By Paul Hallasy
The coronavirus pandemic has really laid bare the gaping economic inequality in our country. We’ve seen how “essential workers” have had to put their lives at risk because they couldn’t afford to not work and didn’t have jobs that enabled them to work from home.
That economic inequality was recently further underscored by Hurricane Ida, when these same “essential workers” had their homes destroyed (and, in some cases, died) because they’re forced to live in substandard (and illegal) basement apartments.
And yet we persist in believing in the “American dream,” the idea that if you just get an education and work hard you will be afforded a middle-class life.
My own experience illustrates that this is not the case. I’ve spent my entire life struggling just to stay in place.
While I wouldn’t compare my circumstances to those of the immigrants who keep this country fed, I have often found myself in the same precarious economic situation as them. As a white male, you would think I’d have it relatively easy, and perhaps I have had it easier than some people because of this fact. But in other ways, I’m at a disadvantage.
The fact that I’m older means I’m a victim of age discrimination, an epidemic that is raging unchecked in this country.
I’ve also lost probably tens of thousands of dollars in lifetime earnings because I wasn’t able to finish my college degree. I was the valedictorian of my high school class and I had a full academic scholarship. But because I had used up my student loan money, I was forced to drop out.
It’s been shown that an academically inferior student from a wealthy family has a better chance of graduating college than an academically superior student from a poor family. (I believe it’s not so much the educational opportunities that have caused this loss of income as the networking opportunities.) And that crucial fact at a critical time in my life has probably left me permanently poorer.
It’s only because companies are now having a relatively hard time finding workers that they are beginning to re-examine their hiring practices regarding requiring a college degree for jobs that clearly shouldn’t require them.
So, as we celebrate Labor Day, I just want to point out the glaring inconsistencies between what we think America is and what it really is. Our so-called social safety net is among the worst in the civilized world.
We’re still the only advanced country in the world that doesn’t have public healthcare.
Our unemployment system was woefully unprepared to deal with this epidemic. From not getting people their benefits on time to not even being able to answer a question (because you couldn’t reach them by phone), our various Departments of Labor were overwhelmed.
And many Americans (including me) won’t be able to afford to retire, assuming Social Security even has any money left.
That’s why I say we have a “lottery-based” economy. Because for millions of Americans, the only possibility of improving their economic circumstances is, literally, winning the lottery.
Happy Labor Day.