I’ve been realizing lately that some of my former ideas about wages need updating. The problem with retirement is that it immunizes you from the concept of wages. You quickly learn what you have for available income — social security, pension (if you’re lucky), personal savings, 401K, other retirment plans — and you learn to live on what you are making — or you go out and get a job to supplement your retirement income.
But being in the position where ALL your income is coming from a single (or two, or three) job/s is kind of foreign after a while. I suspect that every retiree in the U.S. has lived with the idea that the longer you are retired the more obsolete the wages you were making when you worked become. I remember my dad talking about making a good wage right after the war — and he was making $0.19 an hour. My first job when we got married (I was a C.O. at the time) was for $1.98 an hour and we were living in Chicago and the cheapest apartment we could find was $65.00 per month — it was a tar paper shack behind a duplex on the near South Side and we snapped it up because even $65.00 / month was a stretch on what I was making.
I hear people talking about a minimum wage of $15.00/hour and it used to bother me that $15.00 / hour was to be considered a minimum wage. For a good part of my work life I didn’t make anywhere near that. I worked long, hard hours and I could afford a reasonably comfortable life. But of course that was then, and this is now. Everything costs more now. Pretending that we are still in the old days just doesn’t work.
The fact of the matter is that people deserve to make a wage that you can live on. There are so many companies that pay employees a mere pittance using the excuse that they have to be competitive, but the fact of the matter is that is an excuse. When managers earn hundreds of times what their employees earn there is room to change. When businesses grow so rapidly that they have to resort to venture capital at extraordinarily high interest rates — increasing their vulnerability at the same time — then something is wrong.
The thing about increasing the minimum wage is that when you do so pretty much all of the wage increase goes back into the economy to make purchases. The minimum wage earner can’t afford to put money in the bank — they make so little that they always have more things that they need than they have money. Making more means more will be spent — which means jobs for other people. But the people who HAVE the money don’t want to hear that because they want to put money in the bank. The promises about how much money was going to come to average workers because of the recent tax cuts to the rich have been shown to be false. The rich used the money to pay bigger bonuses, to buy back stock, to enrich themselves. They did little to help the poor.
It’s a bit hard for me to admit that for a long time I didn’t want to listen to how hard it was for the poor. I struggled along on wages not all that different from theirs — but on those wages I could afford a car and a home and a family. None of which were extravagant, but I was happy. I can see that what WAS is no more and I wish I’d come to realize that sooner.