In the days when I was a service member in the 60s and 70s, there was the usual long row of used/new car lots, pawn shops, bars, fast food outlets and pay-day lenders along the highways leading to the front gate of almost every military installation. These outfits were poised to grab the money of the soldiers, many of whom were away from home the first time and unsophisticated in the ways of finance and the art of the “deal.” Much of my time as a young officer was spent writing replies to letters from collection agencies and businesses with complaints of non-payment of debts by PFC So-and-so. “Dear Sir, The army is not a collection agency…” Ever ready for a new client, businesses had lined up to extract money from the soldiers, often aided and abetted by the media, especially magazines and newspapers, some of which bear official sounding names such as the Army Times.
Closely related to efforts to draw money from the soldiers were offers in these rags of dubious and borderline legitimate employment. But legitimate does not mean worthwhile. Go no further than this pretend article written for Army Times (“This story is produced and presented by our sponsor”), written by the head of Uber in San Francisco, Wayne Ting, graduate of Harvard (MBA) and the NYC area Bain Capital school of “wealth creation.” The piece is enitled, “Reach your financial goals with Uber.” Excerpt: “Uber gives driver-partners the control to turn their work on and off when they decide, and the flexibility to work as much as they want, whenever they want. Drivers are their own bosses from day one: They set their own hours and have immediate access to customers and a steady and growing income.”
Are we not surprised to learn that former Defense Secretary Robert Gates is on Uber's board of directors where they want to generate a half a billion dollars in income for the veterans? Nothing like a former secretary of defense helping out the guys and gals he sent to war for naught. How much of that half billion actually gets to the troops is a mystery. Mr. Ting's advertisement-cum-article reveals, “There are currently more than 50,000 veterans and military families driving on the Uber platform, with cumulative earnings of over $140,000,000.” Let's do the math on those facts and divide earnings by number of employees. We arrive at $2,800 per employee but for what time period? Since Uber's inception? And just how long did most of these 50,000+ vets last as drivers? You can't get much for $2,800 even if this represents one month's income. Do not forget that Uber also takes some of your earnings off the top, before that direct-deposit check arrives in your checking account. “Once you start driving, a standard software license fee (ranging from 5 to 20%) goes to getting you more riders and better tools to keep your business running.” In that you are a contractor with Uber, it appears you will have to pay your own contributions to Social Security and health insurance - while not forgetting to pay those pesky estimated quarterly taxes. Uber does give you a Form 1099 earnings statement at the end of the year to help you file. “We'll send you a 1099 form that you will use to report the income you made driving with Uber.” So that dollar you have earned as a driver has now shrunk by about half or more. [Note: 1099s from Uber may be a problem that will require the driver to consult a tax expert. Read here, or watch here for more]
Say you do not have a car. Has Uber got a deal for you! Try their auto purchasing/leasing program conveniently tied to the Uber website. And they will even take the car payments out of your check so no worries about paying on time. Now the veteran is a slave to the company store. No phone? Uber has the answer. “If you choose to rent a phone from us instead of using your own, a $10-per-week service fee will automatically be deducted. You keep the rest.” What “rest?”
A friend of mine, here in town, wrote the following in an email to me to accompany this article. “I felt ill when I read the subject headline on Army Times. Our poor fucking grunts are shark bait, & - as you note - always were. When I left Lake Forest the bar nearest the El Toro USMC base - about 3 miles & thus walkable - sold cigarettes by the unit, at $1.25/ciggie. The place was filthy, but always busy at night peddling smokes & beer to boys with bulging muscles & pimples. Are you the ignorant, desperate for a smoke son of a farm laborer, or of a janitor in a ghetto? You can’t afford to buy a pack? Oh boy, do we have a good deal for you! Support the troops!”