Thursday, November 14, 2013

They just don't want to work

Here is my monthly "Desert Sage" column for the Deming Headlight.  It appears in the November 14 edition and was posted to the website on the evening of the 13th. 

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"They just don't want to work."

That is the enduring reactionary myth about the unemployed, the argument for slashing assistance to those in poverty: these people are leeches who don't want to work. So we punish them, and their children along with them. We see no need to address systemic problems.

At a time of maximum prosperity for major corporations and investors, job growth is slow, poverty has expanded, and it is the working people and small businesses that are squeezed to pay for the ongoing crisis of our economic system.

During a recent visit to Deming, Congressman Steve Pearce proclaimed himself bewildered that record-setting unemployment persists in Luna County. After all, there are job listings. As quoted in this newspaper, Mr. Pearce said, "The hospital says they have 33 jobs waiting to be filled and the schools have 20 positions open. Yet, no one is filling those jobs."

If you visit Mimbres Hospital's website or the New Mexico Workforce Connections site, you will indeed find a number of jobs listed. Like ripe fruit, they hang there waiting to be taken. For instance, there are numerous openings for registered nurses. They are also in need of medical lab technicians, physical therapists, and a phlebotomist. Step right up, Luna County! On the hospital's website, you can click on positions of interest to you and add them to your "job cart." It's just like browsing for books on Amazon.

These are, indeed, good jobs. Yet they require certain qualifications and prerequisites that are not in high supply within our community. I am an able-bodied person willing to work; I have a high level of education and lots of work experience; and yet I would not qualify for a single one of these jobs. Many of these jobs would have to be filled from outside the community.

It is not quite as simple as walking in and saying, "Here I am!"

Now let's check out these school district jobs. Earlier this week, the Deming Public Schools website advertised not 20, but 10 positions. Of these 10, one was a custodial position and nine were for teachers. Teaching jobs, again, require certain qualifications and prerequisites. If qualified for hire, you may have to enroll in graduate teacher training, adding graduate school to your full-time job.
Lots of people do this, and for those with a passion for education it can be a wonderful experience. Even so, it means a lot of work and stress even for people with the skills and education necessary to succeed. Often, these jobs have to be filled from outside the community. (This is, in fact, how your humble correspondent first came to Deming.)

As for that one custodial job: it is part-time, which means no benefits.

Almost without exception, the jobs mentioned by the congressman require a level of education or specialized training unavailable to most people in poverty. It is therefore just a bit disingenuous for him to point to these jobs and profess surprise at our high unemployment rate.

Unemployment is not solved by pointing to job listings and ignoring the realities of poverty, such as a lack of access to education and training; hunger; unsafe housing or homelessness; illness and lack of adequate medical care. Economic growth rewards investors but does not necessarily lead to job growth, as we have seen in this so-called recovery.

These factors can be addressed, but they require a commitment to social investment and public programs, the very things that Congressman Pearce usually opposes. But you know how it is with some of these politicians.

They just don't want to work.

[Image:  I took this photograph on Spruce Street in Deming.]

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