Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Jobs Aren't There!!!!!

In the course of history, more than a few people have found that they've been sent on wild goose chases or realized that they've been given a bum steer. Sometimes the misinformation is given intentionally. Other times it is given out of sheer ignorance. Sometimes it results in a person trying for years to do what can't be done -- the impossible dream.

Consider the recent resignation of Robert V. Hess, the former director of New York City's Dept. of Homeless Services. He took on the job in 2004, with Mayor Bloomberg having set the goal of reducing homelessness by two thirds by the end of 2009. Six years later, there are actually MORE homeless people in the city than there were in 2004, due to a spike in family homelessness. (While homeless individuals are often blamed for their situation with some of them having used drugs or indulged in some other form of delinquent behavior, homeless families are understood by most to be victims of the economic downturn.) The economy went south. The housing bubble went "Bust!". Unemployment skyrocketed. These and other factors account for the spike in family homelessness. But the fact of the matter is that, no matter how well Mr. Hess did his job, it just wasn't within his power to decrease the number of homeless people in New York City. As he and his underlings did what they could to move people out of homelessness, new people were coming into homelessness at a faster rate.

Then there are those who take on big jobs and set lofty goals which they never meet -- a self-induced wild goose chase of sorts. Just consider how President Obama and Congress are trying to fix the economy in the face of overwhelming objective circumstances -- a futile endeavor indeed. I'm left to wonder if our national leaders are even vaguely aware of the objective realities that they are up against.

The fact of the matter is that Capitalism is in its final throes. Coincidentally, some of President Obama's solutions to the problems being faced by the nation are quasi-Socialistic (but not without Fascistic capabilities). Government simply taking over corporations doesn't make that government Socialist. It depends on whose interest it is being done in. If it is being done for the corporatists/middle class (bourgeoisie), that makes it Fascistic. If it is being done for the working class/under-privileged (proletariat), that makes it Socialistic.

My good friend and fellow homeless advocate Steve Thomas recently found himself in a similar situation -- trying to do the impossible. STREATS has been working with the U.S. Dept. of Labor to employ the homeless and make them self-sufficient. Steve and DOL began to discuss the types of jobs that the homeless would be trained for. But before that conversation could move forward, they had to decide on a definition for "living wage": the amount of money that one would need to make in order to live in Washington, DC (preferrably without needing to depend on public assistance).

Steve said that the living wage in DC is $24/hr. DOL said that was too high and that they couldn't guarantee that they'd be able to employ anyone at that level. Steve mentioned that the national living wage is $17/hr. DOL said that was still too high. They finally settled on $12/hr. Though this is half of what it takes to live in DC, Steve said, "OK, let me see what jobs you have that pay at least $12/hr." As it turns out, the Dept. of Labor had only 2 jobs that it was prepared to train people for that paid at least $12/hr. -- auto mechanic or truck driver. When Steve and I met again, he explained, "Here I am trying to get the homeless jobs that will make them self-sufficient; but, the jobs aren't there!!!"

I immediately let him know that my friend Walda Katz-Fishman who has taught sociology at Howard University for 40 years would be so proud of him. She and other Marxist friends of mine have long since realized that Capitalism has met its fate and that the system is unraveling. Jobs are either going overseas to countries that have more lenient labor laws or they're being lost to robots and computers which replace people.

I told Steve that I'd had a conversation about self-sufficiency and living wage with Laura Zeilinger of DC's Dept. of Human Services. When I pointed out to her that most of the homeless people would never get jobs that would pay a living wage, she mentioned several programs that were in place to help them make ends meet -- food stamps, rental assistance, HUD housing and the like. It became apparent to me that her definition of self-sufficiency included perpetual dependence on public assistance. This presents a stark difference between her and STREATS. It also begs the question: How exactly should we define self-sufficiency? as someone being able to make ends meet with public assistance? or as someone being able to make ends meet without public assistance? Regardless of your personal opinion, one thing is for certain: The (living wage) jobs aren't there!!!

This makes it necessary to chart a new course -- one that considers the objective realities of the present economy. Many jobs are gone for good. They're not coming back. Many of the homeless are either unskilled or have skills that have become irrelevant due to modernization. Retraining them is not an immediate option. Their lives have been reduced to a daily struggle to just get by -- to find adequate food and shelter. To make matters worse, the social safety net is quickly eroding.

As it turns out, because of labor-replacing technology, U.S. productivity is up even as unemployment skyrockets. This results in there being an abundance of goods that the unemployed, under-employed and under-paid can't afford to buy. (Companies reduce their overhead by laying people off or cutting their pay; but, then they lose some of their customers -- their former employees or those who can no longer afford to buy the goods they continue to produce.)

This calls for a new paradigm -- one that replaces the old, out-dated work ethic. People's sustenance and benefits should no longer be tied solely to their work. There should instead be an "abundance ethic": the understanding that, because our nation produces so many goods with so little labor and has so much merchandise that can't be sold (within our borders), those in need will just be allowed to receive from this abundance. If that were the case, we could just put homeless people in the vacant houses, apartments and condos. However, cities like Detroit would much rather tear down whole blocks of houses than to give even one of them to a homeless person. While the jobs aren't there, the human needs remain. With that being the case, we need to figure out how best to meet these needs. Giving from our abundance seems to be the most reasonable way to do that.

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4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Neither capitalism or communism seems sustainable over long periods of time without modifications that would contradict the fundamentals of both. I see your points here clearly but there's this idiotic zeigeist currently going on in the country that anti-socialist, anti-humanist and decidedly anti-Obama. These are mostly motivated by bigotry. Few of these "Tea Baggers" have actually read the Communist Manifesto let alone know what constitutes socialism. In the meantime, we have people who can barely make their rent and are a paycheck away from being homeless. The Republicans (and pretty much all politicians) are waging a political war against people of color in particular and the poor in general.

April 26, 2010 at 9:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's something to look at on how New York City deals with it's mentally ill and homeless:

http://motherjones.com/photoessays/2010/02/surf-manor-adult-homes-coney-island

April 26, 2010 at 4:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's another article that may have nothing to do with your post:

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/dc/2010/05/nickles_demands_barry_apologiz.html?hpid=newswell

This article has to do with Marion Barry's allegations of racism from the Fenty administration being challenged. What's of particular concern are some of the comments in particular one from a post which is quite disturbing in reference to people of color in general. Thought you may want to comment on the racial climate in DC as reflective of the economic climate.

May 6, 2010 at 2:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here is something on the "Urban Cave" Recent NPR photo essay.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/pictureshow/2010/05/10/126670297/urbancave

May 12, 2010 at 10:20 AM  

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