I’m 54-years old, and I’ve been working since I was 16. I’ve seen some good years and some bad years. But in general, it keeps getting worse as time goes on. Well, it was slowly getting worse, but in recent years it spiked upward, so now it is getting worse at an alarming rate. I don’t need a lot of government figures, statistics or economic indicators and other fake crap to tell me what’s going on. I know what I see. And I can tell you this- times are tough, and they’ve never been tougher. I thought I had it rough when I was younger, working for minimum wage. But in hindsight, those were the good ol’ days.
In 1978, I was eighteen, and worked for minimum wage. At the time, it was $2.30 an hour. I worked at a daily-pay place. In Chicago, in those days, if a person needed some money, they could just show up at 5AM at one of these day-labor places. And if you were lucky, they’d let you work. So I did. I became a regular, and almost always got work whenever I showed up.
I’d bust my butt all day for $18 cash. That was about what I cleared after taxes. And yes, they paid daily. I’d work 4-days, and make $72 clear.
In those days, $72 was enough to fill up your gas tank ($8), buy a carton of cigarettes ($5), pay the weekly rent ($25), and buy groceries for the week ($10). That still left me with enough money to buy a bag of weed ($15). Life was good, and I didn’t even know it. And if I really needed more money, I could just work another day. I liked working 4-days, so I could enjoy a 3-day weekend.
Let’s compare that to today’s prices.
Fill up the gas tank- $80
Carton of smokes- $80
Weekly rent- $150 to $250
Bag of weed- $180 (just guessing)
If all my needs were the same as those days, I’d have to make about $600 take-home pay to live the same lifestyle I did back then. In order to make that in 4-days (which I did in 1978), I would have to make $150.00 a day- take home pay, daily, after taxes. With today’s tax rates, I’d have to gross about $200 for 8-hours work, or (about) $25.00 an hour.
By contrast, minimum wage should be about $25.00 an hour these days, for kids today to enjoy the same lifestyle I did when I was eighteen. My how times have changed.
Life isn’t as simple as it was then.
And the generation before me would say they had it even better than I did. So, at the rate we’re going, I would guess this current generation should have it better than the next. It’s scary to think about that.
In addition to all that, now we have to have money for health insurance too (ObamaCare). The lowest priced plan is about $400 a month plus a $5000 deductible. So, a healthy 18-year-old would need another $100 a week just to make that premium. In other words, minimum wage should be more like $27 or $28 an hour, for today’s young man starting out on his own.
In the old days, if you didn’t have health insurance, but you got sick or injured, you’d just go to the hospital anyway. A social worker would come and talk to you, and after only a few minutes you’d be covered by the state. I broke my leg in 1981 and that’s what happened.
People fear socialism, but we always had it.
In the 80’s, it was easy to get on welfare. And you automatically got health coverage when you did. Believe me- I did it a couple of times in my early years. When I broke my leg in 1981, it was a bad break. I was in a cast for 6-months, and on a cane for another 6-months. At the hospital, before surgery, I was approved for welfare as well as health care.
Let’s move it up about another decade and see how it was.
In 1988 I made about $600 a week take-home pay. (I had a good job at this point, driving a truck.) I paid $400 a month rent (about $100 a week.) Groceries were about $40 a week. Gas was about $1 a gallon, or $20 to fill up a big tank (which we all had back then.) Cigarettes were about $20 a carton. And weed was $35 an ounce.
So, I’d spend (about) $240 a week on those main things. Of course, I had a few more (monthly) bills now- electric $50, gas $30, phone $40, car payment $150. (Add about $50 a week for those new expenses.) But even after all that, I’d still have a couple of hundred dollars to party with each week.
Minimum wage was still only $2.30 an hour in Illinois. But a person making that much could still find a hotel room for $50 a week. So they could make out OK at least.
Let’s move it up another decade to the late 90’s and see what was going on in my life and with the economy.
In 1998, I made about $800 a week (take-home), paid $600 a month rent (call it $150 a week), gas was about the same ($1 a gallon), cigarettes were about the same ($20 a carton), and I no longer smoked weed, but I know it was about $50 an ounce.
Minimum wage was now $5.15 an hour. I made $25 an hour working at a union asphalt company.
Again, going by the same living standards, not much changed from 1988 to 1998. Rent went up, so did minimum wage, but not much else.
But a person trying to make it on minimum wage would have been struggling to pay rent. At $5.15 an hour, even working 40-hours, after taxes, they’d clear about $180 a week. But that would have been enough to rent a budget room (like I had in my early days) for about $75 a week, buy some groceries for about $50, fill up the gas tank, but forget about the weed.
Let’s move it up another decade to around 2008.
The price of gas spiked up in 2005, but came back down to about $1.80 a gallon in 2008. Rent was outrageous in Chicago- about $1200 a month for a 2-bedroom. So we moved to rural Indiana. Rent was now $475 for me. What a relief! I still drove a truck, and now made about $1000 a week take-home.
In those days, that was easily enough to pay the rent (after moving to Indiana), a car payment, all my bills, and still have money for a vacation or whatever. Groceries were starting to go up, but I could still afford to spend $100 to $150 a week.
Minimum wage was $7.50 in Illinois, and only $5.50 in Indiana. If a person had to make it on minimum wage, they could, but it would be tougher. If you worked 40-hours, you’d clear about $180 to $230 (Indiana vs Illinois.) The cheapest place in Chicago was a very dumpy hotel room for about $150 a week. Good luck trying to live in Chicago making minimum wage.
However, in Indiana, you could still find a $50-a-week room, so it was still do-able there. Gas was about $1.80 a gallon, so a tank would run you about $30. Cigarettes were about $30 a carton. So $150 a week was not bad in Indiana. But $230 a week in Chicago was going to be difficult- just because of the high rent.
Fast-forward to now (2014).
Rent is still reasonable in Indiana ($475 for my 3-bedroom house). But in Chicago you can’t even get a dumpy 2-bedroom apartment for less that $1200. Gas in now outrageous at $3.79 a gallon- or about $80 to fill up. And a dumpy room at a motel is about $150 a week in Indiana, or $200 a week in Illinois. Food is twice what it was only a few years ago.
Minimum wage is now $8.25 in Illinois, and $7.25 in Indiana. If you worked 40-hours a week, you’d clear about $280 in Illinois, and $250 in Indiana. After rent and gas, you’re done. There is no food money. There is no cigarette money. Forget about weed or any fun money.
Times are tougher now than I’ve ever seen.
Even a person making decent money struggles to pay rent, buy groceries, pay a car payment.
Then, on top of all that, we now are forced to buy health insurance (ObamaCare). Of course, if your income is low enough, you might qualify for Medicaid ($19k in Indiana and $25k in Illinois.) But what about the guy who only makes a tad above that? He’s screwed.
Imagine living in Illinois today, trying to make ends meet on $26k. That’s about $500 a week, or maybe $425 take-home. Try renting a dumpy apartment for $1200 a month on that. Try filling up your gas tank each week for about $80 to $100. Forget about a car payment, you’ll be lucky to have a car at all. Forget about food. Forget about rent too, you’ll have to sleep on someone’s couch. Unless of course, you can live in your car.
ObamaCare has destroyed this country, at a time when we were already doing very poorly.
They’ll tell you ObamaCare is working. They’ll pull out some numbers, and say, oh look, 12 million more people now have health insurance. Isn’t Obama great?
The cheapest ObamaCare rate is about $400 a month premium for health insurance with a $5000 deductible. It’s literally impossible for anyone making less than say $50k. And if you have any health problems, you’ll pay that whole deductible- in other words, $10,000 a year for health coverage. Who can afford that?
And the so-called experts will tell you that we are not experiencing inflation right now– but we most likely will soon. That’s scary to think about.
It doesn’t matter what those charts say- actions speak louder. Everything is way more expensive today than it was just a few years ago. Try buying ground beef, coffee, fruits and vegetables, especially gas. Everything is so expensive now. And health care- forget about it.
I don’t know what it will take to turn this economy around, maybe if we can get gas prices down again. I think a lot of these high prices are directly related to the high price of gas. After all, these goods have to be transported to stores.
Yes, the good ol’ days are gone now.
Maybe America will get some new leadership soon that knows how to turn things around. One can only hope at this point.
It’s almost funny to think, Obama ran on “hope and change”. Yeah, we see the change- everything is expensive now. And hope? That’s all we have left.
Obama will go down in history as the worst president we ever had.
Ken Skaggs is an author, educator, entrepreneur, radio announcer, web designer, web marketer, musician, trucking safety expert, SEO specialist, and business owner- in other words, a dreamer.