Tough Times in America ~ Making Ends Meet

In a family of four with father and mother both working the equivalent of twenty-four hours a day between them, what are the odds that a parent could be there when the kids come home from school in the afternoon?

I had a flash-back for some reason today, a flash-back to a time when I was very young… 1948. I was just four years old, but events back then made a lasting impression on me. My mother and I had just moved to Ohio where she could be with her new husband, an Air Force enlisted man who was stationed at Wright-Patterson AFB. We lived in a couple of rooms with a farming family near Fairborn. Times were hard, but what would I have know about it then, naive as I was. I vividly remember once having a bread and mustard sandwich for lunch — no Bologna, no cheese, just mustard. I remember laughing about it and wondering why my mother cried. I remember too, gleaning tomatoes from the farmer’s vegetable patch once when we had nothing else for dinner.

This got me to thinking about how many families these days are struggling to make ends meet, families who aren’t living anywhere near a farm where the milk is free and the farmer’s wife shares her fresh-baked bread.

In my economics classes this last week we learned about the labor movement in the United States, how it waxed during the Great Depression and waned following World War II. We also learned how wages are determined. One way is by the traditional theory, i.e., wages are determined on a schedule or a graph where the supply of available workers with particular skill sets compares with the business demand for said workers. Whenever the supply greatly outnumbers the demand, as it does in the current economy, demand becomes the primary driver. In other words, workers without collective bargaining advantages have to take whatever businesses are willing to pay. When demand exceeds the supply or when proficiency in skill sets is at a premium, such as it is in professional sports, supply becomes the driver. So, in a market economy, especially one that is now globalized to compete with labor rates in “developing” nations, who’s looking out for the average Joe? Good question.

The federal minimum wage last summer, after almost fifteen years, was finally increased by the Democrat majority Congress to $6.55 an hour. This, welcome as it was by millions of working poor in this country, is a far cry from the almost $10-an-hour level (adjusted for inflation) of the 1970s. “The influence of the minimum wage,” Holly Sklar said on the June 13 airing of The Bill Moyers Journal, “is felt most immediately and clearly by the roughly 1.7 million Americans who earn it. But, as a statement of what our country considers acceptable compensation, the minimum helps shape the pay of those higher up the economic ladder too.”

If you have the time and are interested, watch the June 13th airing of the Bill Moyers Journal, then reflect on why our country is in such a progressive mood this election year… why Barack Obama and the Democrats who are challenging Republican-held seats in Congress are set to turn the election map a whole lot bluer just one day and a wake-up from now.

After watching this program, I find it very difficult to add insight to what Ms. Sklar shared. But just think about it — to make enough money after taxes to be above the official poverty level in the United States today, a person has to work the equivalent of three full-time minimum wage jobs and never take time off for illness or take time off to care for loved ones in times of need. This strikes fear into my heart as I think about my granddaughter who is about to give birth to our first great grandchild. Our grand- daughter is doing somewhat better than minimum wage as a shift supervisor in the bakery department of a Target store, but her significant other isn’t. Thank God, she at least has access to health insurance; most Americans working minimum wage jobs don’t.

In a family of four withfather and mother bothworking the equivalent of twenty-four hours a day between them, what are the odds that a parent could be there when the kids come home from school in the afternoon? What parent could attend a PTA meeting or help a son or daughter with their homework? What parent could coach a soccer team or help-out with child and youth church programs? Could it be that this is why students living in lower social-economic circumstances fail to achieve minimum No Child Left Behind testing standards and why education in the United States is ranked only 18th among 24 industrialized nations? Could it be that this is why so many fathers abandon their families so that they might qualify for welfare. Could it be that this is why we, as a nation, have one of the industrialized world’s highest incarceration rates, one of the highest teen pregnancy rates, one of the highest infant mortality rates, one of the highest drug addiction rates?

This coming week we are going to be learning about the economic impact of taxation in my economics classes. There should be some interesting discussion on the subject of wealth redistribution.

I invite your comments, regardless of your views.

Published in: on November 2, 2008 at 8:07 pm  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Kent, it was refreshing to read your blog regarding economics in our country. This subject has been going around in my head for the past week and I think of the apathy of some our students regarding their education and the parental involvement. Have we lost an entire generation? I certainly hope that we haven’t.
    And yes, I remember those mustard sandwiches; cucumber & tomato sandwiches and even some butter/margarine sandwiches. Funny but I still love mustard sandwiches as well as cucumber sandwiches.
    I am praying that we get a better government in Washington; someone who will look to the future of americans and the coming generation; someone who can inspire us to become the very best that we can be. It doesn’t take much—just HOPE. Somewhere, somehow, it would seem that we have lost our way.
    I would be interested in knowing how your class comes
    out on the topic of economics in today’s society.

  2. It is frightening out there, Kent. And it’s one of the many reasons my wife and I decided I would work from home and take care of our two boys, at least for now.

    In addition to the cost of daycare, one can turn on the local news on an almost daily basis and hear of a child being left in a van or having some other dire fate befall them. Here’s hoping we can get things turned around economically.

  3. As always its refreshing hearing things from a slightly more historical perspective.

    The economy has become a very grave issue. One that I believe cannot be fixed in and of itself.
    Our way of life encourages us to overspend and squander our money. And how could we not? Its expensive to live, to drive, to do anything costs money.

    I am not sure if raising minimum wage is the answer (since it puts strain on small business, and since the more disposable income the population has the higher produces can hike up the prices) but at the same time I dont see how we can survive without raising the bar.

    I doubt any single magic pill will get us out of this mess which is unfortunate.

    Best of luck with your great grandchild!

  4. Very nice site! I don’t know if you remember, but the Democrats tried for a very long time to get the minimum wage increased. Tom Delay, former Republican Majority Leader in the house, (before 2006 election), said every time they tried to get it on the floor for a vote that it was dead before it hit the floor. Twelve years of exclusive Republican rule have put this nation in an awful mess. It is my sincere hope that now that Obama is President-Elect and the voters saw fit to give him and Congress a clear mandate for change, that something will be done to help out the millions and millions of people in this country that have no health care, not to mention the millions only a job loss away from no health care. Also, I am hopeful that he and the Congress can somehow fix the mess the Republicans have left us in, if it’s not to late, as I fear.

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