Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Invisible People

Poor People on the Shore
Pablo Picasso
1903

The other day I read an article in the New Yorker Magazine, that upset me so much, I found myself beginning to cry. I could actually feel my heart breaking. The article was called "The Ponzi State", and it was about the rise and fall of development in Florida, and specifically about Florida's foreclosure disaster. In the past several years, Florida's economy has been development-based and when the bottom fell out, everyone suffered. People who had mortgaged their homes for home-equity loans were now being foreclosed. Folks were selling off their family heirlooms in order to feed their families. According to the article, "People who were in their homes, were living the American dream, and then lost it. And they don't have the knowledge to navigate social services, how to get food stamps. People who were employed in the real-estate market -- people who were making a nice living, were ending up in the health and social-services department offices."

But the part of the article that affected me the most was reading about a family in Tampa -- Dan and Ronale Hartzell. They live in a modest apartment in an area of apartment complexes and motels near MacDill Air Force Base. Until a year ago, Dan had a $10.00 an hour job laminating plastic snack food bags at a small plant in Tampa. The economy had collapsed to the point where he was laid off, and he could not find work. He has been looking for work everywhere -- Home Depot, Sam's Club, Publix. According to the article, he has sent out 60 applications, with no luck. All of these companies are saturated with applications from blue-collar workers like Dan. His wife, Ronale, describes him as an excellent worker. She says, "He's a good man, he doesn't drink and he doesn't do drugs."

These folks are already classified as working-poor, they are down on their luck, they have health and dental problems which they cannot afford to have fixed, and they have two children, one in grade five and the other in grade two. As a family, they are facing homelessness. Dan says, "I apply for work, and no one will give me a chance. I'm blue-collar; I work for what I have. That's all anyone can do, and then all of a sudden the economy gets so bad and instead of 30 people looking for work, there's three-thousand. To be honest, I'm just actually starting to lose heart now."

The Hartzells didn't take out a sub-prime mortgage, they hadn't lived beyond their means. They loved each other, and Dan said of Ronale, "I thank God every day that I have her." But he felt somehow that he was to blame for their situation. The article in the New Yorker went on to say, "Dan couldn't avoid the feeling that the world had singled him out for some terrible payback, that it must have been his fault, that the failure was his alone and he had no right to anyone else's help. This was an attitude that no senior figure on Wall Street had adopted."

This is a story that must be playing out all over North America right now -- here in Canada as well as in the United States. Good, decent, hard-working, honest people -- losing everything. Will the Stimulus Package really help these folks? Or will it be like "trickle down" economics, where the folks at the top get the cream... Why do I have the feeling I have seen this all before? I am not an economist, so I can't begin to understand the machinations of this depression recession, but I remember Gordon Gekko's speech from the 1987 movie "Wall Street", "The point is ladies and gentlemen that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of it's forms - greed for life, for money, knowledge - has marked the upward surge of mankind and greed - you mark my words - will not only save Teldar Paper but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA. Thank you."

This was not supposed to happen again. So, how did it happen? And why is it always the folks who have nothing left to lose -- the invisible people -- who lose the most.

27 comments:

greenpanda said...

That was an extremely emotive post. I'm moved beyond words. That story really got to me.

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Judi said...

Welcome to life in the United States today.

Lover of Life said...

That story is everywhere. The working poor are hit hardest, as usual. It's heartbreaking. Most Americans have had enough greed to last a lifetime. It is time for a fundamental, ground-breaking change in this country, and the DEPRESSION, not RECESSION, as some like to call it, will usher it in.

Significant Snail said...

I can't even afford a modest home and yet my taxes will be bailing out people who lived beyond their means. Of course the alternative (letting it all fall apart) is worse.

DUTA said...

People believe the situation is transitory . Unfortunately, nothing could be more Permanent in life than the Transitory.

The stimulus, I'm afraid is going to create problems not solve them.
(I hope I'm wrong about this).

Kathy's Klothesline said...

So many folks are in that situation. It is overwhelmingly sad and gives one pause. We own a campground and my husband has to work at a local service station in order for us to be able to afford health insurance. We are 55 years old and qualify for nothing. We do all the campground chores--can't afford to hire anyone. The economy is not helping. I would be happy to break even, but so far that hasn't happened. Last August we tried to help a family down on their luck and let them rent a mobile home on our property for only $400.00 a month--this included utilities--with the understanding that they would help us in the park 20 hours a week.... The mobile home had 3 bedrooms and two baths, but no furniture. I loaned them some mattresses and bed linen, a coffee maker, toaster and anything I had that I could live without. I felt so sorry for them and just wanted to help them get on their feet. As of today they owe us $1800.00. They have been "moving out" for over a month. They totally trashed the mobile home. Both toilets are broken. There is water damage in both bathrooms, the kithen cabinets are literally hanging loosely on the walls. Not only did they not pay rent, the promised help around the park was non-existent after the first month. To top it all off, the eight year old got caught stealing merchandise out of the camp store. That being said, I would extend myself again to help another family. Karma, you know......

Kym said...

It is very sad that our nation's capital is extending money to those whose suits cost more than my car. I was out of work for a month and a half, searching and taking small minor jobs that either gave me at least 8 hours a week or a few bucks under the table while I sent out over 200 resumes to job seeking employees. Four days after I no longer had a job, I interviewed with an organization that I now work for, but they just had to wait for at least a month and a half state approval before hiring me. I did not seek unemployment, or welfare or any type of help, I just did what I could to get by. My family did offer help and some money at which I have fully paid back, but I felt that there were those who were far worse off than my family and I to take away from. It bothers me to no end that the taxes I do pay are a part of the package that the greedy executives, large banks and corporations receiving in their "bailout" to encourage the general public to purchase their items from. It is a double whammy, they want my money for their products and they take my tax money to fund their own pockets! I am scared for what my children will have to face if America keeps allowing this type of greed to go on....

Arley said...

You know, I can't help but think, The USA voted for this man in hopes of "fixing" the economic situation, all he seems to be doing is putting a bandaid on it until my children are old enough to pay for his "bandaid".

I really don't see how his plan is going to help our problems today. Does he really think the middle class has the money to pay for the mistakes stupid people made? It's not fair. We didn't go out and buy a house when we knew we couldn't afford one. Now no one can even buy one, even if they can afford it, thanks to the people who decided to live beyond their means.

I think its wrong for the poor families who just tried to live in their means to be suffering. I have a feeling the homeless population is going to reach an all time high in the next year or so.

Snooty Aunt Cynthia said...

The arrogance of the upper middle class and those above it is appalling and why we are in this mess. While the working poor and the disabled poor and elderly are blamed, it is the upper class who are the ones who spend and speculate and then accept the rest of us to pick up the tab for their lifestyle. It is not the welfare cheat who is the problem but the corporate and the rich who have their own form of welfare. And it is families such as this one who pick up the tab and end up paying the price.
And yes, we ARE in a depression.

Dr.John said...

Believe me if it were just the little people you wouldn't be reading much about it. This time I lot of the haves are now have nots. One lady that two months ago had two homes valued at a million each is now living in her van.
The center of it all is greed.

Leslie: said...

A very good thought-provoking post, Josie.

SweetPeaSurry said...

I'd like to know how the CEO's of the banks and other corporations can walk away with MILLIONS of dollars and have NO reprocussions for their disgusting actions.

flowrgirl1 said...

I was unemployed for two months when i moved back down to NC. Finally found a job at a clothing store. $7.00 an hour, 30 or so hours a week. That adds up to a take home pay averaging about 350 to 400 every two weeks. The company is closing its doors for good this coming friday. The sad part is so many customers share their job loss stories with us. Its every where.

I have a degree and lots of student loans to pay off. At this rate it's impossible!

Edward Yablonsky said...

These folks are already classified as working-poor, they are down on their luck, they have health and dental problems which they cannot afford to have fixed, and they have two children, one in grade five and the other in grade two. As a family, they are facing homelessness. Dan says, "I apply for work, and no one will give me a chance. I'm blue-collar; I work for what I have. That's all anyone can do, and then all of a sudden the economy gets so bad and instead of 30 people looking for work, there's three-thousand. To be honest, I'm just actually starting to lose heart now."





This article is heartrending in deed. Homelessnesd has many edges and much of it springs as a result of man's insensitivity to the plight of his fellow man. Were it not for this (we call it greed) much of this unnecessary pain would be healed, so I think.

Deedee said...

I'm in the same boat as Significant Snail. My husband and I have worked hard all our lives and cannot afford even a small home here where our parents raised us. We've been renting for 29 years because we knew that's all we could afford to do, and now folks who were not as responsible will be bailed out with our tax money. But I also agree that it has to be done. My son has a college degree and the only work he has been able to find for the past two years is a part time job for minimum wage at a convenience store. My husband is self-employed in carpentry and roofing and there's not much work to be had in construction, and as you know, I've been cut adrift from my job. This is what the last administration has let happen to us. I hope and pray that Pres. Obama can pull us all out of this mess because the USA is in dire straits.

pilgrimchick said...

If you listen to the "pundits" talking, you would think that all the American dream was about was owning your own home. The truth of the matter is that people view America as a place where you can earn a living if you are willing to work hard enough--where you can afford the things you need to get by if you just have the will to work. The break in the American dream has been developing far longer than this "recession"--over the past generation, people have been slowly realizing that you can have that will and still not get by. This is where good people like the folks you describe in this article lose heart--and where we all become a little more fearful.

introspection said...

Hi Jo, This post is a moving one; and it is no surprise this story is every where. On the one hand it is the greed of the rich which has brought about this depression to the world; but it is also the responsibility of the Government and people in power to ensure that greed for some does not result in poverty for the innocent. In the last 8 years US government has ignored this aspect completely and concentrated on Iraq war and personal vendetta, and self gain. 3years back I would see TV ads by countrywide saying 'bad credit? No problem. Come to us, buy a house' No questions were asked about repayment capability of a borrower and there were no controls/laws to check where all the wealth was getting syphoned to. Slowly all the wealth passed away into hands of the CEOs, and wall street honchos. They drew annual salaries ranging from $500,000 - infinity. US and the whole world is now passing through 'This terrible Depression'. And as always, the innocent, the sincere and honest working poor suffer.
Mr Bush ruined everything for the world in 8 years, now the hopes are pinned on President Obama. He is not God, but if he is sincere it will take a while to turn things around slowly. HOPE is important at this time...! I pray that things change and we dont have to hear about the layoffs of some near and dear one or any sincere worker every single day, coz right now that is how bad it is...!

Pauline said...

You always have such interesting posts.

I think that when one's "bottom line" is profit at all costs, as is the case with consumerism, and capitalism (which provides a motivator for greed) is de rigueur, then it's no surprise that greed drives the economy. I am not sure what social system we could create that would be always beneficial to all. I don't think mankind is capable of that kind of selflessness though we all like to think we are. So, some of us that have, share, and some of us that don't, go under.

Carla said...

I haven't been able to afford health insurance for the last 9 years. I had to shut my pet-sitting business down because of health problems. I live on social security and a tiny pension from TV Guide. My only luxuries are dial-up computer service and basic cable TV. My Corolla is 10 years old with a gazillion miles on it. Yet I feel so so LUCKY!!!! Because my cats and I have a roof over our heads and it's unlikely that we will lose it. My little house is owned by my sister and the rent is low. I live in a beautiful part of the U.S. with a low cost of living.

I pray that Obama's plan will work. And I think that in time, we might come out better for all this. But there's going to be a lot of suffering for a lot of good, hard-working people before that happens. I'm angry at the greedy ones! And my heart breaks for the people who aren't as lucky as me!!

You are such a caring person, Jo. Wonderful post!

budh.aaah said...

Hi Jo,

Times are tough..my partner too lost his job and no luck as yet anywhere..He has applied everywhere but there simply are no takers.

Kevin Wicks said...

I am afraid it has always been the way since time out of mind. Those with the bigger club or bank account force the rest to suffer. Perhaps though this is the era when the evil elite will actually be held accountable?

Edward Yablonsky said...

Hi Jo, This post is a moving one; and it is no surprise this story is every where. On the one hand it is the greed of the rich which has brought about this depression to the world; but it is also the responsibility of the Government and people in power to ensure that greed for some does not result in poverty for the innocent. In the last 8 years US government has ignored this aspect completely and concentrated on Iraq war and personal vendetta, and self gain. 3years back I would see TV ads by countrywide saying 'bad credit? No problem (Introspection)

This pattern has always been and the greed of the rich will always be a factor in the homeless problem and the child refugee problem, especially at present in Rumania, a post with pcitures I have made on my own blof, www.edwardsliteracylog.blogspot.com

Jo said...

Greenpanda, you have a fabulous blog. I think if you visit more people, more people will discover you.

Judi, oh, yes ... Canada too.

Lover of Life, yes, Canadians too -- enough greed to last a lifetime!

Significant Snail, that's the awful part -- the bailout is coming from your taxes!

DUTA, I believe the stimulus is going to cause problems too. Historians will look back on it as America's downfall.

Kathy, gosh, you got burned! But how wonderful that you would be charitable enough to do it again. Not everyone would abuse your charity and kindness, I hope!

Kym, I may sound like a socialist here, but perhaps this recession is a sign that capitalism does not work in the long run. Canada is more of a socialist country than the US, so maybe we have the right answer to the solution. This recession, however is worldwide.

Arley, there is a book called " Screwed: The Undeclared War Against the Middle Class" and it's so true. The middle class pays for everything, and they are the first to suffer the consequences of any administration's mistakes.

Snooty Aunt Cynthia, do you remember Leona Helmsley when she said "Only the little people pay taxes"? That truly seems to be the attitude of the upper class, doesn't it!?

Dr. John, oh, yes greed. "I want ... I want ... I want ..." And they want it for nothing.

Leslie, thanks! :-)

SweetPeaSurry, they believe they are entitled. They play, you pay.

Flowrgirl1, yes, and you story is one that is being told all over North America right now, even here in Canada too. It's so sad...!

Edward Yablonsky, yes, people need to start looking after each other, don't they? I read on CNN about a family who took in a homeless family and shared their home with them. That's what people need to do!

Deedee, unfortunately it is worldwide. I read where thousands of factories in China are closing and million (!!!) of people will be unemployed, because Americans cannot afford to buy things anymore. This recession has huge repercussions, and I am not sure Obama can pull you out of it.

Pilgrimchick, I agree completely! I read somewhere that the US has between 12,000,000 and 20,000,000 illegal immigrants --- people who have entered the country illegally and have jobs and are working. That is about half the entire population of Canada. Maybe that is something that should be re-addressed by the current administration. Legal immigrants are fine, but in my opinion illegal ones are taking away from other people.

Introspection, well as everyone knows, I have my doubts about Obama. I don't think he can work miracles, and at this point that is what the world needs. We have home equity loans in Canada too, but we also have stronger banking regulations. I think perhaps people need to stop wanting so much -- new cars, new TVs, going out for dinner, etc. Everyone wants to live in luxury. I have read this this Depression is actually worse than the last one. Omigosh!

Pauline, oh, yes! Merchants find new products to sell, they advertise them and tell everyone that we must have them. So everyone buys them. TA-DA the merchants become wealthy, while everyone else struggles. Cell phones are a good example of that. I can remember a world without cell phones, but we have become addicted to them, and everyone must have them. Someone figured out how to create a product, create a market, and create a need.

Carla, oh, gosh! I wish more people thought and felt like you do. You may not realize it, but you are more wealthy than you know. You are indeed blessed...!

Budh.aaah, omygosh! I will keep my fingers crossed for you. In the meantime, I hope you avail yourselves of all the social services available. That's what they are they for -- people just like you.

Kevin Wicks, well, this happened 20 years ago, and no one was held accountable then, and I think with each new generation there will be more greed and more suffering. It seems to be human nature, sadly.

The Pink Cowboy said...

I am unemployed. The fear I feel every morning as I prepare my breakfast is undescribable. I have to fight with myself to shake off the depression I'm going through. We are all connected. It is not me over here and you over there. It can happen to anyone. We must help each other in every way. We are people, we breathe, we suffer, we love. I cannot fully understand this economic crisis. I think is part bad economic decisions and greed and part panic. For today I can only promise I 'll try to keep my spirits up and help others in any small way I can. I shall be so grateful when I find employment, so grateful. And I will find employment. I have hopes and dreams that refuse to die. The post has touched my heart. Thank you.

On a limb with Claudia said...

:*(

These stories break my heart.

Kirie said...

These stories break my heart, too. When I hear something like this, my first impulse is to ask, "what can I personally do?" I really wish I knew how to effect change for someone. I know I'm not alone in wanting to do something.

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