“Inequality and a lack of good jobs” killed Kevin Green at 54, writes Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times. They went to high school together in rural Oregon, running on the cross country team and joining Future Farmers of America.
Kevin grew up on a small farm. His father had a good union job as a cement finisher, though he had only a third-grade education and couldn’t read.
The son earned his high school diploma, but union jobs were hard to find. He took lower-paying construction jobs. He fathered twin boys, but “because he and his girlfriend struggled financially, they never married.”
At about 40, Kevin hurt his back and lost his job. His girlfriend moved out, taking the boys.
Kevin’s weight ballooned to 350 pounds, and he developed diabetes and had a couple of heart attacks. He grew marijuana and self-medicated with it, (brother) Clayton says, and was arrested for drug offenses.
Kevin eventually got disability benefits, but he was far behind in child support and was punished by losing his driver’s license — which made it pretty much impossible to get a job in a rural area. Disability helped Kevin by providing a monthly check that he desperately needed, but it also hurt him because he might have looked harder for a job if he hadn’t been getting those checks, Clayton says.
After child support deductions, Kevin lived on “about $180 a month plus food stamps and a small income from selling home-grown pot,” writes Kristof. He grew vegetables and fished in the river.
His twin boys “had trouble in school and with the law, jailed for drug and other offenses.”
Kevin died of multiple organ failure.
Trying to make a living with a high school education is harder than ever before. Scraping by on disability, food stamps and off-the-books work is increasingly common. But there will be no return to the days of high-paying jobs for uneducated workers. Who does cement finishing in Oregon these days? Mexican immigrants, I’d guess.
Some 93 million Americans 16 and older are out of the workforce — not employed and not looking, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The labor force participation rate is 62.7 percent.