My "99%" (or "53%" or whatever they're calling it) Story

It's been a while since I've blogged. That's mostly because the "word putting together thing" in my head just isn't cooperating lately. So if this post turns into a rant and ramble, you'll have to excuse me. But I kind of felt I had something to say.

First of all, let me say that I don't fully understand the Occupy movement. There are so many voices on both sides saying so many different things. However, I think (just my opinion) the fact that it has become a movement says something in and of itself.

On the one side you've got people saying "I can't find a job". On the other you've got people saying "go get a job". Some are saying "pull yourself up by your own bootstraps" and others saying "I don't have any boots". Some that claim the "1%" is hoarding their cash and ruining the economy, others saying the "53%" are the only ones who have a right to complain. Some say they are working 3 jobs to make their American Dream come true and other saying "how is that the American Dream?"

I know there is probably a clear line in there somewhere, but I'm currently not truly interested in investing the energy into figuring it out right now. Not because it's not worth figuring out, but because my personal energy is needed in other areas, like just getting through the day.

In the strictest sense, I am part of the "99%". I am certainly not among the wealthiest 1% that, allegedly, controls most of the money in the United States (and since we are still the wealthiest country in the world, they also, apparently, control the wealth of the world.) But I'm also, in all likelihood, one of those that the 'talking heads' would tell to "suck it up and get a job."

In many ways, I have achieved my American Dream. I have a fantastic, loving wife, I have a house full of kids, I have two TVs (not flat screen, but still working great), I have a computer (a few, in fact, though they are low-end, off the shelf models), and every once in a while I find a DVD I like in the $5 bin at Wal-Mart.

But by other people's standards, I have failed to reach my dream. I went to school for Computer Science, worked for about a year living that dream before the dot-com collapse in 2001. I was never able to get a job in that field again. I had to quit school when I was 20 and didn't go back until I was almost 30. I worked dead-end jobs before that. After my IT job died I took a job at Wal-Mart and ended up working in retail management.

Then I got sick. I've written a lot about what is wrong with me and I won't re-hash it here, except to say we still don't have a name for what is wrong with me let alone any treatment or cure.

I now draw Social Security Disability and use Medicare.

For a good portion of my working life I was among the 53% (which defines itself as "the 53% of Americans that pay income tax). It wasn't until I had more than 3 kids that my income didn't keep up with the deductions I was able to take advantage of. Coincidentally, that was about the time I went back to school. During most of that time I worked a paid internship. (I also racked up huge dollars in loans.) After that, I was making more money than I ever had before. I had, in a sense, pulled myself up by my bootstraps.

I started working for the phone company as a computer programmer at the beginning of 2000. 6 months later the company was taken over by another and 50,000 people were laid off. The department I worked for was eliminated. I was able to work briefly for a guy at my church, then 9-11 happened and a lot of small companies couldn't hold on.

I went to work for Wal-Mart as a photo lab tech. That sounds more glamorous than it really is since I was really just a cashier who shoved film into a machine and collected pictures on the other. It paid minimum wage (Wal-Mart didn't really care about any experience I had, "everyone starts at the bottom" I was told - which of course isn't true, but whatever.) But, since I did my job and didn't pick fights in the lunch room (which was more common than you'd think) I quickly got a raise, then a promotion to photo-lab supervisor, then manager of the photo lab at the Sam's Club next door. (Sam's Club and Wal-Mart are the same company, if you didn't know that.) Even then, I wasn't making much money. Being a manager at that company didn't mean they paid well.

Times were hard. We depended on the generosity of people in our church to help us get by. With preschool age kids at home my wife couldn't find a job that paid as much as daycare would have cost, let alone bring in anything. My hours were really sucky and I was rarely home. We were, by all accounts, in poverty. Deep in poverty. The bootstraps I had pulled myself up with were gone, we had to make the boots into soup.

Try as I might, in spite of my experience and glowing references from former employers, I was not breaking back into the tech field. We lived near Denver at the time. On top of the thousands let go from Qwest, other companies also had huge layoffs. I was competing in a job market with guys who had 20 times more experience than I had.

So I embraced the retail job track I was on. Well, not so much a track as I'd hit the wall where I was and started putting out resume's looking for careers in retail rather than tech.

Soon I was back in the 53%. Or rather, the income I was making at the time would have put me there except I had 8 kids now and my deductions kept me from having to pay income tax. (Why did I have so many kids in this world and when I wasn't making much money and so on and so forth? That's another story. Ask me again sometime.)

As I said before, I got sick. I loved my job and the company I worked for at the time the illness struck. I would still be working there if I had my way.

So what am I now? Am I the 99%? Am I an honorary member of the 53%, since I 'was' there even though I am no longer? I don't know. Furthermore, I really don't care. That is, I don't care about the labels.

What I do know is that times are hard. Sitting around and whining because you can't get the job you are trained for isn't helping anyone. I also know the frustration of being willing to take ANY job and not getting hired by anyone and the need to express that frustration. I understand and appreciate a system designed to help people and feeling that you need "just a little more to get by" from that system. I also understand people taking advantage of a system when they truly aren't in need and are just being lazy.

The current "Occupy" movement is not a black and white issue as many are making it out to be (on both sides). It's much like the "hippie" (for lack of a better term) movement in the '60s. There were those who knew what they stood for and were very passionate about their position. There were also those who were attracted to a good time and just came to hang out. Neither side fully defined the movement.

I can see the current issues (at least at the level I am familiar with them) from both sides. One thing I am sure of is name calling and finger pointing and over simplifications and overly broad definitions aren't going to help anyone. So stop with your quotes and your charts and go help someone.