Transcript

16:

Economy
Transcript

Originally aired 03.14.1996

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/16

Act One. Presumptiveness.

Act Two. The Economy.

Ira Glass

Well, in this moment of our presidential election process, let us consider the plight of a group whose sad fate we do not usually consider, a group we do not usually count among society's victims. I refer to moderate Republicans, because they have seen the future. And the future has a name. And the future's name is Bob Dole, the man now invariably referred to as the presumptive nominee, except of course by himself. He always refers to himself as Bob Dole.

And they are a pragmatic, roll up your sleeves, get the job done group, as a whole, the moderate Republicans are. And they will do what is necessary for victory in the fall to get the White House. But just last week, when we convened a small, unscientific panel of four Republicans, only one of the four was actually happy about the presumptive nominee.

Well, from WBEZ Chicago, it is Your Radio Playhouse. I'm Ira Glass. In our program today, politics, economics, you know, the big picture.

And later on in our program, we hire two temp workers. And we put them to work doing a radio story about being temp workers. And these guys aren't office workers. These guys are part of the massive number of workers in our country right now who do temp work in factories and industrial settings.

That will be Act Two. That means later. Because right now, we're on Act One, Presumptiveness.

The Republicans we convened for our panel were these people, and gave very generously of their time, I should say, because the power went out in Navy Pier in the middle of our interviews. So these people not only-- we started our interview, then we had to take them out for drinks, and then we had to bring them back. So this is not just presumptiveness, but it's presumptiveness on the rocks. That's what this segment is.

Our Republicans were [? Will Tinken, ?] a bonds trader, Diane Cohen, an attorney who is, I think it'd be more accurate to describe her as a libertarian than a moderate Republican, but still shared some views with these guys. [? Brian Castle, ?] a bonds trader and money manager and 43rd Ward Republican committeeman. And Dan Parisi, who owns a pizza restaurant out in the suburbs and also works as a telephone technician for Ameritech. And as of last Tuesday, this was Junior Tuesday, before Super Tuesday, before the New York primary, before Bob Dole was fully named the presumptive nominee, Will was the only one of the four people in our panel who would look you square in the eye and actually say he had a favorite candidate.

Will Tinken

Dole. And the reason I like Dole is I just like the way he's held together in this past month. Talk about a trial by fire. His resume is impressive. He's got a unique perspective. And dare I say, I might be excited by Bob Dole.

Ira Glass

Smiles all around, I should say for people in the radio audience. Everyone else at the table just had a little grin. And there was a sort of rolling of eyes from Diane. Diane?

Diane Cohen

I'm just in denial. I'm waiting for Jack Kemp to announce. So I'll pass on that.

Ira Glass

So you're having trouble finding a candidate who you like.

Diane Cohen

Yes. They don't represent the ideals that brought me into the Republican Party. Ronald Reagan brought me in. And candidates I see are just not inspiring me in the same way.

Ira Glass

Brian?

Brian Castle

Well, I had liked Governor Pete Wilson of California early on, and so I was probably the most wrong person here at the panel, as he went out quickly. But I think Bob Dole would probably be a very good president. And I like Forbes as well.

Ira Glass

Dan, what about you? Are you having trouble finding a candidate you can love?

Dan Parisi

I wish that Bob Dole could get as excited about Bob Dole as Will has gotten about Bob Dole.

Ira Glass

At the time, Dan and Brian were still deciding between Dole and Forbes. Diane described herself as "off the map," no candidate at all. They all said they wanted the next president to be somebody who would reduce the size of government, cut regulations. Brian and Dan were especially forceful about the idea of eliminating the federal deficit. And so I proposed a theoretical candidate to our panel, somebody who would balance the federal budget in just a few years, somebody who promises to reduce the size of government and cut the capital gains tax, somebody who is for the death penalty and tougher sentences for juvenile offenders, somebody who is pro-choice. All four of them said they would at least be curious to hear more about such a candidate. Or as Diane put it--

Diane Cohen

Well, I'd like to hear what she has to say.

Ira Glass

And then I revealed to them that this theoretical candidate, the person who I was describing to them as an acceptable moderate Republican, was, if you haven't guessed this already, President Clinton. This is where he stands on these issues.

Dan Parisi

Is that where he stands this week?

Ira Glass

Want to elaborate on that point? Everybody around the table, again, smiled.

Brian Castle

I'll echo what Dan says. We may agree with a lot of the positions that President Clinton carries today. And again, I say today. But we don't know where he'll be tomorrow. I don't happen to believe that President Clinton is as high of integrity person that we should have in the White House. I think that most of the Republican candidates right now do hold that integrity. And I'd rather see one of them in there.

Ira Glass

Will?

Will Tinken

I can't think of anybody in the field right now, the Republican field, that would not do better than President Clinton with the same views.

Ira Glass

For many people, the coming presidential election is a lot like the last one in one significant way. For these people, there is only one issue. They do not like Bill Clinton. But maybe, maybe, moderate Republicans could be persuaded over to Bill Clinton's side, the way that moderate Democrats in droves, in masses, in national waves, were persuaded over to Ronald Reagan's side and George Bush's side-- once, anyway. I enlisted a little help to find out.

Ira Glass

OK, well, joining us now by telephone is Gary LaPaille, who's state chairman of the Democratic party. Gary LaPaille, are you there?

Gary Lapaille

I'm here.

Ira Glass

All right. So you're there. So Gary LaPaille, let me just review for a second. The four Republicans who are seated here with me have conceded that when it comes to the issues, many of President Clinton's stands and promises are fine with them. But when it comes to him the man, they are perhaps not so comfortable. Do you want to try to sell them on the idea for a second?

Gary Lapaille

Absolutely.

Ira Glass

OK.

Gary Lapaille

Well, this is a person that is probably the first generation, our generation, that has become president. And our generation, I think it's our time to provide the leadership of this nation. You [UNINTELLIGIBLE] to a Bob Dole, he's had his time. He's had some--

Ira Glass

Now I should say that at this point, the panel looked around at each other, and everybody was shaking their heads. This was clearly not working with our panel. And this might seem like an odd approach for Gary LaPaille to take.

But according to newspaper reports, to differentiate President Clinton and Bob Dole, who share many of the same stands on many issues, White House officials are saying that they're going to play up the age and generation difference. Gary LaPaille is basically giving us a preview here of what we're going to be hearing throughout the next few months as we get into the general election. Gary LaPaille is saying what basically any leading Democratic politician will be saying about the president at this moment. And what was interesting about it was it was not persuasive with our panel.

Will Tinken

Gary, I agree that he is of course of a certain Baby Boom generation. But that's no excuse for some of the things. But I guess what Ira was saying before was we agreed with some of his positions today. But they're not positions he necessarily held six months ago, a year ago, or two years ago. How do you answer the question that he doesn't stand on the issues firmly?

Gary Lapaille

Well, I would have to say that when he first got into office, the first six months, we stood very firmly and got this economy back on track and put a plan in place, supported by only Democrats, that has reduced this deficit three years in a row, first time since Harry Truman, and has reduced it by over 50%. That was the whole debate in 1992, and we did it--

Ira Glass

A brisk discussion of the economy followed this. People were astonishingly well informed, I should say. They threw around budget numbers and dates and specifics about the first Clinton budget and the second Clinton budget and consequences for Social Security.

And what was interesting was that none of the Republicans gave President Clinton any of the credit for the eight million jobs created over the last four years, or the rising stock market, or the record number of new small business starts. Our panelists said that the normal business cycle would've done all of that anyway. They pointed out that among these jobs were a disproportionate number of low-wage jobs.

And even the one area where President Clinton did stick his neck out, on his first budget, which did make dramatic cuts in the federal deficit, even here, they gave the president no credit. The cuts were not deep enough and not done with real conviction on his part, they said. Gary LaPaille, however, kept trying.

Gary Lapaille

Even the federal budget, people say, "Oh, well, Democrats are big spenders. And we've got to cut government." Right now, under Bill Clinton, we have the lowest federal government workforce since the days of John F. Kennedy, 270,000 less federal employees under this president from the day he took office. So something's working. He's agreed to balance his budget in seven years.

Ira Glass

Gary Lapelle, I'm afraid I don't think you're winning many converts here. People are shaking their heads no. I've tried to deliver you four potential voters, but I don't believe that you've brought them home.

Gary Lapaille

We may be right on all the issues regarding pro-choice. We may be right on some of the economic policies to go after moderate Republicans. But if you have people that are basically Republicans, they don't like being out of office. And they're going to stick with whoever their Republican nominee is.

Ira Glass

Of course, the thing that bothers these Republicans the most about Bill Clinton, his waffling on the issues, is something that the presumptive Republican nominee does plenty of as well. Bob Dole has gone back and forth on the "No new taxes" pledge. For a while, when Pat Buchanan was scoring lots of votes with economic populism, Republican-style, Bob Dole tried to pick it up. Bob Dole even wavered on abortion rights a few weeks ago on television. But as Brian Castle on our panel pointed out, our panel still prefers Bob Dole's wavering to the president's.

Brian Castle

Well, Bob Dole certainly has made some changes in his positions over a period of time. But I guess I'd have to believe that someone who's spent so many years in Washington, who has learned the process as well as Bob Dole, does have some base beliefs. And I believe that. And I really have a hard time believing that the current president does. I think Bob Dole would be much preferred to President Clinton, even with a waffle here or there.

Ira Glass

See, because I wonder, as somebody observing this process, if in the end, whether it's Dole or Clinton in the White House, if we'll end up with significantly different policies coming out of the White House. That is, under the Clinton presidency, what we've seen is the debate driven by the Republicans in Congress. And that's certain to continue even in a Dole presidency. And the president, if he's a kind of accommodator, who either Clinton or Dole is, will simply follow the political tide to where it goes and get similar results.

Brian Castle

Well, I think-- to some extent, I wanted to offer a bit of a reality check, because I think that even if we have a Republican president come in, we'll have most likely a Republican Congress at the same time. The Republican ideas will then become law in some form. They may not be the exact form that we want at one particular period of time, but the country will trend in that direction. And I believe that's good for the country.

Ira Glass

Diane, what about you?

Diane Cohen

I would vote for Bob Dole, even with my concerns, because I would view him as a facilitator of a Republican Congress. And that is where my hope lies, that together, we could see progress.

Ira Glass

So you don't see President Clinton as being a kind of moderate Republican who happens to simply go under the name of Democrat?

Will Tinken

I think Bill Clinton has proven that if we want moderate Republicans, he'll be a moderate Republican. If we would like a lounge singer, he'd be a lounge singer.

Ira Glass

Will Tinken, Diane Cohen, Brian Castle, and Dan Parisi.

[MUSIC PLAYING - "LOVE ME" BY ELVIS PRESLEY]

Act Three. Dad.

Ira Glass

Act Two, The Economy. And let's begin this act with the man who made the economy a national issue again and the man who he steals all his best lines from.

Pat Buchanan

I believe in free enterprise. I believe in capitalism. But I believe we all ought to share in the prosperity.

Jesse Jackson

We think corporations should make profits. We support international free trade. But corporate greed is skewing our economy.

Pat Buchanan

I think it's wrong for us to put our own workers into dog-eat-dog competition. People in Mexico make $1 an hour.

Jesse Jackson

The American worker can't compete with the Mexican worker, can't compete with the Chinese worker. We cannot compete with slave labor. And we should not have to.

Pat Buchanan

It is wrong to force our workers to compete with people who make shoes in China for $0.25 an hour.

Ira Glass

Well, that was Patrick J. Buchanan. And did you ever wonder what that J stands for, huh? Could it be, could it be Jesse? Well, no. It couldn't. And of course, Patrick J. Buchanan's prescriptions for our nation are very different than those offered by Jesse Jackson.

Thanks to Patrick Buchanan, we've had about a month of front-page, front-burner discussion of what is happening in the economy. And to review those facts briefly, I find one phrase coming to my lips. It is a phrase, I have to say, that has never come to my lips before, kind of a radio phrase, and that phrase is "Let's do the numbers."

[MUSIC PLAYING - "WE'RE IN THE MONEY" BY DAVE MCKENNA]

A New York Times survey shows that 1/3 of all American households have had someone laid off since 1980. 1/10 of the adults in this country say that a layoff precipitated a major family crisis. And while most people who get laid off do find new jobs, 2/3 of them do not find jobs that paid as much as their old jobs. Median wages in this country have fallen 3% since 1979, adjusted for inflation, while stock prices have set record levels and corporate profits have risen.

And one way that lots of businesses have helped their bottom lines is by replacing full-time workers with temporary workers and with contract workers. And one sign of the times is that the largest employer in the United States, outside of the government of course, the largest private employer is now a temp agency, Manpower, Incorporated. They send out 800,000 temps a year. And to give you a sense of just how big that is, let's compare that with some other numbers. Could we have that music again, please?

[MUSIC PLAYING - "WE'RE IN THE MONEY" BY DAVE MCKENNA]

General Motors only has 347,000 employees in North America. Boeing only has 106,000.

[MUSIC PLAYING - "WE'RE IN THE MONEY" BY DAVE MCKENNA]

Wouldn't it be irritating if every time somebody says a number on the radio, they would just be going along, and they'd just be talking about this and that and this and that, and then suddenly they'd mention 14, and you hear--

[MUSIC PLAYING - "WE'RE IN THE MONEY" BY DAVE MCKENNA]

It would be like some weird, distorted, adult Sesame Street nightmare, is what it would be.

Although it is the largest employer in the country, when you visit Manpower's downtown Chicago office, it doesn't feel like it's the outpost of a corporate giant. It feels like what it is, a small office, just seven people, with the idiosyncrasies of any small office. For example, where other offices might use Post-it notes or those "While you were out" message pads, these people use coasters, round, with gold borders, left over from some promotional something years ago. But Manpower is as good a vantage point as any for observing trends in the economy. Manpower spokesperson Stephanie Black says that in the last five years, the nature of the temp business has changed a lot as companies have looked for ways to lay off permanent staff and replace them, as needed, with temps.

Stephanie Black

The business environment has changed enough where with the competitive global market, they need to maintain a core amount of staff that is productive and that they keep for all the time. And then they fill in for special projects or peak periods or seasonal fluctuations by using temporary help.

Ira Glass

While Manpower has been the beneficiary of these changes with the increased business, Stephanie Black takes pains to say that Manpower did not create the shift in the way that corporations hire or lay off workers. It simply responded.

It responded well, though. Some companies use so many dozens of temps all the time that Manpower sends a full-time Manpower representative to work on-site at the company to coordinate all the temps. And while 40% of Manpower's business is office workers and 40% is industrial workers, the fastest-growing part of its business, rising from nothing to 20% just in the last few years, is a category whose very existence tells you a lot about what's going on in the economy. These are technical workers.

Stephanie Black

Computer programmers, LAN administrators, CAD designers, chemists, biologists-- I mean, all sorts of different types of assignments. And many of those are project-based assignments, where they last six months. Come in, install a new network. Six months later, it's over with. They don't want to hire someone. A company doesn't want to bring someone in full-time for a position that's only going to last six months.

Ira Glass

This is the kind of work that 10 or 15 years ago might have been done by full-time employees. Now having said all that, it's important to note that one reason that Manpower has become the largest employer in the country is that it gives the people who work for it a fairly good deal, health insurance, paid vacation, and decent money. Skilled secretaries from the Chicago office make from $9 an hour to $16, and Manpower will train them to do particular jobs that it knows there's a market for.

But to get to the bottom of what it's like to be a temp in today's economy, we at this radio program decided we needed to go to the source. And so we hired two temp workers ourselves. And when they showed up at the radio station, we told them that their job while they were working for us was to prepare their own radio stories about what it's like to be a temp.

The two guys we got came from an agency called Labor Temps, whose motto is "Yes, we can." As opposed to most of the temp agencies we called with this assignment, who told us, no, they could not. Our two temp workers were named Lee and Tito. And they normally don't get sent to office jobs like this. Normally, these guys do light industrial work, general labor, factory work. Two of our producers, Alix Spiegel and Nancy Updike, took them into the radio studio with a list of possible questions they might use in preparing their radio reports about being a temp.

Tito

Check this one out. Does temping pay the bills, or do you have another job? And describe [? your family. ?]

Lee

You got to have another job.

Tito

You're damn real.

Lee

I can't see-- well, no, some people work full-time at their temp. But I don't see how you live unless you live 80 in a house.

[INTERPOSING VOICES]

Lee

You're not going to get rich doing this, that's for sure.

Tito

Definitely.

Lee

But you keep a hot tortilla on the table.

Ira Glass

That's Lee, who made the little tortilla joke towards Tito. He was constantly ribbing him with these little ethnic-- I don't even know the word that we should use here in polite company on the radio, just a little ethnic ribbing. And just so you know, Tito gave as good as he got. Here's how he described Lee when we asked him to describe Lee for our stories.

Tito

Long-haired, North side white boy. If I didn't know him and be walking down on the street, I'd think he's a pot-smoking, hooker-buying, drinking, just listening to rock and roll, banging his head into walls, and bar hanging out all the time type of guy.

Ira Glass

I should say that they seemed to have a lot of fun doing their stories, despite these two little quotes, as you will hear presently. The assignment was profile your fellow temp. So in other words, Lee interviewed Tito and did a story about Tito's experience. And Tito interviewed Lee and did a story about Lee's experience. We have two reports for you. The first one that we'll hear is the report that Lee prepared about Tito.

Lee

Hi, I'm Lee. I work at Labor Temps with Tito. Tito, he's Puerto Rican, young, about 21. He's got tattoos, gym shoes, loose-fitting clothes, and a kind of "what's up for lunch" attitude. When you work at a Labor Temp, you get up early in the morning and go to an old garage-looking place and wait around with a bunch of people waiting to get work.

Tito

It's two steps, one small one and one big one. Stand on it like a little stair. Maybe four people will fit there a little uncomfortable, three people comfortably standing right there [? unaccounted. ?]

OK, you go there, you'll have at least 10 people standing there, without exaggerating, on that one step, holding on to the edge. "Come on, send me, send me," and all that type of thing.

So you go there. You might have at least a good 100, 150. OK. And then you might have probably 10 companies that call today. They probably want five people each. That's what, about 50 people? You've got to look at it like that. So that's why people will say you got to be up there in their face, because they got to choose.

Lee

All kinds of people work at Labor Temps, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, black, white, lots of women. Everyone's there for a different reason. Some work one day a week for beer money. Some are trying to support their families. For me, it's mostly a part-time thing.

My main job is doing some floors with a friend of mine, Mike. I do some graphics. I worked that about six years. I have knowledge in that field. And I do some computer programming, because I went to DeVry a couple years before I ran out of cash.

I started about two years ago at Labor Temps when I was laid off a graphics job. Here's what Tito did before working with Labor Temps.

Tito

Sell drugs. Well, I was raised in a way of surviving. Surviving, street survival, be streetwise always. So I was always raising-- if you can't make it here, hey, go to that corner.

Woman

When did you stop?

Tito

When I went to jail.

[LAUGHTER]

Tito

That's where the temp came in.

Lee

You go from jail to being a temp.

Tito says as he makes about $150 a week at Labor Temps. Selling drugs, he can make five times that in a single day.

Tito

I look at a temp like a drug.

Woman

How? How's that?

Tito

A female gets you to do it. The female gets you to do it. I mean, the way I got into Labor Temps--

[LAUGHTER]

Woman

Explain yourself.

Tito

The way I got into Labor Temps was I had just finished coming into Chicago not too long ago, either. And I was staying with this female. I met this female. She liked me, whatever. We moved in together.

And then well, "Why don't you go to this agency?" It was a block away. So I went. If it wasn't for her, I would've never got in there. And it's like drugs. You know what I'm saying? You don't do that to every drug. But if it's your girlfriend, and she's like, "Come on, honey, please, please, please," you're going to do it eventually.

Lee

Temp agencies and the factories which call these agencies for temporary workers don't care that Tito spent six months in county jail. They don't care because they're mostly jobs nobody wants, garbage jobs. Most jobs that are temp jobs only give minimum wage. It's hard to have any strikes against you like Tito. He didn't finish the eighth grade.

Tito

I think the people that say "Yeah, we'll call you," and they never call you, I think that's what it is. You know, when you apply, did you finish school? Should I be honest? OK. I'll be honest. They say, OK, we'll call you. And they just throw it out. Once they see the school thing, it's over.

Lee

For Your Radio Playhouse, I'm Lee, the temp.

Tito

Hopefully, one day, I'm hoping, wishing I'll be at that level where I don't have to worry about waking up in the morning and, "Damn, are they going to send me to work today or not?" I'll be waking up in the morning saying, "I have to go to work. Damn, I'm going to be late for work. Honey, uh--" you know, "Breakfast, where's my breakfast? My lunch, hurry up," all that type of thing.

Family, kids running around, kiss a kid goodbye and whatever. The dog, kick him out of the way because he's in front of the door. All that type of thing.

Ira Glass

Well, that was the story that Lee did about Tito. Next, we have the story that Tito did about Lee.

Tito

I'm Tito. I work with Lee. Lee's been temping a lot longer than me, and he's seen some crazy jobs. He's worked at different agencies, but he's been in Labor Temps the longest. Lee had one assignment through an agency that lasted a whole year.

That's the funny thing. Temporary doesn't mean "short." It means no benefits, no pensions, no job security. That's why they hire temp workers. Some companies run on temp workers, all three shifts. They keep the smallest possible staff of full-time workers, just to keep everything running and organized.

Lee

There's maybe five employees, and they have three shifts running. And they're all temps, shifts after shifts of temps.

Tito

30 here, 20 here.

Lee

They'll have three different companies in there with three different sets of temps.

Tito

Yeah, that's true.

Most places we go, though, there's a mix of permanent and temp workers. It's a weird relationship. Sometimes the bosses treat you better than the permanents. Sometimes they treat you worse. Sometimes we work faster than the permanents, and they don't like it. They'll mess with you.

Once, Lee worked at a factory that made tar sealers. The tar sealers were delivered through these big pipes.

Lee

All of a sudden, you hear this gurgling in the whole system.

[GURGLING]

Lee

Everybody took off. I'm the temp. Every takes off diving behind things and hiding. And this is all a matter of seconds. I see this happening, so I turn around and start running, diving behind a skid or something. And this big air bubble comes out, and this ooze just splatters all over.

Everybody's laughing, man. I said, "Why didn't you tell me?" "Forgot." So every once in a while, it gets a big bubble in the system. And if you don't work there, you'll never notice.

Tito

Sometimes, companies offer you full-time jobs. That happened to me once, but it fell through at the last minute. I would take pretty much any full-time job, $5, $6, $7 an hour. Anything's better than $4.25 an hour. Lee feels different.

Lee

Nobody wants to pay any money for any kind of skilled labor. I noticed that. Like I'll go to a graphic place, I'll go to a typesetting house, they don't pay anything anymore. We'll give you $5 an hour to run optical [UNINTELLIGIBLE].

One guy wanted me to work his computer system. Wanted to give me $650. I was like, "Pfft. Give me $20,000, you pay off my education, and I'll do it." Because I said, "No way, man. You're nuts."

Tito

Greedy mother--

Lee

They want to pay little for certain work that takes years' experience.

Tito

For Your Radio Playhouse, I'm Tito the temp.

Tito

You know what's the funny part about all this? If we walked down the straight, we would never admit that we work in an agency. But we will go on live radio for it. I mean, go on radio, have our voices on radio saying we work for an agency.

Lee

Get some weird jobs out of them.

Woman

So why would you never admit that you worked at an agency?

Tito

Because out there, it's an embarrassing thing. It's like a person that-- You're a low-life. You're a nobody.

[MUSIC PLAYING - "IT WAS A GOOD DAY" BY ICE CUBE]

Ira Glass

OK, so to have music to end the story, I asked both of you guys-- Tito and Lee are here in the studio with me-- I asked you both to bring in some music. Tito, this is the song that you brought in. It's off a cassette. What are we hearing? Pull up to the mic.

Tito

Ice Cube, "It Was a Good Day."

Ira Glass

And why did you choose this song to come after your guys' story?

Tito

Because he talks about it being a good day. Nothing happened. Nothing bad happened. No cops messed with you today. No gangbangers messed with you. Everything went smooth today. That's what it meant, happening to me, just running smooth.

[MUSIC PLAYING - "IT WAS A GOOD DAY" BY ICE CUBE]

Ira Glass

OK, Lee, so what'd you bring? You have a tape here somewhere.

Lee

Right there.

Ira Glass

Let's see. OK.

Lee

Well, I wanted to play Nugent's "Stranglehold," because it's my favorite song. But it's kind of long. So I figured the mood working for temps, I figured Johnny Cash and Folsom Prison song would be the best.

[LAUGHTER]

Lee

Life keeps dragging on.

Tito

Go Lee.

[MUSIC PLAYING - "FOLSOM PRISON BLUES" BY JOHNNY CASH]

[LAUGHTER]

Ira Glass

Hey, is your boss listening to this show?

Lee

Yeah.

Tito

Yeah, they are. Yes, they are.

Ira Glass

Yeah, good luck on Monday. Wait, was that the end of the song? That was the end, huh? We got to rewind it.

Lee

Yeah, we got to get the beginning.

Ira Glass

All right.

Johnny Cash

--had it coming. I know I can't be free.

Lee

Can't be free.

Johnny Cash

But those people keep a-movin', and that's what tortures me.

Ira Glass

Lee, if you want to sing, now's your chance.

Lee

I was playing this all day where we were working.

Ira Glass

Is that true?

Lee

Yeah.

Ira Glass

Where were you guys out today?

Tito

It's Water Warehouse. They sell products for pools and spas and all types of things.

Ira Glass

All right. Now let's let the song play out. We got to do a little break, and then we're going to come back. OK? We have more stuff. Lisa Buscani, a tour of an economic development project, and we're going to talk to you guys a little bit more. OK? So stay tuned.

[MUSIC PLAYING - "FOLSOM PRISON BLUES" BY JOHNNY CASH]

Our program continues in a minute. You're listening to Your Radio Playhouse.

Ira Glass

It's Your Radio Playhouse. OK, well Tito and Lee, you guys are both still here. Wait, let me get that Folsom Prison music going here. Hold on.

Tito

Oh no.

Ira Glass

So we can get some background music. And you guys are still looking for jobs, right?

Tito

Definitely.

Ira Glass

And so people who are listening to the radio story, they could hear about some of the things you do. I guess we should set this up, so we're going to station Alix Spiegel at our Your Radio Playhouse phone. If you have a job-- now what kind of job are you guys looking for here?

Tito

Anything.

Ira Glass

Anything. OK, pretty much that narrows it down. What kind of pay range?

Tito

Whatever. Like I said, anything's better than $4.25.

Ira Glass

You drive one hard bargain here, Tito. I think exploitation is about to happen.

Lee

I could use a job that stretches your brain.

Ira Glass

All right. All right. You could hear these guys. I can tell you they were our employees for three days. They came in on time. They were prompt. They were courteous. They were a pleasure to have around.

Our phone number here is 832-3380. An operator is standing by. Let's see if we can hustle you guys up a job in the next 20 minutes. And if you're not at a phone now, but you've got a job for these guys, call us during the week here at the radio station, 832-3380 in the 312.

[MUSIC PLAYING - "FOLSOM PRISON BLUES" BY JOHNNY CASH]

Act Four. Economic Development, Chicago Style.

Ira Glass

Act Three, Dad. Well, we asked Lisa Buscani if she had anything to contribute to our program today about the economy. Lisa is a Chicago poet and writer, performer, winner of the National Poetry Slam, now resides in New York City. And she said she did have something. She had a story about her father.

Lisa Buscani

When I remember him during that time, that time that will exist "forever," in quote marks, emphasized heavily to save the family from having to actually discuss it at length, it is morning. It is always morning because no matter how many talk shows or war movies he stayed up to watch the night before, he rises with the sun or its winter absence.

He rises because there is work in the morning. There always has been. Either it was assigned to him, or he found it himself. But there is work, and morning is the time to begin it.

I hear his knees popping as he sits at the kitchen table with black coffee and his cigs to read two papers, the Toledo Blade and the Detroit Free Press. Two papers because that would lower the odds, that would double the chances, increase the opportunities to find work, work that he has recently lost. When I see him, there is no work.

It is northwestern Ohio in the middle of its continuous recession. He has shaken both papers of all of their news, and there is no work. It is all he can do to keep from dropping his pride like the seventh veil and answering the aluminum siding or used car sales ads.

Some days are better than others, though. On the good days, there is work. And he circles the ad with an exuberant, victorious red pen and heads upstairs to his office. His office, for as long as I can remember, had a huge desk cluttered with spec sheets and promotional brochures featuring whatever he was selling at the time, bright, four-colored photos of appliances or mattresses arranged in ways that would prove these items to be necessary, essential to the customer's well-being and happiness. Whatever he was selling, it was always essential and necessary.

But when I see him, the desk is bare. The clutter has been swept away. Even his answering machine message is empty, because he has no company that he proudly represents, no business cards.

Time has become his greatest enemy. His unemployment insurance is running out. He has long since passed the age when most companies will consider hiring him. He leaves the age blank empty on the application form, but personnel managers still rush him through interviews after one look at his tastefully graying temples and some simple math on his job experience.

Time has become a shifting, empty, immemorable thing. Two months becomes six months. Six months becomes a year. He tries to fill it by painting the house and organizing the basement.

I see my mom, weak with the weight of it. She's pale from going to work and arriving home without the sun. I see her lips thin and her knuckles whiten as she puts a bill payment off another month, as they max out another credit card, as they second mortgage the house.

It has never been this bad. Together, they put three kids through college, and it was never this bad. She's struggling with her tongue, with her ever-present desire to scream at him, "Do something." Everything they built together is slowly crumbling, and she wonders if they'll survive.

When I see him, he's typing cover letters, a hesitant, two-fingered pecking on an old Smith Corona with a fading ribbon. The family smiles quietly and rewrites, corrects his grammar, telling him, "Daddy, take this out. You sound too desperate." But after all, you write what you know.

And what he knows is he has 30 years of experience, 30 years of smiling when he didn't want to, 30 years of forcing laughter into the phone, of looking into narrow, skeptical eyes, of fast food, 30 years of paperwork, of business trips in cut-rate motels, of driving backwater towns in white-out storms. 30 years of the word "no," 30 years of straight commission, which is the hardest, toughest, way to go. And god dammit, that's got to be good enough for someone. He's living with the firm knowledge that there is nothing that he cannot do and the terrifying reality that he will not be allowed to do it.

I see us talking, my dad and I, about his unemployment and his prospects for the future. Nothing is ever said because most of the time, there is nothing to say. I wish him luck and faith, because sometimes only the intangibles can set things right.

When I see him, he thinks he is alone. But he is not. All across Ohio, the Midwest, America, thousands of white, middle-aged men just like Dad are attending workshops, haunting placement agencies and training centers, filling their chests with the ghosts of their bravado, straining to understand why what once worked for them does not work any longer. They play their losing game the way they always have, pulling desperately on bootstraps, noses frantically to grindstones.

These men refuse to question the validity of the business structures that they've established, a vicious system that whipped around and bit them the first chance it got. It is this ignorant, blind faith that makes me think, "Good. Let the men who made the rules and carry out the policies suffer the consequence of these policies. They chose management's pay scale. Let them live without the protection of a union. Let the most privileged class of our society taste the fear and frustration that the rest of us know on a daily basis."

Then I think of my dad, how he waited, how time weighed him down and wore on him like the sea over stone. I wouldn't wish that on anyone.

Act 4.

Ira Glass

Act Four, Economic Development, Chicago Style. Well, we as a nation are not helpless in the face of broad economic forces. We can take action. We can spur economic development. Witness one of the high visibility projects put into place by the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois at a cost of $156 million of taxpayer money, Navy Pier.

Navy Pier is a downtown waterfront project on Lake Michigan, not far from the heart of downtown Chicago, but not in it, either. Lots of cities have development projects like this. There's Faneuil Hall in Boston, Baltimore's Inner Harbor, New York's South Street Seaport.

Navy Pier features a big Ferris wheel and the Chicago Children's Museum and one of those IMAX movie theaters. There's convention floor space. There's some shopping and a food court. The atmosphere is that of a second-rate mall anywhere in America. The roof leaks. The food's nothing special. The stores aren't the kind you'd go out of your way to visit.

We at this radio program are very familiar with Navy Pier because Chicago's public radio station recently moved to a new building located halfway between the Ferris wheel and the convention space. Our staff has spent so many hours walking the drafty hallway between the food court and our offices that associate producer Peter Clowney has committed to memory the song "Here Come the Hawks," the official theme song of Chicago's hockey team that, for a while, for reasons we've never been able to fully understand or explain, played incessantly in the hallway PA system.

[MUSIC PLAYING - "HERE COME THE HAWKS" BY J. SWAYZEE]

We have watched with fascination some of the strange conventions that have come and gone here at Navy Pier. One day, strolling to the end of the pier for some fresh air, I looked into Exhibit Hall A and saw an entire carnival midway, complete with full-size rides, multicolored lights, loud music, equipment so massive it's hard to comprehend how they even get it indoors. But here it was, under the artificial lights, during the dead of Chicago winter.

A few months before, we all gawked at a convention whose purpose was to help small businesses market their products to Generation X. This was, as far as we could determine, American capitalism at a disturbingly odd nadir, sunk so low you didn't want to see it there, trying to market to a generation whose supposed defining characteristic is that it's comprised of non-materialist, non-conformist, slacker types who, above all, resent products being marketed to them.

Man

--the contest. He's going to demonstrate karaoke for you. Johnny Vaughan will demonstrate karaoke for you. And we're taking the next four people. I think we have two people signed up for our contest. Johnny Vaughan, we'll start the CD, and we're off.

Johnny Vaughan

Hello.

Ira Glass

We can only wonder if the Generation X karaoke contest would have been more popular had there actually been an audience in the hall to participate. But the Generation X convention was one of the least successful events at the pier. The most important single fact about this $156 million economic development project is that, by all accounts, it is a huge, huge success.

Crowds are twice as large as anyone expected, three and a half million in just six months. People even came during the winter. And at many stores and restaurants, business is good.

Mary Beth Pullman

This is by far, I think, our best seller.

Ira Glass

Describe what this is. This is a T-shirt.

Mary Beth Pullman

It's just a T-shirt. And we have it in both designs. We have just a plain white T-shirt. And what it is kind of a different look of the skyline, of fun, instead of your regular old skyline picture, just a really fun design showing Chicago with a nice little heart world representing the earth.

Ira Glass

Mary Beth Pullman owns the store Oh Yes Chicago, which looks like an upscale Gap store with blond wood floors, selling T-shirts and caps with the word Chicago on them in various designs. None of them, she'll tell you proudly, with the hackneyed old Al Capone, Chicago mobster, Mrs. O'Leary's cow images. The T-shirt she was showing me sells 25 or so on a typical day at $15 a shirt. Most of her customers are from out of town.

Mary Beth Pullman

They're going to maybe come in here, buy something for themselves and for a loved one, whether it be a child or a spousal unit or--

Ira Glass

These are the kinds of jobs and businesses that have been created so far for $156 million. Mary Beth Pullman's happy at the pier. Her sales have exceeded expectations and projections. But like most businesses anywhere, it takes a while before you realize real profits. The pier's been open less than a year. She figures it'll be another two before the store is comfortably profitable. And in the meantime, she's earning less than she did in her old job renting shopping center space. Fortunately, she has a spousal unit of her own out in the suburbs earning money, so she doesn't have to draw a salary from the store right now.

Mary Beth Pullman

Any money that I'm taking out of the store is really being put right back in for inventory and such. It's because we are coming in to our peak season. So that's how, I mean, my compensation is I could draw the salary out if I wanted to. But at this point in time, it's in my best interest and the business' best interest to just put it right back in for inventory.

Ira Glass

This store has seven employees, and they earn between $6.00 and $8.00 an hour, which is about par for Navy Pier. That's $12,000 to $16,000 a year, not much if you're trying to raise a family. But most of the people you see working at the pier are in their 20s and early 30s, just starting out. Nigel, for example, works in the T-shirt store half the week and uses the money to go to college the other half. He lives with his parents, hopes to go to law school, take international law.

Nigel

I do speak Spanish. I'm bilingual. So in the long run, maybe have some business dealings in Mexico, South America, maybe in Spain. That's what I want to do. For now, I'm just happy working for Mary Beth here at Oh Yes Chicago.

Ira Glass

In fact, many workers on the Pier said they were glad to have these jobs. They didn't complain. The one maintenance man told me that he made more money at the hair care products company he used to work for, before layoffs sent him to the pier. He was looking for another job.

Navy Pier officials are tight-lipped about the number of jobs that have been created for $156 million in taxpayer money. They say no economic projection or impact statements were ever done for the project. But after weeks of refusing to provide any numbers for this radio story, they finally turned over a few. Let's do them.

[MUSIC PLAYING - "WE'RE IN THE MONEY" BY DAVE MCKENNA]

The Navy Pier Authority says they have 137 full-time and 451 part-time employees. These are the people who work for the pier itself, security people, parking, maintenance. The Navy Pier Authority would not provide information on the salary ranges of its employees, or even a breakdown of employees' jobs. The Pier Authority refused to allow us to interview any pier employees for this report.

In addition to the pier employees, there are 37 stores and restaurants located on the pier. At the very most, we figure they employ 600 additional people, bringing the pier total, at most, to 1,200 workers. The government put $156 million dollars into the pier. That works out to $130,000 per job at the very least. And remember that more than half of these jobs are part-time.

Well, we had no idea if this was good or not, $130,000 per job created. So we called someone to find out. Joan Fitzgerald is a urban planner at the Great Cities Institute at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Joan Fitzgerald

I would say it's a lot of money per job for service sector jobs, and particularly given that the number of those that are-- because you're counting your part-time jobs in there. And chances are those are jobs as shop clerks and so forth. So we're not talking living wage jobs here. It's very high.

Ira Glass

Joan Fitzgerald says that it used to be common for governments to create-- you know, we played that David Brancaccio music, and now I feel like I'm reading exactly like him. Now I'm going to try to read like myself. It's irresistible, once you play that Marketplace music, it has an effect on you that's so profound. All right.

Joan Fitzgerald-- friends at home, I just want you to try this yourselves. Get a copy of that Dave McKenna "We're in the Money." And good luck finding it, because it's out of print. But let's not even go into that. And then play this thing. And I swear, you start to read like David Brancaccio on Marketplace. Well, I'm just going to read like him. That's what I'm going to do for this section of the story.

Joan Fitzgerald says that it used to be common for governments to create jobs for $10,000 or $12,000 per job, but there's been a bidding war to pull in employers and businesses. $130,000 per job is high, but still a fraction of what Alabama just spent to get a Mercedes-Benz plant. And Joan Fitzgerald says that if Navy Pier helps bring tourists to the city and convention business and hotel business, then the investment makes more sense.

Joan Fitzgerald

You can't just look at each project in and of itself. You have to look at it as part of a broader tourism development strategy.

Ira Glass

Chicago city officials like Greg Longhini, assistant to the commissioner at the Department of Planning and Development, would prefer if we would not try to come up with a per-job cost at all for Navy Pier.

Greg Longhini

Absolutely not. It's a crazy way to look at the question. The project was not to create jobs.

Ira Glass

What was the purpose of the project?

Greg Longhini

The purpose of the project was to restore a civic landmark, a treasure, kind of like the restoring of the Reliance Building. I was not aware of it being a job-generating or primarily an economic development project.

Ira Glass

So there was no notion that the idea of this was to bring some sort of business or help business in Chicago?

Greg Longhini

No, I'm not saying that that's not the case. But to start analyzing the number of jobs created by the investment doesn't make sense.

Ira Glass

So how should we evaluate the success or failure of Navy Pier?

Greg Longhini

I think we should evaluate the success or failure of Navy Pier on how it's viewed by the citizens at large, how many people visit the place, what people think about it, whether or not it adds to the image of Chicago as a good place to live and a good place to visit or not.

Male Navy Pier Player

Well, my friends, we've got so many beautiful little kids out here in the audience. We want to ask all of the little ones to come up and join us here on our stage, because we want to sing this next song directly to you guys. So come up here and stand right by us.

Ira Glass

In the middle of the atrium at Navy Pier, near the McDonald's and Oh Yes Chicago, a strolling troupe of a cappella singers called the Navy Pier Players pulls a few three- and four-year-olds from a crowd that numbers about 60.

[MUSIC - NAVY PIER PLAYERS SINGING]

Navy Pier Players

If it weren't for kids, have you ever thought there wouldn't be a Santa Claus. And look what the stork just brought, thank god for kids.

Ira Glass

The three children being held in various singers' arms and laps stare blankly into the middle distance. Each of the Navy Piers Players is dressed as a different character. The lead singer is a Da Bears-style sports fan. There's Mrs. O'Leary, whose cow supposedly started the Chicago fire. There's a cheerleader and a nerdy college boy, a guy in a mock zoot suit and a wide brim hat, a sailor girl, and a female character whose gimmick is simply that she likes shopping.

They do four shows a day, five days a week. And they work up a sweat, all that pep, dancing and singing. Seeing them belt out an a cappella rendition of, say, "Bohemian Rhapsody" in the food court to a group of tourists and stunned-looking children, you do not think this is an easy job. Anything but.

Female Navy Pier Player

God bless America. This next song goes out to all the patriots here at Navy Pier. Hut, 2, 3, 4. Hut, 2, 3, 4.

[MUSIC - NAVY PIER PLAYERS SINGING]

Ira Glass

After the performance, I spoke with this woman, the one in the sailor costume. She carries an American flag and after every answer, gave me a little salute.

Female Navy Pier Player

Yeah, I worked in a Japanese restaurant playing the piano. I started a little production company called [? Koose ?] City Productions, and I put on two shows with that. I give piano lessons. Yeah.

Ira Glass

And right now, so this is one of many-- you just saluted.

Female Navy Pier Player

Yeah.

Ira Glass

This is one of many jobs that you have right now?

Female Navy Pier Player

Well, this is my primary job.

Ira Glass

350 people auditioned for these eight jobs. It may not be the greatest money in the world, but there aren't many full-time jobs for actors and singers in Chicago. And with two Navy Pier officials standing by to make sure no one said anything inappropriate, she said she was glad to get the work.

Credits.

Ira Glass

Today's program was produced by Peter Clowney and by myself with Alix Spiegel, Nancy Updike, and Dolores Wilber. Contributing editors Jack Hitt, Margy Rochlin, and Paul Tough. WBEZ management oversight by Torey Malatia.

[ACKNOWLEDGMENTS]

If you want to buy a tape of this or other Playhouse programs, you can call us at WBEZ. If you want to give jobs to our two temp workers, Tito or Lee, you can call us for that reason, though we have received one call at least. 312-832-3380, our phone number here. Again, 312-832-3380.

And if you get the answering machine, just leave a message. We'll call you back when we can. You can email us at this email address, radio@well.com.

We broadcast from WBEZ Chicago. We'll be back next week with more stories of this American life. I'm Ira Glass.