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September 18, 2008


The Joads, 70 years later

Dorothea Lange's Migrant Mother

One of the books I read in high school English was The Grapes of Wrath, which we read for its social commentary on the Great Depression-era exploitation of desperate people and their struggle to maintain some dignity as they fight to survive. Mostly what I remember about that book is being grossed-out by the last scene in which Rosasharn breastfeeds a dying old man. That one scene probably prolonged millions of teenagers' feelings of confusion and revulsion over their adolescent bodily development for many months or years.

But one other scene I remember is where Pa Joad, the patriarch of the Joad family that we follow on their journey to find work out west, is confronted by a man who explains the harsh economic truth behind the myth of plentiful jobs in California that all the people in the migrant camp have been clinging to.

From the screenplay based on the book:

"How many of you all got them han'bills? Look at 'em! Same yella han'bill--800 pickers wanted. Awright, this man wants 800 men. So he prints up 5,000 a them han'bills an' maybe 20,000 people sees 'em. An' maybe two-three thousan' starts movin, wes' account a this han'bill. Two-three thousan' folks that's crazy with worry headin' out for 800 jobs! Does that make sense?"

Today, AP describes our current economic situation as "the worst global financial crisis since the Great Depression". In another article, they describe modern-day Joad families setting up tent cities in western towns where people have come expecting to find jobs. Except that instead of looking for fruit picking jobs in California, they're looking for casino jobs in Reno:

A few tents cropped up hard by the railroad tracks, pitched by men left with nowhere to go once the emergency winter shelter closed for the summer. Then others appeared — people who had lost their jobs to the ailing economy, or newcomers who had moved to Reno for work and discovered no one was hiring.

Within weeks, more than 150 people were living in tents big and small, barely a foot apart in a patch of dirt slated to be a parking lot for a campus of shelters Reno is building for its homeless population. Like many other cities, Reno has found itself with a "tent city" — an encampment of people who had nowhere else to go.

Out of a dozen people interviewed in the tent city, six had come to Reno over the last year, hoping for casino jobs.

"I figured this would be a great place for a job," said Max Perez, a 19-year-old from Iowa. He couldn't find one and ended up taking showers at the men's shelter and sleeping in a pup tent barely big enough to cover his body.

The casinos are actually starting to lay off employees.

The article also refers to growing tent cities in Santa Barbara, Fresno, Portland, Seattle, Chattanooga, San Diego, and Columbus.

categories: Books, Economics, Movies, Work
posted by amy at 1:50 PM | #

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If only we had a President who would declare war on earmarks and stay the course in Iraq we wouldn't have any of these tent cities.

Posted by: T-Rock at September 19, 2008 12:42 PM

Perhaps the 19-year olds in the tent cities should continue on to California or Oregon to pick fruit.

Apparently the shortage of illegals is a problem for growers.

Posted by: Rob at September 21, 2008 2:26 PM

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