The American Dream… or the American Nightmare?


learned to give

http://www.occupydemocrats.com/watch-a-liberal-economist-school-a-conservative-cnbc-host-on-the-minimum-wage/

I watched this video, and was shocked by the quoted statistics:

“. . . [the] American labor landscape has endured drastic changes in the last 50 years, with over 88% of America’s low-wage workers being ADULTS and 44% having at least some college education. . . [and] the typical American worker who would be affected by a raise in the minimum wage actually brings in half of his household’s total earnings!”

I knew it was bad, but I didn’t realize it was that bad.

I read the comments, too.  One was made by Benjamin Bowman · Big Rapids High School:

“The fact is, that if your working in a $10/hr or less job, there isn’t really a lot to look forward to promotion wise. If your in fast food, you could get promoted to management of some kind. So from $7.50/hr as an employee to $8.50/hr as a manager. Then lets say you do manage to get promoted to GM, well a lot of places are only going to pay you $12-13/hr in the top job you can get in that field. Low wage jobs are always going to pay as little as possible, why should we stand for companies paying full time people an amount so low that nobody can live off it?” – comment posted August 30 at 3:57pm

I started writing a reply, but found I could not be brief.  As I grew more long-winded, I turned it into a blog entry instead.  Then, I noticed yet another comment I wanted to mention:

Adam Montano · Pima Medical, Yuba Com, Storz advanced medical systems:

” “Anyone can work their way up to the top” and ” the American dream” are concepts that these a-hole have turned into weapons against the American people. Until Americans realize that these are just the carrots that are dangled in front of their noses we will continue being what they cons dally want us all to be, their beasts of burdens.” – posted at August 30 at 4:10pm

Gentlemen, there is much wisdom in what you say… more than you know.

I remember my first “real job” – at a brand-spanking-new McDonald’s on Flatbush off Snyder in Brooklyn, NY, back in the mid-70s.  These first-time business-owners were smart.  They chose a location only one block from Erasmus High School, so there would be a guaranteed stream of income and employees.  Fast-food was a big upcoming thing, and the line went around the block for an employment application.  My friend Ei and I were two of the lucky ones first interviewed, then chosen for training and employment.  I worked there 4 or 5 days a week (after school, until closing at midnight), and also on weekends.  We “kids” worked alongside several adults who were performing the same jobs (including my own Mother LOL).  We made up a nice mix of everything – color, race, religion, age, gender, etc. – and those differences were meaningless to us.  We all were staff, we all got paid the same hourly wage, we all worked very hard at what we did, and we all were loyal to our employers (“Rob” and “Roy” – I wonder if you’re still out there!) and to one another… until the employers and their immediate underlings started getting abusive.  They’d spread false gossip, pit us against one another, and cut hours for no reason.  It got pretty ugly, but they were in charge and we needed the money.  Some of us left, some of us stayed.  In that first job, I learned a lesson — a boss (usually) is not your friend.  They didn’t care about anything but filling their pockets… oh… and seducing the occasional cashier, who then might get a raise, and more hours.

A handful of us became “crew chiefs,” “assistant managers,” or “managers,” but not a single one of us ever got past that ceiling into “big business.”  None of us became store owners, which to this day involves a hefty sum of money to buy-into a franchise.  None of us could save enough to make that investment on what we were being paid.  It took every dollar we made to further our educations, and support ourselves and our families.  I can see what the speakers in the video meant about “entry level jobs” and advancing up the ladder from there, but that’s where their wisdom ends.  It doesn’t always happen that way, and sometimes you have to go from ladder to ladder to ladder just to find that first step UP. 

I was lucky, and tenacious.  I attended college (SJU – on grants, financial aid, scholarships and my own cash) but even with a 4-year BS degree, I never got a job in my major that paid much more than McDonalds was paying!  It was frustrating.  Hard work and difficult choices brought me to a place of financial security in adulthood from which I attempt to help others, because I know first-hand what it’s like to need a hand UP and not a hand OUT. 

Nowadays, we find discrimination and prejudice against everyone and everything, but it was easier back then because many of the laws we have today just didn’t exist.  Women?  Check.  African-Americans?  Check.  Muslims?  Check.  Unmarried parents?  Check.  People with HIV?  Check.  A female African-American Muslimah who is a single-mother and has HIV?  Check-check-check-check-check!  The list goes on and on… and on.  The more categories – the more prejudiced (some) people can be.  Oftentimes prejudice evolves into discrimination, which then may fall into the current category of illegal behavior.  Some employers know just how to work around these “uncomfortable issues” as I found out first hand as an employee in the legal profession (a career in which I remain today).

I remember working at one law office, the first one that ever hired me (via a temp agency). It was a husband-wife partnership.  After years of devotion (babysitting their kids in the office while working my job, hemming the wife’s dresses, running their errands on my own time, cleaning the office and its bathroom, emptying the trashcans, etc.) and receiving a take-home pay of $464.75 a week, I resigned… and then was denied wages and vacation pay which were due me. I had to sue for money that was rightfully mine.  I had no idea I should have been receiving overtime pay.  I had no idea that other of my rights were being violated, and that I should have complained to the EEOC.  The money I received from suing my ex-employer went to pay my own attorney.  Once I was paid what I was owed and I signed a release, I could do nothing further about the situation.  The male half of that partnership went on to establish a practice working on behalf of abused employees – like me! – because he found out what a close-call he’d had by not following the law.

I also remember my years working for “the 2nd-largest employment-law firm in the United States,” which represents employers against their employees.  Unions still loudly protest meetings at their offices with huge inflatable rats because they were known as “union-busters” and were oh-so-proud of it!  I’d come home sick to my stomach, seeing how employees were treated as the enemy, and how employers were being taught to get around the law.  It’s a huge, vile subculture, and it disgusted me enough that I quit without a new job in sight.

I’ve worked at other law offices, and have learned useful lessons at every one of them, but the most valuable lesson of all was “KNOW YOUR RIGHTS AND TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF BECAUSE NOBODY WILL DO THAT FOR YOU.”

I work now as a paralegal on behalf of clients who have suffered injuries.  I’ve never been more content, and I thoroughly enjoy what I do. I was led to that career when I, myself, was hurt in 1987. A traumatic accident shattered the lower half of my face. My jaw was broken in more than one place, and most of my teeth were fractured or knocked out. A portion of my lip was severed, and I still have nerve damage. (I have photos. If you’d like to see them, just ask.) The attorney who worked on my behalf in that case suggested I might like to help others, and he was 100% correct. It took a long time for me to find the career which was right for me, and to do my job well enough that my employer is happy to have me. I am paid a salary worthy of my skill set… but my career has nothing to do with the major I studied in college. I do not believe in coincidences. I was led to where I am today. 

I am a few years shy of what is considered official retirement age in the United States, and I’ve been able to save and invest for my future.  Today’s minimum wage earners might not have time enough left in their lives to find – and climb – that proverbial ladder. Some are trying to raise children and/or support their elders while working two or more part-time jobs because no single job will give them enough hours to provide them with medical insurance and advancement opportunities.  Some would rather go to jail (see link immediately below).

http://www.nationofchange.org/sick-oregon-man-robs-bank-one-dollar-get-health-care-jail-1378042832

Sacrificing his freedom was the price Mr. Alsip felt he had to pay to receive medical care, and I am ashamed of my country for forcing such a choice upon him.

The days of working for one employer for a lifetime, and receiving a pat on the back, a handshake, a gold watch and a guaranteed pension are long gone. 

Here is a link to an article about eleven of the battles American workers are still fighting:

http://www.nationofchange.org/eleven-other-things-american-workers-deserve-besides-day-1378217807

It’s sad that employers – and governments – in other countries of the world respect their population more than ours do. So…  “`Murica the great?”  Maybe, maybe not.  I don’t like a lot of what I see these days, and at age 57, all I can do is strive to make my own little corner of my huge country “great” and keep on keeping on, for me and for those others whom I can help.

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