Last week I wrote about how the elderly are kept on the fringes of society through their poverty. Today I want to expand on that theme by invoking the book Nomadland by Jessica Bruder. I don’t know if you’ve heard of this book, but it’s been made into a movie recently and you can watch it on Hulu. Bruder, a reporter, spent years following and living with people – mostly the elderly who live in vans, cars and trucks while traversing the country in search of short-term jobs to supplement their tiny social security checks. These are people who have either lost full-time jobs due to age, economic down-turns, their jobs being made redundant, or perhaps ill health, along with losing their retirement pensions, health care, homes, etc.
Should you suggest that they just didn’t take care of their finances, understand the fact that wages have not kept up with the actual cost of living, and most jobs no longer provide for retirement savings. This van living is also related to some younger people choosing to buy and reside in tiny houses since they are unable to afford the price of apartments and/or renting a room in someone’s house.
My thought is that we have to rethink the way that we treat people in the U.S. So many people are underpaid, and considered not worthy of a living wage that it astounds me. When I worked after I graduated from college with both a B.S. and a B.A., I never made more than $17,000.00 per year. I couldn’t move out of my parents’ home as I was unable to have a car loan, pay car insurance and pay to share an apartment with a roommate. As a matter of fact, in order to have more money I cleaned houses on my day off. It was insane, and matters have only gotten worse in this country.
There is no such thing as un-skilled labor. The people-skills that are required to work in the fast-food industry are incredible. Not only that, but you also need to be able to handle extreme abuse from customers without reacting in a negative way. I wonder how well the rich would be able to cope with that. Cleaning houses, offices, or schools also all require skills. Skills are needed for every aspect of any job. I also worked as a cocktail waitress in an upscale bar/restaurant, and believe me when I say that I acquired many different skills in response to customer “handiness” and abusive behaviors. Walking a tight-rope between receiving a decent tip, and keeping abuse in check was quite a skill.
In America, we seem to only respect the rich, and supposedly everyone else is not due any respect at all. The sad thing is, is that the poor seem to disrespect themselves, also. I know that I blamed myself for my lack of reimbursement – and to tell the truth, still do. Why could other people get rich, and I couldn’t (can’t)? This is ridiculous, since most people who “get” rich began life being rich, or upper middle-class. Yet so many of us have done all the right things – went to college, got married, bought a house, had children and still have little to show as far as money is concerned. When I look around at the houses in my state, I can see that even though we may have a house, we can only afford to pay the mortgage, taxes and insurance on it. There are few homes that have been able to keep up with the upkeep.
People need to earn more. How do we do that? Maybe changing the “business model” that puts money into the pockets of business owners, stock holders and the rich. For an example, Jeff Bezos did not earn his 189.8 billion dollars himself. He does not work in one of his humongous Fulfillment Centers, nor does he walk at least eighteen miles a day there like his employees do. For that back-breaking work they make between $12 and $19 dollars an hour, while Bezos makes $149,353.00 per minute. The people who do the actual work need to earn a living wage. If minimum wages had kept up with inflation, it would be $24.00 an hour now. But federal minimum wage is still $7.25 an hour and has been since 2009.
So, while the rich have gotten richer, the poor have gotten poorer and the middle class has fallen into the lower middle class, and the lower-middle class has become poor, wages have not changed for twelve years. Twelve years! Everything else has gone up, but not wages. Most of us are barely holding on, and what happens when another Pandemic hits, or Wall Street collapses as it tends to do every so often? We need change, and we need it now.