View from Lodi, CA: A Labor Day Lament

[VDARE.COM comment: This Labor Day weekend,
it`s worth remembering – because you won`t be reminded
by the mainstream media – that the plight of America`s
working poor has been greatly exacerbated by mass
immigration. A constant stream of

low-wage immigrants
, competing for their
jobs, kept low-income workers from prospering during
the boom. To quote
Steve Sailer,
writing about rising poverty in California: "What could
possibly be causing the number of jobs in California to
go up while wages go down? If I recall my Econ 101
correctly,

the supply of less-skilled workers
must be going up faster than the demand."

And Steve was writing in 2000 – before the downturn.]

A good read for the long
Labor Day
weekend is Barbara Ehrenreich`s

“Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in
America.”

For anyone who thinks the minimum
wage is at the right level or feels that welfare reform
eliminated one of our most pressing societal ills, the
book provides insights into what goes on in the real
world of dead-end employment. Nickel and Dimed is
a close-up look at the opposite pole of the economic
spectrum than that occupied by the former high-flyers at
Enron and World Com.

In 1996, after the passage
President Bill Clinton`s

Public Responsibility and Work Opportunity
Reconciliation Act,
Ehrenreich became inspired to
write about the working poor. As a result of that
historic legislation, 12 million women went from the
dole into the

labor market
.

With a stake of $1,000, a car and
her laptop (three things most new job seekers do not
have), Ehrenreich set out to find out what it means to
work in a WalMart, make beds at highway motels, sling
hash in greasy spoons or change sheets at a nursing
homes.

All of those jobs paid $6-$7 an
hour, about half of what is considered a living wage.
Each carried its own special indignity. In Florida,
where Ehrenreich waited on tables, she was

referred to as “girl.”
Before she secured her job as
a nursing home assistant, Ehrenreich had to fill out an
application form asking if she worked better when she is
“a little bit high.”

In Minnesota,

working at Wal-Mart
, Ehrenreich was under the

constant surveillance
of guards who monitored her
for drug abuse, theft and sloth.

What Ehrenreich quickly discovered
was, that despite having a car and a beginning cushion
that covered her first month`s expenses, she had to work
two jobs, seven days a week to eke out an existence.

And what Ehrenreich also learned
was that the laws of supply and demand are in effect but
not as we normally think of them. Rent, food and
utilities rise in direct proportion to market conditions
but wages remain fixed.

Ehrenreich discovered fallacies
that the middle class has about the working poor.

First, going into her project,
Ehrenreich reasoned that she would find certain “hidden
economies” known to low-income people that help them get
by. Instead, she

found
that
the working poor face a string of not so hidden costs
that hold them back.

For example, since minimum wage
earners can never scrape together a security deposit,
they end up paying premiums for housing by renting
weekly or monthly rooms. Since those rooms have no
kitchen facilities, unhealthy, fast food meals are often
eaten out.

The working poor have tight cash
flows and rarely pay bills on time. They often must
chose between paying late fees and penalties or taking
out

high interest rate loans
.

Health care is non-existent among
the minimum wage earners. [VDARE.COM
comment
: except for immigrants, who use

emergency rooms
.
]

Second, Ehrenreich quickly found
out that the “bracing psychological effects of getting
out of the house” promised by welfare reform “wonks”
didn`t exist. The author, who said she was almost always
on the verge of seeking refuge in a shelter, did not
find the life style exhilarating.

In all, Ehrenreich tried three
times in three different cities to make her income match
her expenses. Even though she had no children or other
dependents, she could not balance her personal books.

And although some safety nets such
as food stamps are still available under certain
circumstances, Ehrenreich did not have much success when
she tried to tap into that well.

In an effort to get food vouchers,
Ehrenreich once spent 70 minutes and $3 on toll phone
charges to get a $7 grocery credit.

Reading Ehrenreich`s book – written
before the severe economic downturn – I kept reminding
myself that these were the plights of working
people. They get up early, get their kids off to school,
report to work on time, take the guff – but end up
broke.

Beginning in 1964 with Lyndon
Johnson`s Great Society War on Poverty, the nation has
consistently fallen behind in meeting the needs of the
working poor.

For many, time is running out.
President Clinton`s 1996 welfare legislation set a

five-year life time limit
on receiving benefits.

With the Bush administration
focused on the War on Terrorism and
corporate malpractice, the plight of the needy has
dropped off the Congressional radar screen.

As a headline last year in a
Connecticut paper read:

“It`s Very Scary, No Food for the Poor.”

VDARE.COM`s
Labor and Immigration Archive

Joe Guzzardi [email
him], an instructor in English
at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly
column since 1988. It currently appears in the


Lodi News-Sentinel
.