My Life as a Deadbeat American

April 15, 2004

Editors Note: This is a reprint from our friend at Halfpast Human. Please visit the site, and the original post at: Add your comments at the end.

By Frmr Sftwr Engnr

It all began with the bastard from Bombay, India that is, and actually they call it M’umbai, now, but that sure didn’t stop the fellow from cursing up a storm in a flat, mid-western, American accent.

He had called me to try collect on my credit card debt. The irony of him calling me on the low cost, high-bandwidth telephony service that I helped to engineer in the early 80’s was not lost on me as I detected the slightest hint of Hindu accent in his speech. However, the fellow from M’umbai did not take kindly to my pointing out the irony of the situation…me, a long term unemployed telephony and other software engineer, being hounded for debts by a fellow halfway round the planet and ONLY because 20 years ago I worked my ass off with hundreds of other engineers to provide a signal switching network that allows for the low cost long distance we enjoy today.

“…and it let’s you work in M’umbai for American based companies where you hound Americans over our own cheap phone lines.” I pointed out.

“You are just another DEADBEAT AMERICAN” he screamed back at me, and then continued on with his scare tactics approach.

“Hey, wait a minute,” I responded, getting a bit touchy here. “You can’t say certain things here while trying to collect debt. We have this law…”

“Yes,” he shouted, “ I know all about the Fair Collections Law you have. But DO I CARE? NO! YOU DEADBEAT AMERICAN! I AM IN INDIA! YOU MUST PAY ME NOW! I KNOW ABOUT YOU NOW. YOU MUST PAY ME!”

“What? What was that? What is it you know about me?” I asked, starting to get really ticked off. This was NOT the usual collection call I had received.

“YOU ARE DEADBEAT AMERICAN. I am trained about you.” He shouts into my ear on crystal clear phone lines from the other side of the planet. “ALL YOU AMERICANS LIVE BEYOND YOUR MEANS. YOU ALL LAZY. YOU ARE NOT WILLING TO WORK, ONLY TO SPEND. YOUR WHOLE COUNTRY LIVES ON THE BACK OF THE WORLD. YOU ARE A DEADBEAT AMERICAN!” he shouted with genuine anger.

Actually, prior to this call, I had been pleasantly surprised to discover how civilized the collection process actually had become. It had been decades ago, as a poor student, when I had last had a brush with collections, and the landscape has really changed since then. True, the portion of our debt that went into arrears was (at that time) only credit card based, as I had wisely decided, after the layoff, that the mortgage and health insurance came first. So when the last of the savings went, I simply stopped making credit card payments.

“Just until I get a job.” I had thought at the time. I even went so far as to send a note to that effect with each of the last payments to the various card companies. I explained in the letter that unemployment did not even cover the mortgage and health insurance costs, to say nothing of such incidentals as food and energy, so credit card payments had to take a back seat.

Now, like most Americans, the wife and I had had several credit cards ‘active’ while I was working, and while living from paycheck to paycheck was not pleasant, at least the debt service was manageable and we felt like we had a chance to get ahead.

Then came the Bush Boom (my guess for the title to be given to this period by historians) and there went my job. The real problem was that the Bush Boom also took whatever replacement job had been out there waiting. No one needed software engineers, at least not anywhere near as many of us.

Once laid off, I discovered many of my fellow software and computer co-workers over the last decade were in similar straits. I had sort of gotten a feel for this as there were a number of calls from former co-workers, while I was still working, asking about any work I could through their way. Soon, I found myself on the other side of those conversations.

Every call to every prospect, or former co-worker, or former client, or friend, always ended the same, “…no work here. How about so-and-so?” they would always ask.

Then I would say that old so-and-so was also unemployed and looking. Then another few minutes of commiseration, and off the line, and onto the next call.

None of it did any good. No work here. Notice that we are not conversing about jobs. ALL of us ‘long term unemployed’ know that there are no jobs, except perhaps in the imagination of labor-statistic bureaucrats, and the dreams of politicians. No, we just speak of work. “Got any work? A few hours? Some device driver tweaking maybe?”, we ask our employed friends, but never about jobs. Those don’t really exist any more in America.

At the time I lost my job (early March of 2003), there were 1041 jobs advertised in the local paper for work in the Southern Puget Sound area, most under 32 hours a week, and in the health care area. Now, a year and a month and a day later, there are 513 jobs advertised in the local paper, most under 32 hours a week, and in the health care field.

No software engineering jobs at all. No software maintenance, installation, no anything. Gone, poof. So, as a good citizen, wishing to be productive again, you go to your local contact at the Unemployment office where you are informed that as an old, bald, hard-working, innovative, sharp-brained software engineer, you have two choices: one, move to India or China (I don’t speak either Hindi or Chinese, and as an American, foreigners scare me so option one is out), or two, get retrained.

Of course, no one in government has ever given a thought to the issue of trying to retrain older tech workers to become caring, health care workers. In my personal case, it won’t happen. I am your typical engineer, I can’t stand myself most days, let alone anyone else. And, if I had been gifted with even average people-skills, would I really have chosen to spend my working life glued to a screen and keyboard for nearly 20 hours a day? Probably not, is my guess. But they don’t ask me, after all, I don’t count.

You see, once you reach ‘exhaustion’ and by that the government means you have used all the unemployment benefits you will get, you ‘fall off the back end’ of the unemployment-industry rolls, and quite simply don’t count any longer. And are mostly not counted.

Except, in India, where at least I still am counted, if only as a debt with some unknown level of potential for recovery. Or in the case of the Indian collection firms, I am at least counted as an ‘active account’ for which, presumably, some American based company whose infrastructure my taxes helped to provide, is now billed.

And at least someone has work.

Yes, it finally sunk in, during that phone call. I am as he declared, just and accurately, though as near as I can tell, not through any fault of my own. I know I am a deadbeat American because I have been told so by that bastard from Bombay.


Original post at:

Posted by manystrom at April 15, 2004 09:34 AM

Adding irony upon irony, I read this piece on April 15; income tax filing day!

I worked for 30 years as a telephone tech. I was hired in 1966 at the very end of the good old days. Mechanical relay systems were replace with P-N jucntions, good male technicians who cared about the quality of their work were replaced with crabby, female, screen viewing, key tappers,
who live only to make life miserable for everyone, even themselves.

They were the precursor to the foreign version of crabby, screen viewing, key tappers.

My condosenses to fellow techs who are now unemployed.

I retired in 1996, got out while the geeting was good.

Posted by: Ernest at April 15, 2004 11:01 PM

Don't hate the player hate the game. Most people from India that I have talked to are very nice. You just got a rude one. Same as when you get a rude America rep.

You can't be MAD at India because they are taking our jobs. There're just trying to make a living. What should they do not take the jobs that are given to them? They have mouths to feed too. They where once in the same situation you are in now. Out of work and BROKE! Most still are. So ask your self if in their shoes would you turn down the job. Hell NO!!!

So you can either cry about the system or make the system work for you.

You see America is cannibalizing itself to death and there is nothing short of a revolt that you or I can do about it.

My friend there is money to be made out there... Don't let all the doom and gloom discourage you, but instead make it work in your favor. Learn true financial literacy, and stop keeping up with the Jones...... People have made fortunes with less than you have in your pocket. People are making money now even as the markets are falling.

Think about it.

Posted by: Tim at April 16, 2004 01:29 AM

Yeah but they're making their money by orchestrating a falling market.

Posted by: Jumpin Jesus at April 16, 2004 02:26 AM

Hey, chill on the nasties. Employment and opportunity is regional, and not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur. We are in Electronics R & D (DBA), and we were down $120K in 2003 from 2002. The Indians are getting jobs and let's not forget L-1's and H1-B Visas, issued to the Indians. They are freak'in destroying the wage structure for hi-tech workers.

America was the land of opportunity, but the times they are a changing. 900 applicants per job, for 1/4 the salary is just insanity. Add some age discrimination to the brick wall, and we would all vent. Been there, done that. Have some compasion people.

Posted by: chill at April 16, 2004 06:33 AM

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Posted by: Michael Nystrom at April 16, 2004 07:51 AM

I am/was an engineer that got laid off in March 2001. I am now training to be a registered nurse. I am a hardware design engineer that designed switching power supplies. No one owes me anything and conversely whenever my country needs me again or I am supposed to go defend an overseas factory from attack or seizure then by the same token will i owe nothing to these people.

GWB says that we need more people trained in math and science in this country. But all the highest paying jobs in this country require neither. Just look at the pols and the lawyers.

Compare an engineer's or physicist's salary to that of a lawyer. No heavy manufacturing capability will destroy this country. Greed will destroy this country. A worker making 10-15 per hour is too much. But it's OK for management to knock down megamillions even if their company is losing money. It seems to me that incompetence is rewarded big time in management.

Posted by: dennis mattingly at April 16, 2004 12:07 PM

To Deadbeat American--Your column/letter was
a riot---Enough detail to be informative,
well organized, and wryly on point...Send it in
to The Oregonian as a guest editorial piece or
somewhere....YOU CAN WRITE!!!!

Posted by: Penny Kenyanjui at April 16, 2004 10:59 PM

Hello - Electrical Engineer w/MBA here. I have a job which requires only a high school diploma....... however I've had the highest income months of my life recently.

Posted by: Bill at April 17, 2004 10:26 AM

While I'm definitely sympathetic, being unemployed isn't the answer. Don't be a victim. Be proactive.

Posted by: Joe F. at April 22, 2004 02:10 AM

I posted this on another story hoping to get some feedback..

I am so glad this board is being updated everyday.I am hoping to get some feed back on some ideas I have for preparing for the coming Decline. I orignally was(still am)going to sell my house which has valued way above normal. Taking the 14-20k of "profit" from it and rolling it back into all my debts and except for student loans would be debt free. I would sign into a 2 year lease for a rental and try and drive the montly price for that down as low as I could get it. Maybe even taking my dollars and paying 6 to 12 months rent up front for a 5 or 7 % reduction of rent(I figure the value of that dollar won't go up 5 % in the next year so why not get some value for it now). I would then spend the next 2 years paying off the feds and saving and buying gold.

Well I may have seen the writting on the wall to late. I have had my house up for sale for about 8 months at a price that was comparable to houses that had sold in my immediate neighborhood as recently as last summer. I don't know if this is bad luck, or possible the beginning of the real estate glut that I was concerened about, and the subsequent fast fall in prices and in the end any equity(and into negative equity) I may have had.

Now onto plan 2. This is most definitly not my first choice, but I'll be damned if I'm going to loose my house and be in debt still. Most of the debt i'm holding onto I have paid the princible and then some back(ie a 97 Jeep that I've paid almost 23k toward but still owe 6500). I have a nice house with some decent land in the city(about 1/3 acre). My plan is this. Take all my unsecured debt and declaring Bankruptcy before the congress acts. My thought process behind this is as such. I will get rid of all my debt through bankruptcy and be left with only my overvalued house wich I have a decent payment on. Stop seeing my house as an investment and more as a castle to ride the storm out in. I have enough space for a huge garden, and lots of space for storage. Plan on doing everything I can to keep my house through this downturn. Never again get credit for anything(my house is good enough to stay in for a long time, it's not big at all, but it's very nice). Learn to live below my lifestyle, and get as small as possible.
I have two wonderful small children and a extremely supportive wife(if she wasn't we would have divorced by now). Start to enjoy a simple life again.

I would like your opinion mostly on option two. Is it ethical for me to do that. Conventional wisdom would say pay what you owe. But after reading this forum as well as allot of others, you start to see just how rigged the system is. We are taxed to the point where we have to send our wives out to work and put the kids in daycare. The banks inflate at an atronomical rate every year devaluing whatever the governent didn't take in taxes, leaving us with little or no recourse but to pay minimums till infinity. If a return to normalcy is what we all want, don't we all have to accept the fact that the current system is fatally flawed and is no longer able to be reformed(ie prunning the branches off of a dead tree). Would it not be better for us to first and foremost stop the insaninty(that I willing entered into) of credit buying, and secondly to hasten the fall of the current system, declare bankruptcy en masse, and bring the whole system down ? Let me know if I am deluded or maybe onto something.

Posted by: FeelingWeird at April 28, 2004 04:09 AM

I had been in the engineering field as a senior piping designer for 24 years. For the last year and a half I have been in sales. Now I am currently selling Mercedes-Benz in a dying economy. Forget what the media says...we know that. But interestingly, car buffs are saying this is the worst they have EVER seen.
My wife couldn't take the pressure and elected to divorce me about a week ago. I will probably lose most of what I have worked for in the last 25 years.....I am 50 years old..

But, I have a lot to be thankful for. Good health, selling skills, and a job. I detest unemployment compensation...won't collect it.

too much pride, I suppose.

I bought a 65 thousand dollar live-aboard trawler, had to finance the whole bloomin' thing, and have a debt load of around 6K in credit cards. If I get anything on our house (we have 130K equity) I will use that to pay down debt, and live simply.

We are at the first year of a second great depression, and the deflationary effects are beginning to take effect. Interestingly, the Chinese boom is creating an inflationary scenario in the commodities field.

the short of it is this....we are heading for a standard of living much less than before. SO what?

People blame this government and that....the fed chairman, etc...forget it...

free market economies slip into excesses of debt and get washed out every 60-70 years. unavoidable, unless debts were cancelled every 50 years or so...

Solution? there is NONE, except to work hard, stay positive, and help others. It's a matter of losing material things...and who really cares. no big whoop...

Posted by: Rick Shade at April 30, 2004 03:27 AM

the sheep still delude themselves that the economic system is free

the sheep blind themselves to all the massive theft and corruption taking place in their government

the economic system is mostly rigged and controlled

the way to riches in america is to work hard stealing taxpayer and federal reserve money

or become a big bank so the government can bale you out.

the rich get richer, the sheep get poorer

america's economic downsizing was planned

Posted by: qw1 at May 7, 2004 08:11 AM

Don't worry we will not shear you .... these are not shears in my right hand and your wool on the ground. The people that are running in the herd, will get sheared. The sheeps mentality is their right to be billionaires by buying only one share of stock and selling it two weeks later. There are sheep out there that state that companies that loose money and do not pay dividends are worth it to purchase. "Because you can make money on the appreciation of the stock."
Give me $100 and I'll give you a pretty sheet of paper ooooooh.

If the sheep did not learn the first time, will they ever learn? No.

One other cliche you should add for the sheep mentality.

"the dumb, get dumber"

The lone sheep that runs from the herd and takes the road less traveled will survive.

One other thought comes to mind. The bible states "be content with your pay"

The only thing I do not agree with is the economic system is rigged. IF it is then they should be able to get us out of everything. If this is what you mean.

Posted by: Roy at May 12, 2004 11:17 AM

I like the way you think. Maybe people will start to relaize that people are worth more than material goods.

Posted by: Roy at May 12, 2004 11:18 AM

the indian has a point, you americans are deadbeat. If it weren't for your dollar paper waste currency you would know it too, but hey, that times a coming too.

America - land of war.

Posted by: Bob at June 3, 2004 10:45 PM
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