Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Another American Tragedy

Nick Kristof eulogizes his high school classmate Kevin Green, who died recently at the age of 54. Kevin's father had a union factory job and the family seemed on an upwardly mobile track, but then things changed in Yamhill, Oregon:
The local glove factory and feed store closed, and other blue-collar employers cut back. Good union jobs became hard to find. For a while, Kevin had a low-paying nonunion job working for a construction company. After that company went under, he worked as shift manager making trailer homes. He fell in love and had twin boys that he doted on. But because he and his girlfriend struggled financially, they never married.

Then, about 15 years ago, Kevin hurt his back and was laid off. Soon afterward, his girlfriend moved out, took the kids and asked for child support. The loss of his girlfriend, kids and job was a huge blow. “It knocked him to the dirt,” says his younger brother, Clayton, also a pal of mine. “It destroyed his self-esteem.”

Kevin’s weight ballooned to 350 pounds, and he developed diabetes and had a couple of heart attacks. He grew marijuana and self-medicated with it, Clayton says, and was arrested for drug offenses. My kids would see Kevin and me together and couldn’t believe he had run cross country with me, and that he wasn’t 20 years older.
It's story that could be retold a hundred thousand times over, with only the names changed. The optimistic, middle-class America of 1945 to 1975 was not born from hard work and good values, but from the easy availability of jobs that could support a middle-class lifestyle. Without union factory work or any equivalent substitute, much of America is headed back to the economy and society of the 19th century.

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

The sad thing is how little people understand the situation.

I routinely encounter people who utterly dispise the unemployed, intoning variations of the old refrain, "Get a job, you bum!" - completely oblivious to the fact that that trope was established in an age of record low unemployment and absolute plenty, when there was no real excuse not to be employed.

But the comfortably well off simply don't really understand that the economy has changed - after all, they're still comfortable and well off, so surely everyone else should be too, and anyone who isn't is just lazy and parasitic.