• Lowered Expectations.

    I could blog about how John Boner Beaner Boehner punked the President into moving back his jobs speech a day or so, or how he got snubbed by 5 4 NASCAR drivers after extending invitations to a White House reception.* Or I could spend an entire post wondering if Obama's cool, calm, conciliatory demeanor is sending all the wrong signals. Or perhaps how the resident blowhards are calling on his resignation yet again and how people he thought would be on his side are calling him a "straight bitch."

    Nah, that's not interesting to me. At least not right now. Hard to make a blog post about things you're rather dispassionate about. Instead, let's talk about how people are dealing with the current, fucked-up state of the U.S. economy:

    On June 25, 2010, Frederick Deare punched out for the last time from his job driving a forklift at the Old London factory in the Bronx. That summer, everyone at the plant was being laid off: the oven operators, the assembly-line packers, the forklift drivers, the sanitation workers. Total jobs lost: 228. Old London, the snack manufacturer that invented the Cheez Doodle, was moving its operations to North Carolina. At 53, Mr. Deare, known as Freddy or Teddy Bear to his co-workers, would have to find a new job...
    ...he got an interview, and the supervisor he met with sounded optimistic about his chances of being hired. But there was no formal offer. Day after day went by. For three weeks the wait stretched on. This time, however, he got the job. And it was a union job, with benefits. He started on April 11 — 290 days after Old London laid him off.

    “You’re speaking to a happy man,” he said after his first day. “I am in my glory. I mean, today was wonderful.” 

    There was only one downside: The work paid $10 an hour, 40 percent less than he had made at Old London. After taxes, his paycheck was even less than the unemployment benefits he had been collecting. But he tried not to dwell on this. “I don’t let it bother me that I’m getting less, because of the simple fact I have something, and a lot of people have nothing,” he said. “You have to crawl before you can walk.” Four and a half months later, he is still on the job.

    This is the new reality ordinary people are dealing with - being "downsized" or "right-sized" out of a decent-paying job and being left to stare into the economic abyss, and if you do manage to find other employment, it's for a fraction of the money you were paid at your old job for doing twice or three times the work, with no health care benefits. A lot of people with masters degrees and doctorates working service industry gigs. And a lot of people who are "independent contractors" or "temporary workers." Lots and lots of people trying to figure out how to survive in the shadow of record profits and record billionaire net worth.

    People are figuring out new ways of surviving:

    According to Workamper.com, a workamper is “an adventurous individual who has chosen a wonderful lifestyle that combines ANY kind of part-time or full-time work with RV camping. If you work as an employee, operate a business, or donate your time as a volunteer, AND you sleep in an RV (or on-site housing), you are a Workamper. Workampers generally receive compensation in the form of a free campsite, usually with free utilities (electricity, water, and sewer hookups) and additional wages.”

    Calling it a “wonderful lifestyle” seems a bit over the top for some workampers. After communicating with Suzann for more than six months and observing the Ellingsworth’s ups and frequent downs, it’s obvious that workamping is not all fun and games, at least for those who hit the road in need of a job to survive.

    Most workamper jobs are of the minimum-wage variety. Workampers generally don’t receive unemployment insurance benefits, severance pay or any warning that a job is about to end. Workampers face many of the same job insecurity issues as the millions of Americans who have been downsized due to job outsourcing, financial mismanagement and slow consumer demand for products and services, except workampers are purposely more nimble and have been conditioned to pack up and move to where the jobs are. “We have to be mobile to land a job,” said Suzann. Those who become jobless and live in traditional stationary homes aren’t usually able to move to another city on a moment’s notice.

    Since workamping is a nomadic lifestyle, it’s difficult to collect a headcount. Steve Anderson, president of Workamper.com, said the most recent workamper survey is from KOA, but it is dated: “Nearly 10 years ago the KOA Corporation gave an estimate that 750,000 were living the workamping lifestyle. Their data was questioned then and at best was an estimated guess. Over the years we have seen our membership remain in the 14,000 range with thousands of others in the dreaming stages of workamping. It is very transitional lifestyle, meaning folks begin and end the lifestyle every day.”

    After being "downsized," "right-sized" or laid off from a decent-paying job with health benefits, after spending months winging it on unemployment, odd temporary jobs and family charity, and after all of the bills, debt collection notices and nights of feeding your family from the food bank and dollar store, you finally land a stable job. Except that the job pays damn-near minimum wage and there aren't any health benefits tied to it. But you're thankful, nonetheless - you have to be in a climate where jobs are few and far between.

    You're scared you might lose your job again, so you do anything and everything your employers want. Unpaid overtime, non-existent vacation time, zero health benefits and increased production schedules and work loads that border on superhuman. But you do it anyway, because it's either this or you take another long, painful look into the abyss.

    Most major corporations are quite happy with this arrangement, if the record profits are any indicator. That's what happens when you can wring out twice the productivity from your workforce while no longer having to invest much money in them.

    *"Scheduling conflicts?" Usually when the President of the United States invites you over for dinner and a photo op, all of your prior engagements fly out the fucking window. It's the ultimate doctor's excuse -- "Sorry boss, can't come into work today - the President's called me over for a few drinks. *hands boss official embossed White House invite*"

    **And yes, I know most people have varying definitions of what "comfort" is, but let's not nit-pick over that for now.