Something changed. What changed? Where did America steer off the cliff into the abyss? On the Left it is fully the fault of Reagan and the Corporations. On the Right, the demons are the unions and welfare recipients. You could drive a whole nation through that gap. Neither of them fully answers the question.
I was recollecting the other day on my first job. 1978, a week before my 16th birthday I was hired to bag groceries at a Jewel Food Store in Romeoville, Illinois. Romeoville was hardly 15,000 people at the time, surrounded on three sides by farm fields. 3 years before my parents purchased a modest 3 bedroom, one incredibly small and overworked bathroom, single story ranch with their three sons for $36 thousand at 8% interest. My father, working regular by exhausting 12 hour shifts at a Union aluminum plant, as well as a part time job as a volunteer firefighter brought home all total around $20,000. With a certain latent anxiousness, my mother relates that without that overtime and the part time job as firefighter the family would not have been able to remain in that house.
It was a very different country in 1978. As part of my orientation at my new job, a Union position, by the way, paying a grand total of $3.35 an hour, I was introduced to the various department managers. The produce manager, a tall, studious gentleman, with military-trimmed blond hair and dark framed glasses was able to support his family on what he made at Jewel. Was he well off? No, but like my father, he made enough to sustain the family. I buddied up to a sweet woman named Sylvia who was the most senior checker. A widow, she could afford to support herself and two kids on a single salary. Those positions are, for the most part, gone now. They certainly do not pay a wage that could adequately support a family. Recently, we had someone on the show working a full time job who found it necessary in order to survive to also require food stamps.
Where did that country go? What happened? Someone got rich. It wasn’t the produce manager, or Sylvia. The wages for their positions have stagnated or grown at rates which have not kept pace at all with the economy. Gas stations, which once employed one or more attendants who would pump gas, clean windows and mirrors, check tire pressure and oil are now replaced by a single minimum wage worker behind a counter, while you do all the work.
The numbers are telling and heartbreaking. More than that, they reveal the misconceptions too eagerly fostered and promoted by a media increasingly used as a public relations tool for government, industry and the opulently wealthy. It isn’t all their fault, like some sort of alien invasion or takeover. The average American shares some guilt, but more on who and how much each of us is to blame in a moment.
Interesting, that when I began researching this piece I got many of the same responses over and over again. Wages were predominant. They have not kept pace against inflation or against CEO pay. Since 1950 CEO pay is up 1000 against employee pay. When I started that first job in 1978 the ratio was 42 to 1. Today it is more than 150 to 1. By contrast, minimum wages in this country have actually reversed when adjusted for inflation. If they had kept pace with inflation those wages would be around $17 an hour.
Apartment prices have more than doubled in that period, while wages have not. The median price for an apartment in Edgewater, not far from where I live, is over $1000, while a full time minimum wage job, the largest growing number of available jobs nets, before taxes, about 1400 per month. Through in a couple tins of tuna and a loaf of white bread for the month, the bill for that one light bulb you can afford to burn to open the tuna, and a bus pass to get to a job that doesn’t support you, and you are already well past your actual take home pay. Want to live in a safer neighborhood in the city? Mama better be sending you a check every month.
It isn’t the welfare state. As the picture shows, the war on poverty has actually had a substantial effect. Until the crisis of 2008, a massive scheme to loot the treasury (No ski masks and not a shot fired) for which no one was even given a stern talking to, the number of people living in poverty had continued to decline. It’s higher and growing now, because those with less assets bore the brunt of the crime. Nor is it the fault of unions. As the market increased and the economy shifted from manufacturing to service union membership fell to a negligible rate from its high of a still underwhelming 33% in the 1950s, or as many call it: The good ole days. Declining over the next 2 decades, membership increased slightly to about 29% at the end of the Carter administration. From there the attack on unions by Reagan, Clinton, Bush and Obama, as well as rhetoric rising in direct relation to the consolidation of media by corporate interests directly aligned with government drove union membership to the current 7 or 8%.
Union wages have not kept pace either. Union members, the very few that remain had instead taken more and more concessions, including reductions in pay. Loss of 401ks, reductions in benefits and even elimination of retirements, as in the case of the United Airlines Bankruptcy in 2001. What unions have done is set standards of wages and benefits defining America’s middle class. At less than 10% of the workforce, there isn’t much more they could do. It certainly doesn’t put that great a pressure on the real economy to make a difference. Union wages only account for less than 1/7 of the total income for American workers.
Tax rates certainly are not the whole story. The Left is wrong to believe taxing the wealthy is the only answer. It is part of the answer. Manufacturing and innovation, both of which have been virtually eradicated in America and shipped overseas is a larger piece of the puzzle. Trade reform helps to stop the bleeding. Corporate taxes, as seen here in comparison to individual taxes are certainly in need of reform. The government continues paying massive amounts of money, far eclipsing so-called welfare and food stamps, to already profitable companies, like Exelon and the oil industry.
State, local and federal subsidies, tax breaks and tax forgiveness to companies in the US nears $1 trillion annually, and you are asked to tighten your belt! The largest growing demographic in Washington DC are lobbyists. Under Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, who promise reform and called previous governors corrupt, has seen an explosion in the number of corporate lobbyists. The biggest lobbying concern is led by an organization led by his wife, Diana.
So the question remains; what happened to America? If the good old days were the 1950s, as we are told constantly, how come unions were bigger then and the economy greater. There were far more people living in poverty in America. Somebody got paid, and it wasn’t the poor and working class. They got cut. Question is, who did the cutting and what was the result? A better America, or a weaker America. Something was stolen. Somebody isn’t telling us the truth.
Listen Saturday’s from 11am-1pm to WC Turck, Brian Murray and guests on Chicago’s real alternative media, AM1680, Q4 radio, streaming at www.que4.org.
WC Turck is an author, artist, playwright and talk radio host in Chicago. He has been called the most dangerous voice on the Left. His new book “A Tragic Fate: is an unflinching look at the events leading up to the shooting down of Malaysia Air Flight 17.” His first novel, “Broken” was recommended by NAMI for its treatment of PTSD. In 2006 he published “Everything for Love,” a memoir of his experiences during the siege of Sarajevo. He wrote and produced two critically acclaimed plays, “Occupy my Heart” and “The People’s Republic of Edward Snowden.” He works with the homeless and foreclosure victims in Chicago. He partners in a weekly radio show dedicated to issues, society and politics with cohost, activist and artist Brian Murray For more information, past shows, videos and articles, visit www.revolutioandbeer.com
The Illinois Policy Institute (IPI) is a conservative think tank with offices in Chicago and Springfield, Illinois, and member of the State Policy Network. IPI is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) as of 2011. IPI is also a member of ALEC’s Health and Human Services Task Force and Education Task Force. Senior Budget and Tax Policy Analyst, Amanda Griffin-Johnson, presented model legislation (the “State Employee Health Savings Account Act”) to the HHS task force at ALEC’s 2011 annual meeting. Collin Hitt, Director of Education Policy, is a private sector member of the Education Task Force representing IPI. He sponsored the “Local Government Transparency Act” at the ALEC 2011 States and Nation Policy Summit. In its 2006 annual report the Cato Institute states that it made a grant of $50,000 to the Illinois Policy Institute. The Cato Institute is a libertarian think tank founded by Charles G. Koch and funded by the Koch brothers.