WBEZ | Economic Mobility http://www.wbez.org/tags/economic-mobility Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en A different dream for the American worker http://www.wbez.org/series/front-center/different-dream-american-worker-103600 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="http://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F65724697&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=false&amp;color=ff7700" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>Most people call Detroit a post-industrial city. But in the city of Dearborn, just a few steps outside southwest Detroit, is the Ford Motor Company&rsquo;s Rouge plant. It&rsquo;s still running&mdash;even if it now employs just a small sliver of the 100-thousand people it used to. And there, in its shadow, is UAW Local 600.</p><p>Robert Turner meets me in the parking lot of the union hall, because he&rsquo;s the kind of gentleman who doesn&rsquo;t want me to walk to my car alone. His story is one you come across a lot in Detroit. He has been a proud member of this local since 1967 and says the union gave an &ldquo;average guy&rdquo; like him a good life. Even though he&rsquo;s retired from Ford now, he still comes down to the local a lot, just for the sense of community.</p><p>&ldquo;When I came to Detroit in 1966, I was just a little ol&rsquo; Virginia country boy. And I started working at Ford, and I just met all my new family,&rdquo; he says.</p><p>Traditionally, strong labor has helped close the gap between the wealthy and the poor, ensuring working class people have a path to stability. But labor isn&rsquo;t as strong as it use to be in Detroit, or nationally.</p><p>Robert describes himself as a hopeful, &ldquo;positive&rdquo; guy who believes he&rsquo;s a living example of the American Dream. But he&rsquo;s a little concerned that younger generations don&rsquo;t understand what the dream really is--and that they have to keep fighting for it.</p><p>&ldquo;I think that sometimes that&rsquo;s been our biggest problem. Because you get two TVs, two cars in the garage and a boat, and we get a little&hellip;relaxed. And we forget about the fight,&rdquo; he says.</p><p>Inside Local 600, it&rsquo;s clear things aren&rsquo;t going all that great for this generation of American workers. At a pre-election voter education party, about 100 people are watching clips from a movie called &ldquo;Heist: Who Stole the American Dream?&rdquo;</p><p>The movie&rsquo;s premise is that over the past 40 years, union-busting, deregulation, and other business-friendly government policies were part of an organized plot to undermine working Americans.</p><p>&ldquo;This has been the greatest wealth transfer in the history of at least American-kind, if not mankind.... This IS class warfare.&rdquo; the movie declares.</p><p>Conspiracy theory-mongering? Perhaps. But while the causes are debatable, there are loads of evidence the American worker is faring poorly these days&mdash;at least, when compared to those at the top.</p><p>In case the movie wasn&rsquo;t convincing enough, union leaders lay it out in charts when the film is done.&nbsp; Since the early 1980s, worker productivity has surged. So have corporate profits, now at an all-time high. In the meantime, worker&rsquo;s wages as a percentage of GDP are at an all-time low.&nbsp;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/20121027_192627.jpg" style="float: left; height: 188px; width: 250px; " title="Inside Local 600. (Sarah Cwiek/WBEZ) " /></p><p>Local 600 President Bernie Ricke says he knows how to strengthen the American economy once again.</p><p>&ldquo;The only way we&rsquo;re gonna rebuild the middle class in this country is to protect collective bargaining rights and organize more workers. It happened in the 1930s, and it&rsquo;s gotta happen again.&rdquo; says Bernie.</p><p>Bernie says unions need to assert themselves politically. On the national level, they want to re-elect President Barack Obama. In Michigan, they&rsquo;re trying spending a lot of financial and political capital to support a change to the state constitution that would protect collective bargaining rights.</p><p>These big political battles have been preceded by years of smaller ones--most of which found labor on the losing end. For Local 600, that included a unionizing effort with a former auto supplier in southwest Detroit.</p><p>&ldquo;The company just walked away in bankruptcy, they left everybody high and dry. We&rsquo;ve stuck through the community through thick and thin,&rdquo; says Bernie.</p><p>That was the Detroit&mdash;and the economy&mdash;25-year-old Jackie Buentello and others of her generation were born into.</p><p>Jackie is a third-generation resident of Detroit&mdash;Puerto Rican on her mom&rsquo;s side, Mexican on her dad&rsquo;s. She lives in a little house just on the other side of the freeway from where she grew up. The household also includes Iris, her girlfriend of four years, Iris&rsquo;s 13-year-old son, and their two dogs.&nbsp;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Jackie%20and%20family.jpg" style="float: right; height: 188px; width: 250px; " title="Jackie and her family at home." /></p><p>Inside, Jackie is cooking a Puerto Rican pork roast.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m just basting it. It should be almost ready, it&rsquo;s been in for about three hours,&rdquo; she says.<br />All this, despite how much she work at her two jobs. She&rsquo;s a field coordinator for D-T-E Energy&rsquo;s home energy consultation program. And more recently, she became the project lead on a similar program for businesses.</p><p>She and Iris are leasing this home to own at the moment. Jackie&rsquo;s excited about that. She likes to do homey things, even if she&rsquo;s not at home a lot. She&rsquo;s particularly thrilled to have her own garden.</p><p>The yard is surrounded by high metal fencing, topped by barbed wire. It backs up to a gas station, where trucks idle in the parking lot, belching diesel fumes. The truck stop regularly attracts sex workers. And crime is prevalent in their neighborhood.</p><p>It&rsquo;s been hard for Jackie and her siblings to rise above their surroundings. Many of her friends didn&rsquo;t. Their education wasn&rsquo;t great. There was constant pressure to side with one gang or the other. She watched friends get pregnant in the ninth grade--friends who now have three or four kids, and seem completely stuck in their dysfunctional environment.</p><p>Jackie&rsquo;s mom, Carmen, is a social worker at a nearby Head Start. On a daily basis, she sees the many barriers that keep many people from getting ahead. But she&rsquo;s also a strong believer in self-determination.</p><p>&ldquo;The only way out of it is to educate yourself,&rdquo; says Carmen.</p><p>&ldquo;You can have a lot of environmental things that impact you. Life changes. Poverty. Race.. But you can choose to fold up, or you can choose to stand up.&rdquo;</p><p>Carmen is really proud of Jackie. She says that in a way, the two of them grew up together.<br />Carmen was twenty-one when she had Jackie, the oldest of her four kids. Her husband, Raul, died of cancer in 2007. Things got rough, economically and emotionally. Jackie&rsquo;s oldest brother got sucked into the gang life. He was locked up for attempted murder.</p><p>Fortunately, Carme says, the police figured out he didn&rsquo;t do it, and Jackie&rsquo;s brother was released. He learned from the experience, went to live with his grandparents, and has totally turned his life around. And the whole family pulled through. And for now, they&rsquo;re both pretty happy with where they&rsquo;re at.</p><p>&ldquo;Jackie and I are kind of&hellip;wealthy. Compared to some of my peers, some of her peers. Definitely compared with some of her peers,&rdquo; says Carmen.</p><p>And that, they all agree, is what makes for the good life&mdash;not just material wealth, though it&rsquo;s nice to have that too. But family, friends&mdash;that&rsquo;s the safety net you can really count on.</p><p>You can see Jackie&rsquo;s story in one of two ways. Some people might see diminished expectations for the American Dream. Some emerging research shows that in wake of the Great Recession, people have lowered their expectations about what it means to get ahead.</p><p>But you can also see ways the ways in which people are re-orienting and re-defining the American Dream, and not necessarily for the worse.</p><p>In terms of the American Dream, Carmen says they are living it.</p><p>&ldquo;Because I&rsquo;m living much better than my parents. Jackie will live much better than me. That&rsquo;s the American Dream.&rdquo;</p></p> Fri, 02 Nov 2012 08:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/front-center/different-dream-american-worker-103600 Reality TV: A shortcut to the American Dream? http://www.wbez.org/series/front-center/reality-tv-shortcut-american-dream-103497 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Jesse-0348-Edit.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="http://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F65257026&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=false&amp;color=ff7700" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>Tales of rags to riches have a history in television--but the last decade created a whole new stage for young people wanting to show off their talents.<br /><br />Every year, tens of thousands of Americans try out for talent-related reality shows. In March, <em>The Voice</em> drew more than 6,000 hopefuls to Chicago auditions alone. And for these people, it&rsquo;s changing the idea of the American Dream.</p><p>Take <a href="http://www.jessecampbell.com/" target="_blank">Jesse Campbell</a>, for example. He&rsquo;s a preacher&rsquo;s son who grew up in modest Maywood, Illinois. But earlier this year he stepped into the national spotlight when he made it to the finals of <em>The Voice</em>. Though the NBC hit was not his first go at talent-based reality TV. In fact, he&rsquo;s tried out for a few shows.</p><p>The first was <em>America&rsquo;s Got Talent</em>. He was rejected but knew there were plenty of other shows and so he kept trying.</p><p>&ldquo;I stood out there, all day, all night at those auditions. And now I see why they call them the cattle call,&rdquo; Campbell recalled.</p><p>In one audition, Campbell says he hadn&rsquo;t even reach the second note of his song when one of the judges made him stop.</p><p>&ldquo;And the judge said, &lsquo;Very very nice, but no,&#39;&quot; Campbell recalled, &quot;So, I went about my business, and said, &#39;well I (still) believe this is a platform for me. Maybe the judge was just having a bad day.&rdquo;</p><p>So, Campbell saved up his money up and flew to another city to audition. That time, he didn&rsquo;t even make it past the first round.</p><p>He kept trying, though, because his chances at making it any other way were slim.</p><p><strong>Searching for fame and fortune</strong></p><p>Campbell&rsquo;s road to success has been a bumpy one, to say the least. After performing in churches, he signed on to Capitol Records and moved to Los Angeles where he met his wife--but the happiness was short-lived.<br /><br />&ldquo;The career did not take off as I hoped, and therefore the wife did,&rdquo; Campbell said.</p><p>One person who didn&#39;t taken off, though was his three-year-old daughter.</p><p>In 2003, Campbell hit rock bottom: He and his daughter ended up living in their car; they parked it in a 24-hour grocery market in Santa Monica, California.</p><p>&ldquo;Because it was open 24 hours a day, I figured people would probably think I was coming out or waiting for someone,&rdquo; Campbell reasoned, &ldquo;And that&rsquo;s where we slept for two nights.&rdquo;</p><p>Campbell wondered what he was doing, putting his daughter&#39;s safety and comfort at stake. He realized he could reach out to friends and family for help.</p><p>Campbell&rsquo;s family and pastor gave him money to get by and offered him a place to stay--but work was sporadic. He performed in churches, waited tables, did some landscaping and sang on the streets of Santa Monica. All the while, Campbell didn&rsquo;t give up on his childhood dreams: to have a modest home for his children.</p><p>He auditioned for <em>The Voice&rsquo;s</em> first season and didn&rsquo;t make the cut. But when he tried out again for the second season which aired earlier this year, <em>The Voice</em> said &quot;yes.&quot;<br /><br />&ldquo;I looked over and saw my daughter, her eyes lit just so brightly and she was just so happy because she was just there with me as I sang on the street, not even a year ago. And now here she is watching daddy on television,&rdquo; Campbell said.</p><p><strong>A Shortcut to the American Dream?&nbsp;</strong></p><p>These shows have made an impact on the American Dream for some young people. Sociologist Karen Sternheimer wrote a book called <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Celebrity-Culture-American-Dream-Mobility/dp/0415886791" target="_blank"><em>Celebrity Culture and The American Dream: Stardom and Social Mobility</em></a>. She says the glut of reality television during this recession has produced a new jackpot.</p><p>She says that when the more traditional ways of having economic success or even economic stability seem impossible, there&rsquo;s always the fantasy of the overnight success. She points to the lottery and reality shows, and even posting videos on YouTube as examples of how people think they can strike it rich, quickly.</p><p>&ldquo;I think in recent years, these examples have been kind of like a last hope when people have trouble finding a job. Reality shows have really proliferated in recent years and there are more people who we might believe those people we see on television are just like us. And so in a strange way it seems like there are more opportunities,&rdquo; Sternheimer explained.</p><p>And in fact, the Internet has created stars even without the help of television. Think of Justin Bieber who was discovered on YouTube: He&rsquo;s the son of a single mom and he earned $108 million dollars in just the past two years. But his experience is a fluke.</p><p>Because most times, the amount of money and time invested by reality TV contestants doesn&rsquo;t pay off.&nbsp;</p><p>Sternheimer said research shows people on reality shows make an average of $1,500 a stint.</p><p>Sternheimer says the Internet and reality TV create the perception that we&rsquo;re closer to celebrities and becoming a star seems more within reach. Some of the more popular reality shows like <em>American Idol</em>, <em>The Real World</em> and <em>Bad Girls Club</em> limit participants over the age of 30. That means young people are especially vulnerable in some cases.</p><p>Sometimes, television shows these young people engaging in unprofessional behavior like drinking heavily or using drugs and that would have serious job consequences in the future.</p><p>Campbell&rsquo;s journey thus far has not brought him to riches from rags just yet. But he&rsquo;s hopeful.</p><p>&ldquo;These shows have great potential to bring about economic mobility, because it&rsquo;s the exposure and what you do with it, it&rsquo;s up to you. It has really made a big difference in my life simply because I can now do more than before because more people are aware of what it is that I have to offer, Campbell said.</p><p>Campbell&rsquo;s main income comes from live performances right now. He&rsquo;s investing those earnings into the album he&rsquo;s currently making, while shopping it around. He&rsquo;s also trying to get into commercial singing. And since he once before fell on his way up the economic ladder, he emphasizes education, hard work and perseverance for his daughter, Soraya.&nbsp;<br />&nbsp;</p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe align="middle" frameborder="0" height="315" id="nbc-video-widget" scrolling="no" src="http://www.nbc.com/assets/video/widget/widget.html?vid=1383126" width="560"></iframe></p></p> Tue, 30 Oct 2012 05:02:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/front-center/reality-tv-shortcut-american-dream-103497 Orlando stumbles as he tries to move up the economic ladder http://www.wbez.org/series/front-center/orlando-stumbles-he-tries-move-economic-ladder-103358 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="http://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F64676725&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=false&amp;color=ff7700" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>Orlando may be striking out in the job market. But he has a valuable skill set.</p><p>He&#39;s got a flair for fixing cars.</p><p>He learned from his father who used to tinker with cars and would summon a young Orlando to assist him. At age 13, he got a chance to prove himself.<br /><br />&quot;He had one day and asked me to put brakes on his car. Left the car there, went into the house. I&rsquo;m like dag, for real?&quot; Orlando recalled. &quot;So I know to put the jack up under the car, take the lugs first then jack the car. Take the wheels off. Put the brakes on there. Put the wheels back on there and call him. He came back out there and drove the car. The car was riding fine. He said &#39;See boy, you learned the brakes now I gotta learn you about all the other stuff.&quot;</p><p>Those skills have allowed 30-year-old Orlando to enter what&#39;s called the &quot;underground&quot; or &quot;informal&quot; economy. These are jobs that aren&#39;t taxed and are under the government&#39;s radar. These are often jobs that involve service: fixing someone&#39;s car, house cleaning and child care. But they are also sometimes jobs like drug dealing or prostitution. People hustling to get by when they don&rsquo;t have jobs in the traditional labor force.<br /><br />For Orlando, it means laboring in the garage behind his house. There, he&#39;s created a makeshift mechanic shop. Working on cars gives him a sense of dignity and allows him to contribute to his household. Some weeks Orlando can earn several hundred dollars.</p><p>The busy season is on the horizon.<br /><br />&quot;It&rsquo;s finna to get cold. See now this the time I know I really make some money in the wintertime. People&rsquo;s motors get locked up, transmissions go out,&quot; he said.<br /><br />But there are weeks when he&rsquo;s lucky to pull in $25. Orlando never went to school for mechanics and he doesn&rsquo;t have a license. That prevents him from working in a franchise or licensed shop.</p><p><strong>The impact of the underground economy</strong></p><p>Jobs in the underground economy are all too common in Orlando&rsquo;s Chicago Englewood neighborhood where unemployment is a whopping 25 percent.<br /><br />&quot;I gotta another friend who work on cars. It ain&rsquo;t too much of nothing to do around here but that. Especially around here that&rsquo;s the only way I can see you coming up around here. Only thing I can see. Loose cigarettes, shoes, hats everything for sale.&quot;<br /><br />Big retail has, by and large, left Englewood. What&rsquo;s left in the neighborhood are dots of vacant land and blight. One of the most devastating factors of economic mobility is where you live. Without quality education, good jobs and solid social connections, your chances at moving up the economic ladder are few and far between. And Englewood faces stigmatization because of its sizeable poor, black population. That stigmatization can morph into stereotypes that impact job seekers.<br /><br />Twenty years ago researchers studied hiring and racial biases. A survey of Chicago-area firms revealed that employers avoided recruitment in poor black neighborhood -- like Englewood.<br /><br />It&rsquo;s no wonder that workers turn to the underground economy.<br /><br />While studies have shown that billions of dollars are lost in taxes to this economy, it&rsquo;s a necessity in some communities. Urban planner Nik Theodore teaches at the University of Illinois-Chicago. He said unmet labor needs explain the underground economy.<br /><br />&quot;Informal work really does occur across the economy as a whole,&quot; Theodore said. &quot;But it&rsquo;s most highly concentrated in those low- and moderate-income communities where job opportunities are the fewest and where people have the hardest time accessing opportunities elsewhere within the metropolitan area.&quot;<br /><br />Day laboring, babysitting, janitorial services. Licit and illicit activity. The underground economy won&rsquo;t be the boost Orlando needs to live the American Dream or move from rung A to rung B on the economic ladder. It barely keeps Orlando afloat.<br /><br />Orlando loves Englewood. This is where his friends and family are. He&rsquo;s never lived anywhere else. It&rsquo;s home. But the neighborhood&rsquo;s blemishes aren&rsquo;t lost on him.<br /><br />&quot;You can tell a nice neighborhood because you can see ain&rsquo;t no trash, ain&rsquo;t nothing on the ground. Grass nice and cut. You can tell when you get up around here. We got all these empty lots, cans, stuff laying around. I know when I be back in the neighborhood.&quot;<br /><br />Orlando has mused on what his life would be like if he had grown up in a resource-rich neighborhood elsewhere in Chicago. He doesn&rsquo;t normally talk about moving out of Englewood. He doesn&rsquo;t have the current social capital to do so. With no job or sustainable income on the horizon, Orlando is stuck. And without a car or steady money, he rarely leaves the neighborhood, instead hanging out with his friends and playing softball.<br /><br />On this particular day, Orlando mulled over an exit strategy.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/orlando_0.jpg" style="float: right; " title="Orlando at home." /><br /><br />&quot;I was born and raised here and said I&rsquo;d never leave though. But if I get an opportunity or chance to better my life, I&rsquo;m gone. I can always still come back and see my old man and all them and the people I see in the neighborhood. But the values&hellip;you can&rsquo;t even get too much for a house around here. You got vacant lot, vacant lot, vacant lot. Our economy, it ain&rsquo;t right. It ain&rsquo;t right,&quot; he said.<br /><br />Orlando said he&rsquo;s never going back to drug dealing. Some of his friends are still on corners, hustling and slinging drugs. He said some of his friends can barely count money because they dropped out of elementary school.</p><p><strong>The difference a good influence can make</strong><br /><br />But he has some friends who are on the ball -- like Sammy Pack Jr. who lives a few blocks away from Orlando. They met 10 years ago and know each other from the neighborhood. They bonded over a love of cars.<br /><br />Thirty-one-year-old Sammy lives on an attractive block full of bungalows and neatly cut grass. Sammy joked that his lawn is the worst. His Englewood neighbors are the types who call you at work if they see someone suspicious on your front porch.<br /><br />&quot;A lot of people in Englewood are working people. Working-class, taxpaying people. We just get a bad rap. A lot of incidents kind of label the whole community and everybody that lives in the community,&quot; Sammy said.<br /><br />An Iraqi veteran and current machinist at a steel company, Sammy has been encouraging Orlando.<br /><br />&quot;He does want a job. But I think he has no faith in the system, which a lot of black men in his situation, they don&rsquo;t have faith in the system. They&rsquo;re discouraged,&quot; Sammy said. &quot;He wants to do better but he&rsquo;s very discouraged. He feels a lot of things are against him; and they are, you know?<br /><br />But Sammy said he stays on him without sounding like an older uncle. He tells Orlando about job fairs and how to get his record expunged.<br /><br />&quot;I think he could be taking a lot more advantage. It&rsquo;s that same sad song where &lsquo;they&rsquo;re not going to hire me.&rsquo; Because he has tried so many times and he&rsquo;s been knocked down so many times. It&rsquo;s at the point where sometimes he&rsquo;s sluggish to get up. The bounce back isn&rsquo;t as resilient as it was. He does understand at the same time he needs to something to progress because he&rsquo;s not getting any younger,&quot; Sammy said.<br /><br />Orlando is trying. In fact, he&rsquo;s at a crossroads of sorts.</p><p><strong>At a crossroads</strong><br /><br />Months ago, the family computer broke down. In September, Orlando&rsquo;s father Mr. Abe bought a new one so his sons could search online for jobs and school programs. Orlando&rsquo;s frustration is at a flashpoint. He&rsquo;s identified alternatives in lieu of not finding a job.<br /><br />&quot;I say I either go to go school if I can&rsquo;t find no job by the end of this month. Go mess with this,&quot; Orlando said as he pointed to paperwork on the dining room table about an airplane mechanic school out of state.<br /><br />&quot;I&rsquo;mma try to see if I can go downtown and get my background expunged and I say I just go to the Army,&quot; he said.<br /><br />Orlando is also reflecting on his legacy. He figures if he hasn&rsquo;t yet fulfilled his American Dream, he might get another chance through his 11-year-old son. Little Orlando lives with his mom in Wisconsin. He gets straight As.<br /><br />&quot;I want him to go to school. Don&rsquo;t do what I did. Don&rsquo;t do the streets. Graduate high school, go to college. Better yourself, take care of yourself. Get you a good working job, get your own place. I want him to do everything that I should&rsquo;ve been doing that I ain&rsquo;t doing right now. I hope he can do it,&quot; Orlando said.<br /><br />Orlando thinks his son can do it, away from the empty lots and unemployment of Englewood.</p></p> Thu, 25 Oct 2012 09:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/front-center/orlando-stumbles-he-tries-move-economic-ladder-103358 Orlando's American Dream Deferred: Location sets the stage for economic mobility http://www.wbez.org/series/front-center/orlandos-american-dream-deferred-location-sets-stage-economic-mobility-103317 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/012_0.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="http://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F64556664&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=false&amp;color=ff7700" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>Thirty-year-old Orlando Fenderson is tall and lanky with dark-brown skin and high cheekbones. He&#39;s out of his 20&#39;s now and that&#39;s given him some maturity and perspective. &nbsp;A decade ago, he was hanging out with a bad crowd on street corners, dealing drugs.&nbsp;And he&#39;s currently unemployed.</p><p>Orlando was born and raised in West Englewood on Chicago&#39;s South Side. It&rsquo;s next to the larger Englewood neighborhood and often the two communities are lumped together because they share many characteristics.<o:p></o:p></p><p>One of the most devastating factors of economic mobility is where you live. Without quality education, good jobs and solid social connections, your chances at moving up the economic ladder are few and far between.<o:p></o:p></p><p>&quot;I used to be on jobs all the time. When I left that last job, I was supposed to get right back on it. I just looked at it like man, forget it. (I&#39;ve) just been slacking,&quot; Orlando said.&nbsp;<o:p></o:p></p><p>Englewood is virtually all black. The community&#39;s unemployment rate is 25 percent compared to the nation&#39;s 8 percent. Nearly half its residents live in poverty. That number is more than double for children in Englewood.<br /><br />Residents earn a median income of less than $20,000 a year. Nearly 30 percent have no high school diploma. And if statistics are right, most of the people here are doomed to this fate because nearly half of people raised in the bottom income bracket remain there for life.</p><p><strong>The search for work</strong></p><p>Orlando&#39;s tried to change his fate.</p><p>On an autumn afternoon, Orlando visited a temp agency. He checked boxes that indicated he&rsquo;d work any shift. Orlando even put down a salary requirement of $8 an hour &ndash;25 cents less than Illinois&rsquo; minimum wage. The storefront was packed with mostly out-of-work men &ndash; many African American; others&nbsp; Spanish-speaking.</p><p>Women behind the desk asked if those seeking temporary work were willing to toil in the cold, if they own steel toe boots, if they had their own transportation.&nbsp;Amid the loud chatter in the room, Orlando gave an unequivocal &quot;YES!&quot; to each question -- even if it wasn&#39;t true. After all, he could always buy some new boots or borrow his dad&rsquo;s Grand Am.</p><p>A temp agent told him, &quot;give me a call tomorrow and we&rsquo;ll see if we have anything available.&quot;</p><p>On the ride home, Orlando expressed optimism.</p><p>&quot;Someone actually told me to call back. See all the ones we been through ain&rsquo;t never got this far with them,&quot; he said.</p><p>But disappointment followed days later. Orlando dialed the agency from his kitchen.</p><p>&quot;Yes, I was calling to see if there&rsquo;s any work in today,&quot; he asked.</p><p>&quot;The name?&quot; asked the voice on the other end.</p><p>She put Orlando on hold, then told him to call back. He disappointedly hung up the phone. There is no work. This has been his life from more than half a decade.</p><p><strong>A life standing still</strong><br /><br />It&#39;s not to say Orlando hasn&rsquo;t had jobs. He&#39;s packed supplies and done some warehouse work. His last job was around 2007 when he worked for a small mechanic shop. But it closed down.<o:p></o:p></p><p>While the streets were an unquenchable lure, high school, from the jump, was tough to navigate. That&rsquo;s the way it goes in Englewood. The homicide rate is 48 per 100,000. Englewood dominates the headlines for its disproportionate violence statistics.<br /><br />Orlando said that violence kept him from going to his neighborhood high school. He would&rsquo;ve crossed hostile gang territory. He insisted he wasn&rsquo;t in any gang then or ever, but that doesn&rsquo;t always matter.<br /><br />&quot;They jump on you. That&rsquo;s about it. (They would) probably get further than that if they have a gun. They brought guns to school back then before metal detectors. They brought guns to school,&quot; Orlando said.<br /><br />So Orlando attended another school, miles away. But he goofed off and lied to his father and stepmother about attendance. Not that it would have mattered, the high school Orlando avoided and the one he attended both underperformed.<o:p></o:p></p><p>He ended up dropping out.<o:p></o:p></p><p>&quot;(I was) hanging on the streets. (I was) messing with the streets, hanging out too much when I could&rsquo;ve stayed in school,&quot; Orlando said.<o:p></o:p></p><p>And that set the stage for his next endeavor at age 19.<o:p></o:p></p><p><strong>Taking a bad turn</strong><br /><br />&quot;Basically, I was selling crack,&quot; Orlando admitted.<br /><br />Orlando watched the boys on the corner who were selling drugs. He watched them with a mix of admiration and envy before he took to slinging himself.<br /><br />&quot;I sat there and watched them and kicked it with them three or four days. I was just saying &#39;Dag, look how fast they making that (money). Before the night&rsquo;s over they got $500, $600, $700 in they pocket and I got $20 and I spent my $20.&quot;<br /><br />He stood on that corner for about a year before getting caught. When a Chicago police officer saw him ply his trade, Orlando tried to hide his drugs on the shelf of a corner store.<br /><br />The subterfuge of buying chips and pop didn&rsquo;t work.<br /><br />Orlando had nine bags of crack &ndash; worth about $90. In 2002, he was sentenced to four years in prison but a Cook County judge recommended Orlando go to boot camp instead. He did and served four months.<br /><br />&quot;My brother and them said I should fight it. But my old man said he wasn&rsquo;t gonna spend no money. He (said &#39;I) ain&rsquo;t got no lawyer cause this is something you shouldn&rsquo;t have been doing. You brought this on your own self,&#39;&quot; Orlando remembered his father saying.<o:p></o:p></p><p>Orlando&#39;s father&#39;s voice cracked when he recalled the incident.<br /><br />&quot;I was taking care of him. I was giving him money. That&rsquo;s what made me so mad with him. He didn&rsquo;t have to do that. I gave him anything he wanted, anything he asked for,&quot; Abe Fenderson said.<o:p></o:p></p><p><strong>A middle class home</strong><br /><br />Abe Fenderson bought their two-story pale yellow house with his earnings as a construction worker.<br /><br />Plastic outfitted the living-room furniture. A delicate white lace tablecloth blanketed the dining room table and contrasted the chocolate-colored carpet. Dozens of family photos lined the walls and curios. Two large fish tanks bubbled. The Ten Commandments are framed on a wall.<br /><br />The house smells like home cooking, courtesy of Mr. Abe; Fendersen&rsquo;s nickname on the block. He makes oxtail soup from scratch and cooks any type of beans: black-eyed peas, pinto.<br /><br />Mr. Abe is 79-year-old. He&rsquo;s a deacon in his church and is a bit hard of hearing.<br /><br />Orlando&#39;s mother died of brain cancer when he was in elementary school. Mr. Abe remarried a few years later. But the pain of his boys losing their mother at a young age made Mr. Abe overcompensate.<br /><br />&quot;I have a soft heart, when she passed away I started to give them whatever they wanted, whatever and stuff. And they got to it,&quot; Mr. Abe said.<br /><br />Mr. Abe has been a priceless safety net for his children &ndash; especially for his younger son who&rsquo;s never left the nest. At 30 years of age, Orlando has no bills. He pays no rent. He doesn&rsquo;t have a car. He receives food stamps. He just recently got a cell phone.<br /><br />&quot;I would like him to have a job to have his own money and stuff. I ain&rsquo;t gonna be here always. I&rsquo;m trying to get him to see that. Ain&rsquo;t nobody got a no diploma but me,&quot; Mr. Abe said.<br /><br />Mr. Abe tried to make light of that fact that he&rsquo;s the only one with a high school diploma. Orlando&#39;s brother Kevin also dropped out of high school and recently moved back home in the basement.<o:p></o:p></p><p>He, too, is unemployed.<br /><br />This isn&rsquo;t the life Mr. Abe imagined, once a poor black man from the South.<br /><br />&quot;I put some money up for them. I thought they&rsquo;d maybe go to college. The money stayed there so long and they didn&rsquo;t even finish high school so I took it out and spent it.&quot;<br /><br />It was a lot of money: $60,000.<o:p></o:p></p><p>Mr. Abe moved to Chicago from rural Alabama in the early 1950s. Back then the neighborhood was more middle class with fewer boarded-up houses.<br /><br />When the neighborhood declined, Mr. Abe thought about moving.<br /><br />&quot;You can&rsquo;t run from nothing. (I) decided to stay with it instead of running from it,&quot; he said.<br /><br />But the neighborhood Mr. Abe chose to live in might have set up Orlando to fail.<br /><br /><strong>Setting the stage for poverty</strong><o:p></o:p></p><p>&quot;Englewood has always been in tough straits,&quot; said Nik Theodore, an urban planning professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago.<br /><br />&quot;The current economic downturn that we&rsquo;ve been struggling through has made conditions even tougher in the neighborhood. Englewood is difficult because decades ago, most of the neighborhood businesses left or closed. So a big source of employment in the neighborhood dried up,&quot; Theodore said.<br /><br />The national unemployment rate has dipped below eight percent. Englewood&rsquo;s unemployment rate is more than three times that figure. That makes social mobility seemingly unattainable, especially when you take into account that some residents, like Orlando, have dropped out of high school.<br /><br />&quot;We can&rsquo;t say a mistake someone might have made dropping out of school at age 16, well, you&rsquo;re just out of luck. We need a second chance system that tends to be the public workforce development system. We need strong organizations, strong job-training programs that will allow Orlando and people like him to try to develop the skills they didn&rsquo;t develop in their 20s. But here they are in their 30s. They&rsquo;ve straightened things out for themselves but they need an opportunity,&quot; Theodore said.<o:p></o:p></p><p>All of Orlando&#39;s issues are compounded by his record. As he tries to put a foothold in the economy, he needs help.<o:p></o:p></p><p>&quot;I ain&rsquo;t supposed to have no background. I was supposed to been college now. I should&rsquo;ve had a master&rsquo;s degree, a bachelor&rsquo;s degree. I should&rsquo;ve had one of them by now. If my mama were still here, she&rsquo;d make sure we had it,&quot; Orlando said.<br /><br />He makes calls on a near daily basis and scours the Internet for jobs. He&#39;s searching for a way out of his situation. Orlando has no desire to go back to the streets.<o:p></o:p></p><p>But the nonviolent offense hangs over his head like an unpayable debt. In the second part of this story, we&#39;ll learn how Orlando tries to live with dignity and hope.</p></p> Wed, 24 Oct 2012 14:48:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/front-center/orlandos-american-dream-deferred-location-sets-stage-economic-mobility-103317 Graphic: The ups and downs of economic mobility http://www.wbez.org/series/front-center/graphic-ups-and-downs-economic-mobility-103339 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/MOBILITYREVISED3.jpg" title="(WBEZ/Logan Jaffe)" /></div></div></div><p>Visit&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wbez.org/frontandcenter">Front &amp; Center</a>&nbsp;for more on our series looking at economic mobility in the Great Lakes region.&nbsp;</p><p><em>(SOURCES: Number H.S dropouts (<a href="http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=16">National Center on Education Statistics </a>), &nbsp;Bachelor Degrees (<a href="http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=16">National Center on Education Statistics</a>), Student Loan Debt (Pew Research Center), Union Membership (US department of labor), Single Mother Households (U.S.Census), &nbsp;Poverty (U.S.Census), Savings (Bureau of Economic Analysis))</em></p></p> Tue, 23 Oct 2012 11:17:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/front-center/graphic-ups-and-downs-economic-mobility-103339 New Americans with old American Dream, finding it hard to get by http://www.wbez.org/programs/afternoon-shift/2012-10-22/new-americans-old-american-dream-finding-it-hard-get-103325 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="http://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F64440768&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=false&amp;color=ff7700" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>MILWAUKEE &mdash; When Roberto Silva first arrived in Milwaukee, from Mexico, 13 years ago, he had hopes of working and going to school.</p><p>&ldquo;When your family isn&rsquo;t rich, if they don&rsquo;t have too much money, you have to make a choice,&rdquo; he said simply. &ldquo;If you want to a higher education, or you have to work to eat. So I chose to eat, because it was no choice.&rdquo;</p><p>In 1999, he started working at <a href="http://www.palermospizza.com">Palermo&rsquo;s</a> frozen pizza company in Milwaukee. That gave him a chance to send money back to his family in Mexico and, he hoped, have enough to build a life for himself back home. The company is now embroiled in a bitter labor disbute, and Roberto, 34, has realized the shortcomings of the American Dream.</p><p>His story is more common than not today. Generations of immigrants prior of Roberto&#39;s were welcomed, as were their dreams of making better lives for themselves and their families. But a lot has changed since then.</p><p>Roberto picked Milwaukee because his older brother was already here. He says he knew this could provide better options than in Mexico, where he had worked odd jobs in carpentry, gardening and helping out a mechanic.</p><p>&ldquo;I made the dough,&rdquo; he said, adding he learned how to mix the flour and yeast into the machines. He made $6.50/hour. &ldquo;And then I moved to production for another year,&nbsp; and they gave me 25 cents. Then, I was working in packaging and they gave me another 25 cents.&rdquo;</p><p>Roberto&rsquo;s proud of how he worked his way up the ranks of the company, learning to use all the machines. This year, he made $17 an hour in the warehouse, operating a forklift. That&rsquo;s <a href="http://swz.salary.com/SalaryWizard/Warehouse-Worker-Salary-Details-Milwaukee-WI.aspx">pretty good pay</a> for warehouse work in Milwaukee. And, it&#39;s higher than most at the factory, where workers say they make closer to $9 an hour.</p><p>Frozen pizza sales track the school year. When school starts, production ramps up. During the busy season, Roberto says it wasn&rsquo;t unusual for him to work an 80-hour week. He says he often worked six days in a row &ndash; and sometimes seven.</p><p>&ldquo;And then everything changed,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;My girlfriend got pregnant. And because it was not just me, now it was my family, I was asking if I was going to do this for the rest of my life. And my answer was no, it was something I can&rsquo;t keep doing.&rdquo;</p><p><strong>AN AMERICAN FAMILY</strong><br /><br />Roberto has a five-year-old son, and a daughter who was born earlier this year. Inside the single family house he rents, he and his cousins are sitting on black couches, watching a Mexican soccer match on television. His nephew, little Jorgie, is playing on the floor with some new toys.<br /><br />Roberto&rsquo;s older brother, Jorge said he, too, intended to return to Mexico, but then he got married and had kids. He&rsquo;s since gotten divorced, and now supports himself and his kids separately. He&rsquo;s appreciative of how much more money he can earn in the United States compared to Mexico.</p><p>A job that would pay $15 an hour here would pay about $5 in Mexico, Jorge estimated. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s a big difference,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>He teased his oldest, a teenager, by saying she&rsquo;s living her American dream, and doesn&rsquo;t even like to eat tacos anymore. His kids are American. She laughed and said that&rsquo;s not true.</p><p>Roberto and his girlfriend share the rent with Roberto&rsquo;s cousin and her husband. All of them worked at Palermo&rsquo;s. Roberto&rsquo;s brother, Jorge, also lives here. In all - seven people live in the house.</p><p>Well, except this weekend, because Jorge&rsquo;s three children are visiting.</p><p><strong>A CHANGE IN LAW AND CULTURE</strong><br /><br /><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Polish%20Flat.jpg" style="margin: 1px; float: right; " title="Flickr user Creative Nicki)" />In Milwaukee&rsquo;s Brady Street neighborhood, immigrant historian <a href="http://www4.uwm.edu/letsci/history/faculty/buff.cfm">Rachel Ida Buff</a> is trying to find <a href="http://www4.uwm.edu/libraries/digilib/Milwaukee/records/picture.cfm">Polish flats</a>.</p><p>Buff thinks it&rsquo;s a great example of how past generations of immigrants banded together, like Robert and Jorge&rsquo;s families are doing today.</p><p>&ldquo;There,&rdquo; she said, pointing at a small, yellow house, a shotgun-style that has a visible basement level. &ldquo;These skinny little houses that they sort of pulled up.&rdquo;</p><p>Buff said it always sounds like a joke when she explains it, but Polish flats were built when families saved to buy a lot and built a tiny house on it. Then, when they had enough money, they literally lifted the house up and built another floor underneath: instant rental space and additional revenue.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s a great immigrant strategy,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;It created economic mobility and the possibility of land ownership.&rdquo;</p><p>We know the housing crisis prevented that from coming easy. That&rsquo;s one way immigrant life has changed, but there&rsquo;s another, bigger difference.</p><p>Rachel teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She often tells her students that when her great-grandfather left czarist Russia to come here, he was an illegal immigrant.</p><p>&ldquo;When the ship docked in New York harbor he jumped ship,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;If somebody did that now we would say, &lsquo;illegal immigrant!&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p>But because this was before there was such a thing, Buff said her grandfather got to have a good life, success and send for family. He became &ldquo;a real patriarch.&rdquo;</p><p>The criminalization of immigration first happened in 1929, Buff said. But it&rsquo;s not until 1965 - when current system of immigration laws were created - that the notion of an &ldquo;illegal&rdquo; immigrant became not just part of U.S. law, but of the culture.</p><p><a href="http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5391395">Ironically</a>, the signing of the Immigration Act of 1965 by President Lyndon B. Johnson was at the time seen as a &ldquo;highwater mark in civil rights,&rdquo; Buff said. And immigrants became overwhelmingly Asian and Latin American.</p><p>&ldquo;And so suddenly there are these waves of brown people coming, and there&rsquo;s this fear, cultural and economic fears, that category of illegal alien becomes very useful to explain things,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;So it becomes a racial fear and kind of weird ideological fear - can we tolerate these new people?&rdquo;</p><p>Roberto said he&rsquo;s experienced that prejudice firsthand at work.</p><p>&ldquo;It was another Hispanic person that told everybody we don&rsquo;t have rights,&rdquo; he said, shaking his head. &ldquo;I was mad. I was upset.&rdquo;</p><p>&nbsp;He said he can&rsquo;t describe his feeling in English, trailing off for a moment.</p><p>&ldquo;Estaba disgudo, deceptionado, frustrado,&rdquo; he said. (&ldquo;I felt unhappy, disappointed - frustrated&quot;).</p><p><strong>THE PALERMO&rsquo;S STRIKE</strong><br /><br />Other workers felt the same way. Just outside Palermo&rsquo;s headquarters and production facility in Milwaukee, a picket line formed.</p><p>Workers lined up with signs that read &ldquo;No Justice, No Pizza&rdquo;. They chanted: &ldquo;Palermos! Eschucha! Estaba en la lucha!&rdquo; (Palermo&rsquo;s! Listen!&nbsp; We&rsquo;re not giving up this struggle!)</p><p>This protest has been going on outside the Palermo&rsquo;s pizza factory since June. The fight pitted the largely immigrant Latino workforce against a family-owned business &ndash; started by an Italian immigrant in the 1950s.</p><p>Milwaukee worker activist group <a href="http://www.vdlf.org">Voces de la Frontera</a> has been trying to help Roberto and other workers form a union. But around the same Palermo&rsquo;s workers said they wanted to unionize, the company sent out letters saying many workers had to re-verify their immigration status.</p><p>The U.S. government&rsquo;s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office began auditing the company in 2011. There have been thousands of these audits during the current administration.</p><p>Because ICE tries to stay out of labor disputes, officials later told Palermo&rsquo;s they would temporarily suspend the investigation. But Palermo&rsquo;s still fired all the workers.</p><p>The company&#39;s spokeman Chris Dresselhuys said they had no choice.</p><p>&ldquo;Frankly, we were extremely upset when the government took their action and when we realized that there was nothing we could do for them other than to comply with the law,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;It truly is an unfortunate situation&rdquo;.</p><p>Dresselhuys also flatly denied all the claims Roberto and other workers made. He pointed out that the <a href="http://www.palermospizza.com/benefits.aspx">company offers</a> competitive pay, health benefits, life insurance and pays into a retirement plan for workers, regardless of how much they contribute.</p><p>He also pointed to how long many of its employees have worked at the company.</p><p>&ldquo;Palermo&rsquo;s has a long history of caring deeply for its employees and providing a fulfilling and enjoyable work environment. The claims and scurrilous accusations simply are untrue,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Many employees who were affected by the ICE audit had been here for more than 10 years, which I believe indicates a very different work environment than that characterization.&rdquo;</p><p>Roberto and some co-workers say they first went to Voces four years ago, to learn about what rights they should have as workers. In Roberto&rsquo;s case, it wasn&rsquo;t about how he was being treated - it was about what to do watching others.</p><p>&ldquo;My boss told me, &lsquo;Don&rsquo;t worry about the other people. Who puts puts the food on your table? You, so just take care of you and don&rsquo;t worry about other people&rsquo;,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>He said they told him to act as if &#39;nothing&#39; was happening. But he couldn&rsquo;t.</p><p><strong>DECLINE OF A SOCIAL CONTRACT?</strong><br /><br />Annette Bernhardt is with the National Employment Law Project. She said she often hears from company officials who think paying workers overtime is voluntary, not legally mandatory.</p><p>That&rsquo;s one sign of deteriorating work conditions, she said, as companies continue to focus on cost-cutting.</p><p>Some of her <a href="http://www.nelp.org/site/issues/category/research_on_the_growth_of_unregulated_work">research</a> - one study is based on almost 5,000 low-wage workers in big cities - found <a href="http://www.unprotectedworkers.org/index.php/broken_laws/index">almost routine violations</a> for low-wage workers.</p><p>&ldquo;Some folks call it the decline of the social contract, but I think if you&rsquo;re on the ground in these low wage industries, it is very real in terms of how employers think about their workers, their obligations to provide them with decent wages and safe workplaces,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;I think those norms have really deteriorated, especially in industries with lots of vulnerable workers like immigrant workers.&rdquo;</p><p>Roberto was one of the workers fired over documentation. The case is before the National Labor Relations Board. The union asked that all the fired workers be reinstated, and that the NLRB take charge of verifying the worker&rsquo;s papers.</p><p>In the the meantime, Roberto&rsquo;s found another job. He&rsquo;s working at a warehouse 45 minutes away in Waukegan. The pay isn&rsquo;t as good - $14 an hour - but he likes that he only works about 40 to 50 hours a week.</p><p>When Roberto first started at Palermo&rsquo;s, he tried to go to school. He got his G.E.D., and started taking classes at Milwaukee Area Technical College. But he was tired from working and it was hard to keep up, so he dropped out.</p><p>Unlike other immigrants, who want to open a business, Roberto just wants to get a degree. Now he feels like he can.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s better because I&rsquo;m working five days a week,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Now, I have more time. So for me, right now, I can spend more time with my family. Plus, I can go back to school.&rdquo;</p><p>He laughs and said he thinks maybe he might be &#39;old,&#39; but he still has the same idea he had 13 years ago.</p><p>&ldquo;I know if I go to school, it&rsquo;s going to be better for me and my family,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Roberto told me that he&rsquo;s hopeful he will work at Palermo&rsquo;s again. He liked his job there - he just wants everyone to be treated fairly, and he&rsquo;s glad that he spoke up.</p><p>He said he spoke up for his children. He has two main hopes for them: that they&rsquo;ll go to college, and that they&rsquo;ll learn from his experience to speak up for themselves.</p></p> Tue, 23 Oct 2012 08:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/afternoon-shift/2012-10-22/new-americans-old-american-dream-finding-it-hard-get-103325 Palermo's Pizza - a story of immigrants past and present http://www.wbez.org/programs/afternoon-shift/2012-10-22/palermos-pizza-story-immigrants-past-and-present-103289 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="http://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F64368165&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=false&amp;color=ff7700" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>For generations, the American Dream has been a pervasive part of our culture: work hard, and you and your children will be better off. But the country is different now than it was when it became known as the Land of Opportunity.</p><p>The United States no longer boasts a stable middle class. Instead, we have people getting by - not getting ahead. And the immigrant experience that first brought us the idea of the American Dream is radically different today.</p><p>It&rsquo;s late on a Sunday afternoon, but 78-year-old Henry Piano is hard at work in his downtown Milwaukee law practice. He&rsquo;s preparing for a court appearance tomorrow.</p><p>It looks like a typical law office...dark wood, stuffed leather chairs and legal reference books lining his bookshelves. But look closely at the pictures behind his desk, at large picture of the Mediterranean coastline and you see reminders of Piano&rsquo;s Italian heritage.</p><p>It&rsquo;s the classic story. Piano&rsquo;s first generation: his father, Nick, came here from Sicily around the turn of the last century, with no English, a little bit of money, but plenty of desire for hard work and to create a better future.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;My father had a great emphasis on education,&rdquo; said Piano, as he shows me a picture of the family tavern where he grew up. &ldquo;He would always say, &#39;I don&rsquo;t want you to go through what I&rsquo;ve gone through.&#39;&rdquo;</p><p>His parents worked so hard that they only took one vacation in their life - and they didn&rsquo;t even like it - they preferred working. It&rsquo;s a value Piano shares. He says &ldquo;you don&rsquo;t have to take a vacation to be happy&rdquo;, that happiness comes from his life: the realization of his dream.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s the same dream that Jack came here with,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>By Jack - Piano is talking about Gaspare Falluca, one of his best friends who <a href="http://www.jsonline.com/news/obituaries/fallucca-founded-palermo-pizza-fs743vf-172751571.html">just passed away</a>. Falluca was the founder of <a href="http://www.palermospizza.com/index.aspx">Palermo&rsquo;s Pizza</a>. The national frozen pizza company started as a small bakery on Milwaukee&rsquo;s East Side - a few blocks from Brady Street, and the tavern Henry Piano&rsquo;s father owned.</p><p>It&rsquo;s a neighborhood where immigrants built their businesses.</p><p>Jack, or Papa Falluca, as he was known, had humble beginnings. One of his first jobs was a dishwasher. Then, he did construction work, mostly in terrazzo and ceramic tile work that he had learned in Italy.</p><p>After a few years, he went into the bakery business with his nephews. Eventually, he struck out on his own, opening a small bakery on Milwaukee&rsquo;s East Side.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;It was a seven day a week business,&rdquo; Piano said, adding that Falluca would work all day and night. &ldquo;My wife would talk to his wife and she&rsquo;s ask &lsquo;Where&rsquo;s Jack?&rsquo; And she&rsquo;d say, &lsquo;Well, where else? He&rsquo;s at the bakery. He may have to sleep on the bags there&rsquo;.&rdquo;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/PalermoProtest.jpg" style="height: 247px; width: 300px; float: left; margin: 5px; " title="Palermo workers protest outside the pizza factory." /></p><p>Eventually, he opened a restaurant. It became popular - even with entertainers like Frankie Avalon, who would stop by an after hours meal. But then he sold that business, and bought another bakery, with the idea of going into frozen pizza. That venture would secure his family&rsquo;s future.</p><p>&ldquo;His idea was to build an enormous business out of hard work, and teach that same thing to his children, which they have,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Today, Palermo&rsquo;s is the fifth-largest frozen pizza producer in the country. The company employs more than 350 people from a production facility across town near Milwaukee&rsquo;s Miller Field.</p><p>You can see Papa&rsquo;s Italian heritage from the distance. The facility is designed after a 16th century Tuscan villa.</p><p>Inside, the rooms have Italian names like Il Spacio. And if you don&rsquo;t speak Italian, not to worry.</p><p>Marketing Director Chris Dresselhuys gave me a tour of the facility, where they produce more than 100 million pizzas a year. He warned me to be alarmed when I used the ladies&rsquo; restroom. Inside there are recordings that teach you conversational Italian phrases.</p><p>Few people on the floor making the pizzas these days are likely to speak Papa Fallucca&rsquo;s native tongue. In fact, just outside the worker lounge area, the company has its mission statement up in English, Spanish, and Burmese - many refugees work at the plant. They&rsquo;re picking up work that until recently was done mostly by Mexican immigrants.</p><p>Palermo employees are &ldquo;valued members of our family&rdquo;, Dresselhuys said, noting that workers receive health and life insurance and a retirement plan, regardless of how much they contribute.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/VocesFrontDoorResized.jpg" style="margin: 5px; float: left; height: 305px; width: 300px; " title="The widow of Voces features signs about the protest at Palermo Pizza." />But just outside that villa, many workers disagree.</p><p>A protest line of former employees carry signs asking people to boycott Palermo&#39;s.</p><p>It&rsquo;s been going on since the end of May, when about 75 workers went on strike against the company over its wages and working conditions.</p><p>&ldquo;The main thing was to make more pizzas, and make more and more and more,&rdquo; said Roberto Silva, 34, who started working at Palmero&rsquo;s in 1999.</p><p>Silva started in production for $6.50 an hour and had worked his way up to the warehouse, where he was making $17 an hour. His shift started at 3 p.m.</p><p>&ldquo;One day I left at 5 a.m., and the next day, they called me to the office,&rdquo; Silva said, to ask him why he left without finishing the job.</p><p>Silva says he sometimes worked as much as 90 hours as week. He got paid overtime for his work. But he says he often wasn&rsquo;t treated well. I asked him how different it was from working conditions in Mexico. His response?</p><p>&ldquo;Over here, it&rsquo;s just they don&rsquo;t care about the people, they just want to make money, and they don&rsquo;t care about the people.&rdquo;</p><p>Here&rsquo;s where the story gets tricky. In early May, the workers say they presented a petition to management stating they wanted to form a union.</p><p>Around the same time, the company sent out letters to at least 75 of the same workers asking them to prove their immigration status.</p><p>The letter said Palermo&rsquo;s was in the middle of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement audit. Because of that audit, the government had decided these workers needed to provide additional proof of their legal right to work in the U.S.</p><p>ICE sent Palermo&rsquo;s a letter saying it was &ldquo;staying&rdquo; further action regarding those workers&rsquo; documentation.</p><p>&ldquo;Under the Obama administration, the government has really dramatically ramped up the use of civil audits as an enforcement tool,&rdquo; said <a href="http://www.fragomen.com/danielbrown/">Dan Brown</a>, who used to work for ICE but is now an immigration lawyer in the Washington DC office of Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen &amp; Loewy.</p><p>Brown said these audits have gone basically zero to about 500 in 2008.</p><p>&ldquo;They&rsquo;re on pace this fiscal year to do about 4,000 audits of employers nationwide,&rdquo; Brown said.</p><p>And Brown and other labor experts say this is the first they&rsquo;ve ever heard of the ICE suspending an investigation this way. Brown added that the timing of that letter makes things really tricky.</p><p>&ldquo;Staying the action at that point probably would put any employer in a real quandry about what to do,&rdquo; Brown said. The company could face fines of around $3,000 per worker, or even face criminal prosecution with the possibility of jail time.</p><p>That&rsquo;s because the letter didn&rsquo;t say the investigation was concluded - just halted until further notice.</p><p>Palermo&rsquo;s fired the workers.</p><p>&ldquo;The company has no choice but to follow the law,&rdquo; Dresselhuys said. &ldquo;The audit is truly between the federal government and the employee.&rdquo;</p><p>The whole thing is now before the National Labor Relations Board. The organization that has represented the workers - <a href="http://www.vdlf.org/">Voces de la Frontera</a> - says the immigration tactics are a form of intimidation.</p><p>&ldquo;No one - not an employer or anyone else - can use ICE as form of&nbsp; intimidation or retaliation for workers that are asserting their federally protected rights to organize collectively,&rdquo; said Christine Neumann Ortiz, Voce&rsquo;s director.</p><p>But I wondered how Papa Falluca - the Italian immigrant who worked his way up from being a construction worker to creating this national pizza company - would feel about everything that&rsquo;s happened. His family wasn&rsquo;t available to talk.</p><p>But his friend, Henry Piano provided this explanation.</p><p>&ldquo;I knew what his philosophy was and that was to treat your employees kind and to remember you came from the same thing,&rdquo; he said when I asked him what Falluca - who died three weeks ago - thought about the labor dispute.</p><p>&ldquo;When he came here, we worked for very low wage and he wanted to make sure their employees to have the same thing. There&rsquo;s nothing to prevent those folks from going into their own business like he did, and to start their own business like he did. But to complain about it is, I think, a little tough.&quot;</p><p>Silva doesn&rsquo;t see his and the other workers cause as complaining. He says he just wants dignity as a worker - and a voice.</p><p>&ldquo;When you want something and you fight for it, I think you&rsquo;re going to get it. It was not just for us, it&rsquo;s going to be good for the company and for us, for everybody,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>It&rsquo;s not that Roberto thinks his American dream should come easy. Part Two of this story explains how different the immigrant experience is from decades past.</p></p> Mon, 22 Oct 2012 14:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/afternoon-shift/2012-10-22/palermos-pizza-story-immigrants-past-and-present-103289