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Broken American Dreams
Posted March 18, 2002 thepeoplesvoice.org


By Schuyler Ebbets

We hear so much today about patriotism and the greatness of America after the September 11 attack, but millions of Americans live desperate slave like existences and they hold little hope for a better life. One tragic and all to common example of this massive American tragedy are two friends I have; Ann and her ex husband Bill, now in their middle forties. They were once young and filled with hope and strength and they too believed in the American dream. After more than fourteen years of grinding work and struggle within the American system, they achieved little and nearly lost everything.

Ann and Bill both graduated from two-year collages and entered the skilled workforce in the early eighties in the city of Nashville, Tennessee. Bill earned $6.00 an hour as an engineering draftsman and Ann earned $5.00 an hour as a secretary. They had a combined yearly 'take-home' pay of about $15,000. Ann and Bill worked and saved for three years while living in an over priced run down two-room apartment. They were able to scrape together $3500 for a down payment on a tiny 800 square foot house near the metropolitan Nashville airport. They borrowed $57,000 at 13% interest and their house payment was $710 each month, amounting to over half their combined monthly take-home pay. If one of them was laid off or became sick they could loose their garage size house.

They had both played by the rules all of their lives, acquiring education in fields that America needed. Bill graduated at the top of his class in mechanical drafting with a 4.0 average. Ann completed two years at MTSU earning a secretarial degree, which included courses in accounting, bookkeeping, shorthand, and typing. Ann excelled at typing with a phenomenal 100 word a minute speed, and near perfect spelling.

Within three years of landing his first job and immediately after buying their home, Bill was laid off. It was the beginning of a trend, which continued with increasing frequency. Firms only hired him when they were overwhelmed with work, bringing him in to put out fires and then quickly letting him go after the crisis had past. Soon the pattern of lay off started with Ann also. The various corporations hired her to perform miracles for them, like typing a 500-page survey in three weeks, or organizing ten years of jumbled filing in three days. After pushing her at top speed for a few months, and getting their backlogged work caught up, they laid her off. The two of them bounced from job to job, hired only to work in the most dire and stressful of circumstances.

Eventually employers became reluctant to give Bill a chance after he passed the age of thirty-five, stating that his resume had "to many jobs on it".  At one interview Bill was told that he "looked like a screw up who couldn't keep a job". Another perspective employer called one of Bill's references to find out why they had let him go after only six months. They were told that "Bill was was a very efficient worker and we couldn't keep him busy." Even in light of this information Bill just wasn't what they were looking for. Ironically, as a result of his old fashioned work ethic and his belief in giving 100% to each employer, Bill ended up getting laid off sooner and perspective employers considered him a risk.

The metropolitan airport became an international hub and the air traffic over Ann and Billís neighborhood increased by 1000%. Every two minutes, ten hours each day, plains roared directly over their roof. They couldn't have children in their little dream home, the noise level outside had reached dangerous decibel levels. They couldn't sell the home, with the increased air traffic people weren't interested.

Ann lost count of how many times she had been laid off when she finally found work typing medical insurance reports for an insurance corporation. She was treated like a machine, and expected to type for eight hours each day. She was not permitted to perform different duties during the day, allowing her the opportunity to rest the tendons in her wrists and hands, and recover from the terrible pace. They worked her until her tendons were permanently damaged. In the eighties there wasn't yet a name for what had happened to Ann. Now it's called carpal tunnel syndrome.

It was becoming increasingly difficult for them to hold on to their little house. Between the layoffs and unexpected expenses Ann and Bill struggled valiantly, but the two of them had reached the end of their financial, physical, and psychological endurance. When the airport offered to help them sell their home, they readily accepted. Eventually a young couple who didn't want children and who had previously lived next to an interstate bought the house. Ann and Bill soon divorced, the stress and disappointment had literally torn their marriage apart.

After 14 years of hellish work by the two of them, they received a two thousand-dollar check at closing. They had paid $710 each month totaling $119,000, for a house worth $57,000, and yet they didn't own it, nor had they paid anything towards the principal. It had all been interest money paid to the banks. The cycle of exploitation would begin again with another young couple. They too would sign an outrageous mortgage agreeing to pay for thirty years, but the odds were, like Ann and Bill, they wouldn't make it past fifteen. The banking system would make another $120,000 on the same cracker box house under the runway, a house they had sold four times before and made more than $500,000 on, and yet somehow still owned.

Ann never fully recovered from her disability, unable to support herself, she moved in with her mother. Bill eventually went to live in a one-room apartment and later moved in with his father. His lifetime of learning and skill landed him a job making $7 an hour as a temporary worker for an employment agency.

Their careers, their dreams, their bodies, dedicated to a country that exploited them. They gave everything to the corporations that they worked for and the banks they borrowed from. It was their labor that helped the privileged few to make their fortunes during the eighties, but Ann and Bill did not share in those fortunes. They had instead been sacrificed, so that those fortunes could be made.

More was required of them than generations, which had come before, but to them the least was given. They were held to the highest standards that America has ever required of its people. Theirs was the generation that was educated to the highest level. They were told that anything less than perfect was not good enough.

Ann and Bill were victims of the 'conservative work ethic', which rewards and respects only those who own, and not those who work. They were victims of, 'the free market economy', being charged obscene interest rates by the banks and any corporate entity that wanted a piece of them. They were the little people who make up the majority of Americans, that which is pure and good and without sin in our culture. They are the ones doing most of the working and suffering and dying for this country, where is their American dream?

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