James was a good guy, raised to be a responsible family man. He had a modest home outside the small town where he grew up. Married his childhood sweetheart and had two kids. James worked at the local mill, a jack of all trades. The work was steady and James was living a good life. But then NAFTA came along and over the next few years small factory after small factory begin to disappear. Pretty soon James’s steady mill job moved overseas. He was there the last few months it took to pack up the mill equipment to ship. In the end, James was the last worker to turn out the lights.
James took his unemployment, his severance pay, even did the job training he was required to take. He took every odd job he could find. A few days here, a couple of months there. Finally landing himself a job at another factory 35 miles away. Through it all, James didn’t get too bitter. He just listened quietly to the boys at the hardware store, raving about being the forgotten Americans. And to be honest, they were right. Cheap overseas labor and less regulation killed the working class. But created more wealth for the business class and a new gilded age.
But James and his family were surviving. They grew a few crops, least land to ranchers. His wife worked extra hours at local big box store. They were tried, but they were afloat. Then came the Great Recession. James lost his job at the factory due to cut backs. His wife had her hour cut back to part-time. The bank was sending notices, the house lost all its value. The dream James had built his life on had finally died.
It’s the dawn of yet another decade, James and his wife see nothing but darker days ahead. James is close to retirement age, but not close enough. His health has been failing over years. The few doctor visits he makes are to the free clinic in another county or the ER at a regional hospital. No preventative healthcare, just a patchwork of medications to fend off the diabetes, high blood pressure, chronic back pain. The trailer they now rent sits on the poor side of town and is falling apart. When James is able to work, he fixes trucks, tractors, and small engines. His neighbors and the community as a whole are all in the same boat. Poor, beaten, and rundown.
This is but a snapshot of literally millions across the United States and frankly around the world. People just trying to feed themselves and their families. Both sides of the political fence waste time blaming each other for this mess. If you ask me, they’re both right. James didn’t come into this world a bitter man. The world made him that way. From the political parties that seek nothing but power. To corporations that see people as nothing more than a commodity. For just a few days, I’d love to see them walk in James’s shoes. But as with most things, change only comes when you turn out the lights.