A short, unfortunately instructive Labor Day story

Sometimes, even the best meaning economists completely muddle the picture.  Everything seems so, well, complicated.

Well . . .  when I was in college in 1988 (!) a friend offered me the chance for a part-time job, working the night shift at a UPS site on Long Island, NY.  It paid $12/hr and was capped at 20 hours a week (4 nights/5 hours).  That was a pretty sweet, but not crazy, opportunity — $240/week!

Today, I looked up that specific job at that specific UPS location.  Max hours: 17.5 to 20 hours/wk and $11-16/hour.

Over the course of thirty (30) years, the hourly rate dropped $1 or increased $4.  30 years!!   

A number of people today makes less money at this same place than I did in Ronald Reagan’s last years in office.  [← This is not coincidental.]   The “winner” — the top beneficiary of 30 years of inflation and productivity gains — makes $40 to $80 more a week more than I did (when the average movie ticket cost $3.50).

Let’s get real.  This is it, and it is not hard to understand.  

Since Reagan, and like an Iron Curtain afterwards, average workers’ wages have stagnated or declined.  Nothing that you see today was required or inevitable.  I am only 1 year out of my forties and I remember a completely different world.  

I don't even remember what my student loan obligation was, or who was paying for my health insurance (Was that me through a college plan?  Or Dad’s union coverage? No one really mentioned it.)  There was no such thing as an “unpaid internship.”  And when I worked 41 hours as a H.S. student at a grocery store, that extra 1 hour — by law — was paid at “time and a half.”  My then 18 year old brother worked part time at a large retailer, and his union benefits gave him $2 prescription drugs.  Honestly.  

Everything that changed since I was a young man has been a choice.  It has been about crushing unions and embracing the “financialization” model.  Oh, it is not about “illegal immigrants.”  I worked along side legal and illegal immigrants all my life.  There is nothing new in this country about immigration.  

What is the answer?  I don't know for sure except that it will require a counter-revolution to Reaganism.  In the meantime, it is imperative to get Republicans out of office, get Democrats back in office and move the party towards Bernie, Warren and Beto.  Then build on it.   It took Republicans 30 years to do this damage.  I am sorry to say that it may take us that long to get back on track.

Happy Labor Day! 

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