Monday, May 12, 2014


There are, by and large, two parts of our economy that are still functional. The tippity-top is going great guns, of course...they engineer it that way. The stock market is nosing around all-time highs. The price of admission to this market--in an example of truly side-splitting irony, it's called a "share"--well, some of them are five or six hundred bucks apiece, and if you call up the guardians at the gates and ask to buy just one "share", you'll be laughed into another dimension. For most of us down here in the sweatshops, five or six hundred bucks is a non-trivial amount of money. For more than a few of us, it's more than we earn in a week's work (and that's not even mentioning the countries where five hundred bucks is an above-average ANNUAL income).
As much as we need to talk about those countries, let's focus on ours for now. As I said, if you're monied, you're doing well, and the more monied you are, the better you're doing.

There is another part of the economy that's doing very well, and that's towards the bottom.

People are unaware of this--they hear the latest "job creation" figures and think that those jobs fit their preconceived notions of what a job is and what it's supposed to do. But for the most part, that's not true. Most of the jobs being created are part time, minimum wage or-so-near-to-it-as-to-make-no-difference positions without pensions or benefits of any kind. Such is the society we are creating for ourselves: consumerism run amok, supported by a phalanx of 'service industry' drones who aren't paid enough to serve themselves, let alone the world. Many of them can't afford to buy the goods they create, or sell.

This is what it's like to work for the world's most profitable retailer. It's an American article, of course. and many of us up here in Canada with our inferiority complex that manifests as a superiority complex will immediately dismiss it on those grounds. But there are political forces at work in our country that seek to make us just like America; indeed, our job creation figures are very much like theirs. Outside of Alberta, of course, where you can make a fantastic wage helping to destroy the environment.

Whenever the poor work and life conditions in the service industry are brought up in polite company, I've noticed that they are brushed off as unpleasant but necessary. Nobody is expected to stay in such a job for long, we're told. They're starter jobs, for kids, and if they paid a "living wage", nobody would have the ambition to better themselves.

This is, of course, absurd. The rich person doesn't stop at his first million.; why would a poor person stop at her first thousand?  But don't blame the monied people for thinking it--they have no idea what a "living wage" actually is, because quite frankly, they have no need to know that sort of thing. They are not accustomed to thinking in terms of  where their next meal is coming from; for them, it's more where their next luxury automobile is coming from.

 Poor people, to the rich, aren't really people at all. They lack some fundamental ingredient that would make them so. What is it the poor lack? Ambition? Drive? Integrity?

In most cases, non of these. No, in most cases poor people But that's enough to dehumanize them, We live in a culture where people are judged not by their self-worth, or their worth to others, but solely by their net worth. Sad, but true.

 And most importantly, the rich tend not to  have a concept of the low-income trap that keeps people in these "starter" jobs for years, often for entire careers.

That trap has a number of springs. The first and most obvious is that there are more and more "starter" jobs and fewer and fewer jobs above that rung, making the competition  more and more intense over time. (This is called 'social Darwinism' and it's a favourite philosophy of the rich. Why wouldn't it be? We're all looking for confirmation that we're the best...for most of the rich, that confirmation is right there in their bank accounts.)
The second spring in the trap is a little more subtle. Finding a new job isn't simply a matter of effort. A sustained job search is expensive in time and money, for values of 'expensive' that only the poor can appreciate. Proper interview attire; resume writing and interview coaching; transportation to and from interviews; sufficient time off from work (unpaid, of course) to search in the first place. And I'm completely disregarding the most expensive item of all: an education. School costs. A lot. It's one thing to want to better yourself--most of us do--it's another entirely to have the means to do it!

But the third low-income trap is the killer. It's expensive to be poor. From bank accounts with minimum balance requirements you can't meet, to limited to nonexistent healthy food options, when you are poor, there are a host of factors conspiring to keep you that way. Poverty truly does act like a disease: it infests entire areas, like a cancer might, and it  hardens hearts and attitudes in those areas such that climbing out of poverty often carries a social cost.

I will write soon on my ideas for  needed paradigm shifts to elevate the poor among us. For now, take heart: it doesn't have to be this way.

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