Wages for not dying

For some reason a “living wage,” or the idea of implementing one, is horrifying to about half of the population of our country. If we called them ‘wages so people don’t die’ or ‘wages so people have a roof’ would that make $15 an hour more palatable to these people? In my town, the price for a one bedroom apartment is about $1210 a month. When my dad married my mom in June of 1966 he made $100 a week working as a carpenter and his rent was $100 a month for their apartment on Long Beach Island. My dad was 24 and my mom was 22 and one week of my dad’s pay was their rent for the month. My mom had a job too. They were a two income household and only one paycheck, of the eight that came in each month, was needed for the rent. By this math, a 24 year old man getting married in June to his 22 year old girlfriend would have to make $30.50 an hour for one of his paychecks a month to be their rent right here right now in south Jersey. Do you know any local young carpenters making $30.50 an hour? I don’t.

Why was it “okay” for a 24 year old to make a paycheck in 1966 that was in keeping with the expenses of living, but now in 2021 it is not okay for a 24 year old to make a paycheck that is in keeping with the expenses of living?? My nephew just turned 24. My dad had turned 24 in February and married my mom that June. My nephew works at a local apartment complex and has a good job doing appliance repair and property maintenance. He works for a well respected company and even with having a great employer and even making at present well over the current minimum wage, he would need TWO and a Half Paychecks to pay one month of rent if he chose to rent one of the apartments in which he works! I am not an economist and I don’t study labor or income statistics, but what I do know is the math of my life…why was it “fair” that in the time of my mom and dad’s start of life together one week of pay paid for one month of rent for a young couple starting out and for some reason, it now is “outrageous” to some that one month of rent would be paid by one week’s pay for a young couple starting out now???? WHERE did it go wrong?? WHEN did it change?? WHY is it some sort of flighty fantasy that wages should grow with expenses in a civil and just society??

When I have tried to talk to some people about why I think a minimum wage of $15 an hour is reasonable in this time, I have been told “it’s ridiculous that somebody working at Burger King would make $15 an hour.” When I then ask why, I never get an answer. Someone has to make the food and serve the food…someone has to scan the celery at Aldi, someone has to sweep the floor at the mall, there are jobs that are done every single day in every single town by people who never miss a day of work and those very same people can’t live where they work and can’t have the kind of life my mom and dad were able to have…If a person has a full time job at Burger King, or Aldi, or the mall, where should that person live? Where could that person live? If they were a 24 year old recently married man, if he lived in my town, two full weeks of pay would still not be enough to pay for one month of rent of his apartment. When my mom and dad got married they had a car, car insurance, fuel for the car, food, electricity, and money enough left over every month to start making a life together, and money enough left over each month to start SAVING MONEY TO BUY A HOUSE. If you have to use two full paychecks to make your rent, then that leaves less than two full paychecks for car insurance, fuel for the car, food, electricity, and THERE IS NEVER ANY MONEY LEFT OVER TO START SAVING FOR ANYTHING…well, you see where I am going with this…why do people think it was fine for young couples to make a living wage in 1966, by this I mean, wages were such that they were in keeping with the expenses of life, so that a young couple in their twenties could get married, afford their rent, afford to then buy a house, and then afford to have babies, and then keep on moving “up in the world” but that young couples today should not make wages that would afford them those same life experiences and opportunities?? To be able to live in this world now, and have money left over each month to save to keep moving up in the world, should not be seen as extreme. There is nothing “fair” about an entire generation that has to work just as hard as their grandparents but can never, and will never, be able to afford the kind of life their grandparents did.

I think it is fantastic that Jeff Bezos is the richest man in the world, his company literally has changed all of our lives for the better, but what good is it to be the richest man in the world if the people who pack orders in your warehouses can’t afford to live in the town where they work?? There is an Amazon fulfillment center out near Trenton and a one bedroom apartment is about $1600 a month there, so you can work there in Florence, NJ but can you really live there if you work in a warehouse for Amazon? Why is it perfectly acceptable for Jeff Bezos to make $33,000 a week, but not okay for Jim Smith or Jane Jones to make at least $600?? I don’t see how we the people are ever going to be less divided if the gap between the haves and the have nots does not narrow some.

I took enough classes in college in economics, statistics, history, criminal justice, feminist theory, and accounting, to understand that there will always be poor people and always be rich people and that there will always be a huge gap between the richest and the poorest but what is wrong with the middle, the in-between, the regular people, being able to earn a wage that makes a life that is livable? Should a person have to spend their whole adult life struggling even when they work full time?? Should hard working people have to worry every single month of their entire adult lives that they will have enough money to pay all of their expenses every month, month after month until they die??? That is what it’s like living paycheck to paycheck…some months taking from your right hand to pay your left hand, AND for many millions of adults RIGHT NOW IN YOUR OWN NEIGHBORHOOD ON YOUR OWN STREET, people who have never been out of work are out of work…people who have never been to a food pantry or collected unemployment are getting food from local food pantries and collecting unemployment. Now is not a time for greed, now is a time for humanity, civility, and a desire to see hard working people thriving in this country and not suffering. I am making a sweeping generalization here, but I think that there is no thriving to be had when one is worried every single day about living. If one works full time and still does not earn or have enough money to live, I imagine there is little to look forward to, when it is so glaringly obvious that life can’t seem to get better, when it appears that there is not any way to ever get ahead, life is terrifying. Where is there any joy to grow as a person when there is fear and worry day in and day out???

Should the man who helps to bathe your father in the hospital, or the woman who helps get him to his lung scan in the radiology department have to work all day and then go work at a night job just to afford rent and a car and basic items for living?? It seems cruel, for someone to work so hard and have no way whatsoever to get ahead. In New Jersey right now a certified nurse assistant makes an average of $29,700 a year and by that math three paychecks a month are needed to pay one month of rent. This is not a person sitting around the house all day watching crap television or playing video games…this is a person who went to school for training for a job to work in a hospital and care for our sick and dying family and neighbors and working in that hospital full time does not even afford her the opportunity to go home after work to get a shower and rest her feet and maybe share a meal or laugh with her kids…I don’t know how to change the world and I don’t know how to make the world better but I believe in my heart that a person who works full time should not have to be terrified of homelessness.

I well understand that in a society there will always been wealthy people and there will always be poor people. There will always be drug addicts sleeping under overpasses, and there will always be mentally disturbed people who are homeless, and there will always be criminals in and out of the prison system. I am well aware that there are always going to be folks on the fringe of society, but what is a society when the hard working people who make up more than half of it work and work and work and never get ahead??? I am more than willing to pay $0.50 cents more for a gallon of Tide if it meant that the person stocking the shelf at Target did not have to work two full time jobs just to afford his rent. I am more than willing to pay $1.00 a month more in car insurance so that person doing the data entry work at Allstate doesn’t have to then go to her night job at Wawa just to afford her rent. I am more than willing to pay another $0.10 cents a cup for coffee if it means that the person making the coffee can work full time at her job and have a stable home. These are very small changes in a society, in an economy, that benefit everybody. Wouldn’t you feel better at night knowing that most of your neighbors were okay?? Wouldn’t you feel better at night knowing that the bank teller who does your deposit on Friday and the young man pumping your gas on Saturday are thriving in the community in which you all live??

I don’t write any of this because I have any answers at all, but I do write this because we as a society need answers, and we as a society should care, a lot about the people in our neighborhoods, and I truly believe that if at least we ask the questions we can discuss options, and find ways to make a place that is more fair for all. There has to be a way for the majority to thrive and prosper, and if we have to pay a little bit more for Tide and car insurance, bread and Netflix, then so be it. SOMEWHERE there has to be a kink in the chain that we can smooth out, so that 30 year olds don’t have to live in the basement of their childhood home, and so that families can eat dinner together and not have one or both parents working two full time jobs just to keep a roof over them all. I do not have a magic wand to fix what I think needs fixing, but I think that if qualified and capable people put their heads together, in an effort to make life better for the bulk of the people, all of us people will benefit. Failure to thrive doesn’t do any good to anybody.

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