May 16, 2008



Middle-class anguish
by Jim Hightower

The latest poll reveals that 81 percent of the American people believe our country is headed in the wrong direction. Gosh, why in the world would so many of us think such a thing?

Here’s one possibility. Let’s say you’re a working stiff who’s had your $40,000-a-year job off-shored, leaving you downsized into a job that pays only about half that. Meanwhile, your health coverage is gone, gasoline and milk prices are up to $4 a gallon, your credit cards are maxed out, and you’re three months behind on your car payments. Then you start getting hounded by insistent phone calls from an employee of a debt collection outfit, demanding money and threatening to sue you.

Oh, one more thing, the debt collector is not in America — the company is operating out of a call center in India, where thousands of young Indians have been employed at a fraction of U.S. wages and trained to go after struggling American families.

Yes, even the collection of our debts has been outsourced by corporate America.

Companies like Encore Capital Group are shifting their jobs to such low-wage countries as India, hiring English-speaking telephone collectors for a base wage of $425 a month. Callers are taught some American slang and given phone-names like “Michelle” to make them seem like they’re from here. They are trained in empathy skills so they can cope with debtors who are “very emotional, very sad.” They’re also instructed on the specifics of Washington’s forthcoming economic stimulus, which is delivering tax rebate checks worth up to $600 for most Americans. The callers from India then squeeze indebted families to sign over their tax rebate checks to the debt collectors.

This kind of stuff is assaulting our middle class. And that is why such a big majority of folks are so frustrated and angry, telling pollsters that America is headed to hell in a hand basket.

For more information on Jim Hightower's work — and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown— visit www.jimhightower.com


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