I saw it coming in 2005. I was working at a small TV production company, not getting paid all that much, but it was a steady job with benefits—health insurance, vacation pay, retirement, sick days. It was a job I enjoyed, in a field I had trained for and aspired to.
|Photo by Dan Holm|
My boss had recently become a follower of Thomas Friedman and his “earth is flat” philosophy. One day the boss told me he was going to start hiring on-line transcriptionists from overseas for a fraction of what he was paying now. It was all part of this great new economy, where we sent all the low-skilled jobs nobody wanted to do overseas. But, I asked, if those jobs go overseas, what about the people doing those jobs here? Not to worry. Outsourcing was going to free us all to become entrepreneurs. Everybody would have the opportunity to be their own bosses.
I was skeptical. Not everybody is equipped, by training, natural talent or inclination, to be an entrepreneur. But he assured me it would all work out.
Up until then, our transcriptions were sent to a local company that employed 8-10 people. They mostly did efficient, dependable work. If there was a problem, you could pick up the phone and talk to them. The people he hired on-line were definitely cheaper, but they were also unreliable and sometimes did shoddy work. They didn’t always return emails or didn’t bother to finish assignments.
Within the next couple of years, the local transcription place went out of business. When the crash of 2008 hit, we lost a major client and our company, which for ten years had provided steady employment for 15-20 people, went under too. I lost my benefit-paying job and was cast adrift with all the other free-lancers, independent contractors and day-laborers. No benefits, no insurance, no sick days, no vacations.
As my former boss predicted, I’d become my own boss.
My experience is a microcosm of what is happening all over America as our economy falters and spins out of control. Workers make less today than they did 25 years ago. The number of children living in poverty continues to rise. People at the top are doing better than ever, while the people at the bottom see their savings shrink, their opportunities dwindle and their dreams die. Yet, people still listen to Friedman’s flat-earth clap-trap and keep pushing the idea that all we need is to get out of the hole is more individual achievement and freer markets, when really for most of us, it's all been a great big dud.
The good news is that in a week, I’ll be eligible to sign up for Obamacare. At least I’ll be able to see a doctor again.
Also, Tom Friedman still has his job at the New York Times so somebody’s still working.