By E. Tammy Kim in Las Vegas, Nevada

Illustrations by Richard Hahn for Al Jazeera America

Published on Saturday, October 31, 2015

Deep in Las Vegas’ 3-million-square-foot convention center, some 15,000 line workers, middle managers and executives gathered for the annual meeting of the Society for Human Resource Management, or SHRM (pronounced “sherm”). It was the end of June, and outside along the Strip, high temperatures averaged 110 degrees, a climate fit for camels and desert grass. Inside the serpentine complex, the air conditioning and curriculum obeyed not nature’s laws but those of company men and women.

About 275,000 people belong to SHRM, whose yearly conference is a bonanza of humans and resources and humans availing themselves of resources. For many in attendance, it was a welcome opportunity to talk shop and soak up empathy, to choose from 200 educational sessions and browse 1,000 corporate vendors hawking their wares — from background-check software and 401(k) apps to futuristic plush nap pods — in a giant exhibition concourse. The federal Social Security Administration, which provides financial benefits to some 60 million Americans, occupied a sad little half-booth.