Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Rock County Faces an Uncertain Future

I returned to Rock County to celebrate the holiday season with my family and was greeted with a series of articles and news briefs in our local paper about the final days of Janesville's GM plant.

Rock County unemployment on the rise by Stan Stricker says:

The latest state unemployment figures are out.

The seasonally unadjusted November unemployment rate for Janesville is 8.8%, up 1.1% from October, and 3 1/2% from a year ago. Beloit's November unemployment rate is 9.4%, up 1.1% from October, and 2 1/2% from a year ago. Rock county as a whole though, according to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development may be fairing a bit better.

The seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate is 7.4%. up less than 1% from the month before.

The previous article highlights the relevant stats related to Rock County's rising unemployment rates, intimately connected to GM's impending closure and the slew of other factory shutdowns that have hit the area. Even without the newspaper coverage, the reality of Rock County's economy was written all over the faces of my family, neighbors, and community members. As we sit in the middle of the holiday season with Christmas just hours away, the impact of our economic recession hits even harder.

Steven Benton in "Life after GM" wrote:

[Beloit city manager Larry] Arft also says as the local economy is rebuilt, it will look a lot different. He says instead of one big manufacturer moving in, we'll probably see many smaller companies employing around 100 workers fill the void.

As we look ahead to the future, Arft's assessment comes as a mixed blessing--we are thrilled at the prospect of new jobs to employ our displaced workers, but are concerned about our local economy's shift to smaller, unknown companies. After speaking to local residents in Rock County, most of whom are displaced workers from GM, Lear, and the countless other local businesses who are down-sizing, common fears rise to the surface. Workers are concerned about whether their skills will be applicable in the new jobs, will they be hired or deemed "too old" (most have spent the better part of their careers at one job), will they and their families survive until the new jobs become available, and will the new jobs be sustainable and employ them until retirement.

Uncertainty has plagued the manufacturing industry to varying degrees for the last two decades, but it now seems that all we have come to count on in this industry will never be the same again. Hopefully the handful of things workers need in their employment will be present in the new jobs--job security, living wages, union protection, quality health care, retirement benefits, and on-the-job safety.

From the daughter of two displaced workers, I wish you all a merry Christmas and a brighter new year.

Warm wishes, Tillie

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Student paper editor fails in his discussion of solutions to the economic recession.

UW-Madison's Badger Herald Op-Ed writers are at it again. Sam Clegg, Editorial Page Editor for the student paper, wrote a piece in yesterday's eddition entitled: "Favor education over poor," which can be found here.

Here is my response to Mr. Clegg:
Sam, your work would benefit significantly if you stepped outside of academia and actually spoke to working-class individuals who live this economic recession everyday. As an individual who identifies as being from "a pit of suburban oppression," it is apparent that you do not understand the individuals you are advocating "sacrificing" for the common good.

I am a proud member of the working-class and both of my parents are currently out of work due to the economic recession. A 5% unemployment rate in Wisconsin is lower than the national level of 6.7%, which for a wanna-be economist, such as yourself, isn't that bad. But to the individuals and families that make up that 5%, it is an awful situation to be in, one leaves most without health insurance and the inability to provide most comforts to their families. You will never understand my reality, so it would be appreciated if you could attempt to be respectful by refraining from discussing your solution for my family's situation.

"It will show itself through simpler but more intuitive means: a rise in homelessness, increasing squalor in the country’s inner cities and far-flung rural areas, and a general feeling of malaise as Barack Obama’s anecdotal factory worker — unemployed because of some crook in mainland China — struggles to look his family in the eye."

There are so many things wrong with this sentence, that I do not even know where to begin! First, you are from a suburb of Chicago, so please do not even attempt to comment on life in Wisconsin, particularly rural areas. Second, you do not know anything about factory work, so do not pretend you know anything about unemployed workers, particularly attempting to understand their relationship with their families.

Overall, it would be much appreciated by the working class students on this campus and the working class members of this state that you and other privileged Op-Ed writers refrained from attempting to discuss our lives and the impact of this recession has on us. The only way around this is if you are willing to interview working class individuals and share a factual piece that includes our voices in a respectful and honest manner. i doubt you would do this, since climbing down from the ivory tower would expose you to the dirt from our "squalor," since we are so far beneath you and your elitist ideals.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Rising Unemployment Rates Rock Working-Class Families

With over 533,000 jobs lost in November alone, leaving our nation with 10.3 million people currently out of work, working-class families across the country are struggling to hold on. As more families find one or more income contributors without a job, a new reality sets in--one without health insurance, already tight budgets cut even further, and dreams of college-educations and brighter futures pushed even further out of reach.

With particular focus paid to Wisconsin, we can see a state that has been plagued by factory shut-downs over the past several years. A shifting economy has forced manufacturing workers from their long-term jobs in union companies to newer factories that offer a substantial pay cut in exchange for no union protection, horribly unsafe working conditions, and no job security. An entire generation of working-class children have grown up in this shifting economy. As they look ahead to their futures, a fortunate handful enter college, with an even smaller percentage actually obtaining a bachelor's degree. Most of these children enter the workforce alongside their parents, except their generation faces an even bleaker future.

This generation has learned the same lessons that their parents learned--it is the role of the children of workers to grow up and take the place of their parents. Though working-class families work tirelessly to offer their children generational improvement and more options than they had, these efforts are difficult to fulfill, particularly in the current economic situation. The latest round of lay-offs is rocking Wisconsin families to their core.

The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education released its biannual report, Measuring Up 2008: The State Report Card on Higher Education, which gave the University of Wisconsin System an F in affordability. The eye-opening data that finally reflected the lived reality of many working-class and poor Wisconsin families. The average working-class and low-income Wisconsin family spends 44% of their annual income on higher education. As Wisconsin loses more jobs, it becomes glaringly obvious that lower-income families cannot go on paying such a large percentage of their annual income for higher education.

It is time that working-class and low-income Wisconsin families come together and stand up for themselves. Too often our elected officials promise to address our concerns, but fail to come through for us. It often feels that we can't do anything to fix the mess around us, but we can and we must stand up for other working families.
  • We must demand increased access and affordability in our public higher education system, as well as support for local workers who have lost their jobs, which can be done by calling our local representatives and Governor Doyle.
  • We must support the work that students are doing in the UW System to demand a quality, affordable education. Madison's Working Class Student Union is a good place to start.
  • We must support the workers at Chicago's Republic Window & Glass who have taken over their factory as they struggle against its closure, and for the right to their jobs and health care. Read more information about the strike and sign the petition in support of the workers.
Though the months ahead of us will be trying as we struggle to provide for our families and survive our current economic situation, it is crucial that we remember one thing: we are not alone! There are thousands of other families around the state and hundreds of thousands around this nation that are going through similar situations. It is our support of one another that makes us powerful.