Sunday, November 13, 2011

Signs of the Times

1998 -- We're living in Okolona, Mississippi, at the center of the US particle-board furniture industry, surrounded by furniture factories. Chickasaw County has the third-highest employment rate in the state. Work is booming. All the parents of the students at the public high school where my husband works who want jobs have them. The better students also all have jobs. The teens always have money in their pockets for snacks, and all wear designer clothing.

2008 -- The factories have almost all moved to China. Chickasaw County now has the third-highest unemployment rate in the state. The adults are now working the minimum-wage stocking and fast food jobs their teenage children used to work. None of the teenagers can find a job. None of them have money in their pockets. Most of them only eat during the week when they're at school. They wear shorts, windbreakers, and flip-flops in the dead of winter. The girls wear short skirts not as a fashion statement, but because they've outgrown their old ones and can't afford new ones.

My husband notices one girl frantically combing her pockets and purse for change. The Food Stamps and the food have all run out at her house. The rest of her family is staying with relatives who still have food, leaving her behind so she can eat at the school. She's looking for enough change to buy a bag of flour and a can of fish so she can go home and cook herself biscuits and fish for supper. She dreams of finding enough money to be able to afford a dozen eggs as well.

2011 -- The jobs are gone. The young people crowd into colleges and community colleges, hoping to get the certificates that will land them jobs elsewhere. My husband is teaching them. Last week a sophomore told him he would be gone over the weekend. The boy had to go home and kill some squirrels so his family would have something to eat through the week.

What do I think of Occupy Wall Street? I think it's about goddamn time people started getting angry and doing something.

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