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Posts Tagged ‘Presidential election’

The $10.32 loaf of bread

In behavior, business, children, culture, domestic life, family, life, Money, parenting, politics, US on October 22, 2012 at 1:49 pm
2001-2006 Mini CooperS photographed in USA. Ca...

2001-2006 Mini CooperS photographed in USA. Category:BMW Mini R53 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That’s the price of a loaf of Eli’s Bakery walnut and raisin bread in my town.

I don’t live in some remote Arctic village where everything must be flown in, inflating prices to a crazy degree, but a suburban town 25 miles north of New York City.

$10.32.

For bread.

I asked the men who own and run the store, one they spent $600,000 to expand and renovate recently — who can afford this bread? How many are they selling each week? (Five.) Sometimes they get an order for ten at once. $100, for bread.

Then I went out for lunch with my softball team, a co-ed group I’ve known for a decade. One of them says his teen-aged son refuses to drive one of the family’s two cars, a Toyota Corolla, because it’s “a cleaning lady’s car.”

Excuse me while I shriek: What the fuck?

My town, and county — reflecting the income divide that is deepening and widening in this country at warp speed – are becoming a place I no longer recognize.

The cars in our town’s parking lots now are shiny new Mini Coopers, Range Rovers, Audis and BMWs, not the dusty econoboxes I used to see. There are three art galleries selling garish, huge paintings of dubious beauty.

The median income in my town, in 1989, was $40,000, then $60,000. It’s now, I believe, about $80,000. That sounds like a fortune depending where you live.

But it doesn’t buy you much around here.

And the sort of hyper-competitive materialism my friend despairs of in his own son is normal amongst his status-obsessed peers, in a town far wealthier than ours.

Over lunch  — wondering, as we all are, who will become the new President in two weeks and what our world will look like if uber-rich Romney wins — we had a long and impassioned discussion of the rich and the poor and the disappearing, desperate, job-seeking middle class.

Why do so many rich Americans not give a shit about those lower down the socioeconomic ladder?

“They’re losers!” said one, a retired iron-worker. He doesn’t think that, but many rich people now do — if they live in a big house and drive a shiny new Beemer and their wife wears designer clothes and their privately schooled kids are headed as legacies for an Ivy school and grad school, why, they deserve it!

And anyone who’s failed to scale the greasy pole of material success at their speed and height does not. Poor people are shiftless, lazy, poorly educated, unwilling to work hard. So goes the mythology.

It must be all their fault.

The two largest sources of new jobs in the American economy are part-time, pay minimum wage and offer no benefits. Slinging burgers at McDonald’s or folding T-shirts at the Gap will not, contrary to any Republican fantasy, help propel the hardest worker on earth into the middle class. These are working class jobs.

I know. I worked retail for 27 months, then wrote my book “Malled.” I saw firsthand the disdain the wealthy have for those who serve them.

Romney’s contemptuous remark — that 47 percent of Americans, those paying no federal income tax, are leaching off the rest of them, the productive ones — revealed a raw, vicious and useful truth. Many of this economy’s winners, gloating on third base, are convinced they hit a triple.

The rest of us can go to hell.

Here’s a recent New York Times piece about minority kids who get into top prep schools but can’t relate in any way to the privilege therein:

WHEN Ayinde Alleyne arrived at the Trinity School, an elite independent school on the Upper West Side in Manhattan, he was eager to make new friends. A brainy 14-year-old, he was the son of immigrants from Trinidad and Tobago, a teacher and an auto-body repairman, in the South Bronx. He was soon overwhelmed by the privilege he saw. Talk of fancy vacations and weekends in the Hamptons rankled — “I couldn’t handle that at that stage of my life,” said Mr. Alleyne, now a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania — and he eventually found comfort in the school’s “minority corner,” where other minority students, of lesser means, hung out.

In 2011, when Mr. Alleyne was preparing to graduate, seniors were buzzing about the $1,300-per-student class trip to the Bahamas.

He recalls feeling stunned when some of his classmates, with whom he had spent the last four years at the school, asked him if he planned to go along.

“How do I get you to understand that going to the Bahamas is unimaginable for my family?” he said in a recent interview. “My family has never taken a vacation.”

It was a moment of disconnection, a common theme in conversations with minority students who have attended the city’s top-drawer private schools.

There was once a very clear understanding of noblesse oblige — that the privileged owe a responsibility to help those less well-off. No longer.

Increasingly, Americans have a servant class and a class that ignores them, until it needs their kids cared for or their doddering mother attended or their cars washed or their groceries delivered. They live in different neighborhoods, attend different schools, shop in different stores. They do not attend the same churches or share a bus, train or subway car. Rich kids think being “poor” means driving a car costing less than $75,000.

I watch it in dismay and wonder where, truly, the United States is headed as a nation, a polity, an identity in which to take pride. Social mobility is now at its lowest in decades.

From Foreign Policy Journal:

During the second half of the 20th century, the United States was an opportunity society. The ladders of upward mobility were plentiful, and the middle class expanded. Incomes rose, and ordinary people were able to achieve old-age security.

In the 21st century, the opportunity society has disappeared. Middle class jobs are scarce. Indeed, jobs of any kind are scarce.

Are you seeing this growing divide in your own schools, neighborhood, life or work?

How — if at all — is it affecting you and your kids?

If I could vote in the Presidential election…

In behavior, immigration, life, politics, US on September 7, 2012 at 11:57 pm
Barack Obama

Barack Obama (Photo credit: jamesomalley)

It would not be for Mitt Romney.

If this means a stampede to the exits from some of you, sorry.

But that’s how I feel.

I have a “green card”, (pink actually), that allows me to work and live in the U.S. But, for a variety of reasons, I do not have citizenship. I can easily get it, and retain my Canadian cititzenship as well. I just have not made that choice.

So I can’t vote for anyone.

I watched President Obama’s speech, and those of his VP Joe Biden and former President Bill Clinton — who I’ve seen a few feet away in a local restaurant, as we live about a 15 minute drive south of his home.

I came to the U.S. to live in 1989, writing on the consular application “better job opportunities” as my reason. It’s one of the reasons I’ve stayed.

That, and two American husbands (not simultaneously.)

It’s been a really rough four years and I’m terrified that Obama is not going to be re-elected. Not because I think he’s done such a great job, hamstrung by partisan politics.

But the notion of Mitt Romney, and his dressage-horse-owning wife, his $250 million fortune, his absolute disregard for the middle class (and below) — and his Mom jeans — in the White House is making me look at my Canadian passport with longing.

Would I leave if he won? It’s not that simple.

But I would want to.

I’m a self-employed, middle-aged feminist. Republicans care not a whit for anyone in those three categories.

Every week another insane-o Republican politician, usually male, tosses some red meat into the cage by offering up yet another way to control our reproductive rights. As many of us have noted, Republicans loathe government intervention into any aspect of their lives — but they love telling American women what to do with our bodies. It’s my uterus, boys. Back off!

A third of American workers now look like me: self-employed, permalance, temp or contract. That means the only way to get health insurance is to marry someone who has it or buy it, at whatever price is on offer, on the open market. For anyone living in New York, you’re looking at $600-1,200 a month, easy. You can go bankrupt paying for health insurance or you can go bankrupt with enormous medicals bills. Now that’s my kind of economic freedom.

I’m also weary of the fantasy that the wealthy are “job creators.” They’re not. Right now, American corporations are earning record profits, (often having pounded their desperate, un-unionized workers into lower wages and worse working conditions), and are stuffing their pockets with that dough. They are not hiring or giving raises, promotions or bonuses.

The latest job numbers are terrible — only 96,000 new jobs were added here in August.

And the two largest areas of job growth?

Foodservice and retail, the subject of my memoir of working 27 months as a sales associate.

Dead-end jobs for lousy pay.

From The New York Times, August 30, 2012:

The occupations with the fastest growth were retail sales (at a median wage of $10.97 an hour) and food preparation workers ($9.04 an hour). Each category has grown by more than 300,000 workers since June 2009.

Some of these new, lower-paying jobs are being taken by people just entering the labor force, like recent high school and college graduates. Many, though, are being filled by older workers who lost more lucrative jobs in the recession and were forced to take something to scrape by.

“I think I’ve been very resilient and resistant and optimistic, up until very recently,” said Ellen Pinney, 56, who was dismissed from a $75,000-a-year job in which she managed procurement and supply for an electronics company in March 2008.

Since then, she has cobbled together a series of temporary jobs in retail and home health care and worked as a part-time receptionist for a beauty salon. She is now working as an unpaid intern for a construction company, putting together bids and business plans for green energy projects, and has moved in with her 86-year-old father in Forked River, N.J.

“I really can’t bear it anymore,” she said.

Either can I.

Americans’ slavish devotion to the “free market” is killing the hopes and lives of millions. People who can’t find a job and can’t afford to go back to school to re-train (again) because — funny thing — they’re already in debt from the crappy mortgage they bought or they ran through savings in the years it took to find their last job or because getting the next costly credential is no guarantee that anyone is going to hire you.

For those of you who live outside the U.S., the defining mythology here is that of the boot-strapper, that each of us is fully able, from birth onward, to create and define and shape our lives.

Regardless of race, education, family background.

I’ve spent a lot of time, as a reporter, talking to people whose lives make this a lie:

– A woman who shot her husband dead because the police were unable or unwilling to stop him stalking her.

– The 19-year-old raped in the dark, dirty hallway of the public housing where she lived.

– The family who showed me a quilt with the images of their mother and father, both killed violently, woven into it.

– The contractor who had to fire half his staff because he could not afford to keep them.

– The businessman paying $1,000+ every month to buy health insurance for his family.

– The student terrified to be job-less because she’s carrying $30,000+ of student loan debt.

The U.S. is a great place to live if you’re smart, strong, well-educated, healthy, socially connected. Don’t get sick. Don’t need help. Don’t have dependent family members who can’t earn their own way.

If someone tries to crawl into your lifeboat — say the Republicans — beat the oars on their frozen hands and tell them to save themselves. No one ever needs help. It’s their own fault!

If you’re unlucky enough to be ill, old, physically weak, in debt, financially illiterate…you’re Republican carrion.

If the Republicans win the White House, I fear, deeply and genuinely fear, for the well-being of all but the winners at the craps table of laissez-faire free-market capitalism.

How are you feeling about this election?

Do you plan to vote?

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