Sunday, May 19, 2013
What if ... ?
I had a grim thought this morning. (Grim thoughts arrive all too often these days.) But this particular Grim Thought needs a little explanation ...
Most of Joyce's Akron family worked for the rubber companies--her father was with Firestone, some uncles with Goodrich and Goodyear. Joyce grew up in Firestone Park in Akron, attended Akron Garfield High School, won a Firestone scholarship for college ... Her father--her uncles--all were members of the URW (United Rubber Workers), the union. As a result, all earned a living wage, had medical and retirement benefits, were able not just to have dreams for their children but were able to do something about them. Joyce's mother was a salaried employee with the Akron Board of Education (working in the main office dealing with food service); she had benefits and a pension, as well.
One of Joyce's cousins went to med school and still lives in Akron. Another had a long career as a police dispatcher in Akron. Joyce graduated from Wittenberg, went on to earn her Ph.D. at KSU and to have a stellar career in teaching and writing.
But what if ... ?
What if Joyce had been born in 2013? During the era of outsourcing and anti-unionism? More than likely, her parents--both with high school educations--would have been forced into minimum-wage jobs. No benefits. Nothing but Medicaid to help them when they were sick--and, later, they would have had to retire with only Social Security and Medicare to ease their lives.
And Joyce? Sure, she would have been just as bright, perhaps just as ambitious. But her chances for having the life she's had would have been greatly diminished. Not impossible--just unlikely. They could not have afforded to live in Firestone Park (which was a modest middle-class neighborhood); Joyce would have attended, in all likelihood, a rougher school. Perhaps she would have won a scholarship to college? But maybe she would have gone to work immediately after high school to help her parents.
And this, of course, is the dark side of the fracturing of the middle class: the fracturing, as well, of hope--for millions and millions of people. Joyce's family had no desire to gain fabulous wealth, to buy a yacht and a Gatsby mansion. They displayed no envy for those who had "more." All they wanted was to live reasonably (they never borrowed money; her father used no credit cards), to provide possibilities and choices for their daughter. They lived to see her graduate from college, to receive her Ph.D., to publish some of her books, to deliver their grandson (whom they adored), to adorn the faculty of Hiram College. They were profoundly proud of her, of course--but, I hope, of themselves, as well. Their dreams--their modest, hopeful, human dreams--had come true.
And now? Even modest dreams require enormous sacrifices--and debts. Today, even modest dreams--for myriads of people--are no longer even dreams at all. They are pure fantasy. And who can calculate the social cost? What price tags dangle from shattered hopes?