« Criminalizing Christianity | Main | Corporate Life: The Novel »

March 27, 2006


Eileen Flanagan

I have a cousin who has spent most of her career working for large corporations. I remember several years ago the struggle she went through when her employer asked her to do their dirty work, sending her around the country to announce lay offs and inform the employees. It's the only time I can remember her putting on extra weight, which seemed symbolic of the emotional burden she was carrying until she was able to find another job herself. Thanks for your research.


I am working two jobs currently, both "disposable" types: I'm an adjunct instructor at a community college, working only when there is sufficient enrollment, with no benefits. I'm also a seasonal employee with the local Parks and Recreation Department, making $8.40/hour for up to 20 hours a week. Extremely variable hours.

I probably won't work at all during August. I'm looking at putting in a VERY large garden this year, because we may well be eating out of it for most of the summer and fall.

My husband lost his medical benefits a year ago, when the small business he works for discontinued those benefits for all employees. We now pay MORE for medical coverage for three people than we do for all housing costs combined: mortgage, home insurance, utilities.

For this I got a master's degree?


What about the disposable start up company? It's not just people any more.
My husband's company lasted 18 months before the venture capitalists decided that it was just a money pit. The product they wanted would have taken five years to get into production. They couldn't wait that long.
From our viewpoint, the good thing about this job was that it provided medical and dental coverage plus credits for eyeglasses. We made sure we got all our diagnostics (mammogram for me, colonoscopies for both of us), new glasses, dental work we had been putting off, etc. Now we have Kaiser.
I'm retired, and my husband is consulting. Actually, we are well off, but many of the people my husband worked with are in their 40's and have years of work ahead of them. Already, some spouses are doing dreadful work just to meet expenses.


This will seem rather dreadful but follow this thought pattern. The baby boom has created an over supply of qualified workers who are, understandably, disappointed at diminished opportunities. As a government, as a people, how do you deal with it? One way is to offer hope, employment retraining, job coaching, which for the most part bilks you out of money you don't have. In reality there are no jobs, only hope, a hollow faith perhaps. Another way is to deny health care, shorten people's life span. If they are not productive, why keep them around? The response of course is that by merely subsiding it costs people to live, and someone profits from it. But at a certain point, people become a liability. For example, this is understood in China, who by restricting their population growth in draconian fashion, provide the insight that a life not lived is a life they don't have to lift out of poverty. Makes the stats look good as it were. In America, we have too many aging baby boomers with talent we can't use or won't, for whatever reason. Sadly, these people, and I fear there are many, will not live the rest of their lives in a way they would have wished.

Laure Miller

Job retraining is a viable option. I left communications to become a college tutor, making a little bit more money. My husband left electronics to become a gardener - and gets more money. My best friend left security to become a nurse, again, earning more money than before.

Job coaching, in my humble opinion, is nothing more than a bucket of tripe.


Hi. I was reading you book Nickel and Dimed for my class.
I thought you did a great job reporting on the conditions that the min. wage people were living in. However, I thought you made the book seem like you were a victim and trying to garner the reader's sympathy for yourself. You could have focused more on the workers and their situation instead. In the end you knew that you would return to your comfortable lifestyle. Plus, you probably made a fortune with your book.


Hoosier Nan, I am also a disposable adjunct. I will make more money by going back to grad school for a Ph.D. than by teaching a 3/4 load. I also will get minimal health coverage.

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to work all year due to a medical problem. I went to a ghetto health clinic where a nurse practitioner dispensed a temporary solution. I need surgery. I'm terrified that I'm harboring cancer and have no way to treat it should that be the case.

I've tried finding freelance work but (so far) no luck. I changed careers ten years ago, which cut into both my burgeoning freelance clientele and my overall wealth.

I used to have the house, the 401(k), the whole bit. Now my partner and I live with my aging parents. She is a naturalized U.S. citizen whose credentials were devalued and is doing work for which she is extremely overqualified. She feels deeply betrayed by this country, as do I.

I hope to God that I might possibly get a full-time teaching job in a few more years. I know such jobs are almost nonexistent in my field. We both have chronic health problems and are well into middle age.

We are giving very serious thought to moving abroad--not in the "ugly American," live-like-a- king-while-paying-your-maid- $3-a-week fashion, but to an area where education is valued and teachers/ professors are paid in both respect and living wages. We are at our wit's end and have no idea what else to do.


The suggestion that annual reports be further cluttered with information that does not convey useful information for investors to determine the worth and direction of the company shows the bias of the Times reporter.

Companies don't seem to mind reporting layoffs, it makes the news every day. Usually, it makes investors salivate at the prospect of reduced future obligations for pensions and healthcare and increased productivity of the remaining staff. So I doubt the reporting would have the effect the writer envisions and would instead be another bit of clutter that companies could manipulate to make themselves look good.

Perhaps the next project for that Times reporter could be to explore why with all these layoffs, the unemployment rate keeps dropping relative to our other post-industrial competitors.

Or perhaps the reporter could go interview workers at start-up and growing companies to find out where they all came from and maybe explore whether the start-ups and the growth companies could find a work-force without the available highly skilled workers previously laid off from other companies at or beyond their peak.

See, these issues are not so simple as "lay-offs bad lifetime employment good". And they deserve treatment by folks without agendas. I wonder if the Times has any people like that on their staff?


I'm sure there are many with stories about those struggling financially due to layoffs, lower wages, insurance premiums, health care costs.

How can we band together, and speak with a loud enough voice that the government and business world are forced to seriously work on these issues?

This book and those that
Barbara Erhenreich have written get some discussion going, and that is great. Thank you for your work.


People are being laid off right and left on the Big Island of Hawaii, while the official word is that unemployment is so low that it isn't even worth talking about.
A company bought out a hotel and resort on the Hilo Bayfront that were staffed by ILWU members. The fired everyone and re-hired a few. They refused to reinstate the union on the basis that they did not have enough members working for the facility any more! Just to be insulting, the new ownership also blamed the workers for the bad shape the resort was in, when in fact the previous owners had let it go to hell!
The new owner has two other properties that he is combining with this one in his plan to design a mass tourism facility, one of those deals where you funnel people in and control every aspect of their experience here.
A related development is that one journalist and some other workers have been fired from the local daily newspaper and another suspended for "not being productive." The journalists, members of the Hawaii Newspaper Guild, state that they were fired for union activity and for defending others who were fired. Both our daily newspapers on the Island are owned by a Las Vegas outfit, and there is a weekly column touting Las Vegas as a great place to go. Local news is barely covered.
I'm sure all these unemployed people will enjoy abandoning their middle class status as they switch to the great jobs they can get in the new tourist and terrorist oriented economy. How about security guard for $7.00 an hour in various locations at irregular hours? In a place where there is no public transportation worth speaking of? They will have a chance to lead a life of danger and adventure on our poorly maintained roads as the drive to their various job sites.
In short, we're being treated like a banana republic here. The final straw will be legalized gambling. Hawaii and Utah are the only states that don't have it, but how long we can hold out against the desire of profiteers to profit I don't know.


In response to Sandra - you make several excellent points. Another avenue you might want to explore is her complaint against drug testing; although she knows she'll have to be tested (or likely will be tested...its been a year or so since I last read the book), she suggests that she participated in recreational drug use, and goes on to lionize detox...

Hattie, wouldn't people have to staff the casinos?

Can't the suspended journalists, in response, perhaps report the news on their personal websites, or maybe form a collective media group - surely, if access to real, local news is demanded, people such as yourself would be willing to buy an independently compiled journal...And if bookstores don't want to sell it, they could always go the newsboy route and sell it on street corners.
At any rate, it sounds like you're describing a great market for alternative journalism...


You make it all sound like such fun, Victoria.

Displaced Homemaker

I have bought into the "gotta retrain motif". I stopped working five years ago to take care of my children. Now, it is time to go back and I discovered my 20 years of experience doesn't fit anywhere. Inspite of the fact that there are not enough high paying jobs, I hope I beat the trend and find one.

In the mean time, I'm doing temporary clerical work.


The American attitude Enrenreich and Uchitelle discuss in which those fired tend to place much of the blame on themselves is in evidence in some of the comments here, that "Quit whining! Get over it! It's just the way it is! The economy and the excess of baby-boomers require that a lot of people have to live miserably and die early! Just accept it like a rugged individualist and sell papers on the street corner! You know computers have expanded your job options so be quiet!" Ad nauseum. It's a revolting attitude, American in origin, not accepted in much of the rest of the world (look at France and much of Latin America), and with a history in US corporate strategy. There are two excellent books I know of that trace the history of this blame-the-victim attitude: "Taking the Risk Out of Democracy: Corporate Propaganda Versus Freedom and Liberty" by Alex Carey, and "Selling Free Enterprise: The Business Assault on Labor and Liberalism 1945-1960" by Elizabeth Fones-Wolf. Both books explore early to mid-20th century US corporate strategies to turn legitimate employee grievances against their employers inward, to make employees start blaming themselves for what employers do to them. A book that explores a connection between the 1980s-90s "get-tough-on-employees" cruelty mentioned in this interview and workplace violence is "Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion from Reagan's Workplaces to Clinton's Columbine and Beyond." Many countries in the world just do not accept these kinds of hateful Spencerian attitudes. I have a friend who was fired along with several others from a government social service that was being privatized. Those fired were those with the most seniority and most competence. Hired in their place were fewer people, all fresh out of college, all right-wingers who believed that poor people fake many of their problems in order to rip other people off. As if that wasn't enough, the privatized/contracting-out aspect was, as always, far less efficient and hurt the needy families the agency once helped. My friend moved to Asia and loves having an ocean between herself and the hateful US. She especially loves living in a society where social services are valued and where it is realized that everything doesn't boil down to money and business cycles.


Forgot to mention that the "Going Postal" book is by Mark Ames.


What is even more disturbing is the attitudes held by the more fortunate towards the poor and the once-middle-class-now downwardly-mobile.

The attitude is that the poor and those down on their luck simply don't deserve to be able to live. I have had people (mostly well-off non-disabled white males) tell me that it's my fault I was poor and without access to health and dental care (causing me to lose over half of my teeth) from 1991 until 2005 because having a learning disability makes me "less smart" than others and therefore undeserving of anything.

It is my fault an uninsured driver ran a red light hitting me, leaving me physically disabled and taking me out from the good paying job I DID have that as a learning-disabled woman I could do, support myself with, pay taxes with and contribute to society on - my fault. I should have not gotten out of bed that morning to drive to work -then I wouldn't have ended up physically disabled, poor and unable to earn a living to support myself. This is somehow all my fault.

It is my own fault for having a disability which had served to keep me excluded from decent jobs - even after struggling in overcoming the learning disability to get the college degree in the marketable field that the "experts" told me to do. The fact I did what I was told by these paid professionals, these "experts" employed in our local state job placement agencies - is my fault for being stupid enough to trust them and believe them. How stupid for me to believe and listen to the advice of the paid experts whose job it was to retrain me and place me in a new career! (Gee, I guess if we all listen to the doctors and our health still turns to crap, that's our fault, too.)
Had I not bothered trying at all after becoming physically disabled in that car accident at age 24 back in 1991, and simply given up on trying to get my education because of the learning disability that is somehow my fault (yeah, like I chose to be born with that!) then I'd be undeserving of being able to live because of " being a lazy ass with her hand out with no work ethic".

You would be surprised (well, maybe not) at the pathologically cruel, selfish attitudes held by the "haves" and "have-mores" towards the have-nots. No matter what causes you to become poor, it is all your own fault and you are just undeserving of being able to live - this is the values and attitudes of the more fortunate.

I wouldn't be surprised if it is also my fault for failing to choose the "right" parents so I wouldn't have been born w/ a learning disability or poor. I might be dyslexic, but I am not stupid. I know that any society that says those who are less smart, disabled, old, unemployed or under-employed, or otherwise disadvantaged are undeserving of a fair chance and undeserving of being able to live is a society of psychopaths whose minds and personal values are polluted w/ greed and a warped value system that rewards those who get what they want at the expense of everybody else regardless of who they have to step on and hurt in the process.

After not getting any chances for any good jobs after struggling to do "all the right things" depsite being handicapped, I was further told that not getting a fair chance for a good job was all my fault - for being out of the workforce for the time I was due to both the physical disability and the learning disability. I was also told that it is my fault that I am no longer young and that the employers only want to hire 23 year olds right out of college. Yep, getting older is my fault and also makes me "unworthy". After getting a $3600 settlement I was owed from the $25K I was owed, I tried to start my own business - without access to credit, and with hardly any money. That business is selling auto insurance. Nobody would give me a chance so I tried the best I could with what I had to create my own job opportunity to hopefully make enough money to be able to live after 4 years of pounding the pavements trying to get a job - to no avail.

My name finally came up on the civil service list and i was called for an interview at which I was insulted and berated and denied a fair and equal opportunity at the get-go by the interviewer who could barely speak English (he was Indian). I was told " Oh, I see you're self-employed. That mean you can't handle job in office with supervisor and co-workers." Now, if everything I had to struggle so hard to overcome in order to be "worthy" of a chance for a good job, if resorting to "creating my own job" after no one would give me a chance doesn't say something about the fact I have tremendous work ethic and am certainly just as deserving of a good job as the lucky people who got theirs, then I don't know what does. Just my 2 cents.

Jerry Rybarczyk

Just finished "The Disposable American." My theory is that this is the beginning of the end of Capitolism. Over time, Capitlism is become it's own worst ememy, as does every different society ever established.

Forler Massnick

Your opinion please.I'm considering writing a book on how laid off employees can start a new business utilizing the plants, employees, equipment, and capital of the company that laid them off. I know of several situations in which this was accomplished successfuly. The book is intended to be a follow up to Louis Uchetelle's The Disposable American. I am a published author having written The Customer is CEO published by AMACOM

Terry Vermeylen

There has got to be a revolution in the work place. The hierarchical structure that most corporations maintain is from the 1930's and doesn’t truly inspire creativity, openness and trust. Everyone in America should read the book - Maverick : The Success Story Behind the World's Most Unusual Workplace

Please let's dismantle that structure and while we are doing that, how about a four-day work week - and we spend time working with our community the fifth day?

bert shlensky

it is onteresting that only now are we thinking about the negative impacts of layoffs. While necessary to compete in a slow growth economy, the impact on loyalty, motivation and security are unnderestimated . Unforunately the solutions are not readily apparent when a company can use Asian labot at 10% of the cost .

Steve Foster

One aspect of the disposable American is the number of "layoffs" that go unreported because large corporations get around the category by classifying those individuals who are laid off as "seeking other opportunities" in their reasons for individuals who leave. This is a down right misrepresentation of statistical data that does not go accounted in government reports. Individuals who are forced to leave (aka "laid off") are given severance packages that put them in a gray area, not being able to apply for unemployment, thus not being reported statistically. Thus, the number of talented workers looking for work is not realistically portrayed by the unemployment statistics.

Jeff Ward

I watched Louis Uchitelle discuss his latest book on C-Span. I was excited to see this review since I have been contemplating on a book with a parallel theme.
I have been employed as an electronic engineer for 11 yrs now. I enrolled in college at age 35 after constantly being layed-off in the early '80s.
Since becoming an engineer, I have worked for 5 major companies and been layed-off twice. I know the core problems of American companies; middle and upper management do not take advantage of input from their subordinates. These managers do not know their products, are extremely afraid to commit to a decision, and beleive they are not expendable. For the 11 yrs I have spent in engineering so far, I have yet to complete a project. Not one company has let me complete a project. I have spent the last year on a project and, in consistent fashion, it was canceled recently.
I have decided to spend my 'free time' at work preparing for a book called " The American Engineer: How Corporate America Wastes Intelligent People. "
I might suggest the American education system stop preparing people to work for 'corporate' interests and start teaching people how to become entrepreneurs. Small businesses will be the key to future American's prosperity.

Fred Hebard

It appears to me that the current crisis in home mortgages is due to an inadequate system for preventing foreclosure. The home mortgager doesn't know whom to contact when they have problems and the mortgage companies have no procedures for dealing with problems, other than foreclosure. This problem, of course, is most acute with sub-prime mortgage holders. It's ironic that their plight is now haunting the hedge funds, their zillionaire clients, and the entire economy.


marketing request for proposal , american residential mortgage nj , teen support lawyer in nashville

Joe Hare

'The 15% Solution"

One possible approach to dealing with the auto crisis -- The federal government should give any one who buys a fuel efficient car from the Big 3 a 15% instant rebate back on the selling price. This program could have an 18 month time limit.

The total of the rebate dollars might then constitute a loan the auto makers would have to pay back.

If effective, this solution would immediately jump start US auto makers by giving them a huge advantage over the competition while they work on the remaining legacy issues. Auto makers would stay employed and no money would go directly to the car makers.

The feds might also think about underwriting an extended warranty program for this period. Again, the total dollars to do so, could constitute a loan to the auto makers.

If the dollars don't proof out, the concept still might we worth exploring.

Joseph Hare
Hingham, MA.

A quick direct "15%" instant government rebate (say averaging around $3,000) from the Dept of Treasury paid to consumer with purchase of a US auto maker lower mileage car I think would make those cars stand out from the crowd.
Problem with tax return deductions is you onlyt get indirect value but once a year(Aprol 15) and higher wage earners get more real dollar benefit....and they do get lost in the shuffle.
If you could buy a Camry priced today at $20,000 for $20,000 versus a Malibu priced today for $20,000 for $17,000 plus get a 10 year warranty which would you buy?
US Car makers would have to use their real current sell the car off the lot price (then on top of that consumer gets 15% back ASAP from the Feds.
Such a program, if it worked, would give auto makers an instant dramatic jump start while they work on getting
more cars that would sell (without rebate program) developed and while they deal with worker legacy issues.
Giving a bailout just keeps them from going bankrupt while they try to get a higher % of americans to buy their cars. They have not suceeded in doing that over the last 20 years.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment