Murry Frymer Willy Lomans
by the Millions
Out of a job at age 60:
Rust may be his destiny
By MURRY FRYMER
MY SON let us know that the father of his fiance back in Connecticut had lost his job. It seemed totally weird.
This man had worked most of his life for a company supplying parts to Boeing. Suddenly, Boeing, already battered by the airline catastrophies, had lost a military contract to another aircraft builder and it was laying off some 30,000 people. And the cuts quickly reverberated through smaller companies that work for Boeing.
In this suddenly desperate time, layoffs have become increasingly familiar. But somehow there is a difference between young dot-comers who came aboard this economy with sudden riches, only to run into an unexpected wall, and a man like my son's future father-in-law, who had never enjoyed anything more than a consistent opportunity to make a living. And now, at his age of about 60, it was over. A new position for a man that age is most unlikely. Retirement, before you are ready for it, appears the more likely alternative.
It is at times like this that I think back to such classics as Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" and see again the image of that American Everyman, Willy Loman, who gave his life to the company and when they had eaten the orange, they threw the peels away.
It is such a familiar story. However, there was a time not so long ago when we questioned the necessity of that scenario. Yes, indeed, corporations are in the profit business and when the profits fall or disappear, so do the workers. What could be fairer?
Well, unless you are a true believer, you may recognize that the average employe does not participate fully in the good times, does not rack up the millions that some executives do. In the bad times, those executives may receive lower bonuses, but many of the employees lose their livelihood, and can find that condition terminal.
Although Americans are among the most affluent workers in the world, they know that their security is always riding on thin ice. And most seem to find that bargain acceptable.
But in Western Europe, the word "security" extends well beyond its meaning here, where it seems to apply only to defense. In Europe, it applies to economic security and an inherent belief that more important than wealth is the avoidance of poverty. We are battling in the halls of Congress these days for airline and airport security and security against terrorists. The loss of a family's income is another form of terrorism and should also be addressed.
Alas, it really isn't. Social Security and Medicare are both swimming in ever shallower waters. Many younger Americans doubt that Social Security will even be viable in 40-50 years. But a society that would let that happen is irrational and cruel. We have formed this more-perfect union not only to provide for the common defense, but for the security of its people. In an affluent land like this, we should all be able to sleep soundly, at least so far as shelter, food, education and health are concerned.
I recognize that my "should" is not univerally accepted. I think most Americans would say that it is our obligation to provide for our own needs to a large extent, using the good times to put away the savings for bad times. Lean times will follow fat times. We should be prepared.
You really don't have to worry the point if the good times mean a million dollars or more a year. But if the good times are merely adequate financially, as they are for so many, than the bad times can be a scourge.
What am I suggesting? Socialism? Some other kind of "ism" which the fundamentalist Republicans attach to the failure of the Soviet system or Cuba or some-such?
Well, I am not an economist. I am a husband and a father and was for all of my life a wage-earner, as was my father. I have known good times, but they were vulnerable. Familiar story.
Americans, while worrying about Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, need also to turn their attention to the structure of their economic lives and whether there is as much a need for security there as this is on the airlines we ride. I think there is. Since for most of us our jobs do not make us rich, they should also not abandon us and leave us poor.
America, like no place on earth, should be able to address the issue, but it seems strangely blind to it. Scandinavia and Britain and France and Germany have done much better in that regard.
It is strange that more than a half-century after "Death of a Salesman," its lesson is still so contemporary. "No one dast blame that man," Loman's wife says about her husband at his funeral.
We can't blame all the American workers now laid off for their lack of accumulated wealth. We need a better, more humane way to deal with economic security. First, we need to recognize the problem and then, next, decide that we can fix it.
You can comment on this column or contact Murry Frymer with an email to: email@example.com
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