Category Archives: Economy

Don’t just eat food, give it

It’s time for the annual Concerned for the Hungry Thanksgiving Food Baskets. They are looking for volunteers to sort food, pack boxes, and deliver food to families starting next Wed, 19 Nov. Check out their website for more information. It’s a little hard to find, so I copied it at the end too.

Every day I am constantly shocked by the level of poverty in Schenectady. Food security is one of those topics that shouldn’t be an issue in the US, yet it is such a problem in Schenectady that when free breakfasts and lunches were provided to all students, attendance jumped by 38% in the high school and 50% in the middle school. Almost 43% of those who responded to the UMatter Health survey last year are using SNAP, and I see food stamps used at the grocery store every time I go.

The food insecurity contrasts with the proliferation of a food culture where people like Michael Pollan suggest food “rules” without consideration for price. Yelp abounds with reviews of restaurants, cool new food trucks, and gourmet culture. Even Price Chopper, the only grocery in Schenectady, will be changing its name to Market 32 to better appeal to the gourmet crowd. I should note here, that I generally agree with the criticism that the true cost of much of the cheap food is being felt in other ways, e.g., polluted waterways.

I also love good food, so I struggle with how to rectify the juxtaposition of high food culture with urban poverty. I don’t expect I’ll be able to change agricultural policy or any of the other structural issues that result in the largest level of inequality in the developed world; but what I can do is support the efforts of organizations, such as Concerned for the Hungry, that focus on alleviating the food needs of Schenectadians throughout the year. I hope you can join me in volunteering next week, and if it doesn’t work in your schedule (we’re all busy, right?), then I hope you can consider supporting efforts to meet the immediate local food needs.

Volunteer Information 2014
Volunteers are needed for the 2014 Thanksgiving Food Drive!! All are welcome on the following dates/times.
** Individuals do not need to sign up to volunteer. Simply come to the school at indicated dates/times.

***Groups of 10 or more, please send us an email indicating the date and timeframe you would like to volunteer.

Volunteer Location:
William C. Keane Elementary School
1252 Albany Street
Schenectady, NY 12304

Dates/Times/Activities:

Sat Nov. 15, 9-2pm: Sorting Boy Scout food donations
Weds Nov. 19, 4-8pm: Assembling Boxes
Thurs Nov. 20, 9am-3pm: Pick-up/unload food
Fri Nov. 21, 9am-4pm: Sorting food
Sat Nov. 22, 10am-5pm: Packing Food Baskets
Sun Nov. 23, 9am-6pm: Distributing Food Baskets
Mon Nov. 24, 8am-4pm: Agency Pick-up/Deliveries

** Please enter through the side entrance ONLY, the main entrance will be locked **

The Perfect Summer Job

This post is part of a series exploring the workers I’ve met who are on the front lines of the fracing boom in Pennsylvania. You can find links to the other articles on the overview page.

If I had to guess someone in the class was going to be from Texas, I would have guessed it would be James. He walked into the class wearing  cowboy boots and a large belt buckle touting the wonders of Jack Daniels. He drove a 1985 Ford pickup that he unashamedly touted as being impermeable to the impending rain because of its complete lack of electronics.

To James, this job as a welder’s assistant (a job he described as “doing whatever the welder wants me to do.”) was a fantastic opportunity for the next 6 months. He was notified of his need to attend the class just the day prior when “a Mexican” failed to show up for work. But it was also great pay for his level of education.

At 19, James was the youngest person there. He had joined the Marine Reserve, following in the path of his older brother, and needed to find a job for when he wasn’t actively deployed. With just a high school degree, his job paid $14/h, which meant his job paid more in 2 weeks than his girlfriend’s did all summer. This sort of opportunity reminds me of the stories people tell of being able to find a decent job with just a high school education back in the 60s before the onset of globalization. Plus, with appropriate additional training, he could be highly recruited for other jobs in the region.

When I compare James’ experience with that of Danny’s, it reminds me of the disruptive innovation popularized by Clayton Christensen, but applied to labor. Have we entered a world in which college represents an over education of the labor force when what we really need are skilled trades? How much longer can we afford for the nation’s youth to take on significant debt without the opportunity to pay it back?

What each of the stories in this series represent are people trying to make it as best they can. It’s easy to think of the shale gas revolution in environmental terms, primarily because most of the news stories focus on that, but it also affects many other aspects of our society. By providing jobs to people with little training, others like James and Jason can earn a living; but the people working on these well sites also represent people like Danny, who have been let down by the larger American economy and fall back on the decent salary despite their training in other areas…much in the same way that a barista at Starbucks or waiter at your local restaurant may have a college degree. The environmental impacts also need to be accounted for, absolutely, and the environment and the economy are not mutually exclusive; but the environment must be balanced with the many other positive benefits to society. What other industry shows so much promise and opportunity for such a large swath of the american public?

An American Dream Deferred

This post is part of a series exploring the workers I’ve met who are on the front lines of the fracing boom in Pennsylvania. You can find links to the other articles on the overview page.

I wish someone told me you can’t just follow your dream

With gelled hair that was parted down the middle, Danny was the oldest student in the class. He was also the most melancholic. Danny didn’t intend to join the world of unconventionals. Instead, he had a goal of pursuing a career in political science.

Danny went to college and majored in Poli Sci at a university near Harrisburg, PA. Like many students, he took out a substantial amount of student debt to pay for school only to learn upon graduation that he could not find a job in his field when he graduated just prior to the Great Recession. Like many others in a similar situation, he found work where he could. In Danny’s case, that was in the world of fracing.

His first job required little of the skills that he went to college, and into debt, for. Danny spent his days “watching water levels in tanks.” His description of the job seemed so elementary, that it surprised me it hadn’t been automated, yet. He outwardly disdained the working conditions and told me that he disliked wearing a hard hat and ear plugs when he envisioned himself doing work in an office somewhere. Danny was visibly demoralized; he remembers his hopeful, younger self who could accomplish anything he wanted to…he could follow his dream.

But his job in fracing became more than a job he disliked; it became an opportunity. After working for a couple years in the field, he went back to school, but this time to earn an associates degree in oil and gas production. He chose this path because his current employer would pay for his education, and because in this area of PA, oil and gas became a possible career path.

It remains to be seen whether or not Danny succeeds in his new career in the oil and gas field, but it’s certainly better than the alternative of being unemployed with accumulating student loans.

The migrant worker

This post is part of a series exploring the workers I’ve met who are on the front lines of the fracing boom in Pennsylvania. You can find links to the other articles on the overview page.

Jason is in his early 20s and very skinny. His smile betrays his chipped and blackened front tooth and he speaks with a strong Southern drawl. That’s because he’s not from Pennsylvania. He’s from Texas…Jasper, specifically. A place where, to quote a very blunt Jason:

they kill niggers by dragging them behind trucks.

He is referring to this incident.

He started in the oil and gas industry through his family. Both his father and brother work in some capacity for a related company.

Jason is quite the story teller. He was once electrocuted while trying to fix his electric meter, and would have died had his friend not  knocked him away with a stick. He allegedly drove a car with a broken accelerator that would reach speeds of 100 mph unless he was actively braking for 2 months before getting it fixed. Jason also, allegedly, worked on jobs without appropriate safety equipment or monitoring.

But the reason Jason is the migrant worker is, ironically, his family. A father of 2 daughters, aged 1 and 2, he recently separated from his wife of 3 months after she revealed that she had cheated on him prior to their wedding. He readily volunteered this story without the slightest hint of embarrassment, as he did with his countless others.

And so, he told his wife to take the kids and move out while he went to lay pipelines. He first went to Wyoming to work on a job there, but by the time he arrived, the job was over. So he waited around in Wyoming without a job until he learned about this opportunity in Pennsylvania.

The job is to last 6 months, which is a relatively long period of stability for him, but after the job ends he doesn’t know what he’ll do. Jason hopes to learn of another opportunity somewhere else, but there is nothing in the works. As for his wife and 2 daughters in Texas, he hopes to visit them when he can, but he doesn’t seem too eager to return soon.

Profiles in fracking

The issue of fracing (or fracking) seems to frequently arise in NY State politics. This is largely due to the indefinite moratorium that could be lifted at any time. I am not going to expand on the pros and cons of fracing here, but I do want to share the stories of 3 new employees for oil and gas companies that are fracing, or supporting fracing, operations in Pennsylvania.

I had the opportunity to meet them last week during a safety course, and I plan over the next several days to provide a look at each person’s relationship with the fracing industry that is causing so much controversy.

The three gentlemen are:

1) The migrant worker

2) The disillusioned college grad

3) The high school success

Each has a different story that helps me to understand a little better a topic that is largely covered through the environmental/safety angle. I will link to each story from this page when they are published.