Many words do not need to be said or written at all. There are simply too many people who enjoy hearing themselves talk. If there is a beautiful space of silence, they figure it's their right and obligation to keep it filled.
Then there are many words that need to be expressed, but to specific people in specific situations. Professors, Christian clergy on Sunday mornings and customer service representatives are three overt examples. Unfortunately, too many people in these situations don't appreciate the power of words, resulting in abuse. But that is a topic tangent for a different article.
Now we come to a category of words that need to be expressed for a twofold purpose: 1. the speaker is in a healing process and needs to share a message and 2. maybe, just maybe even one listener will hear or read the words and begin to heal and share the message as well. The words written in this article are expressed for this purpose.
We have heard the words in the media, "the erosion of the middle class." This is usually glossed over and kept impersonal. They are meant to instill fear and raise advertising dollars. The people speaking these words don't really care or even want anyone to initiate change. Well, this writer is a personal example, or case study, if you will, of this erosion of the middle class.
For ten and a half years I worked in a factory for a major corporation. As part of a termination agreement I signed to receive severance, I am not permitted to name the company in writing. Since the dawn of labor unions, factory workers have become the poster children for lower middle class, blue collar workers. When I was hired in 2001, they started me with $12.50 per hour. During my time there, I participated in three contract negotiations. By the time the plant closed in February 2012, I was earning $19.38 per hour. Not a glamorous wage by standards of the well-to-do, but definitely livable. As a woman alone I could live on that; particularly since I had adopted a minimalistic lifestyle years before. I live in a two room apartment, do not own a car or property, paid off my major debts in 2009 -2010, do not carry any credit cards and own a 2006 Motorola razr phone, which works beautifully.
The company provided benefits. Twenty-six dollars a week was deducted from my checks for medical and dental insurance. Fortunately, I did not need to use my insurance very often. But when I did, it was comfortable and realistic coverage even as the insurance industry grew more complicated, confusing and greed based.
The company provided a basic life insurance policy of $10,000 coverage. We could add to that at additional cost if we so chose. Within our contract, we had ten paid holidays per year. We were given paid vacations: one week after one year of service, two weeks after two, three weeks after eight and four weeks after 17 years of service.
The company did not pay union members sick days or personal days. We tried during each contract negotiation and were denied. We also had a pension plan, I was fully vested after five years of service. That pension, combined with social security would have allowed me to financially survive at my retirement age of 66.5.
Now for the erosion.
The plant closed permanently and I lost all of the above. I had to apply for unemployment benefits. I had never been on unemployment and initially the process was bewildering. The bottom line was I received $220 less per week than when I was working. I was able to meet my rent and utilities. I could never buy clothes or shoes or things for my apartment, such as towels, sheets, etc. I humbly asked for help in the form of food stamps and was granted $16 per month.
During the eighteen months that I was unemployed I kept accurate records, except for two weeks when I was so frustrated and depressed. Within that record keeping, I applied for 303 jobs. With one exception, I applied only to jobs for which I was qualified or over qualified . The jobs included the following: factory, warehouse, data entry, hotel housekeeping, food service, office assistant. I applied to counseling jobs as I hold two degrees in psychology. But I graduated so long ago, they are useless. I applied to jobs with the federal government, the state of Minnesota, Hennepin County and the city of Minneapolis. I applied to nine different jobs at the U of M in food service and grounds keeping. I applied at grocery stores, including two that consistently had "now hiring" signs on their doors. The one exception was Ameriprise Financial. I applied for a Financial Consultant position that paid $250,000 per year. I figured anyone who could responsibly handle poverty level income could certainly work wonders with millions! I didn't get the job but I do feel respect. They answered me back with a polite rejection email. Over 90% of companies I applied to didn't even do that.
I also wrote a lot when I was unemployed. Gratefully, several short stories were published. They either didn't pay well or not at all but it kept me going mentally with something I love to do.
Finally, last month, with the help of a friend, I got a full-time job. I work as a shirt folder and packager in a silk screening shop. They started me out at $9.50 per hour and when job responsibilities shifted and I was willing to take the different work, they lowered my wage to $8.50 per hour. So, after deductions and bus fare costs to and from work, I now bring home $44 dollars less per week than I did when I was drawing unemployment compensation. They do not offer health insurance so unless something radical changes in my new job search, I will be a criminal on January 1, when all people will be required to have health insurance.
As I writer, I love words and respect their power. However, I do not have words to adequately express my feelings of discouragement, sadness and being trapped. So, if you see me out and about holding a cardboard sign asking for help, please do not jump to a conclusion and snarl at me to "get a job". I already work full-time.