Sunday, June 06, 2004

Vignettes show how jobs are changing in the U.S. as wealth concentrates

Title: What would help?
Source: News and Observer
Date: June 6, 2004

In the editorial section of the local Sunday paper, the cover story discussed jobs and what we (in this case, the state of North Carolina) can do to create more of them. The story contains three vignettes:
  1. "Phil Rich has a master's degree in physics. Two years ago, he lost his $76,000-a-year job as an engineer with Lite Spec, an optical fiber maker that went out of business.
    Now, at age 54, Rich makes about $15,000 a year selling electronics on commission at Sears.

    "I need to find something that's much more amenable to my lifestyle," he said recently. "But what?"

    In North Carolina, well-paying jobs are disappearing faster than they can be replaced. Rural regions can no longer presume their factory jobs are secure. And in state government, much of the emphasis remains on luring big businesses rather than on helping the smaller companies responsible for creating most new jobs.... The economy has started down a slow path to recovery, but little hope is on the horizon for Phil Rich. And that prompts a question for all those who would attempt to lead the way: What can be done to help Rich and people like him?"

  2. "Darlene Andrews, 39, of Concord heads to work before 7 a.m. for her shift as a stationery department manager at the Concord Wal-Mart. She was laid off from the Pillowtex company and now makes half of what she used to earn. Andrews and her 14-year-old daughter share a 480-square-foot apartment."

  3. "Perhaps somewhere in these answers is a solution for Billy Furr.

    Furr dropped out of school in the 10th grade to work in the local textile mill. Now, at 59, he is struggling through algebra, trying to earn a GED. When he finishes, he hopes to get a job running a cash register at Wal-Mart or mopping the floors in a school.

    Furr was one of about 5,000 North Carolina workers laid off when Pillowtex closed. After 42 years in the plant, working his way up to $13.02 an hour, Furr was out of a job -- with no health insurance, no severance pay and no plan.

    Furr said he has applied at every place he can think of: Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Lowe's, the local school system's maintenance department.

    "You never hear from them," he said. "See, everybody around here's trying to get those jobs. And most of them, you got to have your GED."

    So Furr keeps studying, letting the debts pile up, going without medications and doctor visits if he has to -- trying to survive in a world he never imagined when he quit school for a job putting thread in boxes."
[See this post for more information on Pillowtex - the largest mass layoff in North Carolina history.]

Last week's story on the working poor in Business Week contained these vignettes:
  1. "Katrina Gill, a 36-year-old certified nursing aide, worked in one of the premiere long-term care facilities near Portland, Ore. From 10:30 p.m. to 7 a.m., she was on duty alone, performing three rounds on the dementia ward, where she took care of up to 28 patients a night for $9.32 an hour. She monitored vitals, turned for bedsores, and changed adult diapers. There were the constant vigils over patients like the one who would sneak into other rooms, mistaking female patients for his deceased wife. Worse was the resident she called "the hitter" who once lunged at her, ripping a muscle in her back and laying her flat for four days.

    Last month, Gill quit and took another job for 68 cents an hour more, bringing her salary to $14,400 a year. But like so many health-care workers, she has no health-care benefits from her job. So she and her garage mechanic husband pay $640 monthly for a policy and have racked up $160,000 in medical debts from their youngest son Brandyn's cancer care."

  2. "In New York City, Joseph Schiraldi, 41, guards one of the biggest terrorist targets in the world: the Empire State Building. For eight hours a day, he X-rays packages, checks visitors' IDs, and patrols the concourse. But on $7.50 an hour in the priciest city in the U.S., he's a security officer without security -- no pension, no health care, and no paid sick days, typical for a nonunion guard."

  3. "Bellingham (Wash.) day-care teacher Mandy Smith can't afford child care for her 6-year-old son, Jordan, on her take-home pay of $60 a day. Neither can commercial cleaner Theresa Fabre on her $8.50 an hour job. So her son, Christian, 9, waits for her after school in a crumbling upper Manhattan library where the kids line up five-deep to use one of two computers. The librarian doubles as a de facto babysitter for 40 or so other kids of the working poor."
These stories mesh with this post on kids receiving assistance from WIC and the National School Lunch Program, showing that half of all the kids in the United States are receiving food supplements from the government.


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