Running on empty

September 11, 2010


As I write this, a collection agency is leaving another annoying, threatening message on the answering machine.

The voice is petulant, measured and all business.

I’ve just walked back into the house to make a call of my own after starting up my work truck—a 30-year-old beast that backfires and sputters—and finding the gas tank too close to empty to go anywhere but to a gas station.

I work as a farm laborer and love being outdoors and away from the crowds, but I don’t earn enough money to cover my basic expenses. Not enough lately to buy gas, nothing in my pockets, nothing in the bank.

I’m literally running on empty.

So I went back into the house to call my girlfriend. I need at least $10. That will get me enough gas to drive to the farm where I can put in a few hours and earn some much-needed income. I know, it’s pathetic, but what are my options?

I’ve been looking for work since the economy crashed two years ago. I’m one of what’s been labeled as the “long-termed unemployed,” those who don’t receive welfare payments and who no longer count in official unemployment figures.

I struggle to collect my thoughts but, even with the voice machine turned down, I can still hear the annoying bottom feeder trying to get money out of me.

“I’ll leave my number with you one more time in case it wasn’t clear…”

Oh, it’s clear, all right. They call six times a day. How could it not be clear? Our only recourse, given we can’t afford debt relief services, or even to file for bankruptcy, is to ignore them.

The bottom fell out of the American Dream and all we do now is hope we can pay the rent. We’re cutting way back on everything, even things we need to stay afloat—like gasoline.

Ironic, that gas has become the symbol of my worst poverty ever. Gas has always meant going places, getting things done, getting to work on time. Now, I have barely enough quarters to put a gallon in my tank.

I’ve been poor most of my life, but never like this, not to the point where I can’t buy gas to get to work.

Cheap oil isn’t cheap any more.

But neither are cell phones and phone lines, which we canceled. Whittling our expenditures hasn’t hurt so much as the grinding, demoralizing effect of not having enough money to cover basic needs.

I’m almost certain that my circumstances are caused as much by forces beyond my control as they are by failures of character. Still, it’s hard not to feel like a loser when every day six of the 10 messages on our message machine are from collection agencies.

I heard of one collector who, when informed that his potential victim was already holding down two jobs, barked: “Well, get a third job!”

If only it were that easy.

My only consolation on days like this comes from knowing I’m not alone. I’m not alone in my poverty, my anger over government handouts to corrupt bankers, or my frustration over the lack of jobs.

Few people I know have money to spend, their savings are quickly disappearing, and they’re living on less, much less.

Numbers indicating the bleak outlook on the economy keep appearing in the news but they don’t really mean that much to me. They don’t move me in any particular way other than to say, “See, it’s the economy.” But the numbers don’t really tell the story of how so many millions of Americans are struggling.

“Unemployment rose a fraction last month to 9.6 percent,” says one recent report. Tens of thousand of jobs have been created but not enough to sustain a healthy “recovery.”

Meanwhile, bankruptcies and loan defaults continue to plague us.

Some prognosticators say we’ll never be the same; wages will never be as high as they once were, homes never as expensive, and banks never as loose with their money. It will be at least 10 years before we can expect a recovery.

Economists say we’re in for even leaner times, worse than what has already passed. I don’t want to think about it. The unrest at home seems to be mirrored throughout the neighborhood and beyond. So many people appear, like me, unsettled, angry, and financially depleted.

The lack of a vision will do that. So will endless war and a failure of leadership. Our current president won office through the promise of change and what was supposed to have been a real hope for the future.

What I’ve seen so far doesn’t inspire much hope: The middle-class in America, what’s left of it, has fallen on hard times, malcontents have hit the streets, complaining of socialists and Muslims, and religious nuts threaten to burn holy books, while the government throws billions of dollars down the drain to fight the longest war in our nation’s history.

I can’t help but think that all of the precious resources we threw at the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan somehow contributed to the failure of our economy—the billions of dollars that might have been spent on projects at home surely depleted the national treasury, as did the massive bailout of the banks, without much of a return on our investment.

Now, it seems, we stand at a precipice, where we vainly hope and await the long, slow elusive but hoped-for recovery.

Still, I hope for the best, despite the demoralizing impact of my poverty, and set my sights on a more local scale, seeking saner opportunities to build up my own community. If collapse comes, as is almost certain, I’ll have a strong local network of friends and acquaintances to uphold and uplift me.

The collection agencies, obnoxious as they are, don’t scare me. They’re the least of my worries.

Stacey Warde is a freelance writer and former publisher of Rogue Voice.

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Jesus H Christ, what a sorry state of affairs.

One in five receive welfare benefits, one in three economically inactive, one in six jobs working for the State, one in three pay zero income tax. Great swathes of the US are literally leeching off the remaining few of us who work in the private sector.

Our work and family ethics no longer exists, stamped on by Politicians happily telling us they know best and that knowing at least the name of the father of your baby is not important. There is no healthy sector to support the rebuilding of a ruined country. We can’t rely on smart entrepreneurial kids to find the solution because our education system doesn’t produce them anymore. Nobody has any capital to start a business anymore as it all got spent in taxes or hot tubs to impress the neighbors. Our work force is lazy and “entitlements” addicted, employing anyone is now so dangerous to any fledgling business that it’s easier just not to bother.

There is only one thing we can do. Reduce the size of the State. We cannot support it anymore. It is a luxury we cannot afford. Government departments that shuffle endless bits of paper around while topping up the pensions of millions of otherwise unemployable have to go.

And finally, our elected Ruling Class needs to stop. Just effing stop. Take the next 5 years off, stop fiddling, tweaking, adjusting and legislating. Just leave us alone and with some hard work, we’ll fix it. We will, not you. You’re the effers that took this nation to the level of banana republic, you are not to be trusted ever again. Keep your pretty little jobs in Congress, keep your pensions and expenses, just stay off the effing radio and TV, stay out of the papers and stop your ruinous meddling with every single aspect of our simple little lives. I’m sick of your soundbites, your policy proposals, your think tanks, your laws and your ever increasing demands for my money.

I don’t think anyone would disagree that we have way too high a percentage of our citizens suffering. The polarization between the so-called conservative and liberals is intense, and making an even bigger mess of the situation. The truth of the matter is most people are a combination of both. I’m weary of the name-calling – neither is a dirty word. Being conservative simply means a tendency to conserve or to hold back. Being liberal originally meant “worthy of a free person”. An intellectually independent, broad-minded, open person was said to be liberal. We have “liberal sciences” and “liberal arts”. Conservatives generally support the free market and side with business interests over the average worker. There is a general belief that if employers do well, their employees and the general economy will do well, and that private business will make the “right” decisions without government intervention. Liberals tend to agree that government should be a force for social change and is responsible for protecting individual rights regardless of race, sex, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Liberals also usually agree that all should have affordable access to quality education and health care.

Thomas Jefferson actually formed what is referred to as the Democratic-Republican Party. Jefferson denounced the idea of the National Bank, was in favor of State’s rights, and supported the farmer over “bankers, industrialists, merchants, and other monied interests.” Jefferson became president between 1801 and 1809 as a member of his party. He expressed grave concern about “monied interests” gaining control of the government and ruling in favor of the wealthy rather than the average person.

Our country is at a perilous turning point in history; political decisions made over the next few years could spell the success or failure of the U.S. as a positive force on the world. Voters need to get a grip on what they see as the positive attributes of both parties and elect people capable of making rational decisions. Electing extremists promoted by extreme “monied interests” will only get us further in trouble. A comment was made about the banks 22 billion dollar profit while the poor are growing in numbers. It seems to me the banks have been quite “liberal” in assessing fees and penalties on people who are struggling. What if their profits were a little more “conservative” – say 10 billion, leaving another 10 billion circulating in the economy. We need more Thomas Jefferson’s to save our country.

The central bank and fiat money need to go, period. Then the Republican and Democrat parties need to be swept aside.

Thanks for sharing Stacy. It’s amazing how much more understanding people are to a real, personal story. Hopefully we will be spared the hateful, sarcastic remarks.

My husband and I happened to meet a couple today who are visiting California from Australia. Americans would be wise to stop talking and listen to the perception of people living elsewhere in the world. Australians, they said, are shocked at the current condition of the U.S. They see our past support of unregulated capitalism the cause of our mess – an American belief that a company can do whatever they want, no matter who they are hurting, and call that “freedom”. They pointed out headlines that big banks profit almost 22 billion dollars in just one quarter, next to an article talking about the growing percentage of “poor” and struggling to survive Americans. Greed, they said, has obviously prevailed, and the firmer hold it takes, the less concern there will be for the unfortunate. Uncontrolled greed and power, combined with a powerful military and a people who harbor religious intolerance, could make the U.S. a country for the world to fear.

I know, this was just one couple’s opinion. They were taking off to see San Francisco, the redwoods, Tahoe and Yosemite – some of the most beautiful country in the world. I hope the Americans they meet along the way gives them hope that we are not all the polarized, extreme, hate-filled people that they have seen in the media.

It is not free unregulated businesses that are our issue and cause our problems. It is the regulated businesses which have so much influence on our regulatory agencies and other government bodies that are the problem. Without the cronyism so prevalent today, many of these giant corporations would never have existed. Their abuse of government subsidies, tarrifs on competing resources, regulations designed to raise barriers to entry into markets, and creation of loopholes in the tax legislation that they could drive their trucks through.. that is what is creating this mess, not unregulated capitalism.

Without the equilibrium that unregulated markets create, those who manipulate the system rise to the top. Of greatest concern is the effect this has had on our media, for most Americans haven’t the slightest clue how much they are being lied to on a daily basis.

I think deregulated business and abuse of government regulation are linked and feed off of each other. Big business seeks high returns, not high customer approval ratings. Without regulation, what’s to prevent powerful companies from ripping off customers with what should be illegal behavior? Or taking huge risks where a few makes billions and millions suffer the consequences? Big business has learned that if they all follow the same deceitful practices, customers switching to the “competition” eventually run into the same problems. Our economy collapsed in the fall of 2008 because our government ceased to protect the people from dangerous banking practices. They made it easy for companies to benefit from manipulating the system. The damage was done; there was no money left to circulate within the economy. There are few options; no miracle cures, and those who caused it know it. And the Australian’s question – why are American’s allowing the media to distract and manipulate them into venting their anger in the wrong places, for the wrong reasons, and at the wrong people? The lies and propaganda they said, seem so obvious.

You ask: without regulation, what is to prevent powerful companies by ripping off their customers?

I answer – Without regulation, there are few barriers to market entry. Under these conditions, if a market is lucrative enough that companies can rip off their customers, that market will be flooded with suppliers in no time, until an equilibrium is reached Competition prevents that from happening. Regulation, more than protecting consumers, prevents competition, and THAT is what hurts consumers.

Keynesian economics has destroyed Americans’ understanding of the theory of capitalism.

Our economy did NOT collapse as a result of government protecting people from dangerous banking practices. This not accurate at ALL. The Government FUELED dangerous banking practices by endlessly printing money and funneling that bogus cash through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, THIS is the vehicle and market distortion that made much of this possible. Not only did money get made available at artificially low rates (to other lenders), but they removed the market incentive for a bank who makes a loan to pay attention to who it’s making the loan to. If you can sell it off after originating it, you have no risk!

You are right on one point, the lies and propaganda are obvious, but the truth is escaping most people.

Dear Stacey – Things are not well for many people indeed, so you’re not alone. Please don’t let this get you down, instead take this opportunity to become stronger, more resilient. Do keep up your delightful writing, please!

After the November election money will start flowing again regardless which party “wins”. Its politics intended to influence how people vote, nothing more, nothing less; it’s rather transparent.

Our national mess has been in the makings for many years; only time and perseverance will take us past this bottoming out. Not even Superman / woman could have done anything faster, better or sooner…

Be blessed by your friends, off- and on-line, as you’re thought of, and cared for. Thank you for sharing your frustration in this temporary situation. Remember, you’re not alone and ultimately things will get better again!

Very well put, willnose…

Times are tough for everyone, but the elites. We all must have the fortitude to strive for the better, because we will get there…

Use your talents and make things better than you find them.

Geeez Stacey, you had an excellent paper in the Rogue Voice. I enjoyed it and recall how funny you could be. I remember laughing so hard one evening that I was literally LOL. You were reminiscing about your drinking day’s and despite the fact that today’s society frowns on drunkards your story was hysterical. You were great at rousing nostalgic memories of all sorts and in such a creative fashion. Your weekly saga of Titto ((sp) the guy in the prison) was always interesting as well. In short, you are an excellent and well respected writer. The reason I’m mentioning this is because I always noticed that you had lot’s of local support as in advertisers. Have you ever considered resurrecting the Rogue Voice on line? Just a thought…….

Do you think he stopped printing the Rogue because he wanted to pick strawberries? Good writing and good journalism just are not enough to overcome a stagnant economy.

I know why he stopped “PRINTING” the Rogue Voice. That is why I mentioned taking it online. It isn’t that difficult to do and he would surely retain much of his previous readership and advertisers.

Oh, silly me. Printing is what did it in? How much do you think Stacey needs to live on? $100 a week? What about all the others who worked to produce the Rogue? Do you know how much banner advertising brings in? You can look up the rates for many publication’s websites and you will be shocked to see how cheap they are. Why? Because there are 5 trillion websites available to advertise on. How about user supported like Cal Coast News? It is a tough sell. Stacey needs a patron or benefactor to continue in an online venue only. I think I remember him and Del asking for that on Dave’s show before they closed. No takers. So if you have some dough Cindy, why not pony up?

>>”Our only recourse…is to ignore them.”

YOU ARE VERY WRONG. You can force the calls to stop.