BILL MOYERS: This week on Moyers & Company… Two American families struggling to find their place in the new economy.
BARBARA MINER: This deindustrialization, the growing disparity didn't happen as some sort of natural event, like the rain falling from the sky. But it really is the result of policy decisions.
BARBARA GARSON: Not only have we abandoned Americans as workers, we are now abandoning them as consumers.
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BILL MOYERS: Welcome. Twenty-two years ago, we began to document the story of two working families in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, families whose breadwinners had lost good-paying factory jobs.
Little did we know when we began in 1991 that this would become the defining story of our times. There was hardly anything more American than the belief that if you work hard, you will be able to make a living and build a better life for yourself and your children. But these two families, the Stanleys and the Neumanns, like millions of others who thought they were pursuing the American Dream, discovered that something had gone terribly wrong. Even as they found other jobs, went through re-training, worked any time and overtime, they were on a downward slope, working harder and longer than ever for less pay and fewer benefits.
Yet, they fought courageously to hold on to their homes, school their kids, and keep from sliding into poverty. Over the years, we have followed their struggle and told their stories in a series of documentaries. Beginning Tuesday, July 9th, on air and online, you can see the newest chapter, a report for the PBS series FRONTLINE titled “Two American Families.”
Right now, in this broadcast, I want to introduce you to the Neumann and Stanley families as we first met them. Then we’ll talk with the authors of two important books about how the changing American economy is affecting everyday people. First, here’s the excerpt from the last installment of the story, as told in the year 2000.
TERRY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: Tony and I have known each other since we were probably about two years old. His mother and my mother went to school together at Pulaski High School and our grandparents, when our parents were younger, you know, they played cards, so they were pretty good friends.
I don't know, we just started seeing each other, you know, spending a lot of time at each other's houses and he just asked me out, so I said okay.
We were crazy about each other. We had to spend a lot of time together.
You know, and I could just picture myself spending the rest of my life with him.
And our expectations were, I thought, you know, you find the man that you like and get married and have a family, and get a house, a little white picket fence, you know, all those little fairy tale type things. Some of it came true, but some of it as far as the bumpy roads, I didn’t expect either, you know, I knew they weren’t going to be all peaches and cream but, you don’t think of all the bad things when you’re younger.
BILL MOYERS in Surviving the Good Times: In the summer of 1991, we came to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to examine wrenching changes in the American economy.
RADIO ANNOUNCER in Surviving the Good Times: …the blue-collars have to adjust to the global economy that is now facing us all.
BILL MOYERS in Surviving the Good Times: The old line industrial jobs, with their salaries, benefits, and pension plans, were disappearing.
We reported on two families who were living through these changes.
TERRY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: Adam, you going to take a turn?
BILL MOYERS in Surviving the Good Times: The Neumanns were trying to make ends meet after Tony, the father, lost his good paying manufacturing job.
CLAUDE STANLEY in Surviving the Good Times: Oh heavenly father, Lord we ask we ask you to bless this food that we have prepared…
BILL MOYERS in Surviving the Good Times: The Stanleys were also living on the edge after both parents lost their factory jobs.
CLAUDE STANLEY in Surviving the Good Times: I cannot spend what I don't have coming in. I have learned that. I'm spending more and it’s not coming in, and it hurts.
BILL MOYERS in Surviving the Good Times: We began in 1991 with portraits of each family.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
KLAUDALE STANLEY in Surviving the Good Times: Uh, I probably want to be a man of the law.
BILL MOYERS in Surviving the Good Times: And then, over the next 10 years, we returned to document the fortunes of the Stanleys and Neumanns.
RADIO ANNOUNCER in Surviving the Good Times: The nation's unemployment rate rose to 6.5 percent in February, the highest in four years.
BILL MOYERS in Surviving the Good Times: As the country went from recession to recovery…
RADIO ANNOUNCER in Surviving the Good Times: On Wall Street, the Dow stood at 10,006--
BILL MOYERS in Surviving the Good Times: To economic boom, both families would struggle to find their place in the new economy.
TERRY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: Then you need a business card to call mommy up.
JACKIE STANLEY in Surviving the Good Times: Fax it to me.
TV ANNOUNCER in Surviving the Good Times: Years ago, if you wanted a small engine, you got a Briggs and Stratton.
BILL MOYERS in Surviving the Good Times: Manufacturing firms like Briggs and Stratton made Milwaukee, Wisconsin, one of the great industrial cities of the heartland. For years, its assembly lines provided an abundance of jobs.
JACKIE STANLEY in Surviving the Good Times: Depending on which line you're on, by the time the motor gets to you, it's going to be heavy. You pull the gun and press down and you give it all you got, twist it back, hook it and send it on. And if you're seconds, seconds late, you hear somebody down the line yelling, "Motors, motors, what's wrong with you down there."
BILL MOYERS in Surviving the Good Times: Blue collar jobs like these made a good life possible for workers and their families. But factory jobs were melting away. By 1991, Briggs and Stratton alone had eliminated some four thousand in Milwaukee. Among the newly unemployed were Tony Neumann and Jackie Stanley.
JACKIE STANLEY in Surviving the Good Times: When the doors at Briggs closed on us, and they hand us our pink slips, I knew that I’m out here. It’s sink or swim.
BILL MOYERS in Surviving the Good Times: Jackie’s husband Claude had worked for another large manufacturer, AO Smith. His job disappeared too. He found another one waterproofing basements for less than seven dollars an hour.
CLAUDE STANLEY in Surviving the Good Times: You got to look at it on the real side. I cannot live like I was making $20 an hour. Okay that money is not there. So you might as well get it in your mind, it's not there no more. So okay, bring yourself down.
NICOLE STANLEY in Surviving the Good Times: I was young, about fourteen.
BILL MOYERS in Surviving the Good Times: Did it scare you?
The Stanleys have five kids: Nicole, about to enter college when we met her, the oldest son, Keith, the twins Klaudale and Claude Jr., and Omega.
How'd your children take it when you came home and said you'd lost the job over at AO Smith? Or did you tell them?
CLAUDE STANLEY in Surviving the Good Times: Well, I told them. I told them. And they was in private school then.
BILL MOYERS in Surviving the Good Times: They were?
CLAUDE STANLEY in Surviving the Good Times: Yeah. I had to pull them out of private school.
KEITH STANLEY in Surviving the Good Times: I think the hardest time is when you have to worry about coming home, like I say, always coming home and then there's a bill on the door saying the water's cut off. Or there's a, the guy just called saying he's going to cut off the phone. Or the electricity's off. And you have to wait for a couple of days until mom and dad can, get enough money to put it back on.
TERRY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: I was working factory, he was working factory when we were dating. When we got married, we had started a family right away, so he still worked factory and I stayed home. And he made pretty good money when we were first married, you know, for a young couple with one little one on the way.
TERRY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: Grab a couple and crack them in the pan.
I don't know, we had a good time with one child so we had another one and there was Adam, you know. And then I got pregnant with Karissa in '86 and he had lost his job. Then, he got hired at Briggs and then we thought okay, this is a very stable job, you know, we can start saving and we bought the house.
BILL MOYERS in Surviving the Good Times: How much is your mortgage a month?
TERRY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: I believe it's eight--
TONY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: Eight hundred and nineteen.
TERRY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: Yeah, eight twenty or something like that.
BILL MOYERS in Surviving the Good Times: Have you been able to make all the payments?
TERRY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: No, and we're behind. And today, the mortgage company called me again.
BILL MOYERS in Surviving the Good Times: Again?
TERRY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: Yes.
BILL MOYERS in Surviving the Good Times: What did they say?
TERRY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: I didn't answer them right now because I wanted to talk to Tony. And he wasn't home. So, I wanted to talk to him.
BILL MOYERS in Surviving the Good Times: You must dread it when the phone rings.
TERRY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: I do. I cringe.
TONY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: Are you going to call him back?
TERRY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: Am I going to call them back? Yeah, I'm going to have to call him back.
TONY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: Well you talked to him before.
TERRY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: Yeah, I know.
TONY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: And I talked to them before and I didn't care for it and you know what happened.
TERRY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: Yeah.
TONY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: And I told them, I don't care, if they want to foreclose, they can foreclose on, if we don't have the money, we don't have the money. You can't give them money we don't have.
I would prefer you to call them other than me.
TERRY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: Here we go.
TONY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: Mr. Carl is the same guy who I talked to before.
TERRY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: Really?
I did send a thousand dollar check in probably a few weeks back but the check was sent back to me with a letter stating, "We will not accept a partial payment." I don't really think of that as a partial payment. I think of that as a basic payment and a good gesture on trying to get, caught up.
Right now we're going through a hard time. My husband's out of work. He went to school and he's looking for a job. And I'm basically just trying to buy a little time so we can get on our feet again. You know, so we can get caught up. I would think that this is just going to be a temporary thing, not a permanent thing, and I really don't want to lose my house.
Are you just trying to tell me that you have to foreclose on the house, if I don't have that full amount?
You would recommend it.
TONY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: Is he putting this on paper? I want to know. Is he putting this on paper? Dear? Dear?
TERRY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: Would you like to talk to him?
BILL MOYERS in Surviving the Good Times: The Neumann's oldest son, Daniel, was just about to start third grade when we met him.
TERRY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: Daniel was doing very well before Tony was laid off, but with the tensions around the house, he kind of withdrew a little bit.
TONY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: I'm not going to drop it off in no box, and I want a receipt for it.
TERRY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: Children do notice the tension. They do notice these things. They're not stupid. They can hear mom and dad getting upset. It upsets them.
TONY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: Oh.
TERRY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: They've made comments like, "Mom, let's sell the bookshelf."
ADAM NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times:He don’t have no house.
TONY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: Are you sure he didn't come out of one of them houses and hop over that way?
Here and here.
TERRY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: They've got little baseball cards, "Mom, I'll sell these," and that hurts. Because they're willing to sell their baseball cards to help their parents out.
TONY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: Yup, see them raggedy edges? You want them towards the inside so that nobody can see them.
BILL MOYERS in Surviving the Good Times: So, what're you going to do?
TONY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: Keep on trying.
TERRY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: Yeah.
TONY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: You can't stop trying.
BILL MOYERS in Surviving the Good Times: The country was in recession in the summer of '91. A lot of people were on the street, looking for jobs. Unemployment was the highest it had been in years. The political leaders in Washington promised better days ahead.
PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH in Surviving the Good Times: We will get this recession behind us and return to growth soon.
We will get on our way to a new record of expansion and achieve the competitive strength that will carry us into the next American century.
BILL MOYERS in Surviving the Good Times: The president was right about the economy turning around, but there was a hitch. Many of the new jobs were either part-time, or simply didn't pay a living wage.
TONY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: I've applied over at grocery stores, hardware stores, there's--
TERRY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: McDonald's--
TONY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: Hardees--
TERRY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: Kohls,
TONY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: Super America, Pizza Hut, Walmart, Sams. Most of them will not pay six dollars an hour. They're less than six dollars an hour. Little do they know that I need to live also.
Thank you, have a nice day.
BILL MOYERS in Surviving the Good Times: After her layoff, Jackie Stanley began selling real estate on commission.
JACKIE STANLEY in Surviving the Good Times: While I was on the motor line at Briggs, I began to study my real estate. I went ten times for my real estate license. The tenth time, I passed. And I promised that, as soon as Briggs did close the door, I was going to go on and do real estate. And that's exactly what I did.
Hi Joe. This is Jacqueline Stanley from Homestead.
It's just like anything else. It's really unsure.
Okay, I just got in and it says "ASAP."
You only get excited when you're sitting at the closing and have the check in your hand. You never get over exuberant. And I'm learning that every day.
NICOLE STANLEY in Surviving the Good Times: Mom's real estate is tough on her. I've seen her try to wheel and deal deals. They seemed so good and at the last minute they fall apart.
JACKIE STANLEY in Surviving the Good Times: The listing is for September. It's already -
NICOLE STANLEY in Surviving the Good Times: And that falling apart is our mortgage, that falling apart is the car notes. And to someone else it might not seem important, that they decide not to buy the house. But for us, it's a matter of not life and death, but it's a matter of light and gas. And that's scary.
BILL MOYERS in Surviving the Good Times: Workers were told they needed to retrain in order to get good paying jobs. So Tony took courses in pneumatics and hydraulics and passed with perfect scores. But his new skills didn’t yield a new job.
He had to pick up work where he could.
TONY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: It's real frustrating not being able to support my family the way I used to. It's really frustrating. I have a lot of decent qualities that I could use as skills in the labor force but nobody's really willing to give me a chance. And if they are, they're not willing to pay a decent wage for it.
BILL MOYERS in Surviving the Good Times: Are you working?
TERRY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: No, well, I'm doing NuSkin selling.
BILL MOYERS in Surviving the Good Times: What?
TERRY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: NuSkin.
BILL MOYERS in Surviving the Good Times: Oh, the door to door--
TERRY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: It's called NuSkin International for Personal Care Products.
Make it a pretty fan now.
BILL MOYERS in Surviving the Good Times: With thirteen hundred dollars borrowed from a relative, Terry purchased beauty products that she tried to resell door to door.
TERRY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: Then you need a business card to call Mommy up.
BILL MOYERS in Surviving the Good Times: For someone with no sales experience, it was risky. But for Terry it made more sense than taking a full-time job.
TERRY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: You can't afford to work, you know, getting six dollars an hour and expect to pay for child care, you know, a dollar fifty an hour per child. I have three children. So, I says I'm going to have to find something else that I can do. And then when someone introduced me to this business, I decided to say, “Hey, you know, that's worth my while. I can make it,” you know.
KEITH STANLEY in Surviving the Good Times: You talk to your friends, they always say, "Well I'm going doing this this summer. Well how about you?" And you're like, "Well, I'm doing, working." That's all you can say right now is "I'm working."
And they always ask me "Why do you work? Why don't you go out and have fun like the rest of the kids do?" You say, you can't, because you just can't do it. You have to go out there and help your Mom and Dad.
BILL MOYERS in Surviving the Good Times: Keith Stanley, and his twin brothers, Claude Jr. and Klaudale, started a business in '91. They called it the Three Sons Lawn Care Service.
KEITH STANLEY in Surviving the Good Times: On a good week, we can bring in $200. That's big money to us. It's hard work but if you look in the refrigerator and you don't see nothing and you know you got five dollars in your pocket, you might want to go out and get some milk or some eggs or something.
KLAUDALE STANLEY in Surviving the Good Times: I’ve seen my mom on the phone talking to the bill collectors asking them when they would take, the mortgage company when they were about to take our house, she was pleading with the mortgage company. She asked the bill collectors to keep the light and sometimes the gas on and that makes me want to do more, a lot more.
BILL MOYERS in Surviving the Good Times: The Stanley's mostly African-American neighborhood had been traditionally supported by factory jobs. But with those jobs gone, housing values fell and so did real estate commissions.
Jackie wanted to sell in other neighborhoods, but ran into resistance.
JACKIE STANLEY in Surviving the Good Times: It was on the market for a year and didn't sell.
BILL BERLAND in Surviving the Good Times: It's because they didn't have somebody as good as you.
JACKIE STANLEY in Surviving the Good Times: Okay.
BILL BERLAND in Surviving the Good Times: People of color really have a much more difficult time in our business making a living than white people. It may be a situation where she may call for a showing and not get the courtesy of a call back. Maybe her client that she takes in to a mortgage lender has a much more difficult time, even if they're credit is good, getting the mortgage.
JACKIE STANLEY in Surviving the Good Times: All right, fax it to me.
I can't sell suburbs. I can't sell the most affluent areas here. And that hurts. But they'll call me for central city.
WOMAN AT FOOD PANTRY in Surviving the Good Times: You get the peanut butter and the honey. And this is the flour and I'm giving you one pound of butter...
TERRY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: I don't like having to go and ask and say I have no food in the house, can you help me out. Makes me feel very uncomfortable. I'd rather be on the giving side than the receiving.
WOMAN AT FOOD PANTRY in Surviving the Good Times: I don't know if you're going to be using all of these or not, Terry. They have peanut butter, flour. You can take what you like or--
TERRY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: We do a lot of baking and the kids eat a lot of peanut butter.
WOMAN AT FOOD PANTRY in Surviving the Good Times: Then we have some pork here. I understand that if you put it over noodles or rice and maybe add a little onion that it's quite palatable.
NEUMANN FAMILY in Surviving the Good Times: Bless us, oh Lord, and these, thy gifts, which we are about to receive through thy bounty, through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
TONY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: A little bit or a lot?
KARISSA NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: A little bit.
TERRY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: Normally I make good meals, the meat and the vegetables and salads and all the fixings. You know it's not a large amount but they're good well-balanced meals. And now that I can't make well-balanced meals, I mean that's, it gets to the point where you sit there and think, "oh God what am I going to make for dinner tonight?" You know, and it's just emotionally exhausting.
TONY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: I've been getting very angry lately, I've been losing my temper quite a bit.
I've tried doing things, I, ah, work in the garage on woodworking things when I get angry and that helps once in a while. I just, I'm having a hard time dealing with this.
ADAM NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: Dad.
TONY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: What? Pardon? Ten inches, that sounds almost right, but I think it should be about eleven.
TERRY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: A couple times Tony'd get upset and just leave the house and Adam's crying. I mean, he's, he sat there and cried, "How comes my Dad's upset and why did he leave the house?" And I said, "Adam," I said, "Daddy's just having a very hard time right now. He's not working. We'll be OK. We'll find something. We'll find something. We'll work this out." You know, we'll be OK.
CLAUDE STANLEY in Surviving the Good Times: Thank you, hallelujah. Yes lord, we thank you this morning. Lord, we thank you how you provide for us. How you make ways out of no way. Lord, we thank you this morning
BILL MOYERS in Surviving the Good Times: On Sundays Claude Stanley served his church as a lay minister.
CLAUDE STANLEY in Surviving the Good Times: We thank you Lord for your goodness and we thank you for your kindness, Lord.
BILL MOYERS in Surviving the Good Times: The rest of the week he was still on his hands and knees waterproofing basements. By 1993, he had been promoted to foreman, head of the work crew.
CLAUDE STANLEY in Surviving the Good Times: This job your money's cut in half. Factory job you're making 14 dollars an hour, this job you're cutting that in half, you're only making about 7. You might get some bonuses here and there, but incentives ain't that great.
Now I'm putting the longer hours in. You're getting money but it's not that much, but you're getting longer hours. But you know, you get home you're tired.
JACKIE STANLEY in Surviving the Good Times: Yeah.
CLAUDE STANLEY in Surviving the Good Times: Yeah, we tired. And you say, "What the use?"
JACKIE STANLEY in Surviving the Good Times: Why keep struggling?
CLAUDE STANLEY in Surviving the Good Times: Why keep going? But you got to say I'm going to make it, I'm going to, I'm going to make it. That door got to open up somewhere. It's got to open up somewhere.
TONY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: I’m not signing none of this.
BILL MOYERS: We kept up with our two families throughout the decade.
KARISSA NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: More coffee for daddy!
BILL MOYERS: Tony Neumann found a job in a non-union shop making ten dollars an hour working from three in the afternoon until eleven at night. Still behind on the mortgage, he worked exhausting overtime hours and rarely saw the family.
Terry had gone to work for an armored car company, working up to ten hours a day for $9.05 an hour.
TERRY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: It has very good insurance benefits, which my husband doesn't have. He gets more money and less benefits. And I've got less money and better benefits. So, hopefully between the two of us--
TONY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: It kind of works out.
TERRY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: Yeah.
BILL MOYERS: Tony kept working lots of overtime until he collapsed with pneumonia. He missed ten days and pay and the insurance wouldn’t cover all the bills.
TERRY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: Just with the mortgage we got, well, three months behind. And it will take us two years to get to pay that back because they tack on interest and penalty charges and whatever else. You know, so that three months takes two years. That's a long time.
So whatever extra money we have, we send it, because we want to make sure that in the next year we have it paid off so they don't take the house.
BILL MOYERS: Claude Stanley got sick, too, and the medical cost put them $30,000 further in debt.
CLAUDE STANLEY in Surviving the Good Times: It will be rough, you know. It’ll hit us financially but all we do is just, you know, we depend on the Lord to make the way for us, but we ain’t going to stop living, you know. We got to keep moving, keep going.
BILL MOYERS: But going where? The Neumanns and the Stanleys, and thousands like them, were caught in the powerful undertow of a merciless economy and a changing city. Once an industrial power where workers made enough to support their families, Milwaukee now epitomized America’s great divergence, the ever-widening gap between the superrich and everyone else. Poverty and crime filled the space left by disappearing jobs. No one was immune.
TERRY NEUMANN in Surviving the Good Times: I’m taking Adam over to his friend’s house because some kids have been causing some problems and threatening their lives. So I don’t want them walking alone because the minute they get them alone they got a group of kids driving around in vehicles that are stalking them that have threatened to kill them, beat them up, hurt them bad.
BILL MOYERS: And the Stanleys would never forget the urgent call that came one day from Klaudale’s school.
JACKIE STANLEY in Surviving the Good Times: They had called me that Klaudale was going on life support because a child choked my son until he stopped breathing.
KLAUDALE STANLEY in Surviving the Good Times: He came from behind me and started choking me, and had me in some wrestling hold. And so I couldn't breathe. And so I dropped to the ground. And last thing I remember was teachers coming in and praying and...
JACKIE STANLEY in Surviving the Good Times: By the time I had gotten there, they had his chest exposed. And they were telling me that Dale was now, had stopped breathing. That's all they could tell me. They said they can't revive Klaudale. And when I got there, I saw the teacher on her knees praying “hail Mary full of grace,” over my son. All I could say was, “Dale, remember Jesus.”
CLAUDE STANLEY in Surviving the Good Times: You know, you hear about violence and you don't think it's going to hit your kids, you know, then you find out your kids getting choked in school and near death, you know, and you're on your job and you get a phone call saying, "Come quick, your kid is on his way to the hospital." You know, it's like right on your front doorstep now.
BILL MOYERS: We will leave the story of the Stanleys and the Neumanns there for now. You can see what has happened since then in the FRONTLINE report, Two American Families. It begins Tuesday, July 9th, on air and on line.
Milwaukee, sadly, has become a national symbol of joblessness, decline, and racial disparity. Believe it or not, it is the most segregated metropolitan region in the country. In 1970, 85 percent of the African-American males there were employed. Now fewer than half are. And the city’s public schools have been forsaken by the power-brokers in favor of vouchers for private and religious education.
Barbara Miner has been following the decline of her home town for nearly forty years. Earlier this year, the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin presented her its lifetime achievement award for, quote, “her tireless fight in support of public schools.” Her newest book, Lessons from the Heartland, received the Studs and Ida Terkel Award from the publisher, “New Press.”
Playwright and author Barbara Garson has published a series of books about the changing lives of working Americans and the human price of inequality. Her latest, just published, is this one, Down the Up Escalator: How the 99 Percent Live in the Great Recession.
Welcome to you both.
BARBARA MINER: Thank you.
BILL MOYERS: What struck me as we were reporting over almost 20 years, is that the two families in that film did play by the book. The American dream storybook. And yet, it hasn't worked for them. What does their experience say about the American reality today?
BARBARA MINER: Well, I think part of what their experience shows is a fundamental lack of collective responsibility. Because everything was put on these individuals to get ahead. And we've sort of lost that sense of we're all in this together. I mean, in Milwaukee, Milwaukee the city is devastated in many ways. But the metropolitan region is not.
The amount of federal funding and state funding has just consistently, year after year after year, decreased in terms of any sort of, you know, state or federal aid to the city. And yet, it remains these sort of cultural life blood. You know, you have people driving in from the suburbs, you know, to go to the opera, to go to the ballet, to go to the symphony.
But they come in on the expressway, and then they leave and go back to their homes. We have the city of Milwaukee that has some of the highest poverty in the country. And counties just to the west of Milwaukee that have some of the most affluent in the country. So what you see in Milwaukee is that microcosm of just heartbreaking disparity.
BILL MOYERS: That's what I've found about the country in your book, “Down the Up Escalator.” That their capitalism today has enabled the people at the top to get fabulously wealthy. But the vast majority of the 99 percent are just still struggling. Is Milwaukee a microcosm of the country?
BARBARA GARSON: Yes. But particularly, Milwaukee has lost so much industry, but it's a microcosm in the sense that what we thought was an industrial problem. Remember, we were told in the '80s, if you prepare for a data-manipulating future--
BILL MOYERS: Right.
BARBARA GARSON: You know, "Oh, well, there's a few of these dinosaur working-class people, we may not be able to replace them, we may have to just give them charity. But the rest of us are going to move ahead in a post-industrial society." But everything that you showed in Milwaukee is happening to white collar and even professional jobs. I've talked to people, remember my little pink slip club for New Yorkers who found out through their church that they were all unemployed. An insurance adjuster, someone who did graphics for textbooks, an editor on a trade journal. And what was interesting to me, I followed them for about a year and a half, they're all still unemployed except for small, part-time jobs. But not only won't they get the jobs back again, but the jobs won’t be the same. Namely, the person who worked full time for the publishing company that was putting out the textbooks, his replacements will be entrepreneurs, if you like.
In other words, people like him and maybe including him, that the company calls in and gives a few hours work here and a few hours work here for just the moments that they're needed with no benefits. So it's white collared and professional jobs are being downgraded just the way the blue-collar jobs were in Milwaukee. And that means not only lower pay, of course, but the same insecurity.
BARBARA MINER: And in Milwaukee sometimes it's almost like a perfect storm of problems. You have the deindustrialization.
BILL MOYERS: Which means the jobs are being shipped abroad?
BARBARA MINER: The jobs are gone. Right. Family-sustaining jobs, that in the '50s made Milwaukee the machine shop of the world, you know, it's now, what, this creaking cog in the rust belt. So we have deindustrialization, which tore out the economic heart. When I look at Milwaukee, there's this, always sort of, a confluence of issues. And at a certain era, certain issues may dominate.
For example, in the 1960s, our most sustained civil rights protest were around open housing and opposing housing discrimination. But there's also jobs. Or what I considered jobs, housing, and schools, as the three essential issues in Milwaukee that at one point or another they all worked together to either sort of lessen inequality or sort of bolster that inequality.
BILL MOYERS: Your book introduces us to people you've been following in your own work. Tell my viewers briefly about Chuck and Michael, father--
BARBARA GARSON: Oh yes.
BILL MOYERS: --and son in Evansville, Indiana.
BARBARA GARSON: Well they represent what's happened to work over the last 40 years. The son looks at the father and he's lived with him all these years, and he says, "My dad is such a right-on guy." He always describes him as Republican and religious and right on. He looks at his father and he says, "I'm not going to work that way, the way my father did." And he describes that his father is now five years from retirement, and the company has put him on the night shift. And he's working ten hours, 12 hours, 14 hours, because as a manager, he doesn't get extra pay. Now, he knows they're not being good to him.
But he doesn't think like the kid. "They've done this to me and they're doing this to everybody." He says about his home that's underwater, "Well, you know, some people buy a house and sell it and make money. That wasn't us." The son, looking at his father, describing his life, gave me the title for my book, “Down the Up Escalator.” He described the struggle to stay in the same place. The son lives like a hippie. He is--
BILL MOYERS: The new hippies, you call them the new hippies.
BARBARA GARSON: Right.
BILL MOYERS: They're just not investing in the work the way his father did.
BARBARA GARSON: Oh, he's not going to struggle that way for a nonexistent job, for a company that will not take care of him in his old age. And they're a little different than us as hippies, though. We dropped out consciously. And we could drop back in very easily. If we gave up all together, we could always get a little job anywhere for a little money that we needed to travel to another city or something. These kids, for those what we called nothing kind of jobs, they actually have to put in tens-- they were talking with each other, "How many applications you put in for a pizza parlor job?" "Well, 50, 100." You put them in, you don't get an answer unless they need you, they don't tell you the job is filled. So those little jobs that we could always take if we needed, they are the real jobs that they would have to struggle for. And they're not going to struggle.
BILL MOYERS: Your book, Barbara Garson, nails down the facts. Since the 1970s, real hourly wages have stagnated. Yet between 1971 and 2007, productivity increased by 99 percent while hourly wages rose by only four percent. Four percent over 36 years. In other words, workers were producing more, their productivity actually rose, you say, 25 times more than their pay. And now, over half of every new dollar, 58 cents of every new dollar, income generated, went to the top one percent. What does that tell us about the direction of the country?
BARBARA GARSON: Well, actually those are the statistics that caused this recession. I mean, if people are producing 100 percent more and they're getting paid the same amount, they don't have the money to buy back what they've produced. And this is what we call a consumer economy. It doesn't mean-- it's not castigating us for what we buy or don't buy. It just means we sell 70 percent of what we produce to each other. Now if productivity is up and wages are the same, the owners of the companies are making more and more money.
It's not just that they have money to spend, they put the money in the bank, in the brokerage accounts and expect to invest them. Meanwhile, this 99 percent hasn’t got money to spend on all that it's produced. So it's as if their employers turned around and said to them, "Well, instead of paying you more, I'll lend you the money to buy what you produce." Now that is a pretty silly idea. Actually, bankers are not stupider than the rest of us.
They may not be smarter, but they're not stupider. But they had this money accumulating, accumulating till it's an enormous pressure. A bank can't keep its money in the bank. It had to lend it. So it started lending to people who can't pay back. I mean, if you don't have $10 this year, how you going to pay back $15 next year with interest if your wages aren't going up?
Still they lent the money to buy cars, they lent the money to buy houses. But you can't keep lending people money if they don't have a raising income or any way of paying it back. And that's going on again.
BILL MOYERS: It's going on in Milwaukee as you saw from the two families, they take on a lot of debt. They work two jobs. Their children are alone at home. Does that resonate with you, what you know about the people you see out there?
BARBARA MINER: Well, actually, one of the things that struck me about the documentary, particularly with the African American family is by Milwaukee standards, they are doing so amazingly well.
BILL MOYERS: What do you mean by Milwaukee standards? Be a little more specific for us.
BARBARA MINER: Okay. One in eight African American men of working age in Wisconsin, which is basically Milwaukee, is in jail. Fifty percent of African American men of working age do not have a job. The statistics about high school dropouts, the statistics about violence, crime, incarceration, those-- the Stanleys, they had a stable family, they were able to get their kids through schools, their kids did not end up in jail. As tragic as the story of that family, it's almost like it was a sort of a proud moment of a success story.
BILL MOYERS: So what does it mean to a community when half of the black men who are of the right age have no work? What does it mean practically?
BARBARA MINER: Well, first of all, you can look at some of the reasons why they don't have jobs. Part of the thing is, the job creation, by and large, is not in the city of Milwaukee right now. It's in the suburban areas. So if you don't have a car and there's a significant portion of people in Milwaukee who don't have a valid driver's license or don't have a car, there's no way to get to those jobs.
And you have a public education system that is being abandoned. And education is a way forward. You have incarceration, you have a declining investment in public infrastructure. So you have, again, this perfect storm where it's like, you're in the city of Milwaukee, you're an African American man, and it's almost like you see the jobs of the promised land in the suburbs, but you can't get there.
BILL MOYERS: You noticed that Keith Stanley got a job with the city.
BARBARA MINER: Exactly. And that what was so heartbreaking about the attack on the public sector by the Republican governor and legislature in Wisconsin--
BILL MOYERS: Governor Scott Walker.
BARBARA MINER: Governor Scott Walker, yeah, we'll put a name to it, Governor Scott Walker. Because, you know, after the industrialization, the public sector was one of the avenues for a middle-class life, for the African American community in Milwaukee. I mean, and you look at the percentages of African Americans employed in the city, the county, the schools.
And it wasn't just, you know, wages and stability, but they had health insurance. And so when the attack came down on the public sector, it was like, "What else are you going to take away from us? You know, we've got so little left.”
BILL MOYERS: As you make clear in “Down the Up Escalator” and in much else that you've done, much of this inequality was engineered, politically engineered. It came about because the power of money to write the laws and purchase the policies that the wealthy want.
BARBARA GARSON: The first book I wrote was-- I had a chapter at the Lordstown assembly line plant.
BILL MOYERS: Where?
BARBARA GARSON: In Southern Ohio. And at that plant, they had brought young people in because they had created the most fast assembly line in the world, 101 cars an hour.
BILL MOYERS: Right.
BARBARA GARSON: And they thought they could get young people to work faster than they could get older people to work, and also not complain the way UAW members of an older vintage would. But these young people actually went on strike about the speed of the line. And when I went down there, auto workers were talking about humanizing the job. Some said, "We ought to work even faster and have it more automated because then we can have more leisure."
They knew that productivity was increasing and they-- we thought it was ours to decide what we're going to do with all this wealth we were creating. But sometime in the '70s, someone else looked in and said, "Enough of this. We're going to do something about it." And they started by moving a lot of the jobs overseas, And it seems like bringing down wages has been so systematic over the last 40 years, and that's why I sort of sometimes ask, "Where were we when this happened?"
BARBARA MINER: This deindustrialization, the growing disparity didn't happen as some sort of natural event, like the rain falling from the sky. But it really is the result of policy decisions. So we have this, sort of, well just make the right choices. Just go start your own business. Just, you know, you know, use your, you know, boot straps and bring yourself up." That has not been proven to work.
BILL MOYERS: What are some of the possible solutions to this great inequality? To this growing joblessness? To the fact that, you know, the poorest 47 percent of America, almost half, have no wealth?
BARBARA GARSON: We have to raise wages.
BARBARA MINER: Yes.
BARBARA GARSON: Now, to say it is not to do it. Because 40 years of concentrated efforts have gone on to lowering wages, whether it was breaking unions or creating laws that allowed you to make more money overseas than you might have otherwise. Pay no taxes, et cetera.
So we just have to raise wages. Not only for the sake of the people who are getting the low wages, but as I tried to indicate, if we don't raise wages, we're well on our way to the next debt crisis. But as Barbara says, to do that, we obviously have to do it collectively. I mean, if I knew--
BILL MOYERS: You mean politically? When you say--
BARBARA GARSON: Well, yes, yes--
BILL MOYERS: --collectively, you're talking about—
BARBARA MINER: Democratically, politically, collectively.
BARBARA GARSON: The money is too concentrated. We've got to take it back. And divide it out again differently.
BARBARA MINER: Well, it's interesting because in Wisconsin, we see sort of two futures. And I think at the one hand, improve wages, and very specifically raise the minimum wage. I mean, we can't tell a private industry, you know, "You can't pass a law that says, 'Private industry must pay blah, blah, blah.'" But you can say, "The minimum wage should be raised to X." And within the city of Milwaukee, we've had different movements over the years for city contracts that would have family-sustaining wages, which would be higher than the minimum wage.
So there are different political collective decisions in terms of wages. But I also think it's really important, and one of the lessons from Wisconsin is to defend what we have. Because sometimes in Milwaukee, it's sort of like, "Well, it's so bad, it can't get worse." And you go, "Well, yeah, actually it could get worse."
And so when I see public education being abandoned, I mean, public education is a fundamental democratic public institution. I mean, it is written into the Wisconsin State Constitution, that children have the right to a free, public education. I mean, I wish there were democratic-- there were constitutional right to jobs and healthcare and all-- there's not. But there is a constitutional right to public education in Wisconsin. And that institution is being abandoned.
BILL MOYERS: What brought that about?
BARBARA MINER: Part of it was -- it is complicated -- part of it was we're the home of the Bradley Foundation, and that foundation put a lot of money into making Wisconsin sort of a guinea pig, for lack of a better term, for both welfare reform and vouchers, which are basically public tax dollars going to private schools. That's one reason. You know, another reason is when institutions are allowed to deteriorate, public support drops. And so there was a lot of dissatisfaction with the public schools. And this was seen as, "Well, the public schools are pretty bad, it can't get worse, so let's give it a try." Even though some of the people behind that movement had a much broader agenda.
So there's no easy explanation for the political dynamics, although it was at a time again, when the Republicans were in control of the state legislature. So it's very much a Republican, fundamentally, a Republican-initiative that's part of a broader agenda, I believe, of lack of support for the common good.
BILL MOYERS: Is Governor Scott Walker--
BARBARA GARSON: Common good, oh, that's such wonderful word to hear--
BILL MOYERS: What do you mean by it?
BARBARA GARSON: Talking about the whole country in some way. You know what's very strange to me now? I mean, we would-- if we were fighting for wages, we would be also fighting to restore the whole country to economic health. And it's very odd to me in the '60s, it used to seem that the left wing were the people who said, "Ah, imperialism is doomed." And they were anti-American, you know, because being named anti-war. And now it seems as though wealthy people do know that Keynesianism works, that you do have to redistribute money from time to time.
BILL MOYERS: To stimulate the economy.
BARBARA GARSON: Right. But I didn't think I'd have to teach that. I'm a socialist, not a Keynesian, you know? But they do know it. But they seem as if they've come to a point of saying, "Take the money and run. This economy isn't going to recover. This country is second rate. Let's us take our money, put it overseas."
Not only have we abandoned Americans as workers, we are now abandoning them as consumers. "They can't re-stimulate a consumerist economy, we'll sell in China." And, you know, if you're not a worker, and you're not a consumer, and you don't have an income from investments, if your capitalist class can't use you in some way you're not a worker, you're not a consumer, you're kind of a nothing. And most of us are struggling just not to fall into that completely nothing condition.
BILL MOYERS: Like the Neumann and the Stanleys.
BARBARA GARSON: Right.
BILL MOYERS: But a recent survey by the Pew Research Center finds that the majority of Americans are increasingly worried about inequality between, you know, the gap between the rich and the poor. But they're hesitant for the government to do anything about it.
BARBARA GARSON: Well, I mean, we've watched the government over 40 years do something about it, namely increase the inequality. Why we don't think our government is our government, that's what it reflects.
BARBARA MINER: This is an area where racial politics are essential to bring into the discussion. You know, there is no easy answers. But I mean, I think Reagan was clearly the master of using race and the Chicago welfare queen to really divide people who otherwise would be united, should be united.
And so it's become easy to appeal to sort of white workers to say, "Well, you're not getting ahead because the blacks are getting all those-- you know, those freeloading poor people are getting all these benefits." Or now in Wisconsin, "Well, you know, these public sector workers are taking all your money and, you know, earning, you know, living high on the hog."
So I think understanding and, as uncomfortable as it often is, forthrightly looking at the racial dynamics of these, you know, these complicated questions is really important. Because race is used to divide and to blame and to scapegoat.
BARBARA GARSON: I just thought of another thing that made that documentary really work, because it showed the wear and tear not so much of lack of wealth, but insecurity. The problems of coping all the time. Because that's what I noticed. The poor Americans that I wanted to show didn't look like Walker Evans photographs. They were sitting in front of the television--
BILL MOYERS: The famous Depression photograph--
BARBARA GARSON: Yeah. They were sitting in front of the television—they're eating. There is a kind of wealth, I'm not saying no one is starving, unfortunately that's the next step, or that's on the increase. But there is a kind of wealth. But when I saw in your documentary the actual worry over whether it was $100 or $1,000, "How am I going to pay the next week and who am I going to not pay?"
And I noticed something else, which was when the family has no extra money, when they can only-- when there's no disposable income, when they're not trying to decide, "Should we buy a boat, should we buy a car, should we go buy a vacation?" But it's only, "Who should I put off paying and who should I pay," it always falls back on the women.
BILL MOYERS: You prompt me to ask you about a recent story from “ThinkProgress.” Four in ten mothers are either the sole or primary source of income for their families, according to Pew Research. And yet the trend is not necessarily due to women making more than their husbands. Nearly two-thirds of this group of women workers are single mothers and just 37 percent are married and have a higher income than their spouses. What does it mean that increasingly families are depending upon the income of a single mother for their support?
BARBARA MINER: You know, that is one of the disturbing things about the attack on some of the public sectors in Wisconsin because a lot of it's teachers. And as everyone knows, teachers are primarily women. So some of the sort of gender and racial implications of the public sector and, you know, teachers are now sort of, I guess teachers are to blame for-- they're the new scapegoat for everything that's wrong with education. And you're really talking about women, by and large.
BARBARA GARSON: When the recession started, the first, at the very beginning, the unemployed were primarily men. I mean, well, at least statistically, somewhat more men. But then as it went on, it began to bem with the attack on education, and even when there wasn't an attack, these states just not having enough money to hire people. It begun to be women.
And as I often saw when you go to very poor countries overseas, you also see it. That when you're basically reduced to the level of scrounging, then it becomes a women's job. So for instance, when I was in Evansville, I was looking for a particular individual, a man who had stayed in a welfare center with his two little girls.
And I was going to these different homeless shelters run by churches. And they said, "Well, our base population is the same." But they said, "Now lots and lots of women are coming in with their children to use our Laundromats and to get a meal." So it said to me that when things really hit rock bottom, it was a women who had to scrounge around and figure out how to live in a very minimal situation.
BARBARA MINER: And then when-- the story you note there that, you know, women are increasingly, you know, raising the families, being the primary breadwinners, I think it also raises the issue, you know, all the reasons why are complicated. But it underscores the absolute importance of insuring that women's wages are on par with men's wages.
And that certain professions that are, you know, that women, you know, whether it's nursing or teaching, that they're not seen as somehow substandard professions, that are not worthy of decent pay.
BILL MOYERS: We'll leave it there for now. Barbara Miner, Lessons from the Heartland. Barbara Garson, Down the Up Escalator. Thank you both for being with me.
BARBARA MINER: Thank you, Bill.
BARBARA GARSON: Thank you.
BILL MOYERS: One more reminder: you can see the FRONTLINE report, Two American Families on air and on line, beginning Tuesday, July 9th. At our website, BillMoyers.com, on July 10th, you’ll have a chance to talk with the filmmakers Tom Casciato and Kathleen Hughes in a live web chat.
That’s at BillMoyers.com. I’ll see you there and I’ll see you here, next time.