Following the US 2016 election which gave us President Trump, there seemed to be a frenzy of reporters clamoring to share his supporters’ stories. Sam Bee and Full Frontal beat me at covering this biased narrative of poor, rural whites voting out of “economic anxiety.” Bee also brought up the point that– wait for it– “working class” is not synonymous with white!
At first I wondered why outlets bothered; 45ers had “won” after all. After CNN ambushed an old lady outside her house, one might see these tactics a sad attempt at going after small fish rather than hold the powerful accountable. But considering the gatekeeping of journalism, I think that these writers know dads or aunts (that they like) that voted for Trump and wanted to show how they weren’t mini Hitlers literally snatching crumbs from children.
Regardless, those people supported a candidate that was going to do that. So why should I care about them? Everybody keeps talking about coal workers; those few jobs aren’t coming back. There are 300x more workers in retail, a sector deemed unstable from sudden and massive layoffs and other factors. Where is the sympathy for them? Where are their quotes and stories? Here’s (part of) my mom’s.
Some are fun, some are not fun… the story of my life.
For the past 2 years my mom has been awakened by a shifting heaviness on her chest and head: It’s her fat orange cat, Simba, asking for breakfast. It’s 5am and after taking care of her mini lion, she must get ready for her “part time job with full time hours” at Macy’s.
Until last summer, she split the week between the department store and Wal-Mart but quit to take a break from having only Saturdays off. “When I was working at Wal-Mart, I get off at 1 o’clock at Macy’s, and I go home, take a nap or something. And go to work at five until ten [at Wal-Mart].” She wouldn’t have to work at Macy’s on weekends but initially did both Saturday and Sunday at the big box chain.
In January, the retailer claimed the president’s tax cuts would allow it to raise minimum wage to $11 per hour. When we now shop at my mother’s previous employer, we no longer see her previous position. The 10 or so cashiers we’d usually see have been replaced by self-checkout machines with a few employees keeping watch. The last time we went, I heard my mother speaking to a former co-worker. She murmured about how employees weren’t allowed to perform check-out actions for customers; they could only tell customers how.
Mom actually transferred to Wal-Mart from Sam’s Club when lifting wholesale goods on a daily basis became too exhausting for her five-foot frame. “‘Are you sure it didn’t happen at home?'” she recalled a manager saying after telling her about a sprained wrist. “‘Oh, I’m gonna investigate, I’m gonna look at the camera.’ And she didn’t get back to me… And you know what? She got demoted.” Cashiers were also expected to upgrade club memberships which was “frustrating” because by definition of a club, you’d be asking the same people. When memberships were advanced, management expected more.
After transferring to Wal-Mart, she lost $0.35 per hour. The same day Wal-Mart made its $11 announcement, it would close sixty Sam’s Clubs (including Mom’s former store).
Obviously, working two part time jobs isn’t ideal especially when combined they can total more than full time, but one must take what’s available when rent for one’s buggy apartment is due and an almost $1000 tooth extraction is needed but insurance isn’t provided. As someone who describes her own teeth as “garish,” I’d always been a bit jealous of my mom’s straight teeth and wondered how it was possible that she, growing up on the farm and not going to the dentist, managed to have them.
After the extraction, she now has a small gap that no one would say is noticeable or unsightly. But after seeing my mother for nearly 30 years, it always catches me off guard for a second as if I’m not sure it’s her. I don’t think that I can ever forgive a system that not only did this or took that tooth, but made health care so unaffordable that she could not attain preventative care.
My mother did hold full time work for 20 years at Macy’s before being laid off in 2009. “From 1990 ’til before I got laid off, I always became Employee of the Month, but I don’t get anymore ’cause I don’t put up with the shit no more. Before I was like, whatever they want me to do, I do it. Now? Uh uh. I complain a lot too,” she laughs. “So they don’t give me any recognition no more.” That recognition the 1990s meant a lunches, special parking spot, and plaque; now it’s a t-shirt. “I still do my job good, but I don’t volunteer… After I lose my benefits…”
In Full Frontal‘s silly segment, it’s briefly discussed what it would take for people and politicians to hear the “actual forgotten working class.” One person says for us to run for office; another says the disregard is intentional to prevent action. It seems so ridiculous that we should have to do that when the interviewed agreed that they had no free time. Plus we can probably not actually afford it. But I suppose absurdity calls for ridiculous methods. I am not one to put down one way of doing things, so hopefully, one of my current routes of putting our stories out ourselves counts as being enterprising. 😅
Since thinking about writing this post, I’ve also seen findings stating “economic anxiety” was fear of losing status. Hm, could being treated like someone who isn’t a white guy pose some sort of problem??? I’ve also considered writing about my two friends, so this may be the first of a mini-series.