In one of those rare moments, the Portland Tribune, our city’s bi-weekly newspaper, has done and excellent piece on troubled youth caught up in the clutches of the door-to-door magazine sales industry. Usually I expect just some local news from them. Oh, this is happening and that is happening, and it’s all local or has local implications.
This week, while the story is mostly about an industry that passes through Portland every now and again, it has national implications and it’s something that everyone should be hearing about. I don’t know what kind of treatment this is getting elsewhere, but the quality of the journalism and the depth and scope of the piece compare to stuff that Willamette Week does (when they write Pulitzer quality articles).
I’m sure that you’ve had your doorbell rung by young teens or early 20 somethings trying to sell you a magazine subscription. The prices are certainly not competitive, but I think they are hoping that you appreciate the kids desperate situation or at least their desire to work for a living. Or something, as I’ve never really been tempted to order from them. However I also have never considered the circumstances that led them to pick this vocation.
Apparently it’s not all on the up and up. The Trib describes it as “an underworld that turns homeless, naive and scared young adults from across the country into what often amounts to 21st-century indentured servants.”
To work for Integrity Program, they suggest, was to naively answer a newspaper “help wanted” advertisement promising free travel and easy money and suddenly enter a world of violent and abusive sales crew managers who transport vanloads of young “sales agents” from town to town and state to state.
A world of being put up in cheap hotels, where young agents are sometimes physically and sexually assaulted and often emotionally abused, and are forced to work 12 and 14 hours a day, six days a week, for $20 dollars a day or less.
And, in essence, the young people, usually age 18 to 25 but occasionally younger, have no choice – or believe they have no choice – but to stay on the job. Because crew managers won’t give them the money – either the money they’ve earned or money they were promised when they hired on – to get a bus ticket back home.
These kids are mostly from troubled backgrounds, and off the street. They are convinced by their managers and handlers that life on the “outside” is no better than what they have, so there’s no reason to leave. More often than not, the kids actually buy into that, because of what they left behind.
There is also a lot of physical and mental abuse by the managers. Many have died in car accidents where the driver is later found out to have had no license. It usually occurs when transporting from one city to another.
There’s a guy who lost his daughter too all this madness, and he keeps a website that tracks the misdeeds of the company.
Ellenbecker’s research has found more than 275 felony charges against door-to-door traveling sales crew members over the last few decades. He suspects the actual number of felonies is much higher. Included in that number are dozens of sexual assaults against women who answer their doors to the sales agents, and at least a half-dozen murders.
It is thought that, of course, the company never does background checks on it’s recruits.
I hat to say this, but read the article. It gets much worse, and not very many kids are making it out of this vicious circle.
There’s a part two to the series as well, talking more in depth about the owners and managers who run the crews from place to place. There are lawsuits in several states. Wisconsin has banned the company after a horrific accident that killed several crew members. Most of the managers have a checkered past with arrests dealing with fraud and the like.
So the next time you get one of those unfortunate kids at your door, ask them if they work for Integrity Sales or Integrity Program. Keep your eyes out, because they might need more than just your money.