This article pretty much lays it all out.
The working man is not favored in this economy. Unions are critical.
I was reminded of this scene from “Someplace Like America” while watching a new documentary film, “Two American Families,” which will air next Tuesday night, July 9th, on the PBS series “Frontline.”
The film, produced by Tom Casciato and Kathleen Hughes (friends of mine), and narrated by Bill Moyers, follows the lives of two families in Milwaukee, the Stanleys and the Neumanns—the former black, the latter white—over the past two decades, starting in 1991.
Both come out of the solid working class, and their fates are familiar ones. Jackie Stanley and Tony Neumann had factory jobs at the huge engine maker Briggs & Stratton, while Claude Stanley worked for A. O. Smith, a leading maker of chassis frames. All were union jobs, and all disappeared around 1990 as manufacturing went overseas.
That’s when we meet the Stanleys and the Neumanns—just as both families are beginning to sink. The only work the men can find pays half the factory wage, without benefits—Claude waterproofs basements, Tony retrains and works the overnight shift doing light manufacturing. Jackie Stanley tries to sell real estate; Terry Neumann gets into a cosmetics-selling scheme, works at a school cafeteria, then drives a forklift.
Without unions to support them, they are all at the mercy of indifferent employers and the harsh vagaries of the post-industrial economy.
The Stanley kids pick up odd jobs to help their parents. The Neumann kids start to struggle in school as their parents’ work lives leave a vacuum at home. There are never enough hours of work, or hours together at home, or dollars to pay the bills. Vacations disappear; health crises become disasters. The oldest Stanley boy, Keith, goes to college at Alabama State on a credit card. Neither family can get back to where they were before their economic slide began—a slide that coincides with those booming nineties.
This outline barely does justice to “Two American Families,” which will take its place among the central documents of our time. We all know the gist of the story, but its power lies in what we didn’t know, in the details of these American lives: Tony Neumann trying to hold back his tears at Sunday mass, the hardening of Terry Neumann’s features as she feeds a severely disabled boy in her care, Jackie Stanley’s sense of failure, Claude Stanley’s undaunted laugh even as his eyes flash with anger. The white family splits up; the black family stays together. Terry Neumann loses her house, which JPMorgan Chase sells at a fraction of the debt she owed on it. Of the eight kids between the two families, only Keith Stanley gets a four-year college degree, and with it a good job at city hall. The other children survive in varying degrees of dependency on their parents; some become parents themselves, too soon. LINK