Working class 911: Whatever you do . . . don’t call Uncle Joe

Now is not time for moderation. That’s how we got here

Published March 17, 2019 8:00AM (EDT)

 (Getty/Scott Olson)
(Getty/Scott Olson)

Heading into 2020 there is much hand-wringing by the corporate news media over what they perceive as a dangerous anti-capitalist lurch to the left within the Democratic Party which these very well-paid folks see as "self-destructive."

Your view on any great battle is always going to be based on where you stand. If your take of the current punditocracy yields six figures or better, there’s really no need to upend society’s architecture. Clearly, for you, capitalism is working just fine.

For the corporate Democrats the thought of socialists getting control of the party machinery is terrifying. That’s why the "moderate" Democrat that comes to their mind is former Vice-President Joe Biden. He actually knows some working-class people, speaks their language and knows how to take an Amtrak train with them. Who else better to tame the excesses of capitalism than an elder statesman from Delaware like Biden who for decades blocked and tackled for the banking and credit card industry that rewarded him with massive campaign cash for his yeoman service.

As for righting the crime against humanity that was  this country’s racist war on drugs that’s incarcerated a  generation of people of color by criminalizing drug addiction, who else better to fix it than Uncle Joe, one of the framers of the pernicious policy. 

And if you happen to be one of the middle-aged parents with a millennial son or daughter in your basement whose future is shackled by college debt neither you nor your kid can ever pay back, why Uncle Joe is sure to have the key. After all, he was the Senator who made it impossible for college loans to be discharged by bankruptcy.

In the epic struggle between capital and labor there’s been no better friend to capital than Biden, whose home state Delaware is the favored stateside roost for vulture capitalists. The state does such a great job hiding the beneficial ownership of limited liability corporations that both the major media corporations and the Russian mob find it essential to ‘domicile’ there so as to obscure their operations from public view. 

Such moderation would seem plausible if you were entirely blind to the ongoing deterioration in the circumstance of so much of America’s working class where a few years of nickel-and-dime pay increases can’t make up for decades of declining wages when wages were replaced with ever-increasing household credit card debt. 

Without a ground up view from the broad base of America’s wealth pyramid you won’t fully appreciate just what 21st century capitalism has morphed into.  The violence that is evictions of families with children doesn’t make the news unless somebody who is armed barricades themselves in their bedroom. After all, even in a ‘wealthy city’ like New York City the tens of thousands of homeless there are just invisible. 

From 10,000 feet the misery at the bottom is an abstraction shorthanded into bloodless statistics.  Decades of depressed wages, social disinvestment, undiagnosed mental illness and a deepening housing affordability crisis are the legacy of a bipartisan neglect by a political class, that up until very recently, were entirely absorbed with their own re-election and wealth accumulation. 

And only the surreal buffoonery of a Donald Trump makes this professional political class look respectable. Keep in mind, without the neglect of working-class America by this bipartisan cadre of self-dealing moderates you don’t get a President Trump. 

You won’t appreciate just how late it is for this country unless you are looking out for the particularly terrifying real life horror stories playing out in a place like  the Bronx, where the United Way reports 71 percent of the households struggle week to week for the basics and poverty defines the landscape.

Two years ago this weekend, FDNY EMT Yadira Arroyo, a mother of five was murdered  when she was run over with her own ambulance by a young  homeless man who had commandeered her rig in the Morris Park section of The Bronx.  EMT Arroyo, 44, had 14 years on the job. Her kids ranged from 7 to 24-years-old.

Jose Gonzales allegedly managed to slip into the driver’s seat of the FDNY ambulance after a struggle, and threw the rig into reverse, fatally hitting Ms. Arroyo.  She was dragged for 15 feet as the suspect attempted to escape before he lost control, jumping a curb and hitting a parked car.

Arroyo, who even with her overtime, was making tens of thousands of dollars less than her fellow first responders who are cops and firefighters, lived a life of selfless service. But her colleagues in her EMS union are largely women and people of color and New York City has had this first-responder plantation system for so long even the progressive Democratic Mayor recently defended the glaring disparity. 

Arroyo’s life was allegedly taken by a young man in his twenties, who had gang affiliations and had serious run-ins with the police. His father told reporters he could not get his son to take his medication for his schizophrenia and depression. He was living at a supportive shelter for the homeless. 

Arroyo’s tragic violent death put a spotlight on what really is a national scandal when it comes to just how poorly compensated the nation’s Emergency Medical Services professionals are.  According to the Department of Labor’s  Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for EMTs is $16.05 an hour with their median annual salary of $33,380. For the bottom 10 percent the pay is under $21,880.  

So, this is how the so-called free market is paying the people we task to respond to other human beings who could be on death’s door in what clinicians call the “golden hour.” That’s that crucial time when how the patient is cared for determines if they live, and what kind of life they get to live if they survive. Wouldn’t it seem that if we really meant all that rhetoric about improving patient outcome and reducing health care costs we would treat these folks on the front end of the whole process better? 

Across the country EMTs have to work second and third jobs to make ends meet. Their job is already a stressful one that’s compounded by the chronic economic insecurity that goes with their career choice. As a consequence burnout and disabling injuries are common as is high turnover.

A 2016 research paper published in the Journal of Prehospital Emergency Care entitled “Death by Suicide —The EMS Profession Compared to the General Public”  reported that EMTs faced a “significantly higher” risk from taking their own life. “EMTs face high levels of acute and chronic stress as well as high rates of depression and substance abuse, which increase their risk of suicide,” the report concluded. 

 As it turns out the sorry state of the nation’s EMS workforce maybe the best example of the 911 emergency working class Americans are all grappling with. Now is not time for moderation. That’s how we got here.

By Bob Hennelly

Bob Hennelly has written and reported for the Village Voice, Pacifica Radio, WNYC, CBS MoneyWatch and other outlets. His book, "Stuck Nation: Can the United States Change Course on Our History of Choosing Profits Over People?" was published in 2021 by Democracy@Work. He is now a reporter for the Chief-Leader, covering public unions and the civil service in New York City. Follow him on Twitter: @stucknation

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