How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times As These
- 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!
Hidden track on her 1995 Circles & Arrows CD. Visit www.cherylwheeler.com.
“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