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American workers today gasping for air

Updated: October 2, 2013 6:35AM



Happy Labor Day.

Unless, of course, you’re labor.

My friend Lori Puerschner is the face I see. And the voice I hear on this so-called holiday. Because she, at 59, hasn’t had more than a week’s vacation in any given year for the last 30 years. There is no time off when all your time is spent looking for work. Or working wherever you can, whenever you can.

Lori is nobody’s slacker. In all the years I’ve known her, she’s juggled not one but several jobs including manicurist at Michigan Avenue salons, sales representative for high-end national cosmetics firms and as a hotel relations manager.

Health care, a pension, or other fair benefits? Please. There has been none of that for Lori beyond her sheer determination to survive. And many nights, she lies awake wondering if she will.

In an election year, I listen to candidates — Democrat and Republican — rhapsodize about the middle class, keenly aware that those voters are the key to their own electoral survival. Even though the patronizing politicians in question, most of them, are far above that so-called “middle” in income, access and opportunity.

FACT: Illinois comes in nearly dead last, ahead only of Nevada, in jobs. The shameful unemployment rate is 9.2 percent in Barack Obama’s adopted home state.

My friend Lori is dying to climb the rungs of the economic ladder just to breathe in the hope of what being in the middle would mean to her.

That’s why the other night on the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s March on Washington, Judy Woodruff’s question to President Barack Obama on PBS was infinitely more powerful than his answer:

Woodruff noted, “Wall Street’s booming. Corporations are making great profits. But, as you pointed out today, average wages — the gap between the wealthy and those who are not wealthy — has never been bigger than it is today. The wages, especially of African Americans, haven’t improved. Mr. President, how much does it weigh on you that your policies haven’t made more of a difference in those areas?”

The president, rightly so, talked about how his administration averted what might have been a deeper depression. But he never summoned the passion or the clarity of a real response to the urgent question of why so many Americans are gasping for air.

I’m not picking just on Obama, a one-time community organizer.

“The lack of recovery does not terrify the Democrats or the Republicans as much as we think it should,” said Mike Gecan, co-director of the Industrial Areas Foundation, the nation’s oldest community organizing network, inspired by Saul Alinsky.

No, shockingly, we keep re-electing them.

Labor Day soon will mean nothing at all if we continue to despise unions but let management off the hook, make teachers into villains and yet pay CEOs tens of millions of dollars.

Aren’t we all in this together?

Aren’t they all accountable?

No.

If you have any doubt, talk to my friend Lori.

Email: cmarin@suntimes.com

Twitter: @CarolMarin



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