Are You Ready for Some Time Travel?
Who said time travel isn’t possible? Anyone who has followed this series knows, for a fact, it is quite possible. All you have to do is step into my time machine and join me back to, what some old-timers like to call it, a simpler time.
Today we are going back to 1968.
Shortly after the first of the year, January, 1968, a neighbor of ours asked me if I was going to be looking for work during my summer vacation, after the end of my Sophomore year at Seattle University. He had worked at a fruit-and-produce warehouse for twenty years, and he said he could put a word in for me if I was interested. I said I was, most definitely, interested, and so it was that in June, 1968, I was hired as summer help at West Coast Fruit and Produce.
It was a Teamster job, and it was hard work, but the salient point, for this article, is that I started working there for $10 per hour with full medical and dental benefits.
Chew on that for a moment. I was twenty years old, making, quite literally, more than my dad was making, him being a common laborer at Pioneer Sand & Gravel, where he had been working for fifteen years.
Let’s jump ahead two years, shortly after graduating from college, I was again looking for work, and I was hired for a Teamster job, office work, for $15 per hour – that would then be 1970.
Time for Some Perspective
You will have to trust me on the math. I’ve done the research, and I’m pretty confident in the statistics I’m about to give to you.
That $10 per hour, which I earned in 1968, was the equivalent (had the same buying power) as $77 per hour in 2020. Stated another way, you would have to make $77 per hour, today, to have the purchasing power I had in 1968.
And I was not an anomaly. It was pretty common for my guys, my friends, those I hung out with, to make that kind of money in 1968. Good paying jobs were the norm back then, and inflation was nowhere near what it is today.
In 1969 I paid cash for a brand new Chevy Camaro. Graduating from college, a college which cost $4,000 per year, I had no debt. Within two years of graduating, I had paid cash for a building lot with a stunning view of Puget Sound. By 1978 I had purchased my first home.
Chew some more on that and then I’ll get around to the point if, by chance, you haven’t figured it out yet.
It occurred to me the other day, although, as an Economics major I certainly knew this already, that there is an entire generation of Americans who have never known the kind of economic security I knew coming out of college. There is an entire generation, say anyone born in the last twenty-five years, who have never given thought to actually achieving the American Dream.
And that is both amazing and incredibly depressing!
Now consider this: in 1970, the GDP for the United States was $5 trillion. In 2018, the GDP was $20 trillion. In other words, while the economy has grown four-fold during that time, the purchasing power of the average American has plummeted to ridiculously low levels.
Let’s put it another way. If someone made $15 per hour in today’s world, the wage I made in 1970, that person would be able to pay for what? A studio apartment will run you close to a grand per month. Car payment? Car insurance? Health insurance? Groceries? How far will that $15 per hour take you?
An entire generation!
And in twenty years, we will be able to say the last couple of generations!
Remember the Reagan Years?
Gosh, I was what, mid-to-late thirties when Reagan was President. I don’t remember much about it. I remember thinking he seemed like a kindly old man, pretty harmless, someone I could “grin-and-bear” until his Presidency was over, no harm, no foul.
And I remember “Trickle Down Economics,” and how great that theory sounded, the rich get rich, and the profits trickle down to the workers, and everyone is happy. And we all waited for the trickling to begin, and we waited, and we waited, and then it became obvious to anyone with a functioning brain that “Trickle Down Economics” was synonymous with saying “Shit Flows Downhill.”
Who Do I Blame?
I sure as hell don’t blame the economic system. Capitalism is all about making money, and it’s the goal to make shareholders happy and to reward investors and stockholders and upper-management. That’s been true of corporations and large businesses since the first person with buying power shouted “where the hell is the discount bin?”
And it was true for me when I owned a couple businesses. I tried to make money. I banked quite a bit of my profits. But, and this is an important but, I also paid my workers a wage higher than the market norm because, well, it seemed like the right thing to do.
The problem with Trickle Down Economics in the 80’s was the same problem we see today with so many of the huge corporations: without a corporate philosophy of sharing profits throughout the corporation, Trickle Down Economics is simply a pipe-dream fantasy. In other words, the corporation must have a moral compass and a willingness to pay wages which will allow workers to actually pay for some modern conveniences like, oh say, food and shelter and health benefits.
But the people I truly blame for this whole economic imbalance are the lawmakers, those men and women who accept huge amounts of money from special interest groups, groups who represent the largest corporations in the world, and then pass friendly legislation to benefit those corporations.
Stated simply, the problem is government, not the economic system.
We are now seeing what happens when a large percentage of the population cannot make a living wage. People are extremely unhappy. People are afraid for their families. People are unsure of the future, at times hopeless, and they are angry, and that anger must have an outlet.
So we see polarity in the U.S. today, extreme polarity, shouting and cursing and protests and counter-protests and assaults and shootings and lootings and vandalism and . . . and . . . and . . .
We see blatant racism. We see blatant sexism. We see an increased effort to keep immigrants out of our cities. We see people wondering what the hell is the point of trying? What’s the point of working two jobs and still not having enough money to rent an apartment?
And I think it will get worse! Please, tell me I’m wrong.
If a person in the United States is working full-time at one job, or working two jobs, and still cannot pay for food, shelter, insurance, and medical, there is something wrong with the economic system, and nothing wrong with that person.
Back to 1968
I had no idea how good I had it. The economic security I had, at that time, was the norm. It was almost expected. You work hard, you go to school, and you enter the workplace expecting to make a good wage, which would lead to a home, marriage, white-picket fence and a family. It never dawned on me that it wasn’t possible to achieve.
I can’t imagine what it must be like, today, to be in your twenties and know there is very little hope that you will ever own a white-picket fence.
It truly saddens me.
Thanks for Joining Me
I know, it was a downer for sure, but I wanted to share, with you, my thoughts on this whole economic disparity thing. I don’t want to bring down the system. Truth be told, I am not powerful enough to make that happen. I just want the playing field to be a bit more level for all workers. I want corporations to grow a conscience. And I want the damned politicians to remember who the hell they represent.
Like that’s ever going to happen!
Be kind to each other – please!
2020 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)