Earlier this evening I stepped out for a breath of air. I decided that I’d grab a cup of hot chocolate while I was out and about. Just as I was about to step into the 7-11, a gentleman I first met a couple of months ago came through the doors.
When he saw me he put on a smile, greeted me and shook my hand. Despite the smile however, I could tell that something wasn’t right. His eyes betrayed an anxiety. So after the chit chat was out of the way, I asked how things were going for him. A bit hesitantly, the reason for his worries came out.
This gentleman runs a small handyman business. He used to have two other gentlemen who would work for him on certain projects. However, with the economy seemingly on the verge of recession (or already in a recession, depending on who you talk to) his business hasn’t been doing as well as it had been previously. He had to let both of the men go. In fact, business has been so poor that he has found himself getting deeper into debt.
When has been be able to get work, his profit margin is almost nil. The cost of materials has gone up. The numbers of clients have gone down because less people are spending money for remodeling. And one of the biggest culprits behind all of this is the obscene price of gasoline. No wonder folks have less to spend on other "luxuries" like: rent, food and clothing. They’re pouring it away at the gas pump.
Much of what little profit this gentleman was making was getting pumped into the gas tank of his work truck. Without his truck, he can’t haul the materials or tools needed for his work. Having to drive further distances to obtain projects, means more mileage, which in turns means spending more money at the gas pump.
On the MSNBC site today there was an article, Oil execs defend huge profits before Senate, about the appearance of five top oil company executives from Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp., BP America Inc., ConocoPhillips Co. and Shell Oil Co., before Congress. This was their second appearance this year. Their first was last month, when the price of crude oil was around $98 per barrel. The price of crude oil is now around $134 per barrel – $36 more than it was last month.
Vermont Senator, Patrick Leahy, asked the executives how much money they had personally earned last year. Three of them said that it was in the millions. The other two didn’t know (or conveniently couldn’t remember) how much they had earned.
Senator Leahy made no attempt to disguise his sarcasm with his reply of,
"I wish I made enough money that I didn’t know how much I make!"
According to the article, the five companies reported profits of $36 billion for the first three months of this year.
As I listened to this gentleman telling me how he was struggling just to keep afloat, the MSNBC article kept popping back into my mind.
Then he muttered something that made my insides grind: he didn’t know if he would be able to pay his rent come the beginning of the month. He had borrowed against his credit cards the past two months to cover his rent, but didn’t think he was going to be able to "…pull it off again." As a result, he was worried that he might soon find himself homeless.
I asked this gentleman if he had any family or friends who he might be able to stay with. He said to me that his father had passed away and his mother lived in a different state. As for friends, he didn’t have any close friendships. He had put so much time and energy into his business that he didn’t socialize much. He would work long hours and then at the end of the day go home, shower, have a late dinner and head off to bed.
After this gentleman left, I sat there at the table for a while longer. As I did, I wondered how many other self-employed people were going through something similar.
Then from somewhere in my memory I recalled a post I had written late last year, Greed: The American Dream.
One of the last lines of that post was,
The net result is that more and more people are going to find themselves homeless because of corporate greed.
I find it disgusting that this gentleman may find himself homeless because he may not be able afford to put gasoline into his work truck yet, the fat cats of the oil industry are making so much money that they can’t remember how much they’ve made.
What I find even more disgusting is that our elected leaders seem to keep dragging their feet when it comes to doing what it takes to help the "little folks" like you and I keep our heads above water. And all this dragging of feet is going to create more homeless all across our nation.
It’s all fine and dandy that they’re holding all manner of hearings and calling the business bigwigs before this committee or that committee. But they’ve already had the top execs of the oil companies in twice – and the price of gas is still going up.
Maybe if everyone on Capital Hill stopped flapping their lips long enough to roll up their sleeves and actually do their jobs, there might be fewer jobs that have been lost.
And maybe, just maybe, there might be less homeless on the city streets of our nation.