Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Myth of the "Entitlement Generation"

The younger generation in America has been labeled by the older as "entitled". However, anyone who is paying attention can see that this is not the case as twenty and thirty-somethings work much harder for much less than the generations of the last century were expected to. Particularly more so than those who grew up during America's golden age between the 1950's and late 1970's when jobs were plentiful, union membership was high, and America had the largest middle class in the entire world. Now that our labor market is bifurcated between rich and poor, workers (especially young ones), are willing to do more work for less pay (while generating more profits for the top tiers of society). 
Yes, my generation is bitter, but most of us still maintain a good work ethic and a positive attitude for any employment opportunity we could get our hands on. And why shouldn't we be bitter? We did what we were told. We went to college, got good grades, and are willing to take any entry level position to begin a career. Only now entry level means a degree plus 2-3 years experience. So how is a recent grad expected to gain experience? Often by working for free as an intern, which is usually only feasible with financial support from family, which many do not have access to. The ones that do however, gain an edge in the employment game and further the separation of wealth and opportunity. As a whole, my generation does not expect nor feel entitled to a great paying job that will afford us a house right out of college. But can you really blame us for wanting to be able to afford a one bedroom apartment and a bus pass (while at the same time being able to make our student loan payments)? 
We were told to go to college no matter what types of sacrifice it took and that as long as we majored in something that interested us we would be just fine. There were no delusions of grandiose wealth. Those who majored in art history expected to make less money than those who majored in engineering, but expected that they would be able to keep a roof over their head without struggle.  My generation was told that a college degree in any subject would show employers that we were trainable for most positions. What an archaic concept. We were told that it showed perseverance and responsibility. That is why so many of us were willing to take on debt to pay for our "good investment". 
We now have one of the most educated populations of young adults in American history who are carrying record levels of student loan debt. And the jobs to pay back this debt do not exist so we move back home because the crushing monthly payments keep us from affording our own apartments and moving on with adulthood. 
Most of us college grads do not feel that we are above doing menial work. Our bitterness comes from the fact that that the  menial jobs that are available to us do not allow for us to make our student loan payments and pay our other bills at the same time.  I and almost every college grad I have spoken to says that they would be happy to flip burgers if their student loan debt was forgiven. Because then we could afford to support ourselves. We see large corporate banks getting bailed out of their debt by the US government and while we cannot write off student loan debt in even partial bankruptcy. Unfortunately, In this pseudo-capitalist system we see socialist policies for corporations and capitalist polices for individuals. 

We don't want to be rich, we just want to survive after we have put in the hard work we were told to do so. How can anyone really call that "entitled"?

-Mrs. W.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Black Friday has Ruined Thanksgiving

I long ago resigned myself to understanding that Christmas had been hijacked by corporate greed and turned into a circus of consumerism and display. Whatever, I have let the "magic" that I felt from that holiday as a child go away along time ago. But Thanksgiving? Please, not Thanksgiving, it is (was) my favorite holiday. I used to associate the holiday with taking it easy and relaxing, eating lots of yummy food, and spending time with loved ones. And best of all, there were no presents buy. Sure, the day after was the kickoff to the holiday shopping season, but that was on the morning of the day after. Not on Thanksgiving. Every year we see this holiday chipped away at more and more.

Imagine how you would feel after having a relaxing Thanksgiving dinner and becoming full and ready for bed if you were instead expected to go out and work at midnight, for no overtime, with crazy crowds and chaos when you would normally be sleeping.

So many Americans blindly run out to all these sales, where hordes of people often act like consumer driven monsters, as if it is something fun to do. Every year injuries and fights are reported and everyone remembers the store worker who was crushed to death by an uncontrollable crowd of shoppers in 2008. There is a direct correlation between people being willing to participate in this madness and how poorly American employees are being treated in general. It is certainly not the only factor, actually it is more a symptom that a cause, but the more willing we are to shop like maniacs on Black Friday the more employees are exploited. What is really ironic, is that many/most of the people running out to shop on Black Friday have been made exponentially poorer over the last few generations due to the concentration of wealth and corporate greed.

It used to be 8am, then 6am, then earlier this decade 5 and 4am became the new norm for Black Friday to start. However, in the last few years it has been pushed to midnight, which is abusive to employees who normally sleep during that time. And then this year, many stores, including Old navy and Toys R Us, decided to go ahead and be open on Thanksgiving instead of waiting till midnight. Earlier today I was debating with someone about whether or not Black Friday is a good thing and they brought up the fact that police and firefighters miss out on holidays too. I explained that is is acceptable because they are compensated. I spent over a decade working in restaurants and retail and most employees are forced to work on holidays for no overtime. Black Friday would not be a display of exploitation if corporations were sharing some of the wealth they earned from this craziness with the front line employees who are there to generate it. The people that run these businesses should offer their employees a choice to be off and enjoy the holiday with their family (like the CEO and corporate workers for most major stores are) or compensate them accordingly for missing the holiday and generating income for the business.

This exists because of the concentration of wealth and consumer services. This type of shopping did not exist before the large scale buying power of "big box" stores which have largely contributed to the decline of "Mom and Pop" shops. The majority of Americans used to do their holiday shopping at independent business which were owned by individuals, families, or small groups. The owners of these past businesses were involved in the everyday operations of the stores and directly saw how the work of their store clerks generated their profit. Because the owners were directly involved with operations the thought of being open on holidays (or at midnight after) was inconceivable. However, now most CEOs and high level corporate workers have no idea what really goes on during the everyday operations of these stores that they "manage" from a distance. They are so disconnected from the everyday operations that they have no appreciation for what the store workers do to generate their profits. Therefore employees are replaced on a whim, not compensated properly for generating high profits, and given no benefits. These businesses that started long ago as stores have since essentially evolved into little more than a stock market investment whose only loyalty is to the shareholders. This is why we see employees who are treated so badly and customers who do not get the knowledgeable service they need when trying to shop.

Unfortunately, we are a country who likes to vilify labor unions believe in the myth of trickle down economics. But that is a whole other blog post. I just hope more people will notice what an unfortunate disgrace Thanksgiving has become due to corporate greed and mindless consumption. If we all stayed home and relaxed instead of running out to feed the consumer monster machine maybe it would back off a little. Maybe.

-Mrs. W.