Book Review #71: “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America” *Re-Read*

Nickel and Dimed

Image Credit: Goodreads

When I initially read this book, it was assigned reading for one of my very first college classes. I can’t remember which one, but this book left a profound impact on me. Slowly, I started reading more from Barbara Ehrenreich. However, this is the book that started it all.

I started college in the fall of 2007, about a year before the financial crisis that began in 2008. I believe I was assigned to read this book at a poignant time. I also believe I’m re-reading this book at another poignant time, at the beginning of 2019.

Going into re-reading this, I realized my copy of the book was updated with a new afterword, published in 2008. However, the overall concept – Studying low-wage jobs and attempting to understand their socioeconomic impacts – is nothing new. That’s part of the reason I was drawn to Matthew Desmond’s Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.

Ehrenreich embarked on an experiment in 1998 – Trying to see if she, as a single, middle-aged woman, could survive as a waitress, a cleaner (hotel maid and house cleaner), a nursing home aide, and a seller / retail associate for a month, in three different cities. Each chapter explores a different type of job and a different city. She quickly realized the challenges with each one, and each city presented its own obstacles with housing, food, and assistance. Along the way, she met a variety of people working these jobs. A few were fortunate, but many were barely making ends meet. Several were working 2-3 jobs full-time, and still struggling with their incomes and their partner’s / spouse’s income(s) as well.

I won’t spoil anything, but she learns many lessons along the way. She discovers multiple issues with affordable housing, child care costs, fast food, health care, education, and the way these companies treat their employees.

I got a bit lost with the footnotes, statistics, and percentages, and glossed over a few of them toward the end. However, reading the updated afterword was important, and appreciated. This country has a lot to learn, still, in 2019. We need to treat employees, especially those earning the absolute minimum, better.

Overall, I’m glad I took the time to re-read this book. It’s a bit “dated” now, since Ehrenreich’s experiment started and concluded 21 years ago. However, it’s still relevant in many aspects today. And, like her, I’m grateful for everything I’ve had and worked for. This is a valuable book that will stay on my bookshelf forever.

4 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #84: “As GM’s Lordstown plant idles, an iconic American job nears extinction”

Lordstown GM Plant

Image Credit: CNN

I saw this fascinating CNN article on Wednesday, March 6th:


The Lordstown, Ohio plant has been closed for nearly a week now. It made its last Chevy Cruze sedan on March 6th. Another sign of the times. General Motors (GM) has shrunk from more than 618,000 workers to just north of 100,000 people.

Auto manufacturing in the U.S. has been declining for a while now. The closure of Lordstown is part of GM’s shift in strategy – Away from sedans, more focus on higher-margin trucks and light SUVs, as well as researching and developing electric and autonomous vehicles. GM has also invested in a ridesharing platform called Maven.

In addition to a declining workforce, U.S. auto workers have experienced a drop in wages (Roughly 18 percent since 1990, adjusted for inflation), and less retirement benefits. Just two years ago, only eight percent of factories offered pensions.


Lordstown sits in the Youngstown, Ohio region, halfway between Cleveland and Pittsburgh. The average worker in Youngstown made $38,000 per year in 2017. Compare that to $61,000 to $88,000 per year for full-time GM production workers, according to their United Auto Workers union contract. And that doesn’t include overtime pay and bonuses.

The Lordstown plant started to see changes about two years ago. As the demand for the Cruze sedan declined, the second and third shifts were cut, and 3,000 people were laid off. Of the remaining 1,400 people, about 400 accepted transfers to other plants, and they are able to hold on to their healthcare and pensions. There were 350 workers eligible for retirement. Those transferred workers will receive $30,000 in relocation assistance.

One of the workers interviewed for the article, at GM since 1995, thought she had enough seniority to transfer to another facility, such as the metal fabrication plant in Cleveland or the transmission factory in Toledo. However, relocating is not ideal, either. She’s stuck, quoted as saying GM has her in a “chokehold.”

“I make $32 an hour. I’m not going to go get a $12-an-hour job. I couldn’t survive on that at all. I’m going to get up and go, ride it out, try to get the best gig I can get, and be done with them.” She’s hoping to net her 30 years at GM – which won’t happen until 2025.


The Youngstown region has watched manufacturing slide downhill since the 1970s. The auto industry started to crack less than a decade later, with stiffer competition from Japanese automakers. In 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) dealt another blow, as work was outsourced to lower-paying suppliers. In 2007, as the automakers were having systemic issues related to the financial crisis and impending Great Recession, a lower-wage tier was created for entry-level workers, where they made 45 percent less per hour and got a 401(k) rather than a guaranteed pension. GM’s bankruptcy two years later tightened things even further.

For Lordstown, the community has thrived on GM. At one point, GM helped bring more than $2 million in tax revenue, among other benefits to schools and community ventures. Twenty years ago, Lordstown was competing with other cities to win another car model to replace the Chevy Cavalier. The community banded together, and along with plant officials, were successful in winning that car model. The community tried it again in 2018 – Posting signs, writing letters, and working with politicians. Unfortunately, one of the big factors was plant management wasn’t interested in participating this time.

Many are uncertain and fearful. They’ve watched GM shutter, and then re-open, their plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee. What if that happens in Lordstown?

Another problem is many GM workers were hired without secondary education. Nearly two-thirds of the 13,000 purported job openings in Youngstown, including information technology and healthcare, will require a post-secondary credential by 2021.

One bright spot is trade adjustment assistance, available to GM workers through the state and U.S. Department of Commerce. Truck driving certificates have been popular recently, due to the quick turnaround to earning them, and relatively good pay.


As Lordstown begins to adjust to life without GM, the local high school has started a training program for the logistics industry, helping prepare students for jobs in the various distribution centers in the area. Roughly 15 percent of students have parents worked in the plant. And they’ve already begun to experience losses, as families leave to accept those transfers at other GM plants.

TJ Maxx is building a facility that will employ 1,000 people locally. However, the wage difference is drastic. Where many at GM made $30 per hour or more, entry-level listings for other TJ Maxx facilities sit between $10 and $13.50 per hour.

However, Lordstown doesn’t want the shuttered plant to be turned over to Amazon, Tesla, or any other company. Not yet, anyway.


This story isn’t just about one GM plant in one Ohio town. It’s about history, the manufacturing industry, the changes in the American workforce, and what can be done for those who need jobs now.


Resources


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #68: “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City”

evicted

Image Credit: Amazon

I think I first heard about this book from friends on Facebook, who all said what a powerful book it was.

Then, author Matthew Desmond was interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air in April 2018. My local area, Hampton Roads in Virginia, was specifically mentioned in the interview regarding high numbers of evictions in three separate cities. It stung, and propelled me to want to learn more. As soon as possible.


I bought the book in August, and finally started it in late December. But once I started, I could not put it down. By the time we came home from the farm on December 26th, I’d flown through Part One. I was itching to go to bed that night, eager to dive in to Part Two. It only took me a few more nights of intense reading to finish it. I came away from it with a greater understanding, and appreciation, for being able to own my own home with my husband. It’s one of those books that makes me realize how good I have it, especially as a white woman with no children.

I’m drawn to books like this because of the human interest. I was reminded of the term “ethnography,” which is the systematic study of people and cultures. Author Matthew Desmond settled in Milwaukee, in the trailer park and other low-income neighborhoods, to not only interview people for the book, but to learn about their lives, and specifically what they go through day by day. The housing crisis and recession of the late-2000s began while he was conducting interviews, and it’s referenced in the book as well.

However, the housing crisis and recession are not all to blame here. It’s just one factor. There are many other factors involved with eviction and those who struggle with it. Landlords have profited by buying cheap, often dilapidated houses or buildings, charging rent, and then sometimes refusing to fix inherent problems in these properties. The tenants complain, nothing gets fixed, and rent can go unpaid or withheld. There are certain processes for evictions, but they vary greatly. There are voluntary and involuntary procedures. It’s definitely not black-and-white.

When someone is evicted, that goes on their record. It’s exponentially harder for parents with children to find an affordable place to live, and eviction(s) exacerbate that problem. Multiple evictions are even more problematic. It’s a vicious cycle, where parents want to protect their kids from negative influences and crime, but can’t break out of those areas because of their eviction record. Welfare benefits can also be affected. If you’re lucky to have a job, getting evicted can cause immense stress, affecting job performance and more. Choices have to be made, painfully – Pay rent, or the utilities, or the car repair, or a need for your kids. Kids are uprooted, shuffled, changing schools, and also stressed. It’s a horrible experience all around.

Desmond’s dedication to these interviews, living in their space, researching the processes and procedures, and soaking up everything he could about eviction shines through this book. It’s depressing, in more ways than one, but incredibly informative, educational, and eye-opening.

This is one of those books, in my opinion, should be studied and taught in schools, especially upper levels of high schools and colleges/universities. It’s an important issue that needs more focus, discussion, and change.

My eyes were opened widely to the multiple problems regarding eviction. I thought I knew a few things, but this book turned my thinking completely on its head. The book focused specifically on Milwaukee during a set number of years, but there are eviction problems and issues throughout the entire U.S.

That was one of the focuses of Desmond’s interview with Terry Gross – Thanks to receiving a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant in 2015, Desmond has started The Eviction Lab, where a dedicated team of researchers and students from Princeton University are creating the first-ever eviction database in the U.S. At the time of the interview, in April 2018, the Lab had already collected 83 million records from 48 states and the District of Columbia.

The book was also awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 2017. That says something, too.

“Stabilizing a home has all sorts of positive benefits for a family,” Desmond said in the interview.

Desmond has written two other books, and co-authored one on race. I look forward to reading and seeing more from him.

5 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Hot Topic #11: Big Pharma – A Look Into Martin Shkreli, The Gobs Of Money, And More

Disclaimer: This post contains strong language.


Earlier this week, the Internet basically blew up because of this guy:

Image Credit: NBC News via Paul Taggart / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

Image Credit: NBC News via Paul Taggart / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

The media was all over it. Outrage was almost instantaneous. Martin Shkreli has been called almost every name in the book: “Public Enemy No. 1,” “the most hated man in America,” “a spoiled brat” by none other than Donald Trump, and more. The Daily Beast blatantly called him an asshole in their main headline, which was my exact impression of this shitty scumbag and fucking bottom feeder when the news first broke.

Shkreli’s decision to raise the price of Daraprim, used to treat an infection caused by a parasite, from a sensible $13.50 per pill to over $750 per dose, was jaw-dropping, among other things.

He soon back-pedaled, but the damage was already done:


It’s bad enough when your one decision sparks worldwide outrage, but I think it’s worse when your supposed colleagues in your own industry and supporting industries turn their backs on you. However, this piece of shitty scum totally deserves it. I’m applauding those in the bio tech industry and PhRMA for standing up and saying, “Whoa, hang on a second, this is not acceptable.” Read more from The Washington Post.

With that said, however, my applause is limited and short-lived. These industries are fucking money hoarders!

In The Daily Beast article, a reporter confronted Shkreli about the low cost of producing Daraprim – Roughly one dollar per pill.

Shkreli’s response to her?

” … Shkreli claimed that the price hike was necessary for Turing Pharmaceuticals to increase revenue, and that some of the profits would be funneled into research and development costs for a Daraprim alternative …”

That?

That’s PURE FUCKING GREED.


However, as The Washington Post article said, Shkreli is certainly not the first drug company executive, or drug company, to drastically raise prices.

Shkreli’s been in the news before – When he was the CEO of Retrophin, the company acquired Thiola, a drug used to treat an incurable kidney disease, with plans to raise its price over 20 times. The Retrophin board fired Shkreli and sued him for $65 million, accusing him of misusing company funds.

Here’s a few examples of those costs:

And, as I learned from researching for this post, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) apparently can’t do a damn thing about drug prices. They have no “legal authority to investigate or control the prices charged for marketed drugs,” according to a response on the FDA’s frequently asked questions section of their website.

Reading that statement basically knocked me over, initially.

According to an article from The Atlantic, Americans were reminded this week that the U.S. is the only fucking country in the FUCKING WORLD “where drug companies set their own prices for life-saving medications.”

Cue eye roll, heavy sigh, and head-shaking.


But, wait, hold on to your hats folks, there’s actually SOME GOOD NEWS!

Before this, and now even more so because of the spotlight on and scrutiny of Shkreli, people are actually paying attention, and giving a fuck!

All right, so maybe that first set of sentences were slightly sarcastic …

For me, I’ll believe all of this when I see it.

Meaning, I’ll believe it when Congress takes action.

Right now, the only thing that all of this proves to me is Big Pharma is king, and no one can reach his throne to take away his crown.

As someone who has typically chosen Democrat in the nine years that I have been able to vote, I’m genuinely intrigued at how Hillary and Bernie Sanders have responded to this debacle. However, I’m not entirely convinced. We are preparing for an election, after all.


There’s also the topic of generic drugs versus the brand names. I have personally struggled with this battle. I am fortunate to have a great work-sponsored health insurance plan and pharmacy coverage. However, my pharmacy coverage is extremely limited – It covers mainly generic drugs and prescriptions; almost nothing brand-name is listed in their database.

I struggle with this because the best birth control formula that I have found that works for me and my body does not have a generic form, at least not yet. At one point, I was paying nearly $100 per month for this particular formula. It finally got to the point where I couldn’t afford it, and I was forced to switch to a generic to save that money. Although switching to the generic reduced the cost from $100 to FREE because of my coverage, it was a sacrifice because it was a different formula, and my body reacted adversely, along with my emotional state every month. After struggling for a year or so, I asked my doctor for help. I’m so grateful for her – We have a plan in place for now and for the near future as I prepare for marriage and starting a family eventually, until the makers of the best formula release a generic version of their product, and hopefully that future generic version is covered under my insurance.

My predicament is most certainly small potatoes to those who deal with chronic and life-threatening conditions on a daily basis – Diabetes, cancer, mental illness, and more – and I definitely don’t want to minimize those struggles in any way. However, I wanted to share that small story of mine to help illustrate a point – I have dealt with Big Pharma and their drugs and their exorbitant costs, and almost everyone I know have dealt with it all, some much more often than others.

I could go on and on and on, but I think this is enough, for now.


I’ll leave you with John Oliver’s take on this – A double dose (no pun intended).


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Getting Personal #16: Building A Capsule Wardrobe

Image Credit: theproject333.com

Image Credit: theproject333.com

As some of you may know, I love my friend Megan’s blog, Freckled Italian.

She has a series called “What I Wore” that I love. Her style is amazing!

Back in July, she published an awesome post! Check it out: What I Wore 51: Restyling Old Clothes

In this post, Megan talked about the concept of a “capsule wardrobe.”


I’ve been curious about this for a while. So, I Googled it. So many links, and photos!

All of these links were super interesting, but they center around one concept:

Less is definitely more.


Right now, I struggle immensely with the sheer amount of clothes and shoes that I have. Like Megan has expressed in her posts and comments, I do like getting rid of things to reduce clutter, but I always find myself debating whether or not I will ever use that particular item ever again. It’s tough!

Thanks to Megan, I bought a book titled The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. I’m so glad I bought this book at this point in my life. I’m starting to read it now, and as I read, I will be applying it to getting ready to combine my life with Al’s, and then when we combine our lives when we marry, and then apply it again when we get our own house!

Watch for a book review on that one!


Anyway, back to this capsule wardrobe concept.

I like the idea of setting a number of items that you have. It forces you to look really hard at what you have, and make some hard decisions.

Thinking of my closet right now, it’s organized, but it feels like it’s busting at the seams, particularly with shoes!

On top of my closet, I have NINE dresser drawers that are full, containing everything from T-shirts to jeans to workout clothes, and everything in between.

On top of all that, I have a huge 66-quart storage bin in my parents’ storeroom that has most of my fall/winter clothes!

Whew! I’m exhausted already!


As I read through The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I am going to evaluate every piece of clothing and every pair of shoes that I own. I am also going to do the same thing with jewelry.

I have a bunch of bags and boxes ready to donate to various local charities, with a particular focus on Blankets For The Homeless, and I hope this journey will only add to that. I want to help as many people as possible.

Everything else that doesn’t directly benefit the local homeless, that’s all going to Goodwill.


Look for a follow-up post soon!

I look forward to this journey – I feel lighter just thinking about it.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂