When I enlisted in the Army right out of high school, I believed that if I served my country- my country would serve me. At 50 years of age, I realize that isn’t the case. As an employee at an auto parts supplier plant in Lorain, OH, I have found that life is hard, promises are unfulfilled, and my dreams are unattained.
Twenty-three years after I left the military, I found myself in the admissions office of a local college. After spending 18 of those years in a factory (not in auto parts), I knew I needed to get out of factory work because my body couldn’t handle it anymore. I had suffered partial loss of the use of my left arm due to a compressed nerve and debilitating nerve damage to my right hand, caused by diabetes.
I was determined to realize my dream of becoming a private investigator. Over the years I had saved enough money in a 401K that allowed me to provide for myself while I immersed myself in school. After only eighteen months, my hard work paid off. I had earned my Associates Degree in Applied Science. Though I had drained my 401K and took out student loans to get there, I believed my future was bright.
Immediately, I set upon finding a “good” job. I applied for security jobs but found most to be part-time and low pay. I started to expand my job search but found that the employment landscaped had changed. Most people are only hiring temporary employees these days. After months of a disappointing job search, I was forced, out of desperation, to start working for a temporary employment agency.
To my great disappointment, my journey led me back to where I started— in a factory. I started in an auto parts plant in October 2013. The only silver lining is that I finally have health insurance again. I had gone over a year without any diabetes medication. Despite the chronic tiredness and devastating long-term effects of not taking my medication consistently, I knew that it wouldn’t do any good to take my money and get diabetes medication if I was living on the street.
Working in auto parts is a struggle. Even though we are assembling seats for large-named auto makers, we don’t get paid the high wages people associate with the auto industry. In fact, our wages are in the bottom ten percent of all parts plants in the United States—the sort of wages that force people to live in poverty. I bring home a meager $272 per week. After I pay my bills—which include the interest on my student loans—I have nothing left. I haven’t even touched the principal of those loans, which means I’ll continue to be saddled with debt for years to come.
To make ends meet, I live in a two-bedroom trailer with my daughter, son-in-law, and 17-month-old granddaughter. It is hard living this way. I am unhappy about my situation. I don’t care to be rich. I just want enough to survive, and I think that is a reasonable expectation for someone who goes to work and works hard every day.
Despite everything, I have not given up on my dream of a better life. I am standing up with my coworkers to make this the job we need it to be. I’m tired of people taking control of my life, and I really feel bad for the generation coming up. As for today, I go to work every day, I do the best I can and hope for a brighter future.