Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California by Eastman House
What is Helplessness?
Ask anyone that has any understanding of what is really going on politically and economically in this nation and their answers will probably be very close to the truth. If you then ask them what we can do about changing the current situation, unfortunately, the answer will probably be "nothing". Why is this so?
Here you will get a range of different answers. When you ask people about changing the way money decides elections for example, people will tell you that the politicians won't change the system. If you suggest electing different elected representatives, they will explain that you can't elect anyone without a truckload of money (classic Catch-22). This is the classic conundrum in the American system.
The unfortunate truth is that this happens to be pretty much the case. I know that some will point out to people like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and proclaim that you can indeed change America via the ballot box. Surprisingly, I'm going to agree with those people, but not for the reasons that you may think.
First of all, the people of the United States are not going to effect change through the two-party system. On a Federal level, there will be few primary wins by candidates that don't fully support the national platform. The exceptions to this have been by some tea-party candidates, but even these candidates have largely been bankrolled by the Koch brothers and other ultra-conservative PAC's. Sometimes a celebrity will be elected on name recognition, but usually these people aren't very effective.
The political sector isn't the only sector where people feel this helplessness. Still, it is a very important part of any chance of change in this nation, but it is probably the most important, and I'll come back to this later.
A student told me at a fried chicken joint that he had recently graduated from Clemson. I asked him if he had any job prospects lined up. He said he was looking. It was hard for him to launch a full-time job search because he was working two jobs and was paying off medical bills for recent back surgery. I told him that the medical bills could wait and he told me that his student loans couldn't. It was hard enough trying to get a job in his engineering field, and with a bad credit report, it would be even more difficult. So, two part-time jobs and no medical insurance and a degree to boot, this is the "new normal".
When I went to Summerville, outside of Charleston, SC for a political meeting, I met a nurse, in scrubs, who told me that he had to leave for a few minutes to pay the title loan on his car. When the meeting was over, I asked him why he had taken out a usurious title loan at 150% interest when he was an RN (how very rude of me, I know). He told me that he was only working ten hours a week and it was either take out the loan or not pay his mortgage. We had quite a discussion that was a real eye-opener for two reasons.
One of the reasons he lost his full-time job was because an old shrapnel wound he received from Desert Storm (He was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Reserve) had led to gangrene in his foot and had led to his foot being amputated. When he went back to his job after his recovery, there was no job waiting for him. He went to State and filed charges. They brought him back on but changed his job to where he had to be on his feet 8 out of every 10 hour shift. This was impossible for him, he had to quit.
This time he leveled a discrimination claim against his former employers (a large hospital/healthcare corporation) and they refused to settle with the State. Now it must go to arbitration and he told me that the process could take years. This is not the end of his story.
He made a claim at the VA over his foot injury from Desert Storm that he believed led to the amputation. The infection started in the same place as the injury that caused the gangrene. The VA denied his claim because he now had diabetes and they claimed that the diabetes was the cause of the infection that led to the amputation. This may be so, but now he is going to the DAV with his medical records from his Doctor's. Since the VA is so backlogged because of funding deficits' due to budget cutbacks (and the sequester), that could take years.
Meanwhile, he is looking for full-time work. Hospitals say that they can't hire him because of his experience; they would have to pay him too much. Recent nursing school grads are much more inexpensive. Instead of paying him 36 dollars an hour, they can get a new nursing grad for 24 dollars an hour. When he replied that he would work for 24 dollars an hour, they told him that it is against corporate policy. They must pay people what they are worth, it's corporate policy. After all, it's only fair.
Then there is the family that finally gets the knock on the door that they have been expecting and dreading since Dad lost his job. Dad has been working two part-time jobs and Mom has been trying to be a homemaker while working 20 hours a week at a large department store. Neither of them can get medical insurance from their jobs and their premiums are running almost 1600 dollars a month for Dad, Mom and the two kids (and they feel lucky to have it). The house is 65,000 dollars under-water but it doesn't matter, they can't keep up their mortgage payments anyway.
Now the Sherriff is here and he hates to do this, he's been doing it three or four times a day since this "economic downturn" started. They are all pretty must resigned to the fact that they must do what they all have to do. Most of the family's things are already in storage and luckily for them they have relatives that will take them in temporarily. This is another "new normal" situation, even though they are living in the most prosperous nation on Earth.