The Good Jobs Fairy Tale

The New York State Senate sits in twilight as it readies their decision to raise the state’s minimum wage rate. With the Senate’s blessing, in the blink of an eye, minimum wage could go from $7.25 an hour to about $8.50 an hour. And, while this might not seem like much, to a nation (and state) going through economic turmoil, it’s a lifeline. I remember my grandfather telling me that by the time my generation comes of age, we will experience many problems unlike any other generation. They could have added him to the New Testament, because his words were prophetic. In his day, a person could walk right out of high school and find a great paying job. He told me of a time when, “All a man needed was two legs, two arms, and one eye to find work,” and an employment landscape in which, “You could quit one job and literally walk across the street to find another one that paid better” – and these weren’t $7 or $8 an hour gigs, either. These were jobs that paid well and included a full benefits and retirement package. How times have changed. For most Americans, these stories of “good jobs past” seem like fairy tales. Take the married woman who works two minimum (or below minimum) wage jobs just to pay the rent and a portion of her utilities. When you combine her pay with her husband’s, a man who is most likely working the same type of job, they will still barely have enough left over to pay for food, clothes or transportation. Or, what about the recent college graduate who can’t find anything that pays enough for him to start his life? He is desperate and will most likely take any type of job, regardless of the pay. He has a life to live and college loans that accrue interest every minute of every day. This is their reality. Whenever talk of the golden era of the American worker comes up, you usually get stares of disbelief. People will even say things like, “Wow, really, unbelievable,” or, my personal favorite, “I wish we had jobs like those today.” For most Americans, the fairytale life of having a job that pays enough to survive sits right up there with tales like Snow White, the Frog Prince, or Rumpelstiltskin. We are told that inflation is “natural,” and that it directly coincides with an average business cycle. I wonder why leading economists haven’t factored in a living rate of pay as being a natural part of the business cycle? Why aren’t people put first, instead of big businesses and money? A society in which the infrastructure for survival (i.e. a family sustaining, living wage job) is quickly imploding and will soon cease to exist. You can blame the current situation on deregulation, the stock market, foreign labor, corporate greed or whatever else you’d like. But, people aren’t working. And, if they are then they are working for pretty much next to nothing. So what’s next? VOICE Buffalo, with help from us over at PUSH Buffalo, has been one of the organizations shedding light on the minimum wage issue for years. We are held a press conference at 65 Court St. in Downtown Buffalo this past Friday (May 11, 2012), and we went down the block to Buffalo City Hall (inside the Common Council Chambers) for a public hearing, from noon-4pm, to speak with state lawmakers on the current proposal to raise the state’s minimum wage. And, while raising the state’s minimum wage is not a final solution, it will hopefully send the message that leaders see the jobs/cash flow situation as one of the greater ills facing our society. The rate of pay must keep up with the rate of inflation if future generations of Americans are to survive. If more people can begin to stand up and take some action, the good jobs fairy tale is one story that may rain true again.