A Recurring Nightmare

Let's suppose a woman named Jackie has worked at a greeting card company for many years. She's married to Bert, and they have two children, both under the age of 10. Bert drives a truck and is paid well, but Jackie’s job secures the family medical benefits, including dental, vision and a decent life-insurance program.

But Jackie was laid off Monday morning, along with 299 of her peers. The severance package is reasonable, and her employer did all he could to soften the blow, but suddenly losing a large piece of the family income is a shock. She knows she will receive about 85 percent of her pay from unemployment for the next six months, but what then?

Jackie had come up through the ranks and been promoted due to her hard-working ethic. She was unable to afford college and does not have a degree--other than the one from the school of hard knocks. But her image within the company was extremely positive, but all of that time and reputation cannot be put on a resume. Employers want to see that degree, which validates one’s level of experience and ability. Perhaps one in ten of the people laid off with Jackie will gain employment at the same level, but most will likely earn half or maybe three-quarters of their previous pay.

Real Problems

Let’s assume that Jackie and Bert are typical Americans, with a mortgage balance of more than $100,000 and $15,000 to $20,000 in credit-card debt. This total came from food, fuel and bills that could not be paid readily, like car repairs. When the government sat back and watched fuel prices go through the roof and ”tsk, tsked” those mean people overseas, Jackie and Bert put $4.50 per gallon of gas in their tank so they could get to work. They charged it--they had no choice--and spent more in that stretch than they had in the two prior Christmases. Their government really gave them no choice.

Now let's suppose this situation is happening all over the country. Personally, I think the real wave of problems is still six months away. Those once earning $40,000 per year with full benefits will be making $20,000 and paying into a secondary medical-benefit operation made available through their former employer and the state. This sounds pretty shaky, right? A strong signal for these rough waters ahead would be unemployment offices running out of money before the real crisis even hits. As of January 2009, that’s already happening.

The Domino Effect

Now let’s suppose Jackie's physician and the children's pediatrician are not part of the new medical program. The problems are increasing, especially when. Bert learns that he will receive only half the drives he previously did, and his reimbursement package has been minimized as well. He'll be sleeping in the truck, packing food from home, and making a variety of different choices. He has high blood pressure and eats a very controlled diet, but he can’t worry about that now. Hopefully, his newly assigned doctor will be able to authorize the same prescriptions that keep his cholesterol in check, but he’ll probably pay more in this new program. He's willing to cut back and so is Jackie; they'll do what they have to do to make it work. Is it completely fair? No, not really, but these are the jobs they have, the lives they lead, and no job is guaranteed forever. But tell me, America, are folks like Bert and Jackie--and let’s suppose some of us, the mature ones who don't blame anyone for their problems--going a little easy on those they expected to keep the playing field level?

Looking For Life Lines

I understand there are many people who want free government checks, and others who think the new president owes them a job and a living, even though they've done little to earn them. But, what about those people who get up early for work and go home late? Those who started at the bottom and worked their way up, who took the knocks and kept getting to their feet as their government did less and less to help them? Don’t they have a right to expect more from their government? It’s like, “O.K., guys, I'll work my tail off here while you go to the Capitol and keep things safe.” But, they didn’t!

Pigs In A Blanket

While senators and representatives, all of whom emerge from their careers handsomely wealthy, now hang around Washington getting together for lunch, skipping meetings, approving jobs overseas, and taking their families on luxurious vacations, the average taxpayer puts in the work and foolishly does it with trust. I believe the Congress went lightly on those at fault in the business world because they were and still are in bed together. They pose for the cameras and pretend to scold the automakers and the bankers while they are driving their cars at a discount, and making enormous profits from their investments.

Where do we look for hope? The government has people like Rep. Barney Frank, who is now attempting to put things back together. This pillar of justice told the American people weeks before the collapse of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae that they were safe, strong investments going forward. He still has a job! In fact, he’s in the middle of the bailout plan! Isn’t this an example of absolute hypocrisy? Who gave the prison’s keys to the inmates? Where’s the warden, for crying out loud?

A Proposal

Let’s suppose we impose a mandatory, one-year Washington vacation for Congress without pay, and bring in real people--like the NFL did in 1982-83 during the players’ strike. Young players and those older ones who thought they had some good games left strapped on the gear, and gave us great entertainment for many weeks of that season, while the millionaire pros sat at home. And some great, undiscovered athletes were found too. Former refrigerator-loading dock guys became offensive linemen, and the games were true blood and guts. When the pros saw regular people doing their jobs and, in many cases doing them better, they settled in a hurry, and began earning those dollars again without complaints.

Let's do that in Washington. Send someone who owes nobody, and let him or her get real answers, ask real questions, and be fearless! Remember, folks, the one to fear is the one with nothing to lose. That's most of us right now. I have no faith in our current leadership. Our new president has yet to prove himself, so he is exempt, but I see everyone on the Hill as similar to the disreputable Illinois governor who looks the camera in the eye with defiance, while using the "F" word in every other breath on his candid, private phone calls. He is so oblivious to his own downfall, so blinded by his own folly that he carries on with his work as if nothing has happened. Why do we suffer these fools?

No Sunny Side

As proof positive that no one is really working on our problems, note how the public is unaware how the first billions of the bailout are being spent. Then the government says, "Hey, America, the Fed has lowered interest rates--refinance your home! See how we did that for you?"

My answer is, "Too little, too late, boys and girls. Everyone who would have done that has lost so much equity in their home that they don't have enough cash to refinance, you dopes!" That program is two years late!

Will someone wake up and see what's going on here? We need real help.

If the government wants to make a difference, take everyone's credit-card debt and drop a zero. If you owe $12,000 today, tomorrow you owe $1,200. How about that?

Let's just say it is justice given for our government letting those same companies charge 28-percent interest for decades and never holding them in check. And letting those same companies offer cards to high school and college students who may be legally adults but are actually kids with rights they have no idea how to use. They go on a $2,000 spending spree, and then turn to their parents to find out how to pay the darn thing off.

Does the “drop-a-zero” idea seem too extreme?

How about a zero-percent APR loan for all unsecured debt, a one-time shot to put all of that messy debt in one place and realistically approach paying it off?

Is the government afraid that it actually might work? Is that why it pauses, or is it not enough profit to grease all of the palms in the loop? We need something real, something now.

I appeal to our government leaders. Is there no shame for the mess that's been created on your watch? Is anybody in a position of authority really doing his or her job anymore? Are there even a few good men and women out there, doing what the people elected them to do? If so, I submit it is a very short list. Of course, that’s just my opinion. I could be wrong, but let’s just suppose I’m right.

Ron Ciancutti is the Purchasing Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He can be reached via e-mail rdc@clevelandmetroparks.com