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American jobs and wages

Excellent sample of paper 1 by Marina Johnson

From the very beginning of America it was a grand dream to live in the land of opportunity. 400 years ago people came to escape from oppression. As the years passed, more and more people came from far and wide looking for that "American Dream." It was thought by some that in America the streets were paved with gold. Anybody, no matter their race, age, or sex, could come to America and find work, become successful, buy a home, and save for retirement. What happened to that dream? What happened to America?

Wages in America have steadily declined for the majority of workers. The chances of getting in on the ground floor and working your way up in a company have disappeared. Most Americans live paycheck to paycheck and are getting deeper into debt every year. The middle class is quickly disappearing.

There was a time when a man could walk into a company, get an apprenticeship and work his way up to the top. Corporations held strong to company loyalty and rewarded their employees with secure pensions. The middle class became strong and America was prospering; change was soon to come. Corporations now hold no value in their employees. Men and women are quickly losing their jobs to cheaper labor overseas. Unable to find jobs of equal value many Americans are taking jobs beneath their previous earning ability, now having to get by with the two-income household that is so common today.

Forty years ago a family could get by easily on one income. They could buy a home and build a savings. They could send their kids to college and take a vacation every year. Today may appear to be much like yesteryear, however there is a big change. Now, these families must rely on two incomes; now, these families don't have a savings account; now, these families will send their kids to college on loans and create even more debt just to maintain the same lifestyle of a generation ago.

Minimum wage jobs have become impossible to get by on. Rent goes up, gas goes up, food goes up but minimum wage stays the same. The opportunity for advancement in a minimum wage job is little to none. A hard working, non-college educated, American in 1940 could easily find a low skill job and make it on minimum wage. Jobs were abundant after the war. One could work as a receptionist; in manufacturing; at a call center "help desk"; or even as a Midwestern farmer. Now, thanks to globalization and invention, the receptionist is no longer needed, we have automated machines to answer the phones; manufacturing jobs are still abundant, in China; the call center has been moved to India, and if you want to farm you better buy a ticket to Equator.

In 1940 most jobs offered the possibility to buy a house, not anymore; even if you
have a better than minimum wage job, good luck. My husband, John, works at a union job. When he started his job in 1989 he was paid five times the minimum wage. Today that same job only pays maybe three times today's minimum wage. Had we not already done so fifteen years ago, the dream of buying a home would be lost to us today. Since 1993, when we bought our home, John's pay has risen only a few dollars an hour, yet the value of our home has tripled. With the cost of living in America, today we would not be able to afford the house we presently live in.

For those not fortunate enough to go to college or to get a union job, the chances of them buying a home are slim to none. Yet, our parents from just one a generation before us can't understand why we struggle, why we have debt. They seem to be in the mind set that if we all worked harder and saved more then we would all have the opportunity to be homeowners. This older generation may live in the home they paid $45,000 for and have mortgage payments lower than some of today's car payments.

Those who determine the wages of "the little people" don't have any idea what it would be like to live on minimum wage in America. In 1973 CEO's of large corporations earned 35 times as much than the average worker, today CEO's earn 200 times as much (McKibben, p.103). The wage gap is getting so large it is literally eliminating the middle class all together.

Modernization Theory sees people as poor because they have poor work habits, engage in poor time management, are not willing to defer gratification, and do no save or take advantage of educational opportunities. It is the thought of Modernization Theory that people and countries are poor because they have poor attitudes and poor institutions (Anderson/Tayor, p.252). This thought process serves as a great injustice to all the hard working people in the world.

As described above, wages in America are becoming impossible to get by on. Even the very hardest of workers struggle. Opportunities for betterment are not available to all people. As these people continue to struggle opportunities for their children to go to college and break the cycle are even less. Globally many people work long hard hours for little pay, immensely less than that of America's minimum wage. These people are not poor because they do not work hard. They are not poor because they can't "save" their pay. They are poor because they are exploited by the corporations that use the labor force of poorer counties in order to create a larger bottom line for themselves.

Of course we cannot over look the wage gap between men and women. For centuries men have been the predominant work force and women were considered the homemakers. Now that families need two incomes to survive women have entered the work force. Men are usually in charge and feel women are of less value and in turn pay them less than they pay men for the same job. This happens for many reasons. One might be that when a woman is hired it is thought that she is not looking for a true career. It is thought that she is only working for spending money, or she will soon get pregnant and will leave the job. Male employers sometimes feel that even if a woman were to return to work after pregnancy she is still not a serious employee because of the time she missed and is now behind in skills, or she will not be reliable when she may have to take time off if her child gets sick.

I once held job for a wholesale travel agency. It was forbidden for anybody to talk about wages. This company did not have a starting wage and then incremental raises, they would randomly choose your pay according to your experience (or so they said). Of course everybody broke the rules and spoke of their wage differences. One man who was recently hired had no travel experience or computer skills, yet he earned more than all the women there, even the women who have been working for this company for many years. When this injustice was brought forward, the management concluded that since he was a man, and needed to support his family, he needed to earn more. This was such an outdated way of thinking. Many of the women working for this company were single moms who needed to support their families. Yet the stereotypes continue.

It is difficult to see how things became so askew. It is sad to see it spreading beyond America and around the entire globe. With globalization as it is today the rich will keep getting richer and the poor will keep getting poorer. It almost appears as a circle of life. We lived the good life for a while; we lived the American dream, now we are circling back to medieval times, back to the times of oppression with the separation of royalty and peasants. With all the years of civilization and invention, we have only managed to create this divide on a much larger, worldwide scale than it was those 400 years ago.

Works Cited

McKibben, Bill, Deep Economy. New York: Times Books, 2007.

Andersen, Margaret, and Howard Taylor. General Sociology: Social Change and Social Institutions. Portland: PCC P, 2008.