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  1. John Bender
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    John Bender Banned

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    Questions on the Anglo-American job market and the economic, social and school syste

    Discussion in 'Research' started by John Bender, Jan 26, 2010.

    Hello everybody. I life in continental Europe and want to write a story set in the Anglo-American cultural sphere. I know that’s not the most brilliant of ideas but as far as I can see to date I only need Anglo-American specifics in the first act, to kind of launch the plot and then I can proceed in a more universally valid mode.

    Please be so kind as to not let us get absorbed in a discussion about ´only write what you know` and stuff like that. I want to give it a shot regardless and I would very much appreciate if we could concentrate on specific topics instead of debates on principles.

    I guess I start off by describing certain ideas and hoping that you guys tell me whether you consider them reasonably realistic and credible and if not make improvement suggestions

    On topic:

    My protagonist is a 17 year old boy with 1-2 siblings (not sure about that yet).
    My starting situation is: He grew up in a solid middle class family. Nothing posh or wealthy but financially sound. Nice little single-family house, little back yard, probably one proper and one compact car (mom’s ;-) ) Dad’s an engineer (probably chief engineer) in a big car company, mom’s a housewife. Everything is neat and tidy. Parents are reliable, diligent people. A typical orderly citizens kind of situation. Kids are supposed to go to college.
    Then along came the financial crisis, dad lost his job and there went the sound financial background, the house, the back yard, the cars and the kid’s college fund ().
    Now (about 2 years later), dad hasn’t found a new job, they dwell in a humble flat and life on welfare, mom’s part time cleaning and boy’s evening shift assembly line job at dad’s old company. He got it because the old workers were sacked and new ones were hired for half the wage (something like that).

    So, my question: is there anything wrong with this scenario? Like, maybe ´An engineer as sole earner could not afford that standard of living.` Or ´No way three kids could go to college in this situation.` Or ´They would need a scholarship as well.`Or ´No way the boy works the evening shift.` or ´No way he got a job there. They fired but they didn’t hire new people.`

    Stuff like that, you know…

    Please, input!!!
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    One flaw I see is the hiring of cheaper assembly line workers. The auto industry unions would not stand for union employees being sacked and replaced in that manner.

    The kid will probably be working in other entry level jobs, but not something covered by the United Automotive Workers (UAW) union.
     
  3. John Bender
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    John Bender Banned

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    @ Cogito

    Ok, thanks, that’s exactly what I was looking for. It’s not essential at all to have the kid working in the auto industry. That was more like a gag or something…

    So the ´United Automotive Workers (UAW)` is kinda like a labour union? But they did sack a lot of employees in the auto industry, didn’t they? Is it plausible they sacked his dad?

    And what about the rest? Does that seem all right to you?

    I really appreciate detailed feedback, even if you think stuff’s ok because the more background information I get the more authentic I can get.
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The auto manufacturer might reduce the staffing, or even shut down an assembly line entirely. The UAW (yes, it is a labor union, no 'u' in labor in the USA) would fight back, and would probably manage some payout to the fired workers. But the fired workers would still fall on hard times.

    You have your work cut out for you, research-wise. But there are a lot of news/human interest stories out there, if you can find them, so you can get a good picture of the difficulties actually faced by many such families these days.
     
  5. John Bender
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    John Bender Banned

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    ´u` in the British version of ´labour`. But I guess labor union is Am-English so that doesn’t really count, does it?

    And yes, there are for sure lots of stories ´out there`, I just kind of shy away from going all too widespread. I get the feeling that could massively sidetrack me without providing answers to concrete questions.

    Why don’t you, for example, answer to the ones I asked you?

    Like: And what about the rest? Does that seem all right to you?
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Because you already set the parameters of what you don't want to hear.

    I cannot predigest your research. You DO need to write what you know, or conversely, take the time to know what you write.

    I could also give you my standard advice that a story idea means nothing. How good, or how credible, it is depends on the quality of the writing. But you probably don;t want to hear that either.
     
  7. John Bender
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    John Bender Banned

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    “I cannot predigest your research”

    I don’t quite get what you mean by that. I don’t see why giving an opinion on a specific scenario would be predigesting a research.

    “take the time to know what you write”

    But that’s what I’m trying to do here! Just people telling me ´you don’t know what you write` and not answering concrete questions so I might get to know more isn’t all too helpful.

    Apart from that, these questions don’t concern the main plot. They are supposed to provide me with background information on the initial situation. I’m not planning on writing about economics or USA social life or the USA at all or anything like that. I’ll quite likely not even mention what country this kid actually lives in. I just want to define limits for a reasonably credible initial situation that will not be described in too much detail anyways. It’s just so that I can construct a realistic backdrop.

    In other word – this IS my research. Not all of it, but part of it.

    But of course you don’t have to participate if you think this is stupid or whatever…
     
  8. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    They're both correct, even if one came slightly after the other, for obvious reasons - it's still the product of an officially-recognised dictionary. They are also understood in both America and the Commonwealth, it really doesn't matter which one you use.

    The UAW is American, though, so it's officially spelt without the 'U.'

    Not really. But people who are on benefits don't always live in flats, especially if you can claim more than one. They are the equivalent of middle-class salaries, and they can sometimes pay for quite an expensive house, although only for large families.
     
  9. John Bender
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    John Bender Banned

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    @ Gallowglass

    Thanks for solving the ´u`-mysteries ;-))

    “But people who are on benefits don't always live in flats, especially if you can claim more than one. They are the equivalent of middle-class salaries, and they can sometimes pay for quite an expensive house, although only for large families.”

    VERY interesting!! I basically added the welfare because I had the feeling that two low-wage part time jobs could not even support a humble life for like a four to fife-member family. But that’s probably wrong. They are supposed to be teetering at the very edge anyways so do you think I should simply cut the welfare?

    The problem is, these things vary so massively from country to country and I would like a kind of unspecific, globally working basis for my plot. I don’t want to be restricted to some country’s or federal state’s regional laws and stuff. I want an overall credibility, a starting point that is within plausible parameters.

    Actually, I’m planning on not even mentioning what country the story’s set in. It’s not important for the plot and I just want to set up things so they don’t go counter to common sense.

    So, again: do you think just leaving out the welfare would do the job?

    by the way, where do you live?

    I'm central Europe
     
  10. zaphod
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    It would be realistic if older unionized white workers were in conflict with black workers for jobs. This was a contributing factor to the 1967 Detroit riots.

    But the engineers wouldn't be laid off. And if they were your fictional family would pack up and move from the rust belt when dad got a job in sunny California designing aircraft.
     
  11. NaCl
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    As you can see, you have a lot of research to do before you write convincingly about American culture. Also, our country varies geographicly in culture so your scenario would need to be consistent with the region. For example, northern New Mexico is experiencing an economic boom while the rest of the country suffers. My friend is the general manager of a company where his most important criterion for a new employee is that the applicant pass a piss-test for drug abuse. He said, "Dean, we're hiring everybody we can off the street...just can't find enough people with clean urine." Why are they doing so well? They are part of the oil industry. Since the Obama Administration put emphasis on non-fossil fuel energy, oil has become in greater demand, hence, his company has been hiring for the past year.

    Another regional impact was the home value crash. California, Florida and a few other areas experienced enormous inflation of home values. When the economy crashed, home values followed suit. Banks held notes on homes that were now worth hundreds of thousands less than the debt. Home owners walked away from the debt or were foreclosed out of the home and banks failed. Urban areas like Los Angeles in California or Orlando, Florida saw huge increases in bankruptcy filings...the American dream went bust.

    Here in Sacramento, the unemployment rate is over 12%. Vacant homes are everywhere you look and our homeless population has doubled. Even my wife lost her job due to downsizing. Her "new" job as an office manager pays $10,000/year less than her old one. Let's say your family lives here. The father could find work, but his income would likely be much less than it was before. The mother could also find work, and the boy could work part time in the fast food industry. They would survive. Life might be a bit different...instead of going to college at a state university, he'd probably attend a highly subsidized junior college for his first two years and transfer to the four college in the future. It's not the end of the world. With mom and dad both working, they might not maintain the lifestyle they previously enjoyed, but they could rent a house in a middle class neighborhood, buy older cars, not go on vacation for a couple years and eat more home-cooked meals instead of enjoying restaurants.

    The point of all this is to show you why Cogito is right. Your research is far from complete, even with a few comments on this website. If you want to develop a believable background, then you need to thoroughly study the specific area in which you place your characters.
     
  12. TPie
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    I'm in Detroit working for one of the big three. I spent a few years engineering. I've worked in a plant and have directly interacted with the UAW. Being tied so directly to the automotive industry has forced me to pay attention to these sorts of things pretty close. I can probably help a bit with the facts.

    If Dad's a chief engineer, then he's making bank. He'd either have a BIG cushion in the bank or a large house, fancy cars, and nice toys (or both).

    In the financial crisis, from my understanding, the big dogs (like the chief engineers) were mostly safe. He'd be in the minority if he lost his job with that title, especially if he was a good worker (unless you angered the wrong people).

    As another already said, the union would not let anyone be sacked. The new terms with the UAW have new hires in at as low as $14 an hour (used to be $30ish). The old hires had to be bought out with outrageous packages considering their menial assignments.
     
  13. John Bender
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    John Bender Banned

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    Thank you guys for contributing. Very interesting inputs indeed. But just to make that clear once and for all:

    “As you can see, you have a lot of research to do before you write convincingly about American culture.”

    I AM NOT IN THE LEAST PLANNING ON WRITING ABOUT AMERICAN CULTURE!!!

    As I already said, I’d rather not even mention what country – let alone what region – the story’s set in. It’s not important for the main plot and I just want to set up things so they don’t go counter to common sense.

    “Also, our country varies geographicly in culture so your scenario would need to be consistent with the region.”

    As I also said: these things vary massively from continent to continent, from country to country. The specific regional effects of a financial crisis are practically infinite. But, again: I would like a kind of unspecific, globally working basis for my plot. I don’t want to be restricted to some country’s or federal state’s regional specifics, laws and stuff. I want an overall credibility, a starting point that is within plausible parameters.

    So: “then you need to thoroughly study the specific area in which you place your characters.”

    I DO NOT want to place my characters in a specific area. I want to place them in an unspecified imaginary but sufficiently realistic area somewhere in the ´First World`, in a sort of ´Endora` or ´Duckburg` or ´Springfield`, if you know what I mean.

    Thing is, the main plot has practically nothing to do with what I’m asking about here. To put it simply, it’s going to be something like a ´love story` and the stuff we’re talking about here is merely meant to serve as – again unspecified!!! – background.

    All this here is merely BACK STORY! Like, the protagonists back story wound. It’s not actually or in any detail going to be told, it’s just en passant (as in no details) going to be mentioned to make clear why the main character is a disillusioned whatever-idgaf kind of person.

    I DO ALSO IN NO WAY INSIST ON THE SCENARIO I PROPOSED!!!

    The only reason I focused on the Anglo-American cultural sphere so far is that I assumed there might be inspirational and exploitable material in there.

    If it’s better dad didn’t work in the auto industry then he didn’t. If flipping burgers is better than assembly line then it’s fine by me. All I need is a 2008-financial-crisis-related back story that justifies that my main character’s lost his future perspectives.

    But maybe I have not yet found the right approach of enquiring this material.

    Let me try to rephrase it in a new thread…
     
  14. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Fine. But don't yell at people for responding to what you actually wrote.
     
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