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Friday: The Big Squeeze

Had a really good day yesterday.  I’m back in the saddle again, sort of.  I have some real work but, unfortunately, no job yet.  But I’m optimistic, especially because 6 months away from the workstation hasn’t resulted in any permanent damage.  It came back to me pretty quickly.

Well, technically, it’s not a unix system- yet.  It’s coming.

In the meantime, I’m not surprised by the recent census data that shows that 1 in 2 Americans is now poor or low income.  The problem with that article is that even though it mentions that college educated families are now suffering, it still emphasizes what we might consider the “typical” poor person.  That person doesn’t have a college education, may be unmarried, has a child “out of wedlock” (fornicators!).  The article is designed to comfort the comfortable.  It’s mostly the uneducated working class that’s suffering and they made some pretty poor life choices.

This would be highly inaccurate, as well as unfair to the struggling 18 year old who, after all, shouldn’t be punished forever for putting the cart before the horse.  It feels too much like The Scarlet Letter morality and that didn’t end well.  I keep featuring the trials and tribulations of the research industry because I’m close to it.  But what is happening in research is an indication of what is really happening to the middle class.  Over 100,000 of us scientists have been laid off since the crash and all the people that I know who have managed to find new jobs have taken very steep cuts in wages, in the neighborhood of 30-50%.  If they’re lucky to get that, they might not have benefits.  It’s funny that we have already readjusted our expectations so that if you are only getting 50% of your former salary but manage to get health benefits from your employer, you’re considered successful.

And we’re not talking about high school graduates with illegitimate children living on Baker Street.  We’re talking about people who have advanced degrees in hard sciences and who just a couple of years ago were making $80,000 plus per year.  Of course, that doesn’t go very far in the northeast unless you have a spouse who works.  It only sounds like a lot of money if you’ve never had to live in central NJ.  But imagine having to pay all of your former expenses (mortgage, utilities, car insurance, food) in one of the most expensive areas of the country, the NYC metropolitan suburb area, on half of that income.  That’s what’s so maddening about the current economic situation.  Our cost of living hasn’t dropped- at all.  Expenses are still the same.  It’s just that you are much less likely to be able to afford to pay them.

I call it The Big Squeeze and I blame the Republican party.  I’m not letting Democrats off the hook here.  They may be in denial thinking, “Oh, it can’t be that bad.  At least not bad enough that I actually should refuse this campaign contribution from Pfizer or {insert some large pharma here}.”  Um, it *is* that bad.  Really, really bad.  It can’t last forever.  I’m assuming that the s%^& is being timed to hit the fan sometime next year in the midst of the election season.  By mid-summer next year, we will see main street dry up.  There will be a lot fewer families taking vacations, kids taking piano lessons, people buying stuff.  There will be more foreclosures, fewer unemployment benefits and an even greater spike in the school lunch program applications.  There will be more insanely rabid Republican crazy voters who have lost all sense of proportion and “christian” charity.  It’s all designed to extract a giant scream of uncle from Americans.  Think of it as economic torture until we give in and sign our hard earned benefits and safety net away.

It doesn’t have to be like this and, honestly, I can’t figure out why the bonus class wasn’t content with the fists full of dollars they were making during the Clinton years.  But for whatever reason, the wealthy and well connected have this ridiculous idea in their heads that they’re the only ones who know how to work hard and that the rest of us are just slackers and parasites.  This is the biggest problem we’re facing.  We are running up against a misplaced attitude of self-worth among the Wall Street crowd.  They have some peculiar notion that because they are rich, they earned that money virtuously while the rest of us are dirty, stupid and lazy.

I’d just like to caution the Democratic operatives out there who may be reading this that that’s a hard argument to make to the research community who have been working their asses off in the past decade to please a management strata that never seems to be satisfied.  Now that I’ve been out of work for awhile, I’ve come to see how mentally abused researchers have been.  Every second of every day is consumed with the thought that the next day could be the last on the job and that their entire middle class existence could be wiped out with the delete key on some clueless MBA’s spreadsheet.  And there’s a sense that the MBAs think that this anxiety producing pogrom against their workers is a good thing, that it puts the fear of  “job creators” into them and teaches them the value of money.  But while unemployment is devastating financially and ruins relationships and is just hard on your kids, the one thing it has in its favor is that the worst has happened and you don’t have to worry about it anymore.  Oddly enough, it gives us time to actually think about science once again and find satisfaction in learning new things.

So, to all of you researchers out there who are losing everything, hang in there as best you can.  I don’t believe this will last forever and there is some evidence that small companies and academia will slowly be able to pick up the slack at vastly reduced salaries but perhaps, not so much layoff insanity.  But The Big Squeeze is too damaging to the economy and will have lasting consequences.  As Jane Caro says, what we are witnessing is a struggle between authoritarianism and small “l” liberalism.  Right now, it looks like the authoritarians have the upper hand.  But even their ravening nutcase followers are subject to the global economy.  I don’t know what it will take to get them on the streets side by side with the occupiers but if I were politicians, I’d be worried right now that maybe they’ve gone too far.  The poor are not just the fornicating 18 year olds with no place to live.  They’re now the labcoated men and women who used to do the science fairs at your kids’ schools.  They’re extremely angry right now and they vote.

In the meantime, it’s still a beautiful world.  That tends to make the current economic situation a little easier to bear.

PS. I will be visiting Philadelphia more frequently in the forseeable future.  If there are any bloggers there who would like to get together for lunch or dinner, email me.  Yes, the traffic is atrocious.

15 Responses

  1. The pro-Nazi upper class which never forgave Roosevelt for the New Deal spent the decades thereafter plotting to abolish the New Deal and the Fair Deal and the Square Deal step by step. Reagan was their first Upper Class Warrior President (though to be fair Carter began some of the de-regulationism designed to set up the middle class for attrition and destruction . . . de-regulation of the airline industry for example).

    The Upper Class-OverClass are perfectly willing to lose half of what they have in order to destroy both halves of what we have. Once we understand that we live under Social ClassNazi Occupation, we can think more clearly about who The Enemy is and perhaps even think about how to tear The Enemy down and destroy . . utterly DeSTROY . . . The Enemy.

  2. I’m glad you’re talking about the research industry– they are beyond important to us all. I’ve been complaining for decades about the abuse of another highly educated population– college teachers. No not the tenured variety, though their lives are not always simple or easy (I can go for hours about that) but the group who earns the bulk of the funds for higher ed and does a huge slice of the teaching– the so-called “part-time” or “adjunct” professors, who get usually around one-third wage and no benefits or job protections at all. And their abuse has been occurring at least since the 80’s and is escalating. Gotta keep those bureaucrats in beenie weenies, I suppose. So yeah, it’s not just the uneducated, and it’s not just English majors either. Ask some Masters or Phd’s in science and see what I mean. Sorry but I do start ranting when I get into this subject.

    • I know you. Don’t I?

      • I doubt it. I live in the Smoky Mountains of NC– unless you’ve run across me at some sort of NEA function.I used to go politicking for the Dems some but I gave it up (at least the travel & meetings) during the Gore debacle. I do know there quite few of us singing in the Greek chorus about adjuncts and higher ed. I’d say you know my type!

        • My daughter did her CIA externship at Biltmore on Asheville. I’ve been to Cherokee and went backpacking in Panthertown Valley. Are you anywhere around those parts?

          • Damn. Yeah. Franklin. Cherokee is right up the road from me. Panthertown is in the same county where I work. I know where Biltmore is, of course. “CIA externship” I don’t know. What is that? It is a small world!

          • culinary institute of America. Halfway through the program, the culinary arts students go on extern. They work, and get paid, for doing an apprenticeship at an affiliated restaurant/hotel. She did hers at the Biltmore estate. She really liked Asheville.

    • This whole subject brings back early life memories. I was a faculty brat and my father (and then mother) were academics. An old dean left and new dean didn’t like having my father in the department. Dad had tenure but the new dean could do stuff like deny summer school and night classes and withhold notice of meetings and other things. Cut dad’s income in half. (“Dhere are vays to make you VANT to resign, Herr Doktor Assistant Professor Reddy!”). And it was onward and downward from job to job to job; for mother too when she got her degree. ” Tenure? DeNIED! Tenure? DeNIED!) I heard words like “attrition” and “gypsy scholars” and so forth to describe the Big Shrink put on departments all over academia in the 70’s and 80’s. I haven’t thought about that stuff in years, but it did help me to avoid a
      career in academia.

      By the way, we lived in Knoxville, Tenn. at that time till we left in 1972. The last time I was ever back was in 1982 (?) for the World’s Fair. Are there still any live fir trees left on the tops of the highest Smokies? Or is it all dead trees with strange new plants between them?

      • CIA– I don’t know why I didn’t connect the dots. I had friends who used to work in culinary at Biltmore House. Asheville some people like to say(Asheville denizens mostly!) , is the San Francisco of the East. I rather enjoy its new title of “Beer City,USA.” It has dozens of microbreweries @r u I’ve had so many friends caught up in that awful cycle– including me– and I’ve seen horrible things done to people for failure to kiss-ass. I was once forced to teach 36 hours of English classes (quarter hours) in order to keep from being RIFed. But I survived all the buttholes. Anyway, acid rain scalped a good many of the high trees and a hemlock blight is now claiming many old trees but the Canadian ecosystem on the mountain tops is hanging on & wildlife, with a few exceptions, is flourishing.

        • I am glad to hear that some of what was there is still there. At some point I will exert the energy and discipline to actually go back and visit
          and see how things are now.

  3. Adventures in Hypocrisy #198395…

    Rick Perry, Pensioner

    He may not act like a retiree, but GOP presidential candidate Texas Gov. Rick Perry has collected monthly retirement benefits for much of the year. The governor elected in January to start receiving a state employee retirement annuity of $7,698 a month, according to a federal financial disclosure made by the Perry campaign Thursday. The benefit comes on top of the governor’s annual salary of $150,000.
    Texas Democratic Party spokesman Anthony Gutierrez called the benefit “unconscionable” when state budget cuts have cost thousands of teachers their jobs. “If Perry wants retirement benefits,” Mr. Gutierrez said, “he should do us all a favor and actually retire.”

  4. Riverdaughter,

    Off thread but . . . many threads ago you posted about Power Network Maps and how 99 percenters can perhaps read them to figure out how to unravel them by pulling on which threads which way.
    John Robb at Global Guerillas has posted a link to something which appears to perform a version of that function. I haven’t studied it but it could be promising.http://littlesis.org/

    • I’m not the one who mentioned it (or did I? We’re up to 1644 posts on this blog so it’s hard to tell). But I think it is a very good idea. I urge readers to check http://littlesis.org out and make a connection.

      • Well, I’m going strictly on memory. Since I don’t have my own computer and I have limited time at the workplace computers, I am unable to go back and search. But I think it was one of your posts fairly early in the Occupy timeline.

        • (By the way . . . are you still thinking about whether to create a permalink to sites of great Occupy-related value like the 5,000 Scary Books? I will try to avoid asking so often as to get merely annoying).

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