Thursday, September 1, 2011

working hard or hardly working


I might have mentioned that our refrigerator quit working a week or two ago. It's an old one that came with the country house but replacing it was not an option right now if it could be repaired. So we called the local appliance repairman and it could indeed be repaired. The part that controlled the self defrost function had shorted out and it was stuck on the defrost cycle.

Matt, the appliance repairman, and Marc were chatting it up and of course the state of the economy was a topic under discussion. Matt, like us and many other people now, is trying to find different ways to make money since it's hard to rely on just one income stream these days. He also owns the equipment to cut and bale hay in other people's fields and is looking into buying automated ice machines to set up in remote areas, like the water kiosks, but the machines are very expensive.

Matt, a nice white divorced country boy in his late 40s was moaning about his hay baling business not doing well. The 'illegal' Mexicans, he said, were getting all the business because they will cut and bale hay for cheaper than he will. Maybe he knows something I don't but short of asking those guys to see their birth certificates it sounds like an assumption to me.

Anyway, he went on to tell about a buddy of his that has been unemployed for almost two years and although his unemployment has been cut in half, he's still getting $200 a week. Well, his friend was finally offered a job as night watchman at the nuclear power plant and he turned it down. Why should he work for a living when he was getting basically the same amount of money for not working?

It made me think about the difference between the (supposedly) illegal Mexicans who would labor out in the hot sun for less in order to support themselves and their families and the white American who turned down a cush job cause it barely paid more than his unemployment.

To his credit, Matt didn't think much about his friend's choice.

edit: just for the record, I'm not against social services for those in need (and I've learned quite a lot about how unemployment benefits work thanks to Cynthia in the comments) and I think the current attempt to cut them out of the budget is wrong. that's not what this was about. this was about racial assumptions and perceptions, in other words, prejudice. see my comment below.



15 comments:

  1. And in a nutshell Ellen you have described what is wrong with our wonderful Welfare State over here!

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  2. Scary isn't it. I can't understand not wanting to be doing, being productive, making a living for one's family instead of just getting a check from the gov and just getting by. Not working hard wasn't ever an option in our lives.

    I have a neighbor who is from Vietnam. When we first met him he was doing yard work here in the area. He and his whole family worked everyday, very long hard work. And for their efforts he now bought a house a couple of streets over, paid cash for it and says he has found his forever home.

    A naturalized American story of success....and then there are those that won't, who are born in the USA slackers.

    Hope your repairman can attain his dream and also that he sees that entitlement isn't racial but attitudinal.

    Oma LInda

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  3. There is so much underlying these kinds of assumptions that I think it is hard to say what is right or wrong. One person not taking a job because he prefers unemployment does not make a welfare state. Unemployment helps a lot of people who would not be able to survive any other way. For each story, there is another story that speaks differently.

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  4. Towanda, I totally agree. I'm not against unemployment or food stamps or free health clinics or anything of that nature. The perception of many people in this country is that the illegals are coming over here to take advantage of hard working Americans (when they aren't stealing our jobs) by availing themselves of the services. But it's been my experience that the people who take advantage of the services are by and large Americans. If you lose your job, by all means, get unemployment. But when you are offered a job, take it. All the illegals I've been exposed to or know about have all been hard workers, taking whatever job they can get.

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  5. My former church is a sanctuary church for illegal immigrants. Bilingual services, helping them through thte legal system, helping with their children's needs. After a while I noticed that most of the real grunt work in the church was done by a handful of those illegal immigrants. They definitely seemed to work harder than me that's for sure!

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  6. I worry about some of these "new" laws...the ones we already have are fine if they would just be enforced.

    Drug laws included.

    That said, there wouldn't be a problem. There have always been "illegals" here. But now just because a person is "Mexican" they are our enemy. CRAP


    East Texas to the Pacific coast was taken from Mexico.... those people, who have lived here longer than the whites... are now open to police harrasemnt just because they may be illegal.

    (Can you tell I'm in Alabama?) Our new law is thankfully being fought!

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  7. Uhmmm...I thought the same way about the "cush job/welfare state/entitlement" bit until I filed for unemployment myself. Those payments were literally the only thing between me and bankruptcy. It took four years to finally find the job I'm in now, by which time I'd exhausted my savings, my retirement and just about anything I could sell, including my art (which didn't sell and wound up losing the rest of my savings).

    Unemployment payments were my only lifeline and I discovered that (a) maintaining eligibility can be very tricky and (b) the rules actually penalize you for doing any kind of work except a fulltime, well-paid gig.

    Unemployment compensation is deliberately NOT enough to live on, not by a longshot, and that's fine. But what you earn by taking on any gig you can find is deducted dollar-for-dollar from your unemployment compensation and can be grounds for discontinuing it altogether. You cannot supplement unemployment benefits. You can only replace them. OK, I get that, but...

    ...if you take on a temporary contract job, even for a few hours, your benefits can be denied for weeks while the state investigates whether or not you've become self-employed (and therefore ineligible for unemployment).

    If they finally find that you are still eligible, restarting your claim takes up to two weeks...without benefits payments. Since they can reinstate only a week or so of back-benefits, I basically lost 3-7 weeks of benefits payments every time I accepted any kind of work, no matter the duration or money. Worse, four different departments independently queried one temp job, so I went through this process FOUR times for that one gig, each time losing benefits.

    IOW, a temp job that paid me about two weeks' worth of unemployment benefits cost me an additional THREE MONTHS of payments.

    And every time you do anything to interrupt your unemployed status and bring in money, i.e., take a job at a fast food place, you'd better hope it's permanent. If you're laid off, you pretty much start over, and THIS time your unemployment compensation will be based on those new, much lower earnings over the last year.

    It's hard to tell what will trigger this and what won't because the laws are convoluted, and individual state employees can interpret the rules differently. That's an enormous disincentive to find work unless you're absolutely positive the work will pay much more than your unemployment, and that it's going to continue.

    As one state unemployment investigator told me, "The safest course, really, is to just stay on unemployment."

    So...not everyone on unemployment has an entitlement attitude or doesn't want to work hard. I didn't "prefer" unemployment--I felt trapped in it. It was quite the most humiliating and demoralizing experience I've ever had, and I have a lot more sympathy now for anyone else still trapped.

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  8. ellen - i get where you wanted to go with this piece. my own sense is that there's an artificial divide - an artificial ethic - about work and money that has come up at many points throughout history as a means for perceiving and sometimes persecuting selected groups. there are hard-working and lazy people everywhere you care to go. it's the nature of the human beast. steven

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  9. I hate this kind of prejudice. The ones here in the UK who bellyache about 'Poles' getting all the work while they themselves have to exist on benefits never mention that the 'Poles' actually have qualifications to do the job, while they themselves have neither the qualifications nor the interest in working for a living.

    As I said, I hate them.

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  10. Cynthia - I've never been on unemployment myself, have always been self-employed (though things are getting extremely dicey right now). This was not really a piece on unemployment/entitlement but was meant to be a comment on prejudice. I'm all for people getting the help they need, white, brown, black or what have you, until they no longer need it. The example I gave about the guy on unemployment, I got the impression that he refused the job because it didn't pay much more than the unemployment and why should he work when he could get basically the same amount for not working, not that if he took the (temporary/part time/full time? I don't know) job he would be in a worse situation. And I wasn't trying to imply that everyone on unemployment refuses to work even when they are offered a job and I know that those who do are by far a minority. But thanks for the little education in how the system works.

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  11. My goodness Ellen, you seem to have touched a nerve.

    What I see in these comments is how close to the edge everyone is feeling right now.

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  12. It is all quite the conundrum!! And you truly have touched some nerves!
    I applaud anyone who is trying to earn a living in this economy!! It is rough out there.
    Me, I am self-employed...so no unemployment for me!! If I don't get a new job to do.. I go without! End of story!!
    Hugs
    SueAnn

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  13. It usually is the hardest workers which others complain about the most. You've illustrated this contrast in attitude well.

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  14. As a native Southern Californian I have known and lived with illegals all my life. I have yet to meet, or even hear of one, who has been on welfare or unemployment. I know, and have known, many white people who are/have been.

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I opened my big mouth, now it's your turn.