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“This town is dragging everyone down,” Tabi said a few days later.
December 10, 2012 9:35 AM   Subscribe

With a bloody knife in her hand and a circular saw whining behind her, labor laws being violated by the minute, Tabi decided on the spot that work offered freedom. She went back the next two winters, through 10th grade. Off-season, she cleaned rental properties, clerked in a mini-mart and baled hay at a farm. In a rural Rust Belt town, seventeen-year-old Tabi Rouzzo plans her escape.
posted by Snarl Furillo (72 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

 
I don't know a lot about life, but I suspect that if I had had to work as hard at life as Tabi I would be a huge failure of a human being.
posted by Phredward at 9:52 AM on December 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


Amazing to realize that although I was also born in a poor, rural area, on a struggling farm that compared to Tabi I was born a Rothschild.

Sad Monday.
posted by Cosine at 9:58 AM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Man, things were so much easier when you could just marry well.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:59 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I actually breathed a sigh of relief when she joined the Navy. This poor kid, under only her own steam, would have been just buried under a mountain of debt by college. I'm no militarist, but at least while she's enlisted she'll get some schooling for free.
posted by Athene at 10:03 AM on December 10, 2012 [12 favorites]


That's very sad. I mean, I'm happy that she's happy with her choice of the Navy, but after such a childhood, she deserved going to college while she was still young.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:07 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wow. Almost 3,000 comments on that story. I kept hoping they would've asked her "why are you like this, how is it you can see a way out when so many others can't?" That would've been my first question, why is she so different? I mean, isn't that the most important question?
posted by Blake at 10:07 AM on December 10, 2012 [8 favorites]


Some people can't abide shackles.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:12 AM on December 10, 2012 [15 favorites]


I kept hoping they would've asked her "why are you like this, how is it you can see a way out when so many others can't?" That would've been my first question, why is she so different?

I grew up in a town that was a few steps above Tabi's, but I knew plenty of Tabis. Sometimes being able to see the way out isn't enough - there are plenty of people who see the right path. You also have to have fucking nerves of steel and a single-minded determination to not just SEE that path, but actually WALK it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:14 AM on December 10, 2012 [9 favorites]


I don't think of the Navy as a way out of poverty; it's sort of an extension of it, in many ways.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:14 AM on December 10, 2012 [11 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos
>>a single-minded determination to not just SEE that path, but actually WALK it.

Where the hell does that come from? In her case it sure isn't her mother. Can that be taught? Is it just inborn? This story doesn't answer my questions... I guess I'll start searching, I'm sure people have studied this to death.
posted by Blake at 10:18 AM on December 10, 2012


I think there are millions of Tabis out there, and that people should pay a hell of a lot more attention to them.

I hope Tabi escapes. I hope she gets back in touch with Deric, too.
posted by KHAAAN! at 10:19 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't think of the Navy as a way out of poverty; it's sort of an extension of it, in many ways.

Yeah? Try telling that to the millions of people who had no other options for job skills, or college tuition. I joined the military at 17 after growing up in poverty. It put me through college and I am now a self-sufficient professional in one of the nation's largest cities. So, basically, in my case (and I would guess many others) you're entirely incorrect.
posted by IvoShandor at 10:19 AM on December 10, 2012 [74 favorites]


Where the hell does that come from? In her case it sure isn't her mother. Can that be taught? Is it just inborn? This story doesn't answer my questions... I guess I'll start searching, I'm sure people have studied this to death.


Hope.
posted by srboisvert at 10:23 AM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Where the hell does that come from? In her case it sure isn't her mother. Can that be taught? Is it just inborn?

A little of both - an inborn determination with some kind of outside validation. In my case it was the other theater geeks who supported the "yay I'm going to go into theater" determination on my part; not least of which was one of my best friends who also signed up for the same university and same program as me. Having that validation when my parents were a bit...lukewarm about it kept me going. It sounds like Tabi had her boyfriend and the guidance counselor.

But you have to bring some of that grit to the table yourself, too.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:24 AM on December 10, 2012


Godspeed, Tabi.

Chalk one up for that evil welfare state jobs program.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:25 AM on December 10, 2012


I don't think of the Navy as a way out of poverty; it's sort of an extension of it, in many ways.

Unless you're driven like this girl is. She won't be content to sit back and be a low-ranked sailor forever, or screw around for a few years, decide she doesn't like the highly regimented life on a ship, and get out with no other prospects; she'll get the training and the paid-for schooling she needs and get out, or she'll stay in and rise through the ranks. Either way it's a great opportunity for someone like her.

Good luck to her.
posted by olinerd at 10:27 AM on December 10, 2012 [13 favorites]


Ah, the military. The biggest social assistance program in the US. Good for her I guess - the Navy beats getting actually shot at.
posted by GuyZero at 10:27 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


It is such a shame that you have to be an extraordinary child...an extraordinary CHILD...to be able to pull yourself even slightly up out of that sort of environment. There aren't many Tabis in the world, and there are plenty of people...of US...who could and should be finding those who aren't extraordinary, but deserve to have something better than just scraping along.

Children shouldn't be put in the position to have to bootstrap themselves out of poverty.
posted by xingcat at 10:27 AM on December 10, 2012 [29 favorites]


On top of school, she started night classes to get certified as an EMT. True to her promise, her mother enrolled, too, and they sat side by side, sharing Tabi’s textbook.

Did anyone else get a pause in their breath when they read that? Not because it seemed nice that Patricia was attempting to better herself but because it just seemed like another avenue for the Patricia of several paragraphs up to screw things up for Tabi?
posted by sourwookie at 10:30 AM on December 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


New Castle is only about an hour outside of downtown Pittsburgh but it really might as well be in a different universe. There dozens of tough little dead industrial towns in Western PA and I have no idea if they'll ever get better. Sadly people there keep voting in tea party types to congress who want to make things worse by cutting benefits and heath care and making birth control even harder to get. This guy is the congress person for New Castle and he's all about less taxes and more guns.
posted by octothorpe at 10:31 AM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


So, basically, in my case (and I would guess many others) you're entirely incorrect.

I think the point being made here is that, although the armed services are one of the best and most respected 'escape hatches' available in American society to escape poverty, they carry with them the unpleasant implication that our nation is a country run by a handful of aristocrats, protected by an essentially indentured army. That is, if this country was run properly, serving our country would be a choice made only out of patriotism, not out of necessity.

This, in short, is the downside of a volunteer military: as much as we like to think of our fallen patriots as equals in death, the ones left behind are perhaps just a touch more equal.
posted by fifthrider at 10:32 AM on December 10, 2012 [16 favorites]


Buddy of mine likes to tell how if he wanted to eat on the weekends, he had to go kill dinner; he still refuses to eat any cheese that isn't on a pizza. He went in the Corps; with his celestial ASVAB scores they were gonna lend him to the Navy to be a nuclear engineer, but he insisted on infantry - said he needed the hard work. When he got out, he worked delivering hardware and as a butcher's apprentice. He went to school for a year, but found it not to his liking. Now he's the head robot technician at a rice cake factory. When I was last employed, with a Professional Engineer license and a top-20 college degree, he was still making more than me. Some people just have *drive*.
posted by notsnot at 10:33 AM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm not even sure some people are reading the same article I am. This isn't inspiring, it's horrifying. The story of the one person in a thousand who has the sheer energy to put in this level of work, and the endgame, which isn't even the "end" because she's still got a looooong way to go, is... EMT training and the military? That's it? No degree, the military, and strained relationships with her family, and then what?

Kids who want to throw themselves wholeheartedly into Getting Out aren't really that uncommon. 25-year-olds who still have the energy to keep trying when they've been working like this since childhood and still haven't gotten further than this are.
posted by gracedissolved at 10:34 AM on December 10, 2012 [41 favorites]


I find the slaps at the Navy misplaced. As others note it can be a career, or with the veterans benefits such as the GI Bill, a leg up to a civilian career. There are opportunities for specialist training and OCS. My brother barely managed an administrative discharge (due to family issues), but owns his house because of a VA loan.

And let's remember, while we're at it, what her Senator thought of college.
posted by dhartung at 10:34 AM on December 10, 2012


unpleasant implication that our nation is a country run by a handful of aristocrats, protected by an essentially indentured army.

And it is, for the most part. But it doesn't change the fact that many, many people derive great benefit by serving in the U.S. military, and for many that lifeline is essential. I don't expect any great change to come along and help those in poverty any time soon, so it remains a viable choice for many young Americans.
posted by IvoShandor at 10:35 AM on December 10, 2012


Too bad the war on poverty never caught on like the war on drugs.
posted by mattbucher at 10:39 AM on December 10, 2012 [28 favorites]


But it doesn't change the fact that many, many people derive great benefit by serving in the U.S. military, and for many that lifeline is essential.

I never said it did. Hell, it's definitely helping one of my cousin's get out from under his mentally ill, ex(?)-heroin-addict aunt. The point is that there should be options for the poor apart from sinking further into poverty or getting shot at. If we really want to be the beacon of morality we pretend we are, we need to find ways to serve our country and eke out some more prosperous niche that don't necessarily involve risking life and limb.
posted by fifthrider at 10:40 AM on December 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


Too bad the war on poverty never caught on like the war on drugs.

Oh, it did. Just not in the way you'd like.
posted by IvoShandor at 10:41 AM on December 10, 2012 [27 favorites]


Yeah, my point was that there’s something wrong when you’re forced to fight for your country to get an education. Not everyone is cut out for a military career, and the years they spend in the service could be valuable ones that their peers are spending on other opportunities.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:43 AM on December 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


The point is that there should be options for the poor apart from sinking further into poverty or getting shot at

But the reality is, there isn't. And I know you didn't say that but the implication in the comment we've been interpretting was that the military was no way out of poverty, which would imply it is of little benefit. But since people use these throw-away comments as ways to troll for favorites instead of just writing what they mean we're left with only our interpretation of its implication and meaning, which isn't really all that productive.
posted by IvoShandor at 10:44 AM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


On preview, thanks for the clarification 317
posted by IvoShandor at 10:45 AM on December 10, 2012


....if he wanted to eat on the weekends, he had to go kill dinner; he still refuses to eat any cheese that isn't on a pizza...

I am not seeing the connection. Is this because he couldn't kill cheese?
posted by thelonius at 10:46 AM on December 10, 2012 [10 favorites]


I assume the reference is to commodity cheese, which is famously disgusting.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 10:47 AM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


It is such a shame that you have to be an extraordinary child...an extraordinary CHILD...to be able to pull yourself even slightly up out of that sort of environment. There aren't many Tabis in the world, and there are plenty of people...of US...who could and should be finding those who aren't extraordinary, but deserve to have something better than just scraping along.

It's amazing the hurdles that some people can overcome. One of my best friends grew up in a Cambodian refugee camp. When he and his family were first traveling there (from Vietnam) the boat that the refugees were on was attacked by pirates. It was relatively standard practice at the time for people planning to cross the border illegally to liquidate their wealth by buying gold strips, and since it looked likely that the pirates were going to overtake the ship, people in the cargo hold started using straight razors to open themselves up and hide the gold strips under their skin. (Since they would likely starve to death if they didn't have any money.)

My friend ended up getting a full scholarship to Harvard and works on Wall Street now - he's almost 35 and has enough money to retire, so the story did have a happy ending. But he rarely talks about his background because most Americans wouldn't understand - there's such an experience gap there that they can't even begin to relate to the story. I find people like Tabi and my friend inspirational because they show how limitless human potential can be, while at the same time being a reminder of how society often lets its most unfortunate members slip through the cracks.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 10:50 AM on December 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


On rereading I find myself compelled to make public penance for having inadvertently inserted an unnecessary apostrophe in a plural; not sure how that got there.
posted by fifthrider at 10:53 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's hard not to see this article as channeling the Horatio Alger myth and catering to a wrongheaded American pathology that most folks are just lazy and that if everyone just BUCKLED DOWN then maybe they would amount to something. At the very same time that it highlights the tough choices this girl makes, this article by contrast indicts others in her community. "Look, she has HOLES IN HER SOCKS" "She WALKS EVERYWHERE" "She's got real strength and determination - not like her iphone-having silver-spoon fed friend Matt!" Boy, we could solve this poverty problem if we just convinced enough poors to get off their butts and start hustling like Tabi!

I want to make it clear that I in no way mean to belittle her or her choices. She has led a far tougher life than I ever could and her efforts are laudable. But this article seems to be presenting her as a diamond in the rough when my own experience tells me that people like her are more common than we as a society like to believe and that the real story worth reporting isn't in some fable about the virtue of work - but in the reality that there are many, many people who have it worse than Tabi, who work harder than Tabi, and who in our system will still see nothing for their efforts. Ever.

But it's easier to continue listening to stories that reflect the world as we wish to see it...about hard working ubermenschen who rise above the lazy masses...rather than observe the statistical realities that alot of people work really hard and due to systemic problems in our society - not every one becomes a captain of their own destiny.

A sray observation also: While this is the sort of article I would imagine seeing on Fox News about model poor folks, I noticed that according to Fox News's own criteria Tabi would not be considered poor. According to the pictures, her family has cable TV, possibly a refrigerator and *GASP* a LAPTOP! These folks should hardly be complaining!
posted by jnnla at 11:00 AM on December 10, 2012 [46 favorites]


Just want to remind everyone about the Social Security survivor benefits that her mother's been receiving since her father died. This is something that separates generations in a very profound way - whereas in the past children whose fathers died were often sent to orphanages when mother couldn't support them, at least now the family got the funds so that weren't plunged into truly abject Dickensian poverty.

And this is yet another aspect to Social Security that Paul Ryan and his ilk would love to entirely eliminate.
posted by The Sprout Queen at 11:00 AM on December 10, 2012 [35 favorites]


Having the Armed Forces available as an option is a good thing - not only can being in the military help pay for tertiary education, but they offer their own unique training. That said, is it really open to everyone? I don't know about the US military, but in Canada you can be excluded for having any disability, including thick glasses. (Our military has a pricipal of universality of service.

As well, even if the armed forces are open to all, it's probably not a good thing if that is the ONLY option available to poorer citizens to pay for training and education. Perhaps, as a development project, the government needs to start a civilian corps where one can work for several years that will help pay for further training.

Or, you know, reduce the cost of tertiary education so that people can get a degree even if they aren't stellar.
posted by jb at 11:01 AM on December 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


I noticed that according to Fox News's own criteria Tabi would not be considered poor. According to the pictures, her family has cable TV, possibly a refrigerator and *GASP* a LAPTOP! These folks should hardly be complaining!

For better or worse the quality of life for the American poor has gone up over the last few decades, even if there are still as many poor people as ever. A $250 laptop may not be all that fantastic in the world of modern computers, but it's actually still fantastically good compared to the options 10 years ago. The same with TVs, appliances, etc.

That you're better off as a poor person in America today than a rich person in 1900 doesn't make poverty any more just or enjoyable than it's ever been.
posted by GuyZero at 11:06 AM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


'he still refuses to eat any cheese that isn't on a pizza'

?
posted by Damienmce at 11:14 AM on December 10, 2012


but in the reality that there are many, many people who have it worse than Tabi, who work harder than Tabi, and who in our system will still see nothing for their efforts. Ever.

This. No one wants to tell the stories of all the Tabis who got almost there, but were stopped, by illness, a car accident, a pregnancy, a violent partner, or other kinds of just plain bad luck.

I salute her, and she deserves everything she has...and in fact, she deserves a lot more. So do all the Tabis who don't make it.
posted by emjaybee at 11:27 AM on December 10, 2012 [23 favorites]


I hope she goes as far as she wants to go.

Also, being an EMT is a very noble profession and it is good to have more good ones.
posted by BeeDo at 11:35 AM on December 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


When I think of the question, "Why can person X get out or even strive to get out of the cycle of poverty" I maintain that it's a matter of perspective. We all probably know people that ended up being what I call "townies" (not sure if that's a universal term or not) - but these are the people that maybe graduated high school (probably not in a major city - likely a town or suburb), but for whatever reason they ended up not moving beyond that place.

Some of these people just didn't have the vision (or desire) to leave that town. Their friends were there, probably also pumping gas and working in fast food for $7/hour, which is enough to get your own ramshackle place and enough $ for food/smokes/booze to last until the next paycheck. This is comfortable enough lifestyle for many people, and it's even more comforting when you see others around you who are doing the same thing.

But when you end up actually learning in school (not just being babysat - i.e. out of your parent's hair for the day), and get receptive to the idea that there's more to the world than what's directly in front of you, and that things can change. I can't remember where I read an article that said one of the greatest indicators of a child's future happiness (or maybe wealth) was related to the number of books that were in the house. She wants to be a forensic scientist - even among the CSI viewers in her town, how many people even consider that a realistic option? That's just something the TV made up!

And her friend's dad - dropping $70 like it ain't nothin' on dinner (not to mention the promise of tuition for her friend) - those are the kind of small luxuries that also inspire people to get out of poverty (as opposed to driving a fancy car or more glamorous uses of money). That awesome feeling of being able to pick up a check like that at a restaurant - we've all hopefully done it once or twice - that feeling is unique, and imagine someone who will never know that feeling. To think I completely took for granted the fact that I could potentially have visited any college campus in the country if I wanted to, and it still wouldn't have been as eye-opening as a visit for thing young woman!
posted by antonymous at 11:35 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


If anyone actually is interested in the larger universe of poverty that Tabi inhabits, I really recommend Paul Tough's new assessment of how to help our poorest kids in his book How Children Succeed.

dropping $70 like it ain't nothin' on dinner (not to mention the promise of tuition for her friend) - those are the kind of small luxuries that also inspire people to get out of poverty

While I don't disagree, what compels people to get out of poverty is often extremely, mind-numbingly complex. It's not about being the smartest or the most gifted usually, and often deeply rooted in our psyches, especially if a poor person lucked out and got some very emotionally in-tune parents. Tough talks a lot about the power of attachment in early childhood as well as why we should foster qualities like grit and determination in our schools instead of test scores.
posted by zoomorphic at 11:43 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Such a tightness in my chest reading that story. I also have some folks in my extended family who have succeeded thanks to the US military, so I really hope Tabi gets some nice safe postings and a has good career in the Navy.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:47 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


there are many, many people who have it worse than Tabi, who work harder than Tabi, and who in our system will still see nothing for their efforts. Ever.

Yeah, but the story's not about them. At least as depicted, Tabi has a really amazing ability to see the whole map and not just the territory that she occupies. I grew up around rural poverty, and I was shocked when she made the cutting remark to her mother about the latter's fecundity. Tabi fully understands that poverty is a cycle and she's resolved to break it.

Her awareness is what makes Tabi worth writing about, and what gives her a fighting chance to stay on path. There are absolutely many "who work harder than Tabi, and who in our system will still see nothing for their efforts," but that's because the system as presented is a lie. Work alone won't set you free from poverty, you also have to learn to avoid the traps that our wealth-weighted economic system sets for the folks at the bottom. She just might.

(I'm not writing this in support of that tired American myth; I'm saying that if you read between the lines there's more to the story than "hey lazy poors, get off your butts and you'll thrive.")
posted by Mayor Curley at 11:56 AM on December 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


That said, is it really open to everyone? I don't know about the US military, but in Canada you can be excluded for having any disability, including thick glasses.

The military is most definitely not open to everyone. At 18 I couldn't, and still can't, even do one pushup. She is very, very lucky to be physically fit enough for that option.
posted by Melismata at 12:00 PM on December 10, 2012


At 18 I couldn't, and still can't, even do one pushup. She is very, very lucky to be physically fit enough for that option.

I wonder how many women think things like that at 18 - "I can't even do a pushup", not realizing that neither can most girls/women, so the military has women do a different kind of pushup from the men.

Little ideas like that are what make people think that they are shut out of things.
posted by serena15221 at 12:09 PM on December 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


That you're better off as a poor person in America today than a rich person in 1900 doesn't make poverty any more just or enjoyable than it's ever been.

I've always found claims that the poor are better off today than the rich of the past to be specious - and I've studied living standards. Aside from the fact that poverty is relative (that is, the stress of poverty isn't just about absolute poverty but also about what you have compared to others in your society), there are absolute differences as well. Yes, a poor person today is much less likely to die of childbirth or preventable disease - but they also have poorer nutrition, higher levels of stress and poorer living quarters than a rich person in 1900 (or a richer person in 1800, 1700, 1600 - I think you'd have to go back into the early middle ages to get to poorer living quarters - Henry VII didn't exactly live in basement apartment). Moreover, if male, they also have less political power than their rich 1900-counterpart, a less rewarding career, more social alienation.

and an iPod really doesn't mean much if you're homeless.

The poor of today ARE better off than the poor of 1900 - but considering how far we've come in labour productivity in the last 100+ years, they had better be. That they aren't more better off and that inequality is growing as opposed to shrinking - this is the worst shame of the developed world today.
posted by jb at 12:19 PM on December 10, 2012 [16 favorites]


That you're better off as a poor person in America today than a rich person in 1900 doesn't make poverty any more just or enjoyable than it's ever been.

Agreed. Poverty is a relative phenomenon to time and place...to historical context as well as social context. Comparing a poor person today materially to some 19th century shoeless beggar is disingenuous. Where the real similarities between the two might lie is in regards to their relative stakes in society and their lifestyle options relative to those around them.

A poor person today might have a TV and a microwave (both hardly examples of luxury items no matter how hard Fox News tries to frame it as such) but still might have no flexibility to do anything about their health, education and the actual quality of the life they live.
posted by jnnla at 12:31 PM on December 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


Tabitha Rouzzo is certainly an extraordinary young woman, but she's also an amazingly lucky young woman. (You might say she is "unlucky" for starting in such low circumstances, but that's extremely common in the United States...) She's physically strong, psychologically driven, academically gifted, not a pacifist.

And she still has a long way to go, and many chances to have it screwed up forever, many of those beyond her control.

If you have to be of the calibre of a Tabitha Rouzzo to get an acceptable life from poverty in the United States, I grieve for all those exceptional people who won't be quite as exceptional and lucky not to fail.

Why does it have to be this way? It isn't this way in most other first world countries! In many places, if you're half-way talented you can go to university for free.

Oh, and the fact that her only escape is joining the war machine just makes it doubly tragic to me...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:36 PM on December 10, 2012 [9 favorites]


From every story that I've read like this, it always seems like post-secondary education is heralded as the answer - but even then, prospects seem extremely bleak. The job figures for even those graduating with a bachelor's degree aren't that high, and the majority of the poor entering will come out with a massive debt load in the tens of thousands, likely not that fantastic of a GPA to get funded for post-graduate education, and a piece of paper that only puts them up for consideration for employment.

The transformation of the bachelor's degree into the new equivalent of the high school degree is extremely problematic, because the former is not free. Why should one have to pay tens of thousands just to be considered for the majority of jobs that aren't retail/fast food/etc? The education-equals-employment harms the poor the most.

But at the same time, if I were in that position, I wouldn't be able to think of an alternative either. The myth of higher education seems to be one of the few hopes that one can set as a goalpost... I just only wish it were true.
posted by Conspire at 12:39 PM on December 10, 2012 [15 favorites]


Conspire: I agree that tertiary/post-secondary education is not a cure-all. However, unemployment rates for people with decrees are still much lower than those for people without degrees.
posted by jb at 1:01 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


But at the same time, if I were in that position, I wouldn't be able to think of an alternative either. The myth of higher education seems to be one of the few hopes that one can set as a goalpost... I just only wish it were true.

So I want to be careful about how I phrase this because I don't want to come off as anti-military. I really don't have any beef with serving in the military. At the same time I think the US military is many, many times bigger then it needs to be.

But she can't get post-secondary education so instead... she has what's marginally better than a make-work job that's completely funded by the government? I realize the Navy is hard work and occasionally dangerous but it's still basically a government spending program. And you certainly learn a lot in the military, there are a lot of veterans who are unable to transfer their military qualifications into the civilian world. Being a military medic isn't a qualification most civilian medical organization recognize. Being a naval gunner prepares you for... what exactly?

If the purpose of joining the Navy is to get a university degree then why do we make poor kids put themselves in harm's way by making them do hard, dangerous grunt work first? University degrees are not a panacea but if she went and got training as a EMT, a nurse or in forensic science I'm pretty sure she'd be able to find a job as those fields have many, many open jobs.

I suppose it's better to take shit deal and work hard than to accept poverty and do nothing, but I wish she had a better choice. Certainly the rich and powerful in the US don't have to worry about their kids shipping out to a conflict zone under live fire and hot-bunking with a couple crewmembers. Modern US military recruiting practices seem like class warfare interpreted rather literally.
posted by GuyZero at 1:07 PM on December 10, 2012 [10 favorites]


Yeah; it's not like a university diploma is your ticket to success, but at least it gets you in the game. It used to be that you could feasibly expect to be a member of the American middle-class with a high-school education. No more - to the detriment, many would argue, both of our society and of our higher education system. (But that's a loaded topic for another day.)
posted by fifthrider at 1:10 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


...but if she went and got training as a EMT, a nurse or in forensic science I'm pretty sure she'd be able to find a job as those fields have many, many open jobs.

Speaking as an EMT, I'd like to note that jobs in EMS are quite competitive indeed, and paid jobs for EMTs (as opposed to paramedics) are still more scarce. Being in the military, although the specific training credentials don't transfer, can go a long way towards proving that a candidate isn't some random flake.

That said, I agree with your point - there are a hell of a lot more productive things we could be doing as an employer of last resort. Like, IDK, funding the furtherance of Western civilization.
posted by fifthrider at 1:15 PM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


a piece of paper that only puts them up for consideration for employment.

To be sure, this is the way we've experienced the world since the birth of the jobless recovery recession under Bush, but it is much more a factor of workforce utilization than a systemic fault of the educational system. During the 1990s, without a BA, I was able to get one network tech consulting gig after another, largely because I had a pulse and could say "TCP/IP". (Mind you, I could do much more than that, but it hardly mattered.) It was a time of very nearly full employment and companies were happy to take anyone with a modest level of intelligence and train them to task. Today, with companies able to pick and choose from a vast pool of the unemployed, they're understandably choosier.

Really, the biggest factor in 21st century poverty rates is the offshoring of most American manufacturing, resulting in the depletion of unskilled labor factory jobs that were the mainstay of the lower-middle-class throughout most of the 20th. That's what created the black ghettoes in the large cities, and nobody realized at the time that the white underclass would be affected in due course.

What you're experiencing in this squeeze of jobs for the degree-less is not an unreasonable bar-raising for office jobs, but a vanishing of jobs for the degree-less.

Being a naval gunner prepares you for... what exactly?

I think it's pretty clear that there are a lot of veterans who go into, for instance, law enforcement, regardless of specialty. One of the underlying things that veterans all learn in the military is group dynamics and how to perform in a hierachical setting that can be meticulous, boring, stressful, and absolute batshit crazy by turns. That actually matters.

But again, this is not because the military is offered up as some sort of alternative jobs program, it's because there's a dearth of other jobs outside of the college track.
posted by dhartung at 1:20 PM on December 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


You know the other thing that amazed me about this girl? Sure, her capacity and drive for work are phenomenal, but that she could believe in herself enough to consider forensic science. Where the hell did that come from? With a mother who thought providing everything meant matching bed covers, who did everything she could to keep her in her place. I certainly didn't aspire to what I know now I was capable of back then. I just didn't believe I could do it.

I also feel a bit voyeuristic here. Does Tabi know we're all talking about her behind her back (with admiration, but also some weird patronistic - I dunno - some smarter person will come along and work it out).
posted by b33j at 1:27 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


That's what created the black ghettoes in the large cities, and nobody realized at the time that the white underclass would be affected in due course.

I'm not going to say that isn't a reason, but it's not the only reason. It's also just a side-effect of improved manufacturing productivity. It takes a lot fewer workers to produce a car in Detroit in 2012 then it did in 1950 or 1970. The military remains a big area of spending because warfare remains a fairly manual activity and relative immune to automation. Until someone invents a way to bomb their way to victory.
posted by GuyZero at 1:30 PM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Except for the tattoos, computer, cell phone, boyfriend, siblings, church, and specifics about jobs, and the fact that my mom worked, when she wasn't too drunk, I was Tabi. And given the absolute fucking chaos I grew up in, getting out -- to college -- was the only thing that got me up in the morning.

What makes people like us different? Why can we see or imagine a way out? Why can we keep fighting past all the seemingly endless shit? I wish I could give you an answer. I had a few key teachers in high school who believed in me, and showed it by opening doors to opportunities for me. I had to walk through them, though. But it was all on me to keep going, to improve.

Was it hard and awful? Of course. But time softens those edges. And every time I got past one hurdle, it was easier to take on the next, and the next, and the next.

The good news is that now, as an adult, I'm not intimidated by anyone, and I don't scare easily.

I can say this: don't feel sorry for a kid like this -- it's a waste of time, she doesn't feel sorry for herself. Instead, figure out how you can help her knock down some of those hurdles.
posted by gsh at 1:43 PM on December 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


@ jnnla - I think the author of the article was mentioning the fact that she walked everywhere and didn't spend money on frivolous things not for the Horatio Alger aspect, but to show how hard she was trying, how hard she was working and how little she had to show for it.
It was like her efforts had gotten her nowhere, no closer to higher education and she realized that and took the plunge and joined the Navy.
I thought the point of the story was to show up the Bill O'Reilly belief that all you have to do is work hard and you'll achieve the American Dream.
posted by AnnElk at 1:50 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


b33j: I also feel a bit voyeuristic here. Does Tabi know we're all talking about her behind her back (with admiration, but also some weird patronistic - I dunno - some smarter person will come along and work it out).

I would be happy to gift her a MeFi account, if someone can get in touch with her.
posted by Rock Steady at 2:01 PM on December 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


jb: I think you have the right idea when you suggest a civilian corps. We are still reaping the benefits from the work done by the WPA. The infrastructure built, the art commissioned, the interviews and other historical documentation generated. That's all payed dividends down the line, economically and culturally. We could use that again, and it provides an alternative to military service as an added benefit.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 3:03 PM on December 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


What I find strange with stories like this is that the narrative (and nearly all comments, both here and on the original story) is all about individuals overcoming hardships to "pull herself out of poverty." The real story should be: Why the expletive deleted is human potential wasted to this degree in the US?

From looking at the numbers (e.g. government spending on education as percentage of GDP) it looks like access to higher education should be the same in the US as in comparable western countries. Government spending on education in the US is at 5.5% of GDP, similar to the UK, but higher than Canada at 4.9%. But, for some reason you're expected to pay your own way for higher education in the US, which generally excludes people like Tabi. Even if you're exceptionally bright people from poor families would have to rely on scholarships to get anywhere - and even if you're really bright that extra job working in a deer slaughterhouse from age 13 (!) would probably wear on both your grades and chances of getting a scholarship.

It appears that most other western countries have understood that the better educated the population is the better the country will do in the future. To take an example: Where I live (Norway) all higher education is free, and you're only expected to buy books. [*] To support your living costs all students not living at home gets about 20 000$ a year in loans, 2/3rds of which is converted into a scholarship if you pass your exams. This has been government policy for decades, so a story like the linked article would be just unfathomable for a lot of people here. (Compare this to the Pell Grants.)

As a side note: In my view what defines "middle class" is not so much what your income is, but if you have to worry about going bankrupt from paying healthcare costs and if your kids can get a good education. Not having to worry about those two factors makes it much easier to find "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness", and yes, it was once considered the government's job to secure those rights, even in the US.

*: There is also a 100$ copy fee at the University of Oslo, which the various student bodies are pretty livid about. Oh, and you can borrow the required literature at the library. Also, there is a couple of "for-pay" business colleges, at about 5000$ a semester.
posted by Baron Humbert von Gikkingen at 4:52 PM on December 10, 2012 [10 favorites]


GuyZero, yeah, I didn't mean to oversimplify -- I was clumsily analogizing how manufacturing moved out of the cities in the sixties, creating a black underclass and since then a convenient political target (the first "takers", if you will), and then offshoring moved US jobs overseas, affecting many whites as well. Regardless of productivity, 60% of US car sales are imports, and for textiles, once a durable source of domestic jobs, nearly 100% of all clothing is now imported. But yes, there are other factors; the main point is that these jobs have, for various reasons, vanished into thin air as far as towns like New Castle are concerned. I live in Janesville, which infamously has lost its GM plant (though not so much to overseas competition as to plummeting SUV sales), and we're limping along, wringing our hands over half the students in town being on some form of assistance, and having bitter debates over services vs. taxes and whether to keep police or hire firefighters. I'm just saying I speak from the front lines here.

"She WALKS EVERYWHERE"

I'll just say as an aside that one of the things I found strikingly realistic about the depiction of American poverty in Winter's Bone, with that breakout performance by Jennifer Lawrence, is that she indeed walked everywhere. One thing that gets missed in all those "nobility of the poor" narratives in movies is just how fucking gruelingly hard it is to get done everything you need to get done. We had a newspaper article here on a grocery giveaway program and somebody in the comments asked why they didn't make the people getting the groceries work to set it up and clean up afterward. Apart from conflict-of-interest/shrinkage issues, sheesh, the people getting groceries are busy getting their fucking groceries home, dumbass. I personally know relatives who wait in line for hours to get the ticket to wait (in chairs) for another couple of hours. It's boring and it takes up most of your day just to get a grocery cart of free food.
posted by dhartung at 5:55 PM on December 10, 2012 [9 favorites]


thelonius: "....if he wanted to eat on the weekends, he had to go kill dinner; he still refuses to eat any cheese that isn't on a pizza...

I am not seeing the connection. Is this because he couldn't kill cheese?
"

Late getting back to the thread, but for the longest time he refused to explain his abhorrence of cheese, and I just chalked it up to legendary stubbornness. Then one day, as I smeared goat cheese over artisinal bread and extolled its virtues he explained with two words: "Government Cheese."
posted by notsnot at 8:25 PM on December 10, 2012


I don't think of the Navy as a way out of poverty; it's sort of an extension of it, in many ways.

I somewhat see what you are trying to say, and it's the craps that someone has to choose being shot at to have a decent chance at a job, however, a guaranteed job for four years, paying above minimum wage, with a chance at schooling, plus a resume that isn't limited to Wal-Mar check-out girl, and travel, plus an introduction to various other cultural posibilities isn't to be sneezed at.


Yes, too bad the damn Republicans can't see that this is a major, major exception rather than the rule--and it's a self-limiting choice. The military will only accept so many enlistees.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:02 PM on December 10, 2012


It appears that most other western countries have understood that the better educated the population is the better the country will do in the future. To take an example: Where I live (Norway) all higher education is free, and you're only expected to buy books.

Not just western countries, either -- the prototype example is the developing Third World nation that tries to send as many of their students to higher education as possible. Beninia needs more doctors, more lawyers, more teachers, more intellectuals to help the nation grow! The thinking is quite different in the USA among many younger people, especially those with sympathies on the right. (They see themselves as realists or libertarians, distinct from the fearful-old-white-man branch of conservatism.)

To them, a university education is a precious opportunity for a shot at personal wealth. It's a gamble: you spend tuition money for the possibility to get on the "executive track" when you graduate. In this worldview, more Americans going to college is a terrible thing. It just diminishes the chances of winning for those who've already made it in. The US has too many doctors, lawyers, teachers, intellectuals -- the middle class's sinking lifeboat is full.

Now that I've nauseated myself by channeling an attitude I hate, I'll take this last line to say that I once knew a "Tabi," and this well-written article made me sad.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 9:26 PM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


To them, a university education is a precious opportunity for a shot at personal wealth. It's a gamble: you spend tuition money for the possibility to get on the "executive track" when you graduate.

I completely agree that this seems to be the viewpoint of a lot of people in post-secondary educations these days. As a consequence of this extremely harmful idea, I see so many of my peers treating their education as if it were a four-year party, because, hey, if it's a gamble, why work hard anyway? Normally, I would just dismiss that as their own faulty choices, but the issue is on the other side of the spectrum are the people who actually treat their education as if it were, y'know, an actual educational experience - and more often than not, these are the poorer people who have worked tremendously hard to get there.

But ultimately, the value of the degree is dictated by the lowest amount of effort you need to put into get it.

So going back to dhartung's response to my original point in that the education-equals-employment myth has been generated by a lack of jobs, I think that's only one of the factors. The other factor is indeed the cheapening of the post-secondary experience. Gaining a degree/diploma seems to be less and less representative to employers of work ethic, responsibility and the ability to learn. I can't think of any employer these days that would trust just a degree anymore - you need some other credentials to back it up, whether it's with them, or whether it's something you've built up outside of your studies independently.

I hate the attitude too. And the worst part about it is that it's not just a viewpoint, because it's actively contaminating our post-secondary institutions as we speak. I'm actively witnessing so many students these days going up to the Dean's and complaining that our courses are too hard - even when they barely build upon the fundamental basics presented in first year! We can't blame administration for the conversion of universities and colleges into degree mills, because they're simply catering to the needs and wants of the "customer", so to speak. And the customer base is shifting more and more over to that of the type of student who's only there for the degree - because they've been pushed into a place where they really shouldn't be, and really don't thrive, over the new reality that you need a degree to thrive.

/end final-exam studying fueled rant
posted by Conspire at 1:47 AM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I seem to recall reading somewhere that fewer active duty US military personnel are able to take advantage of the college programs than in earlier decades. I don't recall if this is due to a change in eligibility criteria for getting time off from military duties to attend university; or if it is more the case that young folks who enroll in the military as a way out of poverty tend not to have the necessary qualifications, and if they are not savvy enough, by default they get assignments within the military that do not help them build up the necessary qualifications; or a combination of the two. At the same time, haven't programs like the GI Bill that funded college education for vets after they left the military been significantly gutted if not outright discontinued?
posted by eviemath at 4:34 AM on December 11, 2012


This was eye opening for me as a lifelong resident of southeastern PA. I was fortunate that my grandfather, who grew up in western PA (an hour south of Erie) and dealt with poverty as a child got out when he did and worked hard all his life to provide better for his children. I hope that Tabi makes it and can do the same, so her kids never have to deal with the conditions that she did growing up.
posted by DoubleLune at 10:22 AM on December 11, 2012


At the same time, haven't programs like the GI Bill that funded college education for vets after they left the military been significantly gutted if not outright discontinued?

Definitely not. In fact, the post-9/11 GI Bill is leaps and bounds better than the previous version from the '80s. Serving a standard enlistment entitled me to 36 months (four academic years) of full in-state tuition at any public university as well as a monthly housing allowance based on zip code and a yearly stipend for books. I received exactly that, and recently graduated with a BSN on Uncle Sam's dime. I dealt with some bureaucratic fuckups because it was new and, well, it's the government, but I have no real complaints.
posted by lullaby at 6:42 PM on December 11, 2012


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