The working poor
November 30, 2003 1:27 PM   Subscribe

the working poor A new book by Beth Shulman called The Betrayal of Work” argues that hard work is just not cutting it in America anymore. According to Shulman, even in the go-go ’90s one out of every four American workers made less than $8.70 an hour, an income equal to the government’s poverty level for a family of four. Many, if not most, of these workers have no health care, sick pay or retirement provisions. more inside.....
posted by jbou (52 comments total)
 
We salve our consciences, Shulman writes, by describing these people as low skilled,” as though they’re not important or intelligent enough to deserve more. But low-skilled workers today are better educated than ever before, and they constitute the linchpin of American industry. When politicians crow that happy days are here again because jobs are on the rise, it’s these jobs they’re really talking about. Five of the 10 occupations expected to grow big in the next decade are in the lowest-paying job groups. And before we sit back and decide that that’s just the way it is, it’s instructive to consider the rest of the world. While the bottom 10 percent of American workers earn just 37 percent of our median wage, according to Shulman, their counterparts in other industrialized countries earn upwards of 60 percent. And those are countries that provide health care and child care, which cuts the economic pinch considerably.



This book isn't the first book to tackle this subject and I've heard some of the candidates running for the Democratic nomination for President mention this problem, but this is not exactly a subject that gives people hope on the campaign trail. Getting some people in this country to admit this is a serious problem is going to be a tough sell, I can hear the free marketers now, " What's the big deal? we have cheaper goods and services", "they need to go to college so they don't have to toil in a crappy job". Is this a problem? And if so, how do we solve it?
posted by jbou at 1:29 PM on November 30, 2003


Why do you hate the rich?
posted by five fresh fish at 1:41 PM on November 30, 2003


While the bottom 10 percent of American workers earn just 37 percent of our median wage, according to Shulman, their counterparts in other industrialized countries earn upwards of 60 percent. And those are countries that provide health care and child care, which cuts the economic pinch considerably.

*sigh* That's just because in those other countries the top of the scale doesn't make as much either. It's a simple tradeoff: efficiency (and total prosperity) vs. equality of distribution.

A friend of mine lives in Sweden. He loves it, because everyone is content: they know that working harder can not make them much richer (because of regulation and taxes), and that not working at all will not make them much poorer (because of welfare). So everyone just relaxes and accepts their position in life.

Another friend of mine lives in the Netherlands. He says that for many people at the bottom of the economic scale, receiving welfare pays more than they could make at a full time job. So they simply don't work, unless they feel some duty towards personal responsibility.

And overall, both these countries are much poorer than we are, because that kind of distributional equality costs money and reduces efficiency. You pays your money, you takes your chances.
posted by gd779 at 1:43 PM on November 30, 2003


Try channel4.com's Rich-o-meter... I found this to be a bit of an eye-opener.
posted by plep at 1:43 PM on November 30, 2003


One of America's detested TV stars was right on target when he said that he had been in very tax bracket there was for the Amreican taxpayer, and now that he was in the top bracket, he realized that EVERY tax regulation was in place to heolp the wealthy...that was Jerry Springer, in an interview with Larry King.
posted by Postroad at 1:47 PM on November 30, 2003


I make less than $8.75 an hour, and I have a college degree.
posted by drezdn at 1:51 PM on November 30, 2003


Yawn. It sucks to be poor. What else is new? Who really cares enough to do something about it?
posted by Slothrup at 2:16 PM on November 30, 2003


Sounds like Nickel and Dimed.
posted by msacheson at 2:25 PM on November 30, 2003


"And overall, both these countries are much poorer than we are, because that kind of distributional equality costs money and reduces efficiency."

At the risk of sounding radical, I'd like to posit that it isn't neccesarily better to be the richer, more 'efficient' country. After all, that effeciency means that my employers are going to be trying to ooze every penny they can out of my work, meaning that I'm going to be spending the great majority of my life with my eyes solidly fixed on the next pay check, like the donkey on the carrot. America's economic superiority runs the risk of reducing its citizens to cogs in a machine, undermining individual freedom. Furthermore, land and wealth distribution being what they are, most Americans have no choice but to have their existence dependent on the whim of their employers. We've increased our purchasing power, sure, but we've undermined our freedom in all arenas but the checkout line. There's got to be a happier medium than this.

"Yawn. It sucks to be poor. What else is new? Who really cares enough to do something about it?"

First, we're not just talking about some small segment of society here. We're saying that it sucks to be one-in-four Americans, and I'd venture that the next twenty-five to forty percent aren't that much better off. And as gd779 points out, it doesn't necccesarily HAVE to "suck to be poor."

Second, I think we Americans are looking at a situation where no matter how much one wants to do something about wealth distribution, there are few if any avenues within the law that will be capable of effecting positive change. Our electoral process favors big business and the rich, as do the legal and judicial portions of government. There are ongoing battles to keep at least some dignity for the lower classes (see the California Wal-Mart battle), but it seems like EVERYTHING is stacked against those who are merely trying to defend themselves against big money and big business. I want to do something, but what the hell am I supposed to do?
posted by kaibutsu at 2:53 PM on November 30, 2003


i'm gonna weigh in on the idea that "hard work" doesn't mean much money. i'm cursed to live in southwest florida, and i can tell you that there is a LOT of money around. i know many people who are sportfishers, or landscapers, or aluminum sliding installers, or blind installers, etc., that make 60-75k a year.

the crappy jobs are the "unskilled" McJobs, and they're not very hard. they're fast food employee, bed bath and beyond employee, wal-mart employee. there is still a VERY good market for skilled HVAC labor, etc....and that's considering the fact that florida has a tremendous immigrant workforce keeping most unskilled labor prices down.

so what? well, it's easy to be poor in florida, cause it's so inexpensive, but it's also easier to be middle class. it's pretty easy to see that the small towns that are down here have a lot of small business, and so the business owners are able to live a decent lifestyle, and so are their employees. it's big business that really tends to ruin it.

not only that, but you don't need a college degree to make a decent living...in fact, most people around here, if they have a college degree, have a decent salaried position. there are a LOT of people that only have maybe 2 years of college experience, and who are RNs or something.

it's a little too conservative and "redneck" for me, but the wealth distribution is pretty good. sure, there's a LOT of poor, but they are able to afford a trailer and a used car and a TV, and they're content.
posted by taumeson at 3:04 PM on November 30, 2003


the crappy jobs are the "unskilled" McJobs, and they're not very hard. they're fast food employee, bed bath and beyond employee, wal-mart employee.

taumeson, have you ever done any of these jobs? To say that they're "not very hard" seems to me to be the statement of someone who has not. A job where you need to stand up for eight hours a day on concrete floors (as you have to do in retail) or a job where you must lug, lift, and tote boxes, or clean up after other people -- all these jobs could certainly be called "harder" than your typical office job.
posted by anastasiav at 3:11 PM on November 30, 2003


How many of these 1 in 4 are working part-time, in school, or have no experience.

The thing about hard work is that it takes some time for it to build up, you have to work hard for a long time before it pays dividends.

That's something that not everyone wants to do nowadays.
posted by Mick at 3:32 PM on November 30, 2003



How many of these 1 in 4 are working part-time, in school, or have no experience.

The thing about hard work is that it takes some time for it to build up, you have to work hard for a long time before it pays dividends.

That's something that not everyone wants to do nowadays


Here you go Mick..........

MYTH: Low-Wage jobs are the ones you see in your neighborhood McDonald's.

FACT: Fast food jobs constitute less than 5% of all low-end jobs. Low-wage, low-reward jobs are all around us and include: security guards, nurse's aides and home health-care aides, child-care workers and educational assistants, maids and porters, call-center workers, bank tellers, data-entry keyers, cooks, food preparation workers, waiters and waitresses, cashiers and pharmacy assistants, hair dressers and manicurists, parking-lot attendants, hotel receptionists and clerks, ambulance drivers, poultry, fish and meat processors, sewing-machine operators, laundry and dry-cleaning operators, and agricultural workers.

MYTH: Low-wage jobs are unskilled.

FACT: As important as these jobs are, most of us do not even notice them. When we do so, it is almost always in a negative light. In the public view, low-wage jobs tend to be lumped together and referred to as "hamburger flipper," insinuating both a lack of real skill and social value. Policy analysts and public officials refer to "low--wage, low-skilled" jobs as if the two terms were inseparable. This mistakenly assumes that if a job pays poorly, it must be because it does not call for many skills. In fact, these jobs require knowledge, patience, care and communication. Most of them require constant interaction with people, whether they are a patient in a health-care setting, a child in a day-care center, a guest in a hotel, a tenant in a commercial office building, or a customer in a department store.

MYTH: Most low-wage workers are teenagers, illegal immigrants or high school dropouts.

FACT: America's low-wage workers are mostly (nearly two-thirds) white, female, high school educated and have family responsibilities. Teenagers comprise only 7% of the low-wage workforce. Minorities and women are disproportionately found in low-wage jobs and occupy the lower rungs of the ladder within this workforce.


MYTH: Enduring the harshness of low-wage jobs is only temporary; since they are merely a stepping-stone to better paying jobs.

FACT: Mobility will not bring significant advancement to most low-wage workers. Even after a 25 year period, half of those in the lowest 20 percent of wage earners had not moved above that group and of those that moved half had only moved to the next highest wage group, still below the median wage. Low-wage jobs, historically have had few career ladders. Today, they offer even fewer.

MYTH: Reskilling will solve the problem.

FACT: Of course, better education and fluency in new technologies are essential to improve job options of this and the next generation of workers. Yet, these labor intensive industries will continue to demand large numbers of workers regardless of individual mobility, and these are the growing sectors of our economy. In the next ten years, the low end of the job market will account for more than 30% of the American workforce. Employers will hire nearly twice as many food-service workers as software engineers, hire as many cashiers as they do computer-support specialists an hire more than twice the number of customer-service representatives as they do computer systems analysts. The reskilling approach will do little to improve the lives of most workers in these low-wage jobs, jobs that will continue to grow as a proportion of our economy. What these workers need is to be adequately rewarded for the skills they already possess.

MYTH: Globalization stops us from doing anything about the problem.

FACT: As profound as the impact of global trade has been on our economy, it does not preclude improving the wages and working conditions for lower-wage workers. Only a small portion of low-wage jobs are actually in industries such as manufacturing that compete globally. Most lower-wage jobs are and will continue to be in the non-tradable service and retail sectors. Checking out groceries, waiting on tables, servicing office equipment, caring for children, tending the sick and cleaning up for the rest of us must take place in a specific location where the child, patient or customer is present.

Other industrialized countries competing in the same global markets as the United States have made political and business choices to ensure that all workers can rely on a safety net. As a result, workers in similar jobs in other industrialized countries have fared far better than American workers. Low-income Americans have living standards that are 13% below that of low-income Germans, 17% below low-income Belgians and 24% below the average income of the bottom 20% of Swedes. This is despite the fact that the median American enjoys a standard of living far above the median German, Belgian or Swede.

MYTH: Low-wage jobs are merely the result of an efficient market and we as a society have little control over this problem.

FACT: Low-wage workers face a world in which they have little power to change their conditions-a result of our creation, not natural law. Over the past quarter century, a variety of political, economic and corporate decisions undercut the bargaining power of the average worker, but especially those in the lower strata of the workforce. Those decisions included the push to increase global trade and open global markets, the increase of immigrant workers into the United States, government efforts to deregulate industries that had been highly unionized, Federal Reserve policies that concentrated on reducing the threats of inflation, and a corporate ideological shift that eliminated the postwar social contract with workers and emphasized a principle of maximizing shareholder value. These decisions contributed to the deterioration in low-wage conditions and a worsening of disparities in income and wealth.

During this same period, the most vulnerable workers were deprived of many of the institutions, laws and political allies that generally helped to counterbalance these forces. In 1950, the number of workers who were fired, harassed, or threatened for trying to organize a union was in the hundreds each year. By 1990, that number exceeded 20,000. Private sector unionization rates plummeted from 25% of the workforce in 1979 to 11% today. The value of the minimum wage fell 30% during the 1980s. Despite legislative increases in 1990 and 1991 and again in 1996 and 1997, the value of the minimum wage in 1999 was still 21% less than in 1979.
posted by jbou at 3:52 PM on November 30, 2003



the crappy jobs are the "unskilled" McJobs, and they're not very hard. they're fast food employee, bed bath and beyond employee, wal-mart employee.


taumeson, I'm going to have to agree with anastasiav here. If you truly believe these jobs are not hard, then you probably haven't done any of them. Not only is there the physical toll of standing on hard concrete floors for hours on end, there is the mental drain of doing boring, repetitive tasks, the emotional struggle to deal with surly, unpleasant costomers who act as though you were lower than shit, and with petty supervisors and arbitrary and regulations.

Also, excellent post, jbou! Well said.
posted by kayjay at 4:07 PM on November 30, 2003


Excellent, jbou.

The whole "work hard and you'll get ahead" ethic presumes fair return for one's efforts, and there are many, many people who work very hard doing very important work whom we just don't pay decently.
posted by orange swan at 4:08 PM on November 30, 2003


What I have a problem with is at the place where I work. My coworker got hit by a car and broke his ankle (I was right in front of him, the old lady in the car didn't deserve a drivers license) while spraying down a car at the car wash. The issue was that there was no drug test required to work there, but they could deny you benefits if you test positive for marijuana before they pay for any injury. Guess what? My friend was stone sober at the time of the accident, but they gave him a drug test and he failed, thereby removing any job benefits for his injury AND he was subsequently fired.
posted by Keyser Soze at 4:19 PM on November 30, 2003


..he realized that EVERY tax regulation was in place to help the wealthy...that was Jerry Springer

This FPP sounds like somthing George Costanza would post it fits his world view.
posted by stbalbach at 4:20 PM on November 30, 2003


Drug tests are problematic in many ways, Keyser. Your co-worker got totally screwed. His use of marijuana wasn't relevant unless he was working under the influence. And I bet they managed to do this in a technically legal way so there wasn't anything he could do about it.

An issue I ran into was the lack of real pay increase. I worked for one KFC for three years in high school. I got a couple of raises, but when minimum wage was raised (once when I turned 18 and started working for the adult wage, and once when the adult minimum wage got increased) my pay was only raised to that new minimum wage, not to the minimum wage plus the $0.25 pay increase I had formerly had. Yes, my pay went up because the law required it. But at the end of three years I was still making minimum wage, the same as co-workers who had just begun work there, and I was making less than co-workers who had been there three months, as they got a pay increase once their probation was up.
posted by orange swan at 4:41 PM on November 30, 2003


And overall, both these countries are much poorer than we are, because that kind of distributional equality costs money and reduces efficiency.

For those conditions where "poorer" is based on the measure of money, not happiness.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:56 PM on November 30, 2003


Immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous. —Bertrand Russell
posted by rushmc at 5:24 PM on November 30, 2003


The hardest job I ever worked paid $4.10 an hour. When I worked in fast food, I would have to wake up at 4:30 AM on weekends (when I was only 16) then work for 8 hours getting yelled at by customers, cleaning up horrible messes, and consistently burning myself.
posted by drezdn at 6:34 PM on November 30, 2003


the crappy jobs are the "unskilled" McJobs, and they're not very hard. they're fast food employee, bed bath and beyond employee, wal-mart employee.

taumeson, I'm going to have to agree with anastasiav here. If you truly believe these jobs are not hard, then you probably haven't done any of them.


I think taumeson meant that these jobs aren't hard because they don't require much skill, not because they're not physically demanding. These days, with the poor secondary education in this country, having a high school diploma really means squat to employers.
posted by gyc at 7:24 PM on November 30, 2003


Again, for the cheap seats, that means you gyc, ..............

MYTH: Low-wage jobs are unskilled.

FACT: As important as these jobs are, most of us do not even notice them. When we do so, it is almost always in a negative light. In the public view, low-wage jobs tend to be lumped together and referred to as "hamburger flipper," insinuating both a lack of real skill and social value. Policy analysts and public officials refer to "low--wage, low-skilled" jobs as if the two terms were inseparable. This mistakenly assumes that if a job pays poorly, it must be because it does not call for many skills. In fact, these jobs require knowledge, patience, care and communication. Most of them require constant interaction with people, whether they are a patient in a health-care setting, a child in a day-care center, a guest in a hotel, a tenant in a commercial office building, or a customer in a department store.

posted by jbou at 7:40 PM on November 30, 2003


Well jbou, I'll have to disagree with your definition of skilled and unskilled. I'm not saying no low-paying job requires skilled work, just that the examples listed to me are not skills.
posted by gyc at 7:59 PM on November 30, 2003


In fact, these jobs require knowledge, patience, care and communication. Most of them require constant interaction with people, whether they are a patient in a health-care setting, a child in a day-care center, a guest in a hotel, a tenant in a commercial office building, or a customer in a department store.

But all jobs require these things. You might as well say that the so-called "low-skilled" jobs aren't really low-skilled because they require the ability to breathe, which is a very valuable skill to have, you must admit. They are only low-skilled in comparison to jobs that require more skills, which is handy, because that's what we're comparing them with.
posted by kindall at 8:36 PM on November 30, 2003


One of America's detested TV stars was right on target when he said that he had been in very tax bracket there was for the Amreican taxpayer, and now that he was in the top bracket

And that is proof that the American economy is still very dynamic, very upwardly mobile. It's easy to be poor, to stay poor, and to complain about being poor. It is much harder to work your way up the ladder, but it is nonetheless possible. Not everybody started at the top, and I think those of us who start off as poor should devote more of our energy towards getting to the top and less towards complaining about how it sucks at the bottom.
posted by VeGiTo at 8:54 PM on November 30, 2003


I spent most of my 20's working at low-paying, "unskilled" (a meaningless term since every job has specialized tasks to learn, it's just that many of them are not transportable fom job to job) service sector jobs: baker, factory worker, bookstore clerk, retail sales. I currently do data entry.

I've wound up in that sector through a combination of chance, my own poor decisions and other factors. But regardless of how someone gets to their position, if their putting in their hours and doing an honest days labor, they deserve respect, dignity and a living wage. Not to mention, as demonstrated by some of the responses in this thread, service workers have to deal with the added burden of being receptacles for the snobbery and frustrations of the rest of the universe. A service career will turn you from a sunny people person to a total misanthrope in a matter of weeks.

Yawn. It sucks to be poor. What else is new? Who really cares enough to do something about it?

Back in my bookstore days I took a whack an unionizing. That enough to stifle your yawn?

Immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous. —Bertrand Russell

Gotta beg to differ with that. I don't care if you're job is cleaning toilets (which I've been paid to do), it takes a lot of different people to make the world run, and if you're doing your part no matter how small that's honorable.
posted by jonmc at 9:21 PM on November 30, 2003


I think those of us who start off as poor should devote more of our energy towards getting to the top and less towards complaining about how it sucks at the bottom.

That is really an asinine statement, these people are working hard and they are doing the best they can, but for one reason or another they aren't making ends meet. Now I ask you, what's wrong with helping these hard working folks out? In the United States companies will spend millions and millions of dollars to make sure their employees don't unionize, In the United States companies pay millions and millions of dollars to politicians so the system is stacked in their favor, wouldn't it be nice if these companies used some of those millions they use corrupting our government on some health insurance and childcare for their employees?

Our economy is not very upwardly mobile, you leave college owing tons of money for loans, you finish paying those off and you are ready to get a mortgage and that saddles you with debt for the next 20 years, and you've also incurred a bunch of credit card debt along the way too, and I'm not even mentioning having children. So yeah, you have the phat job but you are still living paycheck to paycheck because of the debt, that doesn't sound upwardly mobile it's sounds like a hamster running in a wheel. But hey, everyone is entitled to their delusions.
posted by jbou at 9:29 PM on November 30, 2003


Our economy is not very upwardly mobile

It is precisely this kind of mentality that keeps some people in the same social status that they are born into. The feeling that you've gotta have what your neighbors have, and by getting it you put yourself in a perpetual hamster race. The thing is if we save a little here and a little there, invest, and stop living paycheck-to-paycheck, we can reach financial independence. The only things we're "entitled" to are the bare survival basics, anything above that is gravy. And for someone who's single and makes $8 hour, there's no reason why he cannot save if he lives nimbly.

Do you have to buy that house now? Can you rent? Do you have to have a car, or can you take public transportation? Or buy that used car from your neighbor for a few hundred bucks?

Do you HAVE to have an university education? If you really think that coming out of university doesn't add much to your paycheck, then it's probably not worth the price anyway, why not skip the whole process altogether? Or attend some public university or community college where you get a bigger bang for the buck?

Why does every job have to support a family of four? Do you have to have 2 or 3 children, even if you can't afford to? You may want to, but is having that many children a God-given right, something that you have to complain about when it gets tough? There's no merit in complaining about it's hard to make ends meet with a low-paying job because you have 3 mouths to feed - you got yourself in that situation in the first place.

We gotta stop thinking about what we are entitled to, and start thinking about creative ways of getting ahead. I'm sorry to say this, but mindless working hard at a low-level job is not usually the way to do it. One of the ways to do it is to save and invest. Early. The key here is delayed gratification. And planning ahead.

Everything in life is an investment decision. And if we make them very wisely, we can get out of the rat race. (A good book I recommend on this topic is Rich Dad, Poor Dad - trashy, but an easy and useful read).
posted by VeGiTo at 10:10 PM on November 30, 2003


Oh ya, and for those of us who are already too old to make these kinds of long term investment decisions, make sure we teach our kids financial literacy when they are very, very young.
posted by VeGiTo at 10:31 PM on November 30, 2003


So VeTiGo are you now rich because of that silly book, or are you still plodding along in the rat race? Because your little rant sounds like a it's straight from a self help book, and as we all should know the only folks getting rich from self help books are the people selling them, but hey, maybe I can interest you in my book, it's called " I've given up hope and it works great for me". The funny thing is you actually believe the author of the book did everything he said he did, I figure the guy no longer needs to work because he sold fools like you books, cds, and dvds telling you what to do.

And yes, we are entitled to certain things in this country and if we don't get them we should fight for them. Now go scurry away to your stacks of self help books and Ayn Rand novels.
posted by jbou at 10:41 PM on November 30, 2003


as we all should know the only folks getting rich from self help books are the people selling them

Alrighty then, jbou, it seems like you've found the secret holy grail. Why don't you go write a self-help book and get yourself rich?

I've given up hope and it works great for me

we are entitled to certain things in this country and if we don't get them we should fight for them

Your attitude is your self-fullfilling prophecy, therefore I don't pity you. And also, you are entitled to nothing from me.
posted by VeGiTo at 11:07 PM on November 30, 2003


They are only low-skilled in comparison to jobs that require more skills, which is handy, because that's what we're comparing them with.

Well said, kindall.

VeGiTo, apparently your worldview is almost diametrically opposed to mine. Statements like "If you really think that coming out of university doesn't add much to your paycheck, then it's probably not worth the price anyway, why not skip the whole process altogether?" boggle my mind.

It never ceases to amaze me how many Americans are work fetishists. One should work to live, not live to work.
posted by rushmc at 11:47 PM on November 30, 2003


The answer is simple. If these people feel as individuals that they are not paid enough, they should demand a higher wage from their current employer or look for a better paying job. If they are content with their position, then they should stay where they are. It's all about personal responsibility.

Thank you. You can each send me $100 via paypal.
posted by mischief at 12:08 AM on December 1, 2003


The answer is simple. If these people feel as individuals that they are not paid enough, they should demand a higher wage from their current employer or look for a better paying job. If they are content with their position, then they should stay where they are. It's all about personal responsibility.

Except that doesn't work when there is one job available for every 11 job seeker, as is the current case in the area where I live.
posted by drezdn at 5:30 AM on December 1, 2003



I think taumeson meant that these jobs aren't hard because they don't require much skill, not because they're not physically demanding.


So, hard =requires much skill=/=physically demanding?

I think your definition is off.
posted by kayjay at 5:58 AM on December 1, 2003


Except that doesn't work when there is one job available for every 11 job seeker, as is the current case in the area where I live.

This is the crux of the problem. Right now, we are in the midst of a 'jobless recovery'. Well, who thinks there's any such thing? The people with the money, the one's who own enterprise and the government. Why? Because high unemployment keeps labor costs down and allows the ownership to have higher profits and productivity. It is a recovery - for the already rich.

This administration is bought and paid for. I'm a thinking person, always open to suggestions and alternative points of view, but no one has shown me a cogent argument to my personal belief that those with money in this country own the government and are only in it for themselves -- F**K the poor!

Slowly but surely, we're returning to the feudal era. Except this time around, instead of dukes and earls, we have Exxon/Mobile and Walmart. The dukes and earls of our time don't want mobility. They want local, cheap labor with few choices. The more the working class depend on their jobs, the more control the corporations have over us.
posted by PigAlien at 7:09 AM on December 1, 2003


This type of change is slow and insidious, I might add. The serfs in Russia were free at one time to move from place to place until Czar Ivan the terrible bound them to the land. I honestly believe it is possible within this century that something similar could happen with the corporations in this country. Already, many professionals are bound to their companies by 'non-compete' clauses. I really don't think it would take long once workers have lost all their rights before companies add 'non-compete' clauses to even the lowliest workers employment contracts. What choice will the workers have when jobs are so scarce and the government offers no benefits? Work for Walmart for life because you can't go to a competitor.

You laugh, go ahead! I hope that idea is silly and wrong. One thing I know for sure -- history repeats itself. No one is immune. Unfortunately, its ignorance of this fact which allows history to repeat itself, and we are certainly ignorant of history in this country/world.
posted by PigAlien at 7:15 AM on December 1, 2003


(Please ignore my multiple grammar and punctuation errors in previous posts. Haste makes waste!)
posted by PigAlien at 7:18 AM on December 1, 2003


Statements like "If you really think that coming out of university doesn't add much to your paycheck, then it's probably not worth the price anyway, why not skip the whole process altogether?" boggle my mind.

This is mind-boggling because it expects people to be able to tell whether they'll need a degree at the time they're ready to enter college. Young people by definition don't know much about the world yet, certainly not enough to make that decision. And their parents would generally rather they go to college and not really need it than not not have it if they need it. But it's true that some people simply don't need a Bachelor's, and these people are wasting substantial sums of money getting one.

Already, many professionals are bound to their companies by 'non-compete' clauses.

IANAL, but it's my understanding that employment contracts are enforceable only to the extent that they don't prevent you from working. If yours says you can't work for, say, Microsoft for a year, and you've made a good-faith effort to find employment elsewhere but Microsoft is the only company that's offered you work, you'd be pretty safe to take the job. In fact, since Microsoft is such a large employer, merely ruling them out substantially limits your work options, so you might be OK taking a job there even if you've had other offers, in the right circumstances. (For example, you probably wouldn't want to work in the division that directly competes with your former employer, and it might be good to be able to show that Microsoft's offer was better than others you've received.)
posted by kindall at 7:35 AM on December 1, 2003


Hi Kindall,

Being a computer professional and dating a lawyer, I understand both perspectives. I've often told my boyfriend that non-compete clauses are unenforceable, but he tells me, 'you stick to computers, I'll stick to law.' He is, in fact, an employment specialist and insists that non-compete clauses are enforceable. I really believe it just depends on the judge. However, my point wasn't really how enforceable non-compete clauses are now, but that given enough time and money, corporations would make them enforceable and begin to make everyone sign them.

Sometime in the future, when there are only a handful of corporations left to work for, don't be surprised if they forbid even janitors from working for their competitor. The only thing standing in their way is the workforce and the government. Since the corporations will own both eventually, what choice will people have?

Of course, I put this forward only as a possiblity, not a certainty. Itn s possibilities we are obligated to guard against so they don't become certainties.
posted by PigAlien at 8:03 AM on December 1, 2003


The greatest magic act the world has ever seen occured during the last 120 years: the enslavement of the bulk of the western population to the feudal lords of corporatism. The process of this enslavement is difficult to enravel, but here's a few key machinations of it:

- elimination of race-based slavery has 2 benefits: first, the appearance of egalitarianism serves the meritocracy myth; second, the pool of potential slaves is now broader

- property (real estate) ownership is promulgated as a path to wealth and a mark of accomplishment, when in fact "ownership" is a fiction. What we call "ownership" is actually a rental agreement, as evidenced by the facts that the property can be confiscated (tenant eviction) for failure to pay the property taxes (the rent), and that the ownership can be revoked (eviction) via "eminent domain" if the government (landlord) decides on a different use for the property

- expenses rise in accordance with income. It is easy to see that the lowly factory worker in a one-employer town is trapped by her circumstances, but the same is true for a high-wage slave who is encumbered by large mortgage and tax burdens, accoutrements of refinement appropriate to the social class, and payments to "financial security" corporations

- slaves who choose a form of freedom by opting out of the machinations of globalized corporatist slavery can often be handled by a proactive mythology of mental illness, and related orthodoxy of "social services"

- even those who think they don't support globalized corporatism are still slaves to it. The "independent merchant" obtains his stock from the corporations. His customers pay for their purchases with money earned from those corporations. The "neighborhood restaurant" serves corporate-raised beef (which fed on globally-patented corporate grain) to patrons wearing corporate clothes, spending corporate-earned money, and living in corporate-built homes (made from corporate building supplies).

- the US government, and less-so the governments of Europe, have been taken over by corporate interests. These governments no longer serve all the people.

- mandatory public education as practiced in the Western world is a system designed to render children into willing subjects, to ensure that the adults that result will be more accepting of their slavery

- In a nation as wealthy in natural resources, knowledge, and technology as the United States, nobody should have to work more than 15 hours a week. The economic infrastructure is designed to hide this by restructuring the tokens of capital.

- The system maintains itself because every participant in it acts always in his own best interests within the constraints of the overall system itself. Therefore, it is vitally important to the integrity of the system that the slaves think that the system's choices are the only real choices (see mental illness, above).

- The "superiority" of the corporate system is made "self-evident" via nationalism (which equates corporatism/slave consumerism with the national identity), linguistic chauvanism toward alternate life methods, and sensationalized accounts of non-participation.


What a birthright: "Here, young child. Here's your National ID card (we'll track you for life), here's your credit card (protect that credit rating), we've got a school all ready for you. When we teach you American History, don't take the founding fathers too seriously. Don't think too much. We've got pills to help you. Would you like fries with that?"
posted by yesster at 8:09 AM on December 1, 2003 [1 favorite]


The great thing, yesster, is that you can become a master merely by filing some paperwork. I incorporated a couple years ago, and they've already given me a city councilman and two dogcatchers.
posted by kindall at 8:49 AM on December 1, 2003


Judging by this thread, a great deal of America lacks compassion.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:21 AM on December 1, 2003


The difference between what we've got now and yesster's slavery scenario is that anybody with the creativity, will, and preseverance can propell themselves into masterdom.

If you care to look, there are rich actors who started out as poor immigrants who barely had enough to eat; there are entrepreneurs who formed their empire on a shoestring. Hell, Sam Walton himself began it all with his own "Mom-and-pop" store. The American rag-to-riches story is not a myth.

The great thing, yesster, is that you can become a master merely by filing some paperwork. I incorporated a couple years ago, and they've already given me a city councilman and two dogcatchers.

I think it requires more than just that, but masterdom is not something that is not attainable. Just don't give up hope.
posted by VeGiTo at 9:37 AM on December 1, 2003


VeGiTo,

It is precisely the mentality that "I can become a master too" that allows the system to exist in the first place. The slaves have fallen in love with their masters. Just because people like Sam Walton can start Walmart from a Mom & Pop store and celebrities can come from poverty doesn't mean that most people do.

The richest one percent (1%) of the population controls over 50% of the wealth in this country.

There is something very perverse in a situation where 99% of the population is subservient to and idolizes the richest 1% just because there's an exorbitantly slim possibility they might become rich too.

I accept that inequality is a fact of life and I don't have a problem with it. It is a matter of scale. The levels of inequality are too great and getting greater.

To make the statement that 'anyone can work hard get rich' belies the fact that only the top 1% really control anything. I don't think it is as straightforward as only 1% of the population work hard enough to deserve that kind of wealth. There is something inherent in the system which makes it difficult to reach that level.

Of course, not everyone should be in the 'top 1%', but it is precisely that mentality that 'anyone can get there' that lets people accept the current situation as 'fair'.

This is like the fallacy that we live in a 'dangerous' society with high crime. Most people are much more scared of crime than they have a statistical reason to be scared. There is so much violence on television everyone is afraid to answer the door.

The truth of the matter is, it is the same way with wealth. People see celebrities picked from poverty to a life of fame and fortune and people like Sam Walton, and think, "hey, this country is fair, anyone can go from rags to riches." While the truth of the matter is, it is much harder to go from rags to riches than you are led to believe.
posted by PigAlien at 10:04 AM on December 1, 2003


While the truth of the matter is, it is much harder to go from rags to riches than you are led to believe.

Of course it is hard. The fallacy here is that if you work hard at what you do, then you are entitled to be rich. In reality, earning our stripes in this day and age requires more than just hard work. It requires creativity and ingenuity.

There is no cookie-cutter recipe for getting rich. There is no "10-step Guide to Masterdom". No one said that if you repeat everything Sam Walton did then you'll be rich too. Every case is unique, and everybody tries make their own way. This is where "creativity" comes in. That is the way it is, and that's the way it should be. But if you don't try, the battle is already lost.

If we can encourage more people to actively thinking how they can become rich, rather than sitting there whining, then may be some of them will actually make it. If more people attempt it, more people will reach "masterdom", even if it's just 1% of them.

And when there are more "masters" in the world, they would be competing against each other for the limited number of "serfs", in effect raising the standard of living for serfdom as well. If we encourage entrepreneurship, in theory, there will be a greater number of "overlords" competing against each other rather than have just a couple mega corporate overlords. Anyway you look at it, encouraging people to dream is not a bad thing.
posted by VeGiTo at 10:17 AM on December 1, 2003



There is no cookie-cutter recipe for getting rich. There is no "10-step Guide to Masterdom". No one said that if you repeat everything Sam Walton did then you'll be rich too. Every case is unique, and everybody tries make their own way. This is where "creativity" comes in. That is the way it is, and that's the way it should be. But if you don't try, the battle is already lost.


Vegito, I have no problem with this idea. I seriously doubt Sam Walton (do we have to use him as a role model?) would have made his store from a "Mom-and-pop" to a large chain if he had simply stocked his shelves, managed his costs well and expanded a store at a time.

The "creativity" too often means relying on existing corporations or investment groups, getting tax breaks, and cutting costs everywhere possible. I have no problem with selling your idea to others, but when it means that you're doing it by paying workers the enforced minimum and going into communities with the force of a battering ram.....
posted by mikeh at 11:33 AM on December 1, 2003


But it's true that some people simply don't need a Bachelor's, and these people are wasting substantial sums of money getting one.

Your attitude is based upon the assumption that one can/should only pursue a degree in order to get a particular type of job, and I disagree with that assumption. I attended college with little thought of career training, and indeed, my degree has never helped me get a job. And I have nary a regret.

Or would you really argue that low-skill/low-wage workers are better off not receiving "too much" education, since it is only likely to make them discontent with their lot?

The difference between what we've got now and yesster's slavery scenario is that anybody with the creativity, will, and preseverance can propell themselves into masterdom.

Hardly. Millions of people work hard and smart and never become wealthy. The missing component in your equation is "luck" (e.g., if you think today's movie stars are the best actors in the country, you are very much mistaken). Hard work is usually a necessary but not sufficient condition. You still have to be one of the relative few to "win the lottery."
posted by rushmc at 1:52 PM on December 1, 2003


Your attitude is based upon the assumption that one can/should only pursue a degree in order to get a particular type of job, and I disagree with that assumption.

Your attitude is based upon the assumption that the only way people can learn is if they put themselves into a situation in which they are forced to do so, and I disagree with that assumption. I'm better educated on many topics than are a lot of people with degrees bigger than mine. I don't see any reason to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a degree when I can read all the same books for free. Hanging out with smart people is also free and very enriching.

Or would you really argue that low-skill/low-wage workers are better off not receiving "too much" education

Education is not something that you passively receive, but something that you go out and get. How could you ever stop someone who wanted an education from getting one?

Hard work is usually a necessary but not sufficient condition. You still have to be one of the relative few to "win the lottery."

I've talked about my parents' rise from humble beginnings to a decently middle-class life before on this site, so I won't rehash it. I will mention that my father has several brothers (and one sister) and that every single one of them managed the same feat. All are retired comfortably now after having launched between one and four children into the world, and we kids are all doing at least as well and will likely be doing even better by the time we retire. Isn't it amazing how six different people, all born into poverty, all managed to have essentially the same "luck?" You'd think at least one of them would have had bad "luck." Yet their "luck" has been remarkably consistent. It's almost as if "luck" didn't really exist at all.
posted by kindall at 2:57 PM on December 1, 2003


Your attitude is based upon the assumption that the only way people can learn is if they put themselves into a situation in which they are forced to do so

Not at all; I'm merely acknowledging it as one often productive approach. Just because one can learn on one's own doesn't mean we should turn all universities into vo-tech schools!

I've talked about my parents' rise from humble beginnings to a decently middle-class life

I think it's pretty clear that "masterdom" as used in this thread refers to those possessing great wealth, not just a decent middle class life. It was the notion that anyone could reach that level by working the system that I was objecting to.
posted by rushmc at 5:28 PM on December 1, 2003


It was the notion that anyone could reach that level by working the system that I was objecting to.

Well, probably not in one generation.
posted by kindall at 8:17 PM on December 1, 2003


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