Confessions from Inside the Welfare State

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In late 1975, I was hired as a part-time employee of a major U.S. department store chain. The store separated their employees into two classes: Red Badge and Blue Badge. Blue Badge employees were usually newer workers and had no authority to receive personal checks without the approval of a Red Badge. For some reason, that I still do not understand to this day, I was given Red Badge authority.

I worked as a commission salesman in the camera and office supplies department. I was a good salesman and knew the products. I always treated the customers right, gave them good service, and up-sold them a better product whenever I could. I explained the rationale for this sales method to my co-workers and within a year, our store went from #33 in profitability to #3 on the entire West-Coast area. Of course it was not 100% my doing, a few of my co-workers were pretty sharp. Even though the year was 1976, and I was a part-timer, I made well over $500 a week. My pay averaged out to around $14 dollars an hour.

When I decided to go to university, I left my job expecting to be hired at the same chain store in the new area doing the same job. But that didn’t happen. The new store put me in a position that I was not suited for: Shipping department. I felt that this was typical of the incompetence that I witnessed at this chain. I was a good talker and suited for sales — Not taking boxes off of racks and putting them into the trunks of cars. Even though my pay was quite good, I quit that job because I was not satisfied with driving a forklift around a basement.

I was soon hired by a proper Photo/Camera equipment store and given another commission sales job. The year was 1979, and I cannot recall well, but it seems to me that I got paid a little more than $8.75 an hour.

As I was a university student, I couldn’t work as much as I wanted to. Fact of the matter is that I was at my university to have fun and meet a girl who had a rich family. Studying was of secondary importance. After about two years of goofing off, I was in trouble at school. My grades were atrocious and I was in danger of not being allowed to move up a grade. I had to quit my job and devote more time to study. My boss, being a great guy, told me that instead of quitting, that he’d have me “laid off” that way I could still get paid money from the government. Free money!? Okay. I agreed.

And this is where this story becomes incredible. I didn’t really want to go down to the unemployment office. I have always felt that collecting unemployment was a bit of a disgrace. But that’s just the way I was raised. I do understand that there are many people who feel they need this assistance. I won’t discuss that question. I am only talking about my own experiences here.

I filled out the forms they gave me at the unemployment office and waited a few weeks. Finally a check came in the mail. I was stunned. The State of California was paying me more money a week in unemployment benefits than my former employer, the camera store, was paying me to work! When I brought this up to the unemployment office worker, it was explained to me that the government calculates unemployment benefits over a period spanning the last three (or was it five?) years. This made my average benefits higher because of what I was being paid while working at the department store. So, I received the unemployment checks for several months and got more money than if I had kept my job at the photo shop.

Thinking about the calculation system, you’d realize that I would have gotten even more money had I never worked at that photo store and started collecting benefits straight out from leaving the department store. Working while being a university student had actually lowered my benefits.

What kind of an insane system is that? I felt bad about it after a while and stopped filing for unemployment because I thought it was, frankly speaking, dishonest on my part to do so.

After graduating I worked three years for a huge company as a salesman. I was almost always in the top ten of sales for my district. When I decided to leave that job and move to Japan, I tendered my resignation. The company used a commission system that paid you now for the last three months of sales. Since I was going to quit, I figured that there was no need to sell, or even work for that matter, so I went fishing just about everyday and continued a moonlighting job I had as a photographer for a Republican Congressman from California.

I received two paychecks after my commissions dropped off just before coming to Japan. I was floored. Due to union rules, I received a bit over $500 a week in pay — the union prescribed minimum. I couldn’t believe it. $500 dollars a week and I didn’t work? No wonder there were a few salesmen there who didn’t work at all, received a paycheck, yet the company did not fire them. Union rules explain why the company couldn’t fire the salesmen who didn’t sell at all, and getting $500 for sitting around doing nothing explains why they didn’t quit. Why work? I guess this situation also explains, in part, why your insurance premiums are so high. But that discussion will be saved for another time.

I have to mention here that during my last three months or so I took a part-time job at my friend’s liquor store at minimum wage. It was fun. I met nice customers, enjoyed the job; and when we weren’t busy, I scrubbed the floors or cleaned the windows. I so enjoyed that job — no pressure. When it came time to go to Japan, my friend asked me not to go and told me that he’d make me the manager if I stayed. I thanked him, but said “No, thanks.” I know why he’d want someone that he could trust to stay: I caught some of the other part-time employees trying to steal a six-pack of beer once.

I have never been able to figure out employee theft. I have heard that employee theft, “shrinkage,” accounts for 70% of all shop-lifting. They had the same problem at the department store, the photo-shop, and at the liquor store. The part I can’t figure out is why anyone would risk their job by stealing something that’s just worth a few dollars? Doesn’t make sense. And, of course, if the employer catches the employee stealing something, no matter how inexpensive it is, they’d have to fire that employee. If the employee can’t be trusted around inexpensive items, well then they certainly can’t be trusted around expensive ones.

But I digress. This article is about the scam of the Welfare State. The biggest scam that I am quite ashamed to admit is being perpetrated by a relative of mine. This relative (not my father) was in the military. He has been collecting military disability retirement compensation for years, most probably decades. The problem is that he is not disabled. He never was. He is cheating the federal government, and in turn you and me, in this scam. He is cheating America and other Americans who pay tax yet he calls himself a patriot. Go figure. That is what I find quite repulsive: He voted for President George and is all in favor of everything President George and the Federal government does — including killing innocent people. Yet he cheats and lies about having a military disability so he can get more money in a dishonest manner. I do find that quite hypocritical.

It’s more than hypocritical, it’s criminal. And it’s all too common and all too typical of America today: Lie, cheat and steal, yet profess to be Christian; profess to be a patriot. Bush lovers or haters, face the truth: America is nearing the end.

President George is steam-rolling you quicker into oblivion and much of America seem quite happy about it. Iraq will go down in history as the greatest military defeat the world has ever known. Not only is it destroying the American military, but it is a big part of the destruction of America’s economy. Now he says he would support an Israeli attack on Iran. Doesn’t this fool know that doing so is against U.S. and International law? George W. Bush needs to be impeached and — with him all those who have played a part in the destruction of America — need to be tried. If found guilty they must all be put into prison. I say prison, because I personally am against the death penalty.

Of course, this won’t happen. Even if it did tomorrow, America is broken.

Out of an estimated population of 294 million people in America, there are only 130 million workers. An estimate of 11—12 million unemployed and 120 million are collecting a government check! Add in industries and businesses (as well as foreign governments) who receive cash subsidies, tax breaks, military support for their foreign operations and the entire system is beyond reason. There are roughly 25 million city, state, and Federal employees. 45 million people over 62 years of age, 50 million who are disabled (very loosely defined) who collect public assistance, one way or another. This cannot continue.

The U.S. will become just another footnote in the history books of failed societies like the Greeks, Romans, Ottomans, and British. The rascals who perpetuated this scenario will slip into the dark night with the public’s money and reestablish themselves elsewhere and the people be damned.

History does repeat itself through ignorance and hubris. From a Norman Rockwell idyllic painting of American life, reality and life are becoming more like Edvard Munch’s "The Scream."

Parts of this article were co-written with my friend Ken Yano

Mike (in Tokyo) Rogers [send him mail] was born and raised in the USA and moved to Japan in 1984. He has worked as an independent writer, producer, and personality in the mass media for nearly 30 years.

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