Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Sweet Dreams are Made of This?

Last night. I'm watching Chris Hayes and Maria Shriver on television. It's a special, focusing on a discussion about poverty and women.

There is a particularly sobering conversation with a poised, professional woman whose life reflects two different story lines on this subject. In her youth, she worked hard and, with the assistance of some of the assistance programs, was able to complete her education and raise herself out of poverty. Success! The American Dream. For more than twenty years, she lived a comfortable middle class life and prudently built up a 401K for the future.

The future came much sooner than she expected. She lost her job and has been unable to find a new one in the current market. Is it her age? Is it that potential employers don't want to pay for experience? Or simply that there are so few jobs and, in a buyer's market, an employer has so many potential candidates that they can make up a laundry list of qualifications and wait it out until an exact match stumbles across their radar. She discusses all of these possibilities and observes that she knows 13 other women like herself, seasoned professionals who are willing and able to work hard, who are similarly unemployed.

Whatever the reason, this educated, experienced, hard-working professional, who played by all the rules, has been plunged back into poverty. With no work on offer, and with government emergency unemployment assistance having dried up, she can only keep afloat by gradually burning down her 401K. She'll never be able to "retire." With her savings evaporating in middle age, she faces the serious possibility of outliving her income and ending up homeless. The American Nightmare.

Then comes the commercial break. Directly on the heels of this sobering interview, a silly joyful celebration of vacation habits as a travel website reminds America that everyone watching is entitled to a holiday as "awesome" as they can imagine. Followed by a plug for an amazing new herbal supplement that is proven, absolutely, to prolong life to a vigorous old age.

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