Low wage, high wage, we are all connected

As a college graduate with an advanced degree who holds a ”professional” job, who happens to be married to a fellow college graduate with an advanced degree, one might not think that I have much in common with the men and women who work in low paying, service jobs. Think again, in fact I think that most of us have a great deal in common with the folks who prepare our food, take care of our kids and provide the very needed yet unseen and unwanted jobs that most of us pretend don’t exist.

Today many fast food workers across the U.S. are embarking on a one day walkout in protest over low wages. For the average fast food worker, wages average $8.74 an hour, and despite what many think, fast food jobs are not just the domain of high school and college kids. Increasingly these are positions held by adults with families. There aren’t too many places in the United States where one can actually live more than a subsistence living with that wage, never mind what that means when one is raising a family on such a low wage. I know firsthand what that looks like for a family, I see many of these families in my day job as a social service provider. These are families that are working and working hard, yet they need food stamps and even visits to the local food pantry just to keep food on the table. Life is one long circle of struggle just to survive and live day to day.

However in America, our dirty little secret that we rarely speak of is just how hard survival has become for most of us. Sure, we have our one percenter’s and those just below the status of one percent. For the average American though the lifestyle that was taken for granted just a generation ago is starting to look more and more like a distant dream.

Back in what now seems like another lifetime; I put myself through both college and graduate school. Incurring enough debt along the way that in some parts of the US, you could buy a house with what I paid (borrowed) to finance my education. At the time, I was laboring under the false belief that a college education would translate into a higher salary and job stability.

Fast forward to my 40’s and despite the fact that I have a kid in college, I no longer sip from the cup of Kool-Aid that says education is the key to stability. Sure, if you are one of the few in the STEM sector, you probably are living a good life. For now the sciences and technology fields happen to be where the good paying jobs are located. But we can’t all be in those fields. In fact even if we all were in those fields, who would do the jobs that society needs to function? Even the clerk at Target is needed, we may have self-check-out lanes but humans still need to work at the store.

The reason that I bring this up is that there are more than a few Americans who don’t feel that those laboring away in fast food service jobs deserve an actual living wage which in many parts of the country would be approximately $15 an hour. After all, how hard is it to work the fryolater or flip burgers? I have never worked in fast food but having done a few stints as a waitress, I know that most so-called unskilled jobs require far more than most of us realize. I last worked in the food service industry in my second year of college doing a stint at an upscale eatery in Chicago. I left with a serious dislike of goat cheese and the realization that most people consider service people to be beneath them.
I also know that as technology grows by leaps and bounds that more and more industries that used to pay living wages like my husband’s field of journalism increasingly pay subsistence wages. Now that journalism is nothing more than “content”, anyone with fingers and a laptop can be a journalist or writer. As such, wages are not only stagnant but falling, 6000 word pieces for a whopping $30 don’t pay the bills. The same goes for photojournalists as evidenced by my hometown paper, The Chicago Sun-Times and their recent decision to fire all the full-time staff photographers and replace them with reporters armed with i-Phones who can report the news and take the photos or when need be, the paper will use freelancers. The good ole freelancers! The freelance life isn’t terribly bad until you hit your mid-40’s and realize that the annual mammogram and colonoscopy pretty much require that you have insurance and you can’t afford it on your freelance wages.

America is increasingly becoming a place where many of us toil away either as freelancers or work in part time jobs that really don’t cover all of our living expenses. If we are lucky we can play the Rob Peter to pay Paul game using our homes and credit cards to cover the expense of living that is no longer paid by our actual jobs. Eventually that game will catch up with us but if we are fortunate, we still have a relative or two to help us out and if not, welcome to poverty.

Today we may be talking about fast food workers and their plight to actually earn enough to live on but for many of us we are a lot closer to their plight than we are comfortable admitting. All work is valuable, instead of asking why a fast food worker deserves to earn $15 an hour maybe the question we should be asking is why a CEO needs to earn 354 times more than their average worker?

 

Progressive America, you used to be beautiful

Guess you could say there is a theme this week here at BGIM land. That theme would be how Average Jane and Joe used to be able to go to their average job and be assured that if they put in 40 hours working for the boss, the boss paid them a decent wage, provided access to healthcare and even tucked a few bucks away so that when Jane and Joe got old, they didn’t have to live in a shoe and eat cat food. The boss used to understand that by treating Jane and Joe well they were loyal and worked hard and in the end happy workers meant the boss made money too! It was a good system until somewhere along the line the bosses got greedy decided to fuck Jane and Joe and I am not talking the kind of fucking that curls your toes and makes you smile.

Suddenly Jane and Joe worked longer and harder, realized their cash didn’t go as far, the boss started devising clever ruses that on the surface made Jane and Joe feel empowered but really didn’t. The boss told Jane and Joe rather than giving you that gold watch and a fixed monthly pension when you retire, I am going to take some money invest it in the stock market, you invest some money and well the stock market will go up and up and shit! You can be rich like me! Jane and Joe liked that, so that said great! The boss took away the health insurance instead telling Jane and Joe now you can have choices…oh, but those choices will cost you a little more money but soon, Jane and Joe couldn’t afford that coverage.

Right now in America it sucks to be an average worker! Whereas many of us used to live in the middle class or at least aspire to it, now we are too busy trying to pay that mortgage we can’t afford anymore and keep Visa from ganking a portion of our wages. Suddenly Jane and Joe realized the whole system is corrupt, the boss don’t give two squats, they see whiz kids creating items they can’t even figure out how to use making billions…hello, Mark Zuckerberg! They see their jobs at the plant being shipped overseas where the boss doesn’t have to pay $18 an hour, instead he pays $18 a day and gets his product manufactured and makes 600 times what his average worker makes. The boss is so rich, that bastard can wipe his ass on $20 bills and flush em down the toilet all the while Jane and Joe have to tell the kids it’s pasta again and no, don’t answer that phone! Just another bill collector calling.

Jane and Joe are fed the fuck up, everywhere they look people are either scrapping to get by just like them, or when they log on the computer or television, they see latte sippers talking about how desperately they want the new iPhone5…while Jane and Joe are still using Motorola Razrs from 6 years ago and barely able to keep the cell bill paid.
The gulf between the haves and have-nots is huge. Eventually Jane and Joe snap there has got to be some out there who stands up for the average folks…oh, but there is! Enter the Tea Party, where they use folksy sounding people who look just like Jane and Joe Average. The Tea Party tells Jane and Joe we want to take America back, support us, never mind that the Tea Party is bought and paid for by real rich folks…hello, the Koch brothers!

Jane and Joe used to be card carrying union members who always voted Democrats but lately they feel like the Dems have let them down. Now it seems when they see Democrats, they are well educated folks who earn way more than Jane and Joe ever will and frankly are disconnected from the real woes of working people. Oh, the Dems talk a good game but ultimately life is hard when you are trying to fit in your next yoga class and figure out your new iGadget. Today’s Dems in the eyes of Jane and Joe have abandoned them for folks who think well just go to school, never realizing that even if everyone in America had a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree that someone still has to do the shit work. Someone has to watch the kids, serve your food, and make the lattes. If you want organic cotton panties, someone has to sew that shit and shouldn’t the people who do all those tasks be well compensated? Yeah, today’s Democrats say they should, but they don’t really put their money where their mouth is. For them activism and involvement is signing an online petition, sending a few bucks to a good cause and maybe posting something on their Facebook page.

On the other hand those Tea Party folks take action, shit they demand that the Republicans listen to them no matter how insane they sound. Jane and Joe know the Tea Party is a tad nutty but shit they are so frustrated, they feel they have to do something.

Where are the Progressive Americans? Why aren’t they out doing something? This past weekend there was an Occupy Wall Street event organized that considering how bad Wall Street has screwed this nation over, you would have expected non-stop coverage; instead the coverage has been a blip. When did we become so damn passive? Or is that we are so scared to lose our little bit of the cheese that we are too fucking scared to speak up and do something? Seems to me those of us who consider ourselves progressive like to talk lofty talk but when it comes to doing something that creates change…well we are out to lunch. How many of us will put our money where our mouth is? Will you create change even if it means less money in your pocket? Or are we just like the greedy bosses, indirectly fucking others over. I admit I rarely get political in this space but I am just frustrated, real change and hope comes from taking action at the grassroots level.
I am sure I might lose some readers for such a post, but that’s okay, this is my reality and my truth.

American Nightmare…tales from Carlin

Lately it may seem that I have been so absorbed in my own personal world that I have been oblivious to the happenings in the world…after all I haven’t done much blogging about world happenings. Today’s post is one that I have been thinking about but until today I just didn’t have the time to put it to paper (or monitor). Yet as I deal with the increasing stressors in my own life and think about how many of them are tied to scarcity, I realized what I am facing is just one sliver of the crazy pie we are being fed against our will.

If you have never seen George Carlin’s American Dream clip, take 3 minutes and check it out. In the bible in the book of Ezekiel 33, reference is made to a watchman who “when he sees the sword coming upon the land, if he blows the trumpet and warns the people” well readers in many ways I think foul mouth comic Carlin was probably one of our many watchmen. In his way Carlin told us about the “owners” of this country but I will be damned if many of us just thought this was some hilarious shit being spouted by an old guy.

Well folks, now that we are being told that the country is broke and sacrifices have to be made, it’s awfully funny that everyman/every-woman is being asked to make those sacrifices. In Wisconsin folks are fighting for the right to bargain, in Detroit we are being told half the schools will be closed and classrooms will swell to perhaps as much as 60 kids per class. White guys are feeling like minorities and the madness grows.

Yet as a collective aside from those brave souls in Wisconsin, most of us are sitting back passively struggling to maintain the illusion that all is well when for most of us we know we are living a lie. I think about the fact that in the years since I have started blogging how many real life friends I have had tell me casually how they too are struggling, yet on the surface all looks fine. (So many struggling with basic survival, even down to having to visit local food pantries yet on the surface you would never suspect they had become those people) But because to talk honestly and openly about money in this culture is frowned upon most of us never do it…actually I have found being a big mouth about money and lack thereof has served me well. After all I never would have found out several years ago I was the least paid person on a team of folks despite having the most experience.

Nope, rather than coming together and having unity as a people we would rather maintain illusions and dreams that are nothing more than nightmares and worse case turn on one another. A few days ago when I read the piece about white oppression and the white’s only scholarship; as a Black woman, my first response was a knee jerk reaction rooted in race. Folks this is about more than race, the fact is in America race and color on some levels is so last millennium…the only fucking color that matters is green as in money. If you are part of the ruling class that holds most of the wealth, no one gives a rat’s ass about your race or ethnicity.

However we are too immature to realize that. Instead we can go ahead and see racial tensions flare up as we are all focused on what we see as racism and how whites are not aware of their privilege. Don’t get me wrong, plenty of white folks don’t realize how good the have it compared to people of color. But this is frankly a diversion from the larger issues which are that wages in this country are stagnant, yet the cost of survival has risen and not kept pace. During the real estate boom, sure many folks made boneheaded decisions and used their homes as ATM’s to fund ridiculous shit. But the fact remains that at a time when healthcare cost increased and wages did not keep pace, plenty of people used their homes as ATM’s to supplement what they weren’t earning. Plenty of folks used and are still using credit cards to make ends meet because their wages don’t pay enough plain and simple. Yet we think all is well.

Instead of getting mad and questioning why it is that families can have two college educated wage earners yet still need help for insurance costs because jobs either don’t offer it because we have been sold a bogus dream about being contractors and selling ourselves…very nice scam by the way since its harder to access health insurance and save for retirement when you are a contractor. Or the price is no longer affordable because compared to our grandparents we earn less when adjusted to real dollars. I had a job a few years ago where I had a co-worker struggling to stay insured with our company plan that was costing him $700 a month!

This morning I found myself thinking about how my grandparents who were first generation middle class blacks who worked union factory jobs with high school educations had enough money every year for a yearly vacation to Jamaica or some other fancy locale (fancy for the 60’s and 70’s). These same grandparents had a house with a reasonable mortgage, saved for retirement and had a comfortable middle class life.  Yet now their grandkids (that would be my brother and I who both hold masters degrees) scrape to get by…its already been proven that most likely Gen X probably won’t have it as good as our Baby Boomer parents. Obviously there are exceptions since I know my parents didn’t have it so good but as Black hippies that was more a personal choice rather than a reflection of society.

Nope, the owners of this country are delighted that the masses are fighting, average white guys are mad because they think the Black folks got it good. We got folks who think the school teachers have it good…how dare teachers who already on average are not paid proportional to what they actually do (don’t give me that shit either that they have summers off) are mad because we want to cut into their retirement and health benefits. Hell, even doctors have to adjust to their corporate overlords as this piece in the NY Times talks about.

It’s no coincident that it seems like we have more kids and adults on psychotropic meds (sorta interesting how drugs can advertise too on TV, so you know what drug to ask your doc for), turns out a psychiatrist who wants to get paid is little more than a well educated line worker these days slotting folks into 15 minute segments trying to get the right combination of drugs in that brief period of time…drugs that affect folks minds. This school year I have had several kids at my center who have been put on heavy duty meds and the side affects are heartbreaking. Sadly these are kids whose parents have little in terms of financial resources so if Doc Feel Good says little Johnnie needs XYZ drugs with no actual talk therapy even if the parents wanted to protest lack of access to healthcare with choices and money to pay out of pocket leaves them at the mercy of a guy who only has 15 minutes with their kid. Time is money and if doing your job in a compassionate and honest manner dings your finances, well you have to make a choice.

However all is not lost, the fact that the protesters in Wisconsin are still out there and the Democratic legislators are still in hiding does speak to the quiet fact that many of us are fed the fuck up. The fact that more and more of us are realizing we are not alone in this struggle bodes well for the potential of some real change happening. Not that hope and change Obama used to get us fired up but the type of hope and change that will make the overseers sit up and take notice; after all they need us to work so they can keep getting rich. So it would be in their best interest to break us off a bigger slice of the pie.