Americas Growing Wage-Rent Disparity

Stephen D. Williams
Thu, 04 Oct 2001 07:47:56 -0400

Why is it that every reviewer they found sounds spoiled and seemingly 
never worked for minimum wage (or below)?

Even my first computer related job was below poverty level.  I started 
at $50/wk, ended at $135/wk, which worked out to just a bit more than 
$2/hr.  My wife worked at a nursing home in fact, and we had a baby 
during that period.  While I marveled at the $18/hr. UPS truck drivers 
were getting, I was doing what I wanted and learning enough to move 
along my career quickly.

 >"Nickel and Dimed is a stiff punch in the nose to those righteous
 > apostles of 'welfare reform.'"

Huh??  We should encourage vicious cycles of welfare, and welfare 
babies, until the gigantic rolls cause all of us to collapse under our 
own weight?  This guy needs to read "Atlas Shrugged".

You don't get paid more because you work harder for the most part, you 
get paid more for better preparing to handle the larger potential mental 
requirements of more advanced work.  There are certain exceptions to 
this, mostly having to do with running your own business, but it seems 
the most consistent way to explain the system.  If you think the pay 
system is unfair, consider that it probably isn't fair enough in many 
cases: in high tech work, it's often 20% (or one or two guys) in large 
teams that ends up completing 80% of the work.  This is never rewarded 
in that proportion.  Of course if enough people prepare, or there isn't 
enough 'difficult' work available, the average 'learned' wages go down 
and the only ones making above average are successful business owners. 
(Russia, India?)

Rent certainly is runaway in many markets, but there is plenty of cheap 
rent in many areas of the country.  My daughter rents a large, nice two 
bedroom apartment in a nice area of Columbus for $450/mo.  That would 
cost as much as $1500 here in N. VA, 20-30 miles from DC, plus 
association fees, higher taxes, long commutes, etc.  In 1982 I actually 
had a fantastic apartment, 3 rooms with French doors in a downtown area 
of small town Ohio for $110/mo.  I moved to terrible apartments later to 
find more interesting work, etc.  My choice, which worked out.

In other regards, the frills of life are cheaper and more plentiful. 
Electronics are dirt cheap.  Clothes are dirt cheap if you look.  Food 
is at least more efficient and doesn't seem to be priced much 
differently from 20 years ago.  Cinema is rediculous, but Blockbuster 
didn't exist when I was growing up and $3 for any number of viewers 
isn't bad.  Knowledge is essentially free after getting an Internet 
connection for $10-20/mo. and most libraries provide this.  The prices 
of the cheapest viable cars seem actually cheaper now than 20 years ago.

Life's tough if you don't prepare, and usually even if you do.  There 
are always tradeoffs between living in interesting areas, near family, 
and doing what you want to do.

It's unclear that changing the mandated minimum wage is appropriate. 
Minimum wages will go up when they need to in the areas of the country 
that run out of people willing to scrimp by while sharing lodging, etc. 
  Of course this goes directly to the subject of overcrowding and 
immigration and even to the subject of 'minimum living conditions'. 
Here in N. VA, 15 yo's are getting $8/hr. to work in grocery stores and 
the standard fee for mowing a lawn is $20-50.  (I mowed 10 lawns a week 
at 14, usually for $3 each and bought my first two computers and a fast 
bike with that.)

You'll run into problems if you have a segment of the population that is 
willing to live in very overcrowded conditions (which is actually 
illegal in many communities) with few frills.  The rest of the 
population then has a perceived gap between minimum living and pay 
standards.  This usually only lasts for a generation, it seems, as the 
children of those willing to crowd desire more standard arrangements.

One major solution would be true affordable housing.  We could be more 
efficient than we are.

sdw wrote:

> recommended reading:  "Nickel and Dimed" by Barbara Ehrenreich.
> Millions of Americans work full-time, year-round, for poverty-level 
> wages. In 1998, Barbara Ehrenreich decided to join them. She was 

> "I was absolutely knocked out by Barbara Ehrenreich's remarkable 
> odyssey. She has accomplished what no contemporary writer has even 
> attempted -- to be that 'nobody' who barely subsists on her essential 
> labors. Nickel and Dimed is a stiff punch in the nose to those righteous 
> apostles of 'welfare reform.' Not only is it must reading but it's 
> mesmeric. You can't put the damn thing down. Bravo!" --Studs Terkel
> "Entering the world of service work, Barbara Ehrenreich folded clothes 
> at Wal-Mart, waitressed, washed dishes in a nursing home, and scrubbed 
> floors on her hands and knees. Her account of those experiences is 
> unforgettable -- heart-wrenching, infuriating, funny, smart, and 
> empowering. Few readers will be untouched by the shameful realities that 
> underlie America's economy. Vintage Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed will 
> surely take its place among the classics of underground reportage." 
> --Juliet Schor"
> With this book Barbara Ehrenreich takes her place among such giants of 
> investigative journalism as George Orwell and Jack London. Ehrenreich's 
> courage and empathy bring us face-to-face with the fate of millions of 
> American workers today." --Frances Fox Piven"
> Drunk on dot-coms and day trading, America has gone blind to the 
> downside of its great prosperity. In Nickel and Dimed, Ehrenreich 
> expertly peels away the layers of self-denial, self-interest, and 
> self-protection that separate the rich from the poor, the served from 
> the servers, the housed from the homeless. This brave and frank book is 
> ultimately a challenge to create a less divided society." --Naomi Klein"
> A brilliant on-the-job report from the dark side of the boom. No one 
> since H. L. Mencken has assailed the smug rhetoric of prosperity with 
> such scalpel-like precision and ferocious wit." --Mike Davis"Millions of 
> Americans suffer daily trying to make ends meet. Barbara Ehrenreich's 
> book forces people to acknowledge the average worker's struggle, and 
> promises to be extremely influential." --Lynn Woolsey, member of congress"
> One of the great American social critics has written an unforgettable 
> memoir of what it was like to work in some of America's least attractive 
> jobs. No one who reads this book will be able to resist its power to 
> make them see the world in a new way." --Mitchell Duneier
> Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of Blood Rites; The Worst Years of Our 
> Lives (a New York Times bestseller); Fear o Falling, which was nominated 
> for a National Book Critics Circle Award; and eight other books. A 
> frequent contributor to Time, Harper's Magazine, The New Republic, The 
> Nation, and The New York Times Magazine, she lives near Key West, Florida.

Stephen D. Williams
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