like the US and economies like the Scandinavian ones where workers have much more rights, the differences between companies who CHOOSE to take the “high road” vs. the “low road”.
Interestingly, one of the few non-shitty job types where employment is on the rise is in accounting and bookkeeping services. To me, this suggests that employers are really going through their books carefully in order to figure out how to reduce expenses, labor expenses in particular.
Mark Shields said something important:
11.7 million Americans were looking for jobs to go to last month, and they didn’t find one. And we have people, lowest percentage in the work force now in 34 years, 1979, which some of us may recall wasn’t a great time economically in this country.
And I think the earlier discussion really raised what I think is the fundamental question. I mean, the moral test of any society is whether that economy serves the human beings in it or the human beings are there to serve the economy. We have got corporate profits at an all-time high. We have got the stock market going through the roof. And yet we have this human waste of capital and these broken human dreams.
And I just think it’s time beyond just a quick Band-Aid fix or whatever. We have got to examine that. If we’re not going to produce jobs, I mean, what are we going to do with these people with their abilities, with their energy, with their ambition, with their time? I just think it’s a serious, serious question.
Well, I’ve got some possible answers.
1. Increase the minimum wage. Thus making work pay for the many, many people who are looking at the job market, seeing mostly part-time and/or minimum-wage positions available, and saying “fuck it, I can’t live on that anyway.” And possibly preventing some suicides. (See previous posts.)
2. Give everybody a guaranteed basic income, like in Alaska. Make it enough to actually live on. This will result in an explosion of entrepreneurship, creativity, scientific innovation, and higher wages from employers, as people with great ideas can finally afford to quit their day jobs and devote themselves to those great ideas full-time, and as employers find themselves having to use the reward of more money and better working environments to attract workers, instead of the threat of homelessness.
So I just randomly found a NY Times article that apparently got a lot of buzz on the Internet, no doubt because it’s about dating and sex. It’s about the end of courtship among the “Millenial” generation, here translated as “people in their twenties who are white, straight, college-educated and have trendy jobs”.
I read it and couldn’t stop laughing. Never mind whether traditional dating is dead among the young; that’s a debate that’s been going on for almost a century. Just check out this quote that shows what passes for research among “journalists” at the NY Times:
For evidence, look no further than “Girls,” HBO’s cultural weather vane for urban 20-somethings
For evidence, look no further than “Girls.”
For evidence, look no further than “Girls.”
Made my day. Thanks, NY Times!
Because this blog isn’t just about political issues: it’s about the things that piss me off. And this is a big one. Because when someone is telling me to smile, I’m generally in one of two states:
1. Not depressed. In which case it’s insulting to have random strangers assume that I must be upset–when I’m really fine–and therefore in need of their expert advice–when I’m really not, even when I am depressed.
2. Depressed. In which case somebody telling me to smile is not going to magically make the unhappiness go away. Especially since said person is generally a stranger, and not someone interested in doing the actual work it would take to really make me happy. Like being my best friend and listening to me bitch about my problems, or giving me a bunch of money.
And that’s the key, isn’t it? When people tell you to smile, it’s not because they genuinely care about your hapiness, it’s because they are put off by your non-smiley appearance. Either because seeing someone without a smile on threatens to disturb the rose-coloured bubble they usually live in, or more likely, because they think you’d be much sexier eye candy for them if you’d only smile a little. And then the message is: “Smile because I tell you to.” Just like working a customer service job, except you’re not even getting paid. Not exactly a recipe for happiness there. More likely a recipe for me wanting to punch you in the face.
What I’m wondering is: do guys get this too? I’ve heard/read a lot of women complaining about this, and saying that noone says it to guys, but maybe guys get it too and just complain about it less. (If that’s the case: before you men congratulate yourselves on how much less whiny you are than women, consider that you’re not also dealing with the other kind of street harassment, the kind that involves offensive comments about your derriere.)
For anybody who might care: I’m ok. I’m still broke, but not suicidal anymore, and working at getting a better job/making money thru small-business type stuff. My next few posts will be more non-political stuff: not the norm for me, but these days I’ve been avoiding the news because our whole joke of a “gun-control debate” is just too fucking triggering for me right now.
I tried to hang myself Monday.
I had been working at Jiffy Lube since September, for minimum wage. When I was brought on they told me the job would be full time with possible overtime, but the past 1 or 2 months I’d been given variable hours, more like 25-32 hours per week on average, and not just during the holidays either. Even before they reduced my hours it had been frustrating, because I made too much money to get food stamps but at minimum wage, all that did was make me dependent on the local food bank. I wasn’t too bothered, though, because I was interviewing for better things and had come very close (I thought) to being hired for a full-time job doing mental health peer advocacy work, something I actually care about. Being told someone else had been hired was what precipitated the suicide attempt.
Before working at Jiffy Lube I had worked at a telephone survey place called Abt SRBI, all evening and weekend shifts. The hourly pay was better, but they had a nasty habit there of booking people for 6-7 hour shifts and then telling them they’d have to go home 3 hours early because there wasn’t enough work.
I’m a musician. There’s equipment, amps and mikes and things, that I want to make enough money to save up for. I could not live like this.
I had been on Wellbutrin since December 12th. It hadn’t made a difference, any more than the other pills had–no side effects, no desired effects either. At the follow-up visit, my doctor asked how long I’d been depressed, and when I told her, she said I had treatment-resistant depression and suggested either antipsychotics or electroshock. Instead, I looked up the instructions online and bought a piece of rope at the surplus store. I tied a noose knot on one end and secured it to a bookshelf on my bedroom wall. I put my neck in the loop and began to sat down. Then I thought, maybe I haven’t yet exhausted all the possibilities. Luckily I live in an area with a peer respite house, a place where you can go when you’re in crisis that isn’t a hospital, but a healing environment with privacy and nobody forcing drugs on you and someone there to talk to 24/7 if you want it. I called them and stayed there for the week. While there, my depression lessened a bit. But the anger did not lessen at all.
I am putting out a call for donations from readers of this blog. I’m asking for money because I’m in kind of a catch-22 situation right now–I’m $900 in debt from a car accident several months ago and the precarity of my finances means that every hour of work I do counts, but at the same time, the fact that this precarity is due to a deliberate policy decision on the part of my employers means that, day by day, my job is becoming nearly impossible to stand working at emotionally. I feel like any minute I might either physically collapse or open up my mouth and tell the truth. I deal with this mostly by constant snacking to stuff the feelings down, which has its own problems as I’m not currently getting any food stamps. Hence, the appeal to the little PayPal button on the right-hand side of the page.
This isn’t just about me, though. I know I’m not the only person in this country whose job is killing them. We might even be in the majority now–certainly when I look at Craigslist job postings in my area, most of the ones I see are part time. And the political rhetoric I hear on the news is so focused on jobs this, jobs that, green jobs, welfare to work programs, “job creators” etc., but what the hell is the point of having a job if all it allows you to do is earn just enough to fulfill the basic conditions of physical survival so you can work another day? All those conservatives saying we’re lazy and should just get a job–well, why should we, when work doesn’t pay? I imagine a hub, maybe a Tumblr blog along the lines of “We Are The 99%”, where all of us working poor can share our very real grievances. And then I imagine us all just going on strike. How much business would still be run in this country, do you think, if everyone forced to work part time said “fuck it” and just stayed home? Or better yet, said “fuck you” in picket lines, out in the streets? Or better yet, took over their factories and retail stores, locked the bosses out, kept all the money earned?
I think of the aborted French revolution of May 1968. A slogan from that time comes to mind: “Don’t negotiate with bosses, abolish them.” And another slogan, if you can call it that, a piece of graffiti written by someone who maybe was working at the time and just as close to death as I was:
“We want to live.”
…And when I look at this country I see the eyes of a million minimum wage workers, and workers at jobs where the hourly wage is decent on paper but the hours are different every week, the young ones fresh out of high school with its diminished prospects or college with its debt load, the idealists scrambling between useless work that pays enough to survive on and useful work that doesn’t, the young men fresh out of the prison system trying to change their lives for good, but too often going right back into the drug game because at least that shit pays some real money, enough to have a feeling of status of progress of hope, the young women more often going into stripping, same reason. The vets who came back too injured in body or soul to use the killing skills on their resumes to land a well-paid job at the Police Department, the moms worrying over how they’ll be able to pay the heating bill this month because they had to take unpaid leave when their kids got sick, the poets writing on the sly, the jovial ones trading stories of who beat up who and funny car crashes and how totally hammered they got at the bar last night, this is America. Once upon a time politicians used to tell us how it was teenagers who took minimum wage jobs part time, to learn responsibility or some shit, but I’ve never seen any teenagers here. And the older women, always the older women: carrying their handbags and their outrage, laid off from the jobs where they were paid well and respected to be replaced if at all by young women half their age, with half their knowledge and half their salary, with better fashion sense and readier smiles and less pride, the older women reading their romance novels where the heroine is called beautiful and smart and uniquely desirable and always, always irreplaceable. And the families who took out the mortgage back when the boss was talking promotions not layoffs only to end up with the house underwater, and the families whose homes are literally underwater, black mold creeping in making breathing dangerous, combined product of a one-day hurricane and decades-long institutional neglect. And the politicians talk about hard work and self-reliance but they never seem to factor in what happens when your car breaks down, or your body breaks down, or your marriage breaks up. And they never factor in the despair, the feeling you get after the job you figured was just a stopgap turns into months and then years and you start to ask what’s it all for? After the new job you wore your best clothing to interview for pays enough to disqualify you for food stamps but not enough to pay your monthly grocery bills and you start to ask what’s it all for? When you can’t get the smell of your job out of your hair after washing it three times and you start to ask what’s it all for? When you have lower back pain from pushing around a vacuum all week or wrist pain from tying knots on boxes at top speed and you start to ask what’s it all for? When you smile and say “Have a nice day” a hundred times a day and never once express your own thoughts, and your soul silently cries what’s it all for? And you just get fed up and want to smash capitalism smash the state and most of all smash the faces of those mergers and acquisitions dealmakers and corporate CEOs who preach on TV the old Protestant work ethic, the old lie that work, all by itself, will make you free, Arbeit Macht Frei, well everything sounds scarier in German doesn’t it.