The True Cost of "Cheap Goods"

Brian Hicks

Updated June 15, 2009

blue collar


Here’s a story on unemployment that speaks for itself.

It’s about what happens when you sacrifice your soul on the altar of money. 

Because when you do, the lives of good people get trampled on every step of the way.

And while I don’t happen to have the answer on this one, my gut has always told me that it is all horribly wrong.

Meanwhile, don’t think for a minute that those cheap goods from overseas don’t come at a significant cost.

From the AP by John Moreno Gonzales entitled: Ailing factory towns face tougher road to recovery

“Tim Holt was among the men and women who wove fabric and prosperity here for generations, until the textile factories left town in a global manufacturing shift that the rest of the country hardly seemed to notice.  

Fifty-one years old and pushing through his second federally funded job-training program in six years, he names the departed companies like a list of suspects. Gold Toe, which introduced its durable socks during the Great Depression, found cheaper labor in Mexico. Culp Weaving, an upholstery giant that may have covered your parents’ sofa, left for China. And the town’s namesake, Burlington Industries, abandoned its sprawling compound after a 2001 bankruptcy, the remnants bought by the conglomerate International Textile Group but still vacant.  

What most frustrates Holt and others in ailing industrial towns across the country is that their communities began their tailspin long before sub-prime mortgages failed and stocks plunged. And compared with places where the housing crisis has done most of the damage, their prospects for rebounding are dim.

According to the Associated Press Economic Stress Index, an exclusive county-by-county measurement of foreclosures, bankruptcies and unemployment that shows the relative impact of the recession, smaller industrial cities that were already reeling from decades of job losses have been among the hardest hit in the current economic crisis.

“We worked 40 or 50 years in textiles. Then, that was gone,” said Holt, whose retraining at a community college is designed to help workers displaced by the North American Free Trade Agreement. “People talk about a five-year plan, a 10-year plan. You could do that then. Now it’s a moment-to-moment plan.”

“It really hurts your heart when you have a grown man in your office who has worked all his life, crying,” said Tracy McKinney, an intake specialist at the Alamance County Department of Social Services who processes applications for public assistance. “People try to keep up appearances for as long as they can, until there’s no options left.”

Holt’s classmate, Charles Andress, 61, is trying to avoid McKinney’s desk as he balances the loss of a job he held for 25 years and obligations that he never expected to have as a grandfather. Andress was laid off from Culp Weaving in May 2007. His wife Brenda, 39, a former line supervisor at Gold Toe, lasted a year and half longer before her job was eliminated.

Another blow came when the couple took guardianship of Brenda’s 2-year old grandson and 1-year-old granddaughter. They used $50,000 of their 401(k) funds, two-thirds of what they had left after Wall Street’s plunge, to meet court requirements of building the children separate rooms. Their unemployment benefits expire next month, and they say they will never accept welfare.

“Once you get on that, you’re dependent,” Brenda Andress said in the living room of a home they can no longer afford.

As he nears the end of his job training, Holt is concerned that he will have to swallow some pride. A friend who graduated from the same course in programmable electronic controllers-the mechanical brains of everything from factory machinery to traffic lights-became a janitor at an interstate truck stop. It was all the Triangle had for a former mill worker in his 50s.”

Sad….but true.

Related Articles:  

The Black Swan: Crisis is “vastly worse” than the 1930’s  

Roubini claims stress tests are “too optimistic”  

The Banks Stress Over the Stress Tests  

The Great Depression’s Ben Bernanke  

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