Monday, September 24, 2007

How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times As These

"In every one of those little stucco boxes there's some poor bastard who's never free except when he's fast asleep and dreaming that he's got the boss down the bottom of a well and is bunging lumps of coal at him."
- George Orwell

The plight of working folk has never been an easy one, but for the past few decades we have been losing what little progress our parents made. For many years now wages have lagged behind inflation. Our purchasing power has declined while the elite are enjoying record profits and enormous tax breaks. Corporations have gone multi-national and exported our jobs in return for cheap junk coated in lead paint and poisoned toothpaste.

Our country has been sold off to those who now have the money and jobs. China holds 40% of the eight trillion dollars of outstanding Treasury Notes. Record numbers of homeowners are defaulting on their mortgages. The value of the US dollar, and the purchasing power of those of us who are paid in US dollars, is lower than it has been for a generation and continues to drop.

The bargaining power of the unions has declined as manufacturing jobs sailed to cheap labor on foreign soil. This week the United Auto Workers have ordered a nationwide strike against General Motors for the first time in thirty years. Loggers and sawmill workers in British Columbia, including our good friend Mr. Beer N. Hockey, have been on the picket line for over two months over safety issues, long shifts and irregular work hours.

37 million Americans (12.6%) live in poverty (U.S. Census Bureau, "Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2005"). According to the USDA, an estimated 12.4 million children under the age of 18 go to bed hungry (USDA/ERS, "Household Food Security in the United States: 2005"). Nearly half of all non-elderly low-income families that used a food pantry in 2001 consisted of working families with children. (Urban Institute, "Many Families Turn to Food Pantries for Help", November 2003).

Conversely, the average CEO of an S&P500 company received $14.78 million in total compensation in 2006 (AFL-CIO, "2006 Trends in CEO Pay").

I came across these numbers awhile back after telling one of my sons about the first new car I bought when I was his age. I went to the dealer and ordered it with the sport package and fancy interior. The total cost of the car was $2000 and I had to take out a two year loan to manage the payments. My son, not one to pass up an opportunity to make Dad look foolish, took those numbers and, accounting for inflation, brought them up to 2007 dollars. As he proved, most items such as cars, gas, and food are right in line with today’s prices once inflation is added in. The eye opener came when he applied that same rate of inflation to my earnings from those good old days. After accounting for inflation, my actual income worked out to be nearly 20% less than his inflation adjusted number would indicate.

Now that he knows the truth, those stories of hard times and having to walk to school barefoot in the snow, just don’t have the same impact.

Now, get off my lawn!

Jim Smoak & the Louisiana Honeydrippers - Poor Man.mp3

Doyle Lawson - Poor Boy Working Blues.mp3

The Weavers - The Banks of Marble.mp3

Cheryl Wheeler - The Bank.mp3
Hidden track on her 1995 Circles & Arrows CD. Visit

Doye O'Dell - Lookin' Poor, But Feelin' Rich.mp3

“For globalization to work for America, it must work for working people. We should measure the success of our economy by the breadth of our middle class, and the scope of opportunity offered to the poorest child to climb into that middle class.” - John J. Sweeney


Anonymous john said...

You must have been sitting at our kitchen table last night and we didn't notice you. My wife, Sandy, and I had a long and disheartened conversation on that same subject.
We, in a strangely fortunate way, are in the last quarter of our lives rather than the first. We have gotten through that "buy a house/raise a family" phase and constantly wonder how our kids will ever be able to do it too. Our parents generation was generally able to see their children attain a click or two higher on the wheel of prosperity than they did. I'm not so sure our children will be able to do the same.
We're fortunate to have a government pension and some health insurance. Far from as lush as is commonly perceived, but at least it's the "safety net" the American Worker was supposed to have but few realized.
What happened to the promise, the American Dream? The middle class kept it's part of the bargain.

September 25, 2007 8:14 AM  
Blogger Louisa said...

Me, too. My best friend is quite the liberal while I'm a moderately conservative woman. We are both mad as hell--over the same things--at our government. Hate to sound like Noam Chomsky, but who's in charge here? Did Nixon know what he was starting when he opened China? Where are the Democrats? (My votes swing both ways, depending.) Where are the unions? I think all they want is more members, and each individual member can go to the devil.
Like John, my husband and are in our last quarter, but our daughter and her kids--I just don't know what's going to happen to them. Don't even know how to prepare them to make their own way--when the way to make their own way keeps disappearing. We did everything we were supposed to do, but our kid & grandkids are uninsured, and we are a missed paycheck or two from homelessness. Who the hell is in charge here?

September 25, 2007 10:26 AM  
Blogger Ed said...

John and Louisa,
Who is in charge? We have been taken advantage of by the greedy corporations and the politians that represent them.
I have two sons in college and our daughter will join them next year. As my son's calulations proved, we are living on 20% less than I made 35 years ago when I was single and carefree.
American Dream or pipe dream?

September 25, 2007 9:00 PM  
Blogger Louisa said...

It would be easy to say that the Republicans are owned by the corporations and the Democrats are owned by the unions. But, looks to me like ALL the pols are owned by the corporations. All of the pols.

September 26, 2007 8:29 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

Sadly, Louisa, I believe you are right.

September 27, 2007 5:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ref. the photo: I remember when we could xerox 50's and 100's instead of 5's and 10's.

October 01, 2007 8:15 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

Ha! I remember those days, too. Now I'm lucky to have a few singles on my money clip.

October 02, 2007 6:34 PM  
Blogger lynne said...

The situation here is on the way to grim .. I visualized a cushy job at 60 but no go. Housing scarce too. We are fotunate enough here to have govt. subsidaries otherwise I would be one step from being a bag lady.
We will be having our Federal Elections this week (joke_one's as good or bad as the other) depends whose face one can stand looking at. We had APEC here last week, what a load of crap. Highlight of the meeting was when Mr Rudd_Leader of the Opposition spoke Chinese (we are ever so chummy with China at the moment) The Prime Minister Mr Howard was left on the back foot and red faced. The Greens are gaining popularity and seemed a logical choice for dissolutioned Labour voters who have found themselves left dangling as the Greens now give their preferences any which way.

October 02, 2007 6:37 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

Voter dissolution seems to be a trend around the world. “One's as good or bad as the other” is a sad truth. I believe they all belong to the same club and are watching out for themselves and the corporations that keep them there.

October 03, 2007 6:33 PM  

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