The Poverty Tour – Part 4

Part 4 of this special series on poverty, “Nothing Moves Without Us,” examines jobs and the unemployment crisis. Tavis also talks with the director of Columbia’s Earth Institute and co-founder of Millennium Promise Alliance Jeffrey Sachs.


Tavis: Despite all the talk in Washington from both sides of the aisle, Democrats and Republicans, about the importance of jobs, unemployment in this country obviously remains painfully high.

In tonight’s installment of our poverty tour we focus on the jobs crisis in a piece called, “Nothing Moves Without Us.”

[Begin film clip]

Cindy Marble: I realized that this was a systemic problem.

Angela Danovi: It’s really hard to see myself building towards anything.

Cindy Marble: We’re trying to empower workers and make them understand that nothing moves without us.

Dr. Cornel West: You’re all a part of an escalating motion, momentum and we hope movement, because there’s so much greed at the top.

Geoff Millard: We can empower ourselves as a community, and through that kind of transformation that we’ll really change the power structures that exist in this country.

Tavis: Three years into the Great Recession, despite the market’s seeming recovery, it remains harder than ever to find work in America, and for many, having a job is still not enough.

Today, even as corporate profits have soared, more employed adults are in poverty than ever before. Middle class jobs are vanishing. High-wage industries account for only 14 percent of new jobs.

Meanwhile, low-wage work made up almost half of all recent job growth. Close to nine million people say they are working part-time only because they cannot find full-time employment.

Geoff Millard: I think that “working poor” as a term is pretty reflective of where a lot of people sit. My mother works 40 hours-plus a week at Home Depot and I don’t even thinks what she makes is a living wage. She scratches by and puts every cent that she makes down on paper and figures out how much bologna she can buy in a week. That’s not something that we should be striving to as a country. We should be doing a lot better than that.

Tavis: At some point, either we decide that we are going to eradicate poverty, or poverty just might eradicate us.

Angela Danovi: I’d like to address the issue of jobs. I just recently graduated with a master’s in geography from the University of Tennessee. When I went to the unemployment office to apply for a particular job, the guy asked me why I left east Tennessee and I told him because I had family here, and he said, “Well, you just really need to go back to east Tennessee.” I filled out application after application after application.

Cindy Marble: I have adult children right now. My son in particular, he’s going from temp service to temp service, trying to find a job.

Geoff Millard: Because we have a situation where a lot of people who are working class and working poor are going into the military and finding this steady stream of income, sometimes for the first time in their lives, they’re very reluctant to stop and say, “I don’t care if the war is wrong. I don’t have another way to feed my family. It doesn’t matter of I have post-traumatic stress, because I need that healthcare for my kids.

Cindy Marble: We’ve talked to a lot of the politicians, we’ve talked to a lot of people, and one of the things they say, “Well, had these people gone to college and gotten an education, they wouldn’t be having this problem.” To me, that’s nonsense. A person’s education or lack thereof does not give you the right to tell them that they cannot provide for their family.

Angela Danovi: I feel immense pressure to find a job to contribute to our household and to begin to reestablish myself. I was living on my own, but to reestablish myself living on my own, now with student loan debt. I do feel that pressure, but I do miss, like, having something to go to and right now it’s really hard to see myself building towards anything, because I’m just trying to fill out an application.

Tavis: Unemployment is high, persistent and uneven. Almost half of the unemployed have been looking for work for more than six months, representing the highest rate of long-term unemployment in a generation. Amongst the poorest 10 percent of Americans unemployment is tenfold higher than the wealthiest 10 percent.

It is the case that in America too many of the poor are being rendered invisible. Dr. West and I are trying to do our part all across this country, state after state, trying to make sure that we hear your stories and put them out for the nation to hear and challenge all of our leaders to respect the dignity and the humanity of all workers – of all workers.

Cindy Marble: I was a warehouse worker at the Bissell warehouse, and I was fired because I tried to go in and I tried to help organize and came together. They said, “You know what? Y’all causing too much trouble,” and they fired the entire temp agency, which was 70 people. We met with the organization, Warehouse Workers for Justice. We were able to get somewhat of a severance pay, but that wasn’t enough for me because I realized that this was a systemic problem.

Tavis: For most American workers, inequality is nothing new. Over the past 40 years household incomes have remained stagnant for all but the top 5 percent of Americans, whose incomes have skyrocketed over the same period.

Geoff Millard: People in the States don’t really make the connection between labor and the military. They’re seen as very different forces. When in the reality of things it’s that most people in the military aren’t the very poor and they’re not the very rich. It’s really the working poor and middle class who make up the military.

The working poor and the middle class are also the backbone of America’s working force, so they’re really the same people coming from the same places, and there really are labor struggles.

Cindy Marble: If you could see the workers that come into our center every day, they are broken. They are broken.

Robert Hines: I come home and I look my daughter in the face – “Hey, Dad, I need this.” The mortgage don’t want to hear that my job shorted me on my check. I said, hey, baby, Daddy is going to have to get you next week, because (unintelligible). Then next week come, what happens again? The check is less than what I got before.

Demetrius: It just came to a push-and-shove situation, like if I go to work today I’ve got to put this $20 in my tank and my baby needs diapers. I said, okay, I’ve got to buy a whole pack of diapers, like a $7 pack of diapers, and then use $13 to put in my tank. I’m not eating lunch – let’s get this straight, I’m not eating lunch.

Cindy Marble: We went out last year and we took workers out and we surveyed over 300 warehouse workers, and we found that 63 percent of warehouse workers are on some type of government assistance. So then when we run into people that say, “Well, I don’t work in a warehouse,” this affects everybody.

Because if I work 40 hours a week and I still meet the income requirements for Medicaid and I still meet the income requirements for food stamps or public housing assistance, that comes from somewhere. You think that this don’t affect you, then you’re sadly mistaken.

Tavis: This country is experiencing historic levels of poverty in the face of unprecedented wealth. Between 1983 and 2009 the bottom 60 percent of all Americans lost wealthy while the top 5 percent secured almost 90 percent of all wealth gains.

The majority of Americans who now find themselves in this precarious situation are realizing that they have little or nothing to lose and they are now coming to terms with their own power.

Cindy Marble: We are trying to empower workers and make them understand that nothing moves without us.

Robert Hines: I found that I had a light in me that couldn’t nobody put out or contain. Once I came into (unintelligible) I’m like wow, people are actually listening to me. People actually want to know what I have to say and what I’ve been through, because I’m telling a story. For me to work hard like I do, man, and for nobody to care, man, and look at me like I’m cattle, I’ll be damned if I be herded.

West: Can’t talk about truth unless you talk about yourself. Talk about yourself with elegance. Something’s happening in Will County, Illinois, and something’s happening in America, and there’s a direct connection between the warehouse workers and the poverty tour, and we’re not the only ones. It’s happening in Arizona, it’s happening in Florida, it’s happening in Colorado, it’s happening in the Big Apple.

We’re going to end in Memphis. It’s happening with sanitation workers, who Martin Luther King Jr. gave his life for. So you all are part of an escalation motion, momentum and we hope movement, because there’s so much greed at the top.

Geoff Millard: Most labor organizations, most groups that fight for this transformation in worker’s rights are up against huge odds when they’re organizing against companies that are these multinational, billion-dollar corporations.

Well, we’re up against a trillion-dollar defense department and military industrial complex that most people think that it’s just impossible to win against, but the reality is that we believe that stopping the deployment of traumatized troops is very winnable, that service members are a community that can be treated as a community and that we can empower ourselves as a community.

That through that kind of transformation, that will really change the power structures that exist in this country.

Angela Danovi: I would like for every member of Congress to have to walk into some place for a minimum wage job and have to sit down and do the application process, because I don’t think they have a clue as to what’s going on to even work in America today.

Robert Hines: (Unintelligible) this fight, man, is just not for me, it’s for my kids. It’s for my kids’ kids. Their kids. Hopefully they won’t have none no time soon (laughter), but this is what I’m fighting for, man.

Geoff Millard: As long as we have people who work extremely hard for 40 hours a week just to figure out how to scrape by and barely pay the bills, we’re in a lot of trouble as a country.

[End film clip]

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Last modified: October 14, 2011 at 12:58 pm