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      I got unfriended on Facebook today. Big surprise, no? Somebody I've known for a while and worked with for posted something that set me off. That person has been enjoying a well-deserved retirement with their spouse. We shared some common interests, including music and a love for animals, and some good memories.

       Well, when that person posted about getting their Social Security, for which they'd worked hard, a complaint was thrown in about how much was going to medicare, how much of a co-pay they had to put up with - and how people who were too lazy to get off their butts were getting free stuff. They went on to advise young people to make sure they cashed in now, so they'd never have to work. (I'm paraphrasing - the posts were on their timeline and I have no access to it now.)

       Something about the matter of fact tone that remark was tossed off in, got my dander up. I posted a reply letting them know they'd lost me big time with that remark, and why. It went downhill from there. At first there was surprise, then ridicule, then the victim card (I have the right of Free Speech), and then some nasty personal insults and a pointed reminder that I'd once worked for them (ungrateful wretch!), how hard they'd worked to make sure everyone got paid even if they didn't, and so on.

      I flat out said they had no idea what things are like today. I pointed out that 47 million people are below the poverty line, including people working full time, single parents with children, people with chronic health problems and seniors. I tossed out that fact that the minimum wage, adjusted for inflation, is lower than it was in 1967. That a person can get a good education, rack up huge student loans, work hard - and still not find a job.

       I was told I was a bitter person and was asked if I was on drugs. I was slammed for being so smart and writing in circles. I was also attacked for having a good job with a pension, and a not so subtle inquiry if I was upset because one of those freeloaders happened to be someone close to me. They literally could not understand why I'd gotten so upset over what seemed like a simple statement of fact - to them.

      Another person chimed in they'd never had trouble finding a job, had worked 2-3 jobs at a time, did what they were supposed to including setting up a retirement account in the 1980s. They never complained when that fund went belly up - they just went back to work which is why they're still working at 65. (In other words, they got screwed, and just sucked it up.) They worked hard and did all right - what's wrong with people today? (The title of this post is paraphrased from their remarks.)

      I told them these wonderful stories they had about themselves were a great excuse for sitting back on their own butts when other people were in trouble. I also told them they were scared underneath, that one day something might come along that wouldn't give a damn about their wonderful stories, and then they'd be the ones being told their problems were all their own fault. (They got real angry when I told them they should thank people like me for their social security - because people who think like them would never have allowed it to happen.)

      As you might expect, this did not win over any hearts and minds. I'm not surprised I got unfriended - it saved me the trouble of doing it from my end. I'm not happy about the way it went down. But, I'm sick and tired of being told I'm wrong, that I don't have a clue about the way the world works. etc. etc. I'm sick of being told to keep quiet. I'm sick of letting silence be taken as agreement.

     Here's the thing: these people DON'T understand what the world is like today. The aging white demographic that's the cornerstone of the GOP base came of age when America still had a growing middle class, did well enough for themselves, and finished out their working lives with a sense of vindication. For them Ronald Reagan is still a saint, the "Morning in America" president who told us everything would be just fine. If they watch FOX and listen to Rush, they live in a media bubble of lies. Over at Salon, Rory O'Connor talks about how this led to making a documentary about how FOX News brainwashed her dad.

I remember one time in particular when we went to New York to go to Radio City Music Hall. A black homeless man asked him for money. My father called him sir and gave him money. That is imprinted on my memory. When my dad changed, he became obsessive. He got angrier. After he retired, he would sit in the kitchen and eat his lunch and listen to Rush Limbaugh for three full hours a day. God forbid you interrupt Rush. He tried to inject his political views into any conversation he had, with anybody. Around Christmas-time (not just on Christmas Day) he would be sure to shout “Merry Christmas” to anyone and everyone, because he believed that liberals were engaging in a war on Christmas.

He believed it when Rush Limbaugh told him that climate change is a hoax. He called Al Gore an “asshole” even after watching the entire An Inconvenient Truth—by then he could not be moved. He also would compliment smokers on smoking. When we would go to a restaurant and people sat outside to smoke, he would take a deep breath and exclaim how good it smelled.

This was because Rush Limbaugh told him that the scientists were lying about the findings about smoking—oh, and those greedy scientists just wanted funding money and that’s why they were perpetrating this myth about climate change being caused by humans.  You couldn’t argue with him. He was one angry, whirling, right-wing dervish. He even got mail from and gave money to the NRA though never owned a gun in his life. My mother found he wrote all these checks to various right-wing causes.

     My former friend and those like them have a completely different view of the world. They live in an America that no longer exists - if it ever did. They have no clue just how hard life has gotten in America these days. Charles P. Pierce over at Esquire pointed me today to an excellent piece by Joseph Williams over at The Atlantic: My Life as a Retail Worker: Nasty, Brutish, and Poor. A reporter who lost his job after provoking a spasm of right-wing outrage, he found out what the world is like for someone in their 50s without a job.
Obtaining work in retail had changed a lot since the 1980s. What used to require a paper application and a schmooze with the manager has turned into an antiseptic online process where human interaction—and the potential for an employment-discrimination complaint—is kept to a minimum.

That put me at a distinct disadvantage.

In person, thanks to good genes, people often assume I’m younger than I am. On paper, however, I’m just another overeducated, middle-aged, middle-class refugee whose last retail experience dates to the Reagan administration.

Not to mention retail employers these days have their pick of applicants: the Great Recession added countless numbers of desperate workers like me to the annual labor-market influx of college students and high schoolers. According to an Economic Policy Institute report, “In 1968, 48 percent of low-wage workers had a high school degree, compared to 79 percent in 2012.” Likewise, the percentage of people in these jobs who have spent some time in college has skyrocketed, jumping from under 17 percent to more than 45 percent in the same time. All of us are in a race to the bottom of the wage pool.

Although older job candidates bring experience and skills to the table, their job applications typically blink like red warning lights to retail managers: overqualified, overpaid, and probably harder to manage than some high school or college kid. In a word: trouble.

  He didn't even get an interview until he figured out he had to dumb down his resume and could get an interview where he could sell a persona that was sufficiently powerless to be employable. Even then, it was a real shock when he did finally get a job selling sporting goods.
Of course, I had no idea what a modern retail job demanded. I didn’t realize the stamina that would be necessary, the extra, unpaid duties that would be tacked on, or the required disregard for one’s own self-esteem. I had landed in an alien environment obsessed with theft, where sitting down is all but forbidden, and loyalty is a one-sided proposition. For a paycheck that barely covered my expenses, I’d relinquish my privacy, making myself subject to constant searches.

"If you go outside or leave the store on your break, me or another manager have to look in your backpack and see the bottom,” Stretch explained. “And winter's coming—if you're wearing a hoodie or a big jacket, we'll just have to pat you down. It's pretty simple."

       Read the whole thing - it pretty effectively demolishes the 'dignity of work' in a market where there are 3 applicants for every job, and management holds the whip hand. In a political system driven by Big Money, is it any surprise there seems to be little urgency about full employment? Williams also lays out how, even with a job above the minimum wage - $10 an hour - he was barely getting by.

       This is a world that my former friend doesn't know about and doesn't believe in. (It's a world I have a small bit of experience with myself, having worked part time in a Big Box store for some extra money while still fortunate enough to have a 'traditional' full time job.) My former friend grew up in a small town world, where there were still lots of small local businesses, along with factories with decent paying jobs. My former friend was able to eke out a career in music with income from a small business out of the home. My former friend overcame some real life challenges, refused to take no for an answer, and refused to accept the 'proper' roles available to one who knew their place. My former friend still thinks the world works that way, that hard work and determination is enough to succeed.

      My former friend hasn't got a clue, and has no idea what my problem is. My former friend would have a real problem trying to deal with the world Williams found himself in. And my former friend is typical of a lot of people. I can afford to piss one such off; collectively they're a bigger problem - and NOT part of the solution. It would be nice to have an answer for that.

Thu Mar 13, 2014 at 11:50 AM PT: UPDATE: Robert Reich has a very relevant post on this topic, The Great U-Turn.

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