Retorts: Plight of the working class guy

TODAY'S FORGOTTEN MAN may have a job (unlike these men in a soup kitchen line in Chicago in 1931) but it doesn't pay well or have a bright future (National Archives photo).

TODAY’S FORGOTTEN MAN may have a job – unlike these men in a soup kitchen line in Chicago in 1931 – but it doesn’t pay well or have a bright future (National Archives photo).

Back in the Thirties, much was made of the concept of “The Forgotten Man,” the poor and working class guy who suffered the most from the effects of the Great Depression.

In today’s political atmosphere, a new “forgotten man” has arisen, or at least become more visible, and that’s the older working class man, especially the older working class white man.

retortsThis has been the bedrock of support for Donald Trump. A recent survey of white working class men indicated that 84 percent of those questioned felt the policies of the federal government weren’t in their interest.

Regardless of which side of the political divide you are on, it would be a mistake to place this resentment strictly on racial grounds. There are good and substantial grounds for “OWM” – old white males – of a certain economic status to feel left out.

Society is doing very little to help this subgroup, and that’s helping to fuel the Trump phenomenon.

Consider the plight of a 52-year-old working class white guy. What he “sees” is a lot of attention and policy directed toward gays, the transgendered, women, illegal aliens (more politely, but less accurately, undocumented workers) and others.

He entered the work force over 30 years ago when there were decent-paying jobs in construction, auto assembly, truck driving, printing, etc. He didn’t go to college because, frankly, he didn’t think he’d need to.

Now, many of those jobs have disappeared, and those that remain have been stripped of wages that keep up with the cost of living, as well as any kind of pension. And, in late middle age, he’s finding it difficult or impossible to switch jobs. Who wants to hire a roofer with an aching back?

Age-ism is the last acceptable taboo. Sure, it’s illegal, but that prohibition is next to unenforceable. And the solutions offered are glib and largely unrealistic. Let’s retrain you! Sure! It’s easy to make a steel worker into a computer programmer! Piece of cake!

There are other forces at work in this dilemma. Mr. Trump has hammered hard on the exporting of jobs overseas, and he’s not wrong. But muscle labor goes where muscle labor is cheap. It would have to be an epic tax break to get a garment manufacturer currently outsourcing shirt-making to Pakistan to come back to America when he had workers in Islamabad willing to work for $1 an hour and no bathroom breaks.

jobs-quoteEven if all those working class type jobs were wrangled back to the land of E Pluribus Unum, we wouldn’t be happy with the result.   One hundred jobs left, and because of automation, only 15 or 20 would return. Technology has allowed manufacturers and others to reduce their work forces, and write off the cost of that tech, to boot.

Back in the Seventies and Eighties I worked at and with Long Beach Press-Telegram newspaper. In the “back shop” of printers and compositors were about 300 working class union guys who produced the paper.

These were good-paying jobs with generous wages (they actually made more money than the reporters) on which they could buy a house in Lakewood and send their kids to Cal State Long Beach.

Today, every single one of those jobs is gone. Every one. And it’s not just the blue-collar guys who are in distress: the news staff has shrunk from about 150 all the way down to five.

So if you’re my prototypical working class guy, you probably work in a physically tiring (and possibly dangerous) job in which future prospects are dimming and with little or no pension to look forward to other than a thin Social Security payment.

Most liberals don’t seem to think much about this guy; conservatives offer solutions, which likely won’t actually solve any part of the problem. These are the folks who fought the wars, pave the streets, build your houses and fix your cars. They are feeling left out and left behind. Resentment building from The New Forgotten Man.

Jim Tortolano’s Retorts column appears in the Orange County Tribune each Wednesday. Usually.



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