Judging by the narrative promoted after last Friday's idiotically connived jobs report, any job is a good job... however, as The Guardian reports, that does not include a job working for Amazon.com. Quarter after quarter, we highlight the growth in Amazon employees (and death-cross-like plunge in annual sales growth). While Amazon makes no secret of the fact that it relies on seasonal work force, what went unsaid and unnoticed during President Obama's visit last year, was that the Amazon 'employees' would not have jobs or prospects after the holidays. Many of the people in those Amazon warehouses were among the long-term unemployed – shuffling from one temporary job to another to another; and due to this unstable employment, a growing number of them have found themselves living in shelters... 'employed' but homeless (or "the working poor" in America).
Amazon's death cross... total employees and worldwide revenue growth - (which makes perfect economic sense as the marginal employees costs approaches zero...)
As The Guardian reports, working away in warehouses, beyond the pages of Amazon's website, the seasonal workers and the effects that temporary contracts have on their lives are kept out of public's eye and often avoid scrutiny.
Andrew Cummins, 43, was one of these elves last year, working north of Chattanooga at an Amazon warehouse in Jeffersonville, Indiana. For three months, he stowed away clothes, working 40 hours a week at $10 an hour. He enjoyed the job and saw it as his ticket out of the Haven House, a shelter where he lives with his wife, Kristen, and stepson.
"They had this big hype that they were going to hire on and stuff and that didn't happen. They just worked you until the time was up and then they let everyone go," he says. According to him, about 50 other seasonal workers like him who were hired through Integrity Staffing Solutions – a staffing agency working with Amazon in Jeffersonville – were let go at the same time. "They just said they would email everybody that they let go but we never heard anything back. And then you can't apply for [another Amazon job] for another year after you worked for them."
Which brings us to the new normal in America - The Working Poor
The underlying situation at the Chattanooga facility belied the president's speech. He spoke about the recession, noting that "it cost millions of Americans their jobs and their homes and their savings." He spoke of the long-term unemployed and their struggles in finding a job. He spoke of the great job that Amazon and Jeff Bezos were doing taking care of their employees.
Since Amazon opened its warehouse in Jeffersonville, one homeless shelter, Haven House, has been a home to between two and six of its employees at all times, says Barbara Anderson, the shelter's director.
"The impact is profound. One man was sleeping in a car when he landed his 'permanent job' with Amazon," she says. His good luck didn't last long. "He lost everything all over again. The jobs are good but the temporary status sets people up for failure."
More than half of the shelter's tenants are working poor, according to Anderson. Often times they are either in between jobs or working jobs that pay just enough to make ends meet, but not enough to help them break out of the cycle of homelessness.
With lack of subsidized housing affordable at their level of income, they are stuck. They have no one to co-sign an apartment for them and no way to save up for a security deposit, much less the first and last months' rent that many landlords now require before one moves in.
“When you live in a shelter, the first thing you want to do is get out,” says Anderson. People often view their first paycheck as ticket out, but as soon as they lose that job, they are back at the shelter. “They get that first paycheck and they are gone. Then four to six weeks later, I see them again. They leave too early.”
And The Working Poor are banking on warmer weather...
For Tim, the job at Amazon is just a short-term solution. "I can't live on $10 an hour," he says, adding. "If I am at Amazon longer than a month, I'd be very disappointed frankly."
It's his hope that warmer weather will bring better news. "Temporary or contract jobs are going to pick up, because employers are still a little skittish about bringing on permanent employees and so to keep the costs down, they are going to increase their contracting levels. That's what I am counting on," says Tim.
Sadly... the "working poor" is all too common...
There are about 3.5 million Americans who have been out of a job for longer than six months, according to the most recent unemployment report.
Only one in 10 of them is likely to find stable employment down the road, according to Brookings Institute. While some give up looking altogether, those who keep looking are often only able to find part-time, sporadic employments.
It seems, just as we made all too clear previously, that work is indeed being punished in America...
This is graphically, and very painfully confirmed, in the below chart from Gary Alexander, Secretary of Public Welfare, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (a state best known for its broke capital Harrisburg). As quantitied, and explained by Alexander, "the single mom is better off earnings gross income of $29,000 with $57,327 in net income & benefits than to earn gross income of $69,000 with net income and benefits of $57,045."
We realize that this is a painful topic in a country in which the issue of welfare benefits, and cutting (or not) the spending side of the fiscal cliff, have become the two most sensitive social topics. Alas, none of that changes the matrix of incentives for most Americans who find themselves in a comparable situation: either being on the left side of minimum US wage, and relying on benefits, or move to the right side at far greater personal investment of work, and energy, and... have the same disposable income at the end of the day.