Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Broken Promises

I grew up in a working class neighborhood. Not remote rural, certainly not suburbia. We had a nice yard and a driveway.

My father was one of the group of men who worked at the local steel mill. He managed to work his way up to Quality Control Foreman. He worked the plum day shift and wore a white shirt and hard hat.

By the time he returned from work at 4:20pm he smelled of the steel dust that coated his white shirt. The environment was challenging for a black man with just an associate's degree. He put up with far more indignities than I faced on my worst day.
The "rules" were to get an education, find a home at a good company, retire and die.

The steady income and the health insurance for us kept him loyal to his employer. The insurance gave him pride and security. With three children who participated in sports it was a nice benefit.

Eye care, medication and dental were included in the package. He would painstakingly sit at the dining room table and fill out the insurance forms. He paid a deductible.

Then came managed care. PPO's, gatekeepers, referral slips and co-payments. Has the cost of healthcare reduced in the last 40 years?

Insurance companies, healthcare providers and drug manufacturers are recording record profits.

The money not spent on healthcare went to our home, furniture, electricity, food, clothing, cars, gasoline. Products that stimulated the economy.

Most people in our country are closer to club poverty than club riches. Until people wrap their brain around this painful fact, nothing will change. A very dear friend of mine, whom I am convinced watches Fox News, is a very successful attorney. From his perspective he is the new middle class. Since when did making a income that exceeds six figures denotes the middle class?

Using the accounting principles of EBIDTA employees and their benefits lends itself to the outsourcing of jobs, to increase the profits for corporate shareholders.

After 35 years of service at the ripe old age of 58, Dad and many of his peers were given a package. He was not emotionally or financially ready to retire. Shortly, thereafter his company was sold twice. The community this plant supported looks like the retirees, tired and broken down.

Eventually, his life insurance was eliminated, pension and health coverage reduced. Try to find a life insurance policy after three bouts of cancer. I can't imagine it developed being exposed to steel dust for 35 years. Minor details. Familiar faces from the mill shared the chemo sessions with Dad. There are not many survivors.

Personal protection equipment mandated by OSHA was not a priority 40 years ago. The OSHA police continue to be underfunded.

My father worked everyday with his eye on the promise of a financially secure retirement. He makes too much money to receive Bush's donut hole prescription drug plan. His out-of-pocket expenses associated with the care of his health exceeds $700 per month.

He at least has what is left of his pension. The ERISA statue was created to make sure employers keep their promises. Employers are now whining that the pensions are killing their profitability. These are the same companies where the CEO's walk away with a platinum package. My daughter only knows of 401K plans.

If he had universal health coverage, he could die in peace.

OSHA and ERISA were created by the government to protect the employee from their employer. Both have failed due to lack of funding and enforcement.

I think it is great billionaire Mortimer Zuckerman writes on this topic. There is just one flaw in his essay. The middle class has already disappeared. No one wants to admit it.

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