We've been roommates before. But that was back when we went to Ohio State, from which we graduated almost 10 years ago. Now Erin has a grown-up job as a public school teacher and a husband who's a public information specialist for the Ohio agency that keeps tabs on local utilities and makes sure they don't go all Enron on consumers. They have a baby, Jocelyn, who is extremely cute and well behaved, as well as a gray cat named Princess Vespa and a black cat named Barack Obama. For a long time, my contact with Erin has been limited mostly to occasional phone check-ins during which we brief each other on, like, how adulthood is going. Now I'm taking up temporary residence here not as a fun former roomie but as a reporter. I write Erin a rent check for a third of the mortgage—$430. She says she's really happy to see me, even though she knows the grown-up reporter reason I'm here is that she and her husband are state employees, so something bad is bound to happen to them in the next month. That $430, she tells me, might make an important difference in their finances soon.
It's people like Anthony and Erin who are suffering when the battle cry in states like Ohio turns to "government employees are parasites." But it's not just Ohio that has declared war on their own citizens. Plenty of other red state governors have gone after state employees, not just John Kasich in Ohio. When you slash budgets to give tax cuts to the rich, and cut jobs in the process, people suffer. And guess what? These people have friends, they have families, they affect people's lives, and when they say "Well, one of us just got laid off due to government cuts" people start thinking "Hey, these are good people, their kids play with my kids. They're not parasites."
But they see the people who are parasites: the ultra-rich, profiting off these tax cuts, and then they remember they can vote in November.
Erin and Jocelyn have been going to these protests in Columbus. Neither one of us was really an activist or even especially politically minded in college, but lately, a phone conversation that starts about these amazing ice cream bars ends with news about what Kasich is doing or some kind of fretting, like she's doing right now. With the news that Anthony will likely lose his job, she's panicked that she missed the open enrollment period for her health insurance plan because she assumed, with the faith that professionals tend to default to when they're employed, that no one in her family was about to be jobless. All three Rodriguezes are currently on Anthony's insurance, because it's much better, and cheaper. Luckily, it's not too late to switch. By the end of the week, she'll drive to the appropriate office to drop off the paperwork. And then she'll cry in the car for an hour while Jocelyn's asleep in the backseat, which she'll confess to me when I tell her she's handling her "freaking out" well.
Erin recognizes that she could do a lot worse; if her nightmare of losing her house ever did come close to a reality, her parents would likely rescue her, she knows, as much as she would hate to have to take their money. But her friend, for example, who had a baby at the same time, has been surviving with her husband on his teaching-assistant salary only because they fell into a situation with free rent. Now they have to move, and they have no idea what they're going to do. And a parent of several of Erin's former students had to choose between sending his kid to college and working, since the only job he could get didn't pay enough to cover tuition—and financial aid would be available only if he were unemployed. Erin acknowledges that having to downgrade to a less-great health insurance plan is the sort of thing the upwardly mobile liberals of our generation like to refer to on the internet as "white people problems." A layoff might knock her back an income class or two. But not everyone she knows has a spare income class to fall.
Now, Erin eyes her 11-month-old when she says, "Thank God I have a job. And a job with insurance. Anthony's applying for jobs like crazy, but he's not getting any bites."
But gosh, I thought the tax cuts for the rich was supposed to free up capital so that private sector jobs would be created to keep the people laid off from government work employed. Surprise! Not happening. Ohio's unemployment rate is 8.6%, higher than the national average. Mac goes on to talk about some of those private sector jobs she's seen that replace these higher-paying "government parasite" jobs: $9 a hour shifts in a warehouse with no AC in summer or heat in the winter, and where you get fired for not being on the floor 98% of your day.
These workers are all hired as temps by Susie's company. If they make it 90 days, they have the opportunity, in theory, if there's an opening, to become full employees of the logistics company, which means better benefits and about an extra dollar an hour. It has been six months since the logistics company graduated someone here from temp to employee status. At one of the other locations Susie manages, no one has been hired as a real employee for two years. One of the workers in this warehouse has been a temp for a year and a half.
After we walk past workers stuffing inflated plastic air pockets in boxes and a guy continuously taping shut the bottoms of just-made cartons, we go to Susie's office. "Hold on, I gotta fire somebody real quick," she says, picking up the phone. She calls a man who's been working for her for two months. She's sorry, she tells him, but she has to let him go because one of the supervisors caught him talking on the floor. The man, who she thinks is in his late 40s or early 50s, protests that he only asked a new guy where he was from. That's just not the culture, Susie tells him. You know the rules. The logistics company sets them, and she has no choice but to enforce them.
It does say in the new-employee handout that there are no personal conversations allowed on the warehouse floor. Also, no cell phones are permitted. Like a high school teacher, Susie has a pile of phones she's confiscated in a plastic bowl on her desk. Two sick days are allotted per year, and workers must be excused to take them without penalty; after that, the temp is terminated, doctor's note or no. Every temp is allowed one 30-minute break per day, and it must be taken on company premises. Every temp is required to have an ID badge. The cost of this badge, more than an hour's worth of wages, is deducted from the temp's first paycheck.
These are the jobs that globalization creates. These are the companies that spring up when unions are destroyed and benefits are destroyed, where you lose your job if you talk at work. This is what the "middle class" looks like now in Ohio. This is the GOP path to "prosperity", a $9 an hour job that might mean $10 an hour someday in the future. Maybe. No guarantees.
But we have to get rid of teachers and state workers and unions and collective bargaining because they make too much money and we're TAXED ENOUGH ALREADY.
"We" of course being the one percent. This is what they bring to the table.
Go read the whole thing.