The subject of four years ago came up with a general contractor friend yesterday. In 2008 the disaster of the impaled housing bubble was just beginning to unfold. Each year since has become progressively worse.
Back when there was high demand for the services of his industry he was a proud member of the upper middle class. He sponsored this. He donated to that. He paid his non-union tradesmen $25-$30 an hour with benefits and all the overtime they wanted. He wouldn’t hire someone for $11 an hour because anyone willing to accept that pay had something wrong with them. He had a lot of employees and things were rocking.
Now to win a bid for a job he has to sharpen his pencil. Material costs are up. Gas prices have skyrocketed. Property taxes are suffocating. Property values have plummeted. Banks are calling in loans that are and have always been current and they want their cash — all of it — NOW. But he’s got to sharpen his pencil if he wants any work.
So how does he do it? The only portion of his bid that is really negotiable is labor. Forget profit margins he’s swinging a hammer now, too. Depending on how bad a tradesman needs to work determines how low their pay threshold is. He’g got to beat down his subcontractors who have nothing left to whittle down but their labor, too. He’s getting beat out on bids because some contractors are paying their carpenters $10 per hour. Some of those carpenters are his former employees. People that were part of the middle class just a few years ago — living the American dream — are now living in the harsh reality of the underemployed. There are probably statistics on that sort of thing but there definitely is a growing number of middle-aged Americans that have been tossed out of the middle class like they were yesterday’s news.
And then, like the contractor and his children, we have young Americans graduating from college with a mountain of education debt being extolled the values of volunteerism.
But the contractor isn’t mad at Obama. Well, not mad enough to vote for Romney, yet. His world began crashing around him before Obama took office.
Ryan didn’t win any points with him with his gaffe on the date the auto plant closed. At least the 2big2fail auto manufacturers had to get some of their bailout money through vouchers from their customers. The 2big2fail banks got their hand outs, paid themselves bonuses, and still foreclosed on their customers. That deflated property values because it sent the appraisers working for the banks and their auditors to go out and “remark to market” which put just about every newly built home mortgage “underwater.”
When the auditors heard that they ordered their banks to call in darn near every construction related loan they had. They’d rather foreclose so they can limit their losses even if that means selling property to the vulture capitalists for pennies on the dollar.
Now many banks are only willing to loan you your money but only if at a competitive interest rate.
That contractor isn’t mad enough to vote against Obama, yet, but he is sure enough mad at somebody. Every politician running for President or County Board — Republican or Democrat — is going to be all about jobs, jobs and more jobs. That’s cold rhetoric. What’s the plan for getting the market back to where he can win enough bids to hire his crew back at $25-$30 an hour with benefits and all the overtime they can handle so they and he can all re-enter the middle class and start dreaming about America again?
And if those are days gone by never to return then what’s the plan for the discarded? Where is their non-hand out path to a decent living? They don’t want a hand out and they’re sure not getting a hand up from those left in the middle class the politicians are clamoring to protect! They’re the ones demanding those sharp pencils. Times are tough don’t you know. Suffocating property taxes and diminishing investment portfolios. If the tradesmen want prevailing wages they better not expect it from these middle class backyards. Go get a job for or with the government.
Pride is a common trait among those who are good at what they do. That’s what they will vote for and they care less if the next president is Obama or Romney. Whoever produces a plan that inspires the discarded is going to win this election in a landslide. Hope, not handouts. A hand up not a trickle down.
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