The Inheritance

For those returning to the workplace in the days before and after July 4th

A customer leaves a payday loan store in Gaithersburg, Maryland, in February 2019. Washington Post photo by Michael S. Williamson.

For valuing your life, and your quality of life, as well as your work contributions, your employer should not be in contention for a gold medal. “Allowing” you alternate work arrangements for the past sixteen months was not an act of heroism on their part. The same applies if you were deemed an essential worker, but given occasional flexibility to care for yourself or family members.

There’s no reason to thank employers for “being flexible,” so let’s stop applauding companies for doing the right thing after centuries of doing the wrong thing. After receiving billions in federal COVID subsidies, there is no reason to believe that they will not continue to grow our nation’s underclass while feasting on subsidies and paying little or no taxes. All while their employees make ends meet in a world with easier access to Payday and home equity loans than to equitable healthcare, housing, and education.

“Sharecroppers operate happily in an attention economy while their overseers operate happily in a cash economy.”

Nicholas Carr

This era could birth a productive dialogue addressing generational wealth, generational greed, and generational poverty — Americans who will almost certainly experience lives like those of their parents. Instead, we remain allegedly “divided,” gambling on “controversial” legislation that will often require the courage of one or two particular senators to do what’s right. Reporters follow them around the bowels of the Capitol, asking how he or they will vote, instead of asking the larger questions about our nation’s history of deep poverty.

The Stanley Family at their home in Welch, West Virginia, on Sept. 9, 2019. McDowell County, West Virginia, is one of the poorest in the nation. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

With the first round of vaccinations behind so many Americans, the conversation could have shifted from one of division to one about reshaping the everyday quality of life for all of us. This post-pandemic (cross your fingers) era could be the ideal time for us to examine our history of prioritizing corporations, militarization, and the wealthy, at the expense of the livelihoods, health, education, environment, and quality of life of the large majority of the people living in our country. The collective attention and consciences of our leaders could begin to pivot in the coming months, ushering in an era described above. Unfortunately, little of this will happen in a historical, generational way.

If 9/11 taught us anything, it’s that the attention spans and memories of many Americans are short and selfish.

So, whatever your occupation, do not confuse anything that your employer has done to accommodate your ability to be productive for them with anything at all resembling loyalty to you. Be sure that they suffer from no such confusion.

Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

And to those who read this, all the while whispering to yourselves that none of this is your fault, questioning its validity, and ready to respond with terms like “resilience” and “grit,” I’d say that while the history of class and labor in this country has been easy for you to hide from, it is hardly up for debate.

So although some of you may say you feel no responsibility for any of the above, you still must pull up your bootstraps and consider it all part of your inheritance.



Daddy, exhausted empath, infj. John Lennon in a world of Pete Bests.

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James M. Phelan

Daddy, exhausted empath, infj. John Lennon in a world of Pete Bests.