Our high, high standard of living

By Philip Brewer on 9 September 2007 (Updated 11 December 2008) 64 comments
Photo: Philip Brewer

In the 1950s and 1960s, a working man could support a family at a middle-class standard of living with just one income. It might surprise you to learn that one person working full-time, even at minimum wage, can still support a family of four at that standard of living. Nowadays we call that "living in poverty."

According to John E Schwarz in Illusions of Opportunity:

In the early 1950s, fully two fifths of American households had no automobile, about a third did not have a private telephone or a television, and the homes of about a third of all Americans were dilapidated or were without running water or a private toilet and bath. Only a small minority of families enjoyed such basics as a mixer or had a hot-water heater.

Those dilapidated shacks without hot water improved over the years, but as late as 1970 the median single-family home was still less than 1400 square feet (versus over 2200 now).

I have a personal recollection of the 1960s and 1970s (I graduated from high school in 1977). My dad was a college professor and probably made a pretty good income, but we never had a standard of living as high as lots of "poor" folks seem to have now: We never had air conditioning. We didn't get a second car until I was in high school. We didn't get a color TV until I'd gone away to college. We never took vacations overseas. Eating out was for special occasions.

The key fact about the period was not the high standard of living, but that it was a rising standard of living, which made the period one of considerable optimism. I'm not advocating that anyone live at a 1950s (or even 1960s) standard of living, but I'd be pleased if people would quit romanticizing those days as a golden age of prosperity.

Real household income rose last year. At the same time, the earnings of both men and women fell. How can household incomes go up when the earnings of both and women go down? Easy: The number of workers per household go up.

The arithmetic of this strategy for making ends meet doesn't work well, though. Additional expenses are needed to support a second income--a second car, child care, additional commuting, higher rent (due to optimizing the living situation for two jobs instead of just one). The income from the second job is often smaller (else it would be considered the first job) and more heavily burdened by taxes.

In fact, most people understand that the second income doesn't contribute much to increasing the standard of living. It's at least as much a ploy for some stability in income (a hedge against the income of the first job being lost) and a way to maintain the employability of the second wage-earner.

A little frugality goes a long way. In fact, I take back what I said about wishing that people would quit romanticizing those days as a gold age of prosperity. If romanticizing those days motivates people to live a little more frugally, then they should do just that.

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Guest's picture
A person who has lived on $16,000 for one year

You failed to mention those who live below our ill-concieved poverty line can't afford basic health care or a trip to the dentist. The percent of the average Joe's income that goes to rent is now 70%, whereas in the 60's it was somewhere around 30%. Living on or below the poverty line is not fun, no matter how you scrimp and save.

Guest's picture
Guest

Uhh, what's medicaid, WIC, etc. If you're above the poverty line, you can't afford health care; those who don't work get off easy.

Guest's picture
Guest

I smell BULL. I work TWO jobs. I pay NO RENT. I live in a somewhat rural suburb, and there is NO WAY I could live without a car (trust me, I've tried) There's that funny Winter thing around here, so don't bother telling me to walk to work.

I have to pay for my car, I have to pay for insurance, and daily living. You need to figure in other costs as well: time costs being a large part of that, since my fiance works full time, and is a student full time, she's sure not staying home and cooking every night. So shopping can't always be done in bulk, and you can't REALLY live off of Ramen every day either.

If you work full time (40 hours) at minimum wage...you'd made $286.00 a week. good luck with that family of four. Good luck with a family of two for that matter, let alone covering insurance, clothes, rent...not happening.

\/\/

Guest's picture
Whalla

Yes a person can afford a trip to the dentist. A cleaning is about $60. So is a month of cable. And most urban Universties who have medical facilities offer VERY CHEAP options for care so their students can learn. Trust me, I used those facilities as a poor undergrad before going to Med School. It can work, our priorities are simply skewed.

Philip Brewer's picture

Of course, even if you get all your health care in emergency rooms, you're still probably getting better care now than you would have in the 1950s or 1960s.  You certainly are if you have some common, serious illness like high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, or the like.

The best possible care of the 1960s would be considered malpractice nowadays. 

Guest's picture
Frustrated Floridian

Health care technology has improved, but quality and availability of care has decreased for those with lower incomes. I spent my early years in Chalmette, a small poor area outside of New Orleans. We had window units for air conditioning, one car, and a black & white tv. This was in the 70's and 80's. We were, however, able to go to the doctor when necessary. We were not required to pay the entirety of the bill up front before we even saw the doctor. Also medication costs were not as absurd as they are now.
Today a one month supply of a medication with no generic can cost between $100 and upwards of $500 for "everyday" medical concerns. A one month supply of diabetes testing equipment (not including meds) for a person without insurance runs on average $120 if testing twice daily. Self-pay costs for doctor's visits can run from $75 to $300 (higher end for specialists).
Emergency rooms are only required to stabilize people who come in without insurance. Stabilizing is NOT the same thing as treatment.

Guest's picture
Minimum Wage

...led to wholesale elimination (through upgrading or demolition) by the 1970s.

That's the good news. The bad news is that the bottom rung of the cheapest housing simply disappeared, and the cheapest rents with it. With the rise of genteel suburbia, housing standards rose considerably, enforced by local code police and homeowner associations. With the bottom rung of housing gone, there was no longer a cheap bottom rung to choose, and competition for the remaining affordable housing stock soared.

The Tax Reform Act of 1986 changed the tax rules for owning rental property, and increased t he importance of positive cash flow in rental investments. This shook out some weekend landlords and created a trand toward professional landlording, in turn promoting higher rent structures.

Energy prices are an emerging impediment to a minimum wage standard of living. Many low-wage workers are being forced to live further and further from their jobs, to find affordable housing. Add in the rising cost of commuting, and there is an emerging crisis in the works.

Guest's picture
Wesa

A little frugality goes a long way.

This was indeed true for my husband and I. At the end of March, I quit my full-time job in order to become a full-time student. My husband and I worked out a budget, relocated to a smaller apartment to save $300 a month, and kept an eye on where the money went. Since I quit my job, we haven't noticed much difference in the way we live and in fact, have managed to place even more money into savings than we ever did while we both worked full time. We don't eat like poor students and we usually have enough left over to pick up extras like a nice wine or an occasional dinner out.

The above comments made a good point about health care though. Without insurance through my husband, I would not have quit my job.

Guest's picture
Rob O.

A little frugality goes a long way.

Too true! Overwhelmingly, it seems to be that credit enables so many to live so far beyond their means. Many (most?) of our friends are buried so far in debt that they can't see the light of day.

MLW & I live in a nice home, but it's tiny & quite modest by most of our friends' standards. We have two cars but both were bought with cash and are over 4 years old - and the combined cost of the two cars is less than many people spend on a single car today.

The standard of living that we've adopted since the day we were married 11 years ago is one that most of our friends would NEVER consider stooping to, yet we're comfortable, well-clothed, and carry no outstanding credit debt. We're darned proud of our frugality and certainly don't feel downtrodden because we choose to live affordably.

Credit is the devil.

Guest's picture
Jennifer

I'm not sure that your lifestyle is frugal. Rather, you have made wise choices. It sounds like you have a similar lifestyle to me and my partner. We don't do without - season tickets to the (amateur community)theatre, drive older but well maintained 3 and 4 cylinder cars for city use, and eat out regularly. Am I boosting? No! What I am saying is that rather then sacrificing, we research and choose the most economical way of doing what we want to do.

Guest's picture
Denise

I am the one who earns the second income (no health insurance, also the smaller income) in our household. I definitely would rather do what I do, and spend a little more on eating out, have someone come in every other week to clean, etc., than to do those things myself. But I also think that I'm in that rare 5-10% of people who enjoys what they do, and I'm self-employed.

It's definitely the health insurance issue, though, that drives me to work and save. I cannot find work I like that would provide health insurance, and so if anything happens to my husband's job, we'll be paying for his health insurance out of unemployment and my smaller income until he finds a new job.

Guest's picture
Nan Abrams

In California, an income even above minimum wage cannot support a single person, let alone a small family. Housing costs, even rentals are beyond the means of many and homelessness is an epidemic. I live in one of the more "affordable" communities (tho' becoming less so), and a person would need to earn at least twelve dollars an hour to just get by--minimum wage is $7.50. Most entry level jobs are minimum wage or a little above, with no health insurance. Frugality is a necessity for most--and not sufficient for many. For those of us who have the luxury of being able to live frugally while having a roof over our heads and decent clothes to wear, let us count our blessings. For most, a second income does not buy "extras"--those days are over--the second income helps pay the rent/mortgage, the utilities and groceries.

Philip Brewer's picture

One of the really positive changes between now and the 1950s (and even 1960s) is the reduction (not, sadly, elimination) of social pressures and legal strictures against women in the workforce. There are many positive reasons to work--helping people, producing something of value, being part of a community of people in a common endeavor--totally aside from the income that's brought in.

I would never discourage people from doing work that they thought was worth doing.

Philip Brewer's picture

@ Nan Abrams

In the 1950s no one would have imagined that a single person would rent an apartment. (Maybe a confirmed bachelor with a good income....) A single person would live at home (if at all possible), rent a room in a rooming house, or share an apartment with several other people.

Admittedly, that does put us back at the point of needing several incomes to provide an adequate standard of living, but having roommates is not quite the same thing has having a second working spouse.

Guest's picture
Lucille

I happened to have been reworking our budget this morning. Even if we ditched cable, cell phones and the central air unit it would not compare to the huge dent in our income from healthcare, gas and food.

These three things take a far larger chunk out of our budget than the nice optional things do.
Gas in mandatory most places. We did look at where we could potentially move to allow us to use one car. We really could not find one. Even neighborhoods that were near shopping areas. The homes would be maybe walking distance to a grocery but not walking distance to much of anything else. The current urban planning here has bumped housing further and further from needed services. We also have horribly inept public transit. It would take hours to make a ten minute drive.
Food costs, there is only so much you can do to cut back, scrimp, make it yourself before you just can't cut food costs anymore.
Don't even get me started on healthcare. Our insurance alone is taking the second largest cut out of our monthly budget, just behind our mortgage. That's before you start paying copays, coinsurance and other out of pocket costs.
The reality is that wages don't meet up to even those basic expenses people would have had in the 50's.

Guest's picture
Matt

Somewhat related to your article, you might be interested in this theory that the addition of women to the workforce has lead to working more for the same amount of money. The author writes that by having women enter the workforce companies could pay less for employees knowing that the man did not have to solely support his family:
http://dyske.com/index.php?view_id=882

Guest's picture
Atanu

Philip, I'm just discovering your blog, and the advice to be frugal is probably the best piece of advice one can give.

It doesn't have to mean living in tattered rags under a barn. Just watching how and what you spend it on often does the trick, and you have to get rid of the notion that just because others do something, you have to too. I liked what Rob said in post no. 5. Me and my wife live in Sweden, and everything's expensive here. Yet my wife manages to keep everything very nicely within budget. There is a HUGE lot you can save by simply not buying packaged food that you micro, if you are willing to do some actual preparing and cooking. And you eat better by putting in that extra effort. So i'm not sure lucille's argument holds up about food costs. Just think what you're doing, and then think if there is another way to do it.

Philip Brewer's picture

It may seem like food is expensive now, but in the 1950s it was a full one-third of a poor person's budget. In fact, that's how the poverty line was established: Government studies had already figured out what a healthy diet was. They calculated how much it would cost to eat a healthy diet (if you prepared everything at home) and then they tripled it. Three times the lowest cost to eat a healthy diet was the poverty line.

If food costs come to less than a third of your total spending, you're already ahead of the game versus a poor person in the 1950s. (The governent's current estimate is that food comes to 10.2% of an average person's budget.)

If you're interested, all you might ever want to know about the history of the poverty line is in The Development of the Orshansky Poverty Thresholds and Their Subsequent History as the Official U.S. Poverty Measure.

Guest's picture
Minimum Wage

It was actually 1964 when the "poverty line" was set at three times the cost of an "economy food budget". Of course, this definition has become less and less meaningful as food costs have declined in real terms while the cost of housing and health care have soared. (While energy costs are higher today in real terms, they have not quite "soared" as much as housing and health care.)

That poverty definition also fails to account for very real differences in standard of living. Only cash income is counted - for example, non-cash benefits like Medicaid, food stamps, and rental assistance improve the standard of living of a "poor" welfare recipient but they don't "lift them out of poverty". Similarly, a "poor" retired free-and-clear homeowner can live much better than a full-time "not poor" childless hamburger flipper earning minimum wage and paying half his income for rent. And of course, the cost of living varies widely across the country but the poverty line does not take that into account.

Philip Brewer's picture

It was actually 1964 when the "poverty line" was set at three times the cost of an "economy food budget".

Correct, but much of the data came from the Agriculture Department's 1955 Household Food Consumption Survey, so it was (to a considerable extent) based on the prices and situations from much earlier than the date the poverty line was set. See the Orshansky link I posted for gory details.

I agree completely with the general sense that poverty line doesn't paint an accurate picture of who's in poverty and who isn't. However, I think it's true that the average poor person today has a much high standard of living than a poor person 50 years ago. I also think many people living at an ordinary middle-class standard of living in the 1950s would be viewed as living in poverty, if they were living the same way today.

Guest's picture
Guest

Bullshit.

In 1950, fully two-fifths didn't **need** an automobile.

And yeah, I'd be MIGHTY surprised that minimum wage can support a family of four today. BULLSHIT.

Prove it. It can't be done.

40 x 6.50 = $260 per week x 4.2 work weeks per month = $1092 (before taxes and any deductions).

Or 2080 hours per year x 6.50 / 12 = $1126.66 before taxes (not much better).

Rent will consume half or more of the realized, after tax income. Utilities, transportation, food, clothing, medical, etc.

I SAY BULLSHIT. Knowing many young people earning "minimum wage" and living in a fairly cheap area comparatively speaking to other parts of the country, they can't make it on their own.

Not unless the have been given a (large) helping hand and they sure as hell can't support 4 people on that income.

This article is crap.

Guest's picture
mythago

Phillip, encouraging frugality and having perspective is good, but the nasty flip side of your argument is that poor people aren't really poor, they're spoiled and have high expectations, because back in the 1950s we didn't have cable TV.

The fact that poverty was truly terrible 50+ years ago doesn't mean poverty isn't terrible today. And I don't mean air conditioning--I mean things like starvation, or people losing all their teeth to rot because there was no dental care. The Great Society programs came in response to the horrible suffering people went through if they were poor.

Guest's picture
Guest

To the morons bitching about the price of medicines -- none of the name brand only medicines were available 20 years ago. You just suffered or died.

To the morons complaining about the cost of cars. Buy a fucking bicycle. It costs less then 1 car payment. That's reasonable transportation if you can't take a bus.

To the folks talking about minimum wage in CA -- the illegals do it, and still have money to send home. Fix your taxes or fix your illegals, or maybe, just maybe, realize that they're so rich that they're sending money home.

To the folks who complain about how crummy cheap housing is ... compare it to 1950 when there was no running water, and hot water came from a pot on the stove. You haven't seen poverty until you've been to central africa. The slums in Rio look like paradise compared.

Guest's picture
Carl Spearow

Of course it sucks working for minimum wage. But if you choose to not acquire any job skills (in our society that almost takes you by the hand and forces you to) then that is what you will have.
I, like most of the people reading this, did learn job skills, and I really don't care what happens to people who were screwing around while I was going to school.

Guest's picture
kitten

Minimum wage works out to 1040 dollars a month or so. Here in Atlanta, which is not considered an expensive place to live, about the lowest place you can find to live would be a basement room in someone's house, which will be three or four hundred dollars. Less electricity and heat you're looking at around fifty dollars a week to spare for things like, y'know. Food.

That's without a car, even an old junker. Or ever having any kind of social life, because you can't afford it.

By the way, this is all calculated without taxes. I'm generous that way.

Now you're telling us that it's possible to support others on an income like this?

Let us assume, for the moment, that you're right. That through some magical means you've not bothered disclosing to us, everyone can find cheap, rickety housing for a song, which happens to be within walking distance of a place which will hire them (since according to you they don't "need" a car). And they can get by without phones, too, or hot water. I actually know of no such place that's even available, but you've assured us that the teeming millions can find such places. After all, it worked in the 50s.

So what's your point? That poor people today who can't make ends meet should stop whining? That you won't be satisifed that they're really poor until they have taken some sort of monk-like oath to do without any modern conveniences whatsoever? Things like phones and cars which would, you know, expand their employment and educational prospects? Exactly how much do you want them to give up before they have a legitimate gripe in your mind?

I really don't understand where you're going with this argument. You could just as well say that people don't need money at all because the our Cro-Magnon ancestors managed just fine living under trees and in caves and huddling around fires.

Yes, there are always going to be the people who don't understand that they can't live a first-class lifestyle on a nearly minimum wage budget, but the majority of people with low incomes would be happy to get through a month without having an eviction notice tacked on their door, and not have to worry about their electricity getting shut off in their 300 square foot studio apartment. Get a grip, man.

Guest's picture
Guest

Minimum wage is not very much because it's essentially for kids. I once worked for minimum wage, when I was 15-18. I also once breast fed. Eventually I put down the teat and started using a cup. Now I make much much more than minimum wage, and that was by design, not luck.

If you want to improve your life, there are steps that you need to take. Living in the USA, it's a pretty even playing field. You work hard, you'll move up. But that means having to "think" before you act. Don't be having kids you can't afford, buying crap you can't afford, and running up debt.

Guest's picture
Guest

The comments suggest that none of the posters have lived in utter poverty.

The only facet that really demands money (or cunning, or a humane government) is medical care. You can save your teeth with brushing, saline solution treats a lot of wounds, and other traditional remedies treat other ills, but past a point you die without medical care.

The other material needs are actually social, and while they are very real, they're more related to the degradation poor people suffer in American than physical needs. When you used to heat your water on the fire, and now can heat two 1/2 gallon jugs in a microwave and take a shower in 10 minutes, that's luxury. A bicycle? Whooooo, that's cruisin'! A full shower? $1-2/day if you go to the YMCA or join a health club), plus you can get in some exercise and nap in the lounge chairs. Food? Snort! There are plenty of places you can starve, but America usually isn't one of them. Food stamps, food banks, supermarket dumpsters ... in America you can eat passably well with no money, in most places. There are places where one looks in envy on the family that has a nice watertight cave turned away from the prevailing wind, so rain isn't blown in, and good ventilation for the fire.

The only things the poor can't have in America are dignity and the right to sleep where they will in peace -- and those are no small things. The transition the homeless have to make to reach mere poverty is sheer Hell, and then the Hell of poverty begins.

(That's if you're American, of course. If you're from Mexico or the Punjab or wherever, you may have your own community, and the dignity that comes with that. Plus you can probably find 10 square feet to sleep where the cops can't get to you easily as you claw your way out of poverty.)

Guest's picture
Guest

Another idiot. The article claimed that a family of 4 could be raised with a HIGHER LIVING STANDARD then the 1950's.

Either you can't read, or you an idiot. Both, probably.

I've lived in poverty, I know what it's like. Critically injured in the mid-80's, I (of course) lost my job, my home, everything. I got out of the hospital in a body cast with my jaw also wired shut.

I was given $13 a month in food stamps. $13 lousy dollars.

Now, you tell me how the hell I was going to live on that?

Eventually, the body cast was removed, the wires in the jaw taken out and I returned to work. Disregarding my medical bills, which were on "hold" anyways due to a pending lawsuit, I struggled mightily with staying alive. I simply could not earn enough and I was making a bit more then minimum wage.

You are clueless and have absolutely no idea what you're talking about.

Andrea Karim's picture

First of all, I'm not sure if your point actually addresses what Philip was talking about. Also, I think you're kind of a jerk. But I'm curious, how DID you live in $13 worth of food stamps? It sounds like the government really screwed you over.

Guest's picture
Kate

I want to say that I completely agree with Kitten's post. What is the point of this? I understand that it's beyond the comfort level of some affluent people to realize that they live in supposedly the most developed nation in the world and yet have fellow citizens who struggle for basic needs like food, housing, heat, and health care. But attempting to pretend that the impoverished are just a bunch of whiners or that they're exaggerating their ills is ridiculous. Why don't you try living the way you've described? Go and get a minimum wage job and then try to support a spouse and a kid on said income. Remember though, that you don't get to stay in the comfortable residence you probably live in now or drive the car you probably drive. You'll have to rent an apartment and then walk to whatever job will hire you. When you actually do it, come back and post and maybe then we'll take you seriously.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for frugal living and living within one's means, but it's getting to the point in this country where things like nutritious food, safe housing, and health care are "beyond the means" of many poor families. And I'm not talking about the welfare cases. I mean the working poor, the ones who are just a smidge too rich to qualify for Medicaid and food stamps but not wealthy enough to make ends meet. They have real problems and real struggles and for someone who by his own admission grew up in a household where the breadwinner was a college professor to marginalize those struggles with a "If only it was still 1950, then they'd realize how great they've got it" schtick is just, well, heartless.

Philip Brewer's picture

First, let me say that I'd be really sad if people took what I'd written to be trying to say that poor people should just suck it up, or that I don't know the difference between living frugally and being poor--a topic I wrote about in Voluntary simplicity versus poverty.

This piece was prompted by two things. First, news had come out that week that household incomes had risen, even though the earnings of both men and women fell. I think having more and more households send more and more members into the money economy is a bad thing. I wouldn't discourage anyone who wants to work at a job from doing so, but many of these people don't--they're just trying to bring their family up to an adequate living standard.

The second was hearing one too many people complain that a generation ago a father could support a family on single working-class income but that now it takes two incomes to support a family. Very few of the people who say that, though, seem to have any knowledge of what standard of living those families lived at. It was a bad way to live--dangerous and nasty--but it was better than people had lived a decade before (during the war) or a decade before that (during the depression), so people were hopeful. I don't recommending it, though.

The one recommendation that really comes out of this piece is to think carefully about whether a second person working in the money economy really puts a family ahead. A second person doing other things (raising kids, gardening, making things you'd otherwise have to buy, dumpster diving, bartering with neighbors, gathering wild foods) is a lot more likely to improve your standard of living than a second person earning minimum wage after paying taxes and paying for child care.

Guest's picture
Al

Excellent point about the number of workers in a household going up. With so many extra people in the workforce, keep in mind the company's cost to obtain a workforce (in other words, salary and benefits) - they are less likely to pay a premium for labor.

The argument typically is whether or not both spouses of a family should work, but my argument is with the teenage kids. From a study by the University of Washington, the majority of seniors have an after-school job, with many working more than 15 hrs per week.

Consumerism is making kids work (and buy) more than ever before. The workforce is diluted with the number of workers increasing, which means more people are feeling the pressures of becoming more skilled just to sustain their standard of living (which marketing companies are defining for us).

Guest's picture

Isn't it true our government does NOT calculate the cost of food when it comes to inflation? We're not always told the truth and most do not understand.

Guest's picture
Guest

I was born in 1977 and grew up in rural KY on a farm. My mom made about $12,000 a year raising dogs and vegetables and was able to support five children just fine. We had a tv, plenty of food, decent clothes and lots of books.

Today my brother is still living in the same county on less than $700 per month. Rent is about $200 a month and he has a nice 1 bedroom apartment, xbox, dvd player, cable tv, phone, microwave, etc... He doesn't have a car, but he doesn't need one, he's about a 4 minute walk from the grocery store and everywhere else in town is less than a 15 minute walk away. If he gave up some of the extras (phone and cable) he could support a family on $1040 a month. There wouldn't be any extras, but they would have decent housing, food, clothing and schooling with almost no crime.

Median family income is $24,000/year ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burkesville,_Kentucky ), and the average job pays a little over $20,000 per year ( http://www.city-data.com/county/Cumberland_County-KY.html ). Owning a home and living a decent lifestyle is very doable with only one wage earner.

To the poster that said Atlanta wasn't very expensive. From my perspective it is extremely expensive. If you can't afford the place you're living on the pay you're getting, maybe you should move somewhere cheaper, like out of the city.

Guest's picture
Kath

I live in L.A. and it is very expensive to live here. There is no way you could find an a room to rent for $200, let alone a whole apartment. The housing boom has priced most of us out of the real estate market and the rental market. The answer is to just get up and move away from the city? Really, the answer is to leave family, friends and everything you've worked for to find a home out of the city? Are there the same work opportunities out of the city? I think it is flippant to say "just move," it reminds me of the response one hears at times to critical debate of U.S. politics, which is, if you don't like it, then just move. Anyway, I am sincerely happy that things are so affordable and crime free in KY, I am sure it is a wonderful place to live and have grown up. I will; however, take my over priced, crime ridden Los Angeles and struggle to make a life here near those I love.

Guest's picture
lisa

Hi! what county does he live in in Kentucky? I'd like to live in Ky. & been looking for a place to live that's affordable. Thanks,lisa--stargazer43008@yahoo.com

Guest's picture
Bob Smith

I live in Japan. My condo is only a 8 minute walk to the train station. There are 4 supermarkets next to the station. A quick ride on the train takes me to more shopping then I could ever do. A 5 min. train ride and a 15 min bus ride gets me to Costco. The infrastructure has been put in so people can get around. Of course, it's very urban and most apartments are smallish, but people manage very well. Taxes are not nearly as high as the states, for most.

People in the states are paying for the war in Iraq, the highway system, private health care (got to pay the middle man), and the military industrial complex. It's not free. People in other countries don't pay for it. The worst is education, up by at least 10% every year.

Do you need a car? Two? Really? I don't, nor does anyone around me. It's a luxury, people pay $200 a month for a parking space. There is no public parking. It's all private, pay as you go.

My daughter's daycare center is only a 3 minute walk from my condo, her elementary school is 8 minutes away. I could go on about how convenient the public services are, but I'm sure you get the point. People here enjoy the government working FOR the people. Sure, it costs a little more here and there, but in the end it is actually cheaper.

Guest's picture
Sinister Minister

So the whole standard of living thing boils down to whether or not I have I color TV.

Hot damn I've made it.

Guest's picture
Frustrated in FL

I find it very sad that individuals are unable to empathize with those who have it more difficult than they financially. There is so much of a "pull yourself up by your bootstraps you lazy bugger" mentality. This is extremely interesting when you consider how hight the per-capita debt is in this country. People live off of their credit cards and finance their homes with "interest only" loans. Most people pay the minimum payment on their credit cards each month, while lambasting others who do not live as they do. The American mindset needs to change. Everyone, regardless of their income, is a human being deserving of kindness and respect.

I believe strongly in living simply and frugally. If we haven't saved sufficiently for a purchase, we wait until we have. We don't use credit cards. We follow a monthly budget plan, which we adjust in the case of unexpected expenses. We share one car, and walk or bike. At the same time, I also believe in helping others. If I have extra vegetables or whatnot, I share with my friends and family rather than letting it go to waste. My family lives comfortably, but our income is well over the poverty line.

There has been a great deal of research on "how one can live on a limited means". The truth is, however, that often people who have more resources are more capable of living on less. One example- since we have a car, I can drive to the wholesale produce market to purchase vegetables and fruit at a fraction of the cost of a grocery. Many lower income areas in Tampa do not have a grocery within a 3 mile radius, so those who have to walk or bike have to rely on high priced items at convenience stores. When I dropped items off at the Salvation Army, I noticed that the prices for clothing and household goods were as or more expensive than Walmart, Target, etc..Once again, location plays a role. If you don't have a car, those options aren't available. Tampa has an almost non-existent public transport system.--enough said. How far you can go affects what jobs are available to you, and can limit your choices. Most of the urban US is not like the urban areas in Japan or elsewhere. There is a great deal of sprawl and little to no public transport. If you are in a city with public transport and where much is in walking distance, then you have more options.

For people trying to live week to week or month to month, up and moving to another part of the country is not a viable option. Also in many of those areas where cost of living is cheaper, few jobs are available.

I am all for voluntary simplicity. I do however firmly believe that we need to do more for each other. We need to spend less time criticizing, and more time getting out in the community and helping. I don't mean giving money. I mean giving something more important, time. Libraries are always looking for volunteer tutors for adult literacy and English for Speakers of other Languages. Habitat for Humanity is an amazing organization that always needs volunteers. There are so many ways to help. In the end it is working together to help one another which strengthens and enriches us all.

Guest's picture
rps

Yeah, you can live in a tiny, cheap apartment and walk or take the bus everywhere like people did in 1950 fairly cheaply, at least here in flyover country. The difference is that there's been an increase in crime rates (understatement of the decade) since then. You are risking life and limb if you do so in a way that you weren't back then. The whole point of suburbanization is to escape the pathologies that have exploded among the poor since the 1960s. It may be possible for a family of four to live in an urban slum on minimum wage, but the shittiness of that situation is far beyond that of your car-deprived 1950s family. If a neighborhood has a tolerably low crime rate, then the cost of a smallish two-bedroom apartment + the gas and power bill would account for the great majority of a minimum wage paycheck, if not all of it.

To the people who brought up illegal immigrants, they usually cram 8 or so guys (not families, guys) into small apartments and work lots of hours. This is certainly possible, but is again a far crappier situation that the minimum-wage bread earner who at least had a single-family dwelling, as humble as it may have been.

Guest's picture
Guest

All the comments made me feel better about being a single woman, fresh out of a bad relationship, starting only with debt and a car. I make $9 an hour and in only four months time I was able to move from my brother's broken futon to my own studio apartment. I have hot water, basic cable, a phone, AND just found a computer by the dumpster that works (!) so I can comunicate with the outside world (information CAN improve the quality of one's life). My food bill is about 12% of my income (90% prepared healthily at home - no microwave). My rent is about 32% and credit card debt 14%. I could probably pay out of pocket (like I have all of my adult life earning less than $12,000 a year)for dental needs. Maybe by the time I need medical, I won't mind dying (just the pain). I feel rich after reading about the way people lived when I was born (1966). And I know the reality of homelessness. I am truely glad I found this website. I had been feeling a little discontent about my job. At least I have one. (I still feel sorry for the poor people who want a lot of babies. Liberty for all? No. I don't really feel bad for them. Poor people should't make babies.)

Guest's picture
Martin

People don't seem to see the point that the author was talking about a 50's style of life. Yes rent is alot more money, but there are no hot waterless shacks to live in anymore. Because everyone has a car now, the mainstream psychology now is that its ok to have to drive 15 minutes to get to a supermarket. A high standard of living is basically forced upon us now.
Yes there are some people who really do have a tough life, but these are mostly caused by serious disasters. While growing up, it was just me my mom and my older sister. We lived in projects, but found that they were really only economical for people on welfare. We started renting out floors of other peoples houses, having 2 families in one house. It got really stressful, but it worked. Me and my sister both started working at the age of 16, and havent stopped since. But my mom didn't take any of our money, it was for our own private use, since believes strongly that the primary income should be enough for a family.
Now things are slightly better. I've had cars, but decided insurance wasn't worth it, so now I walk to college and borrow my moms car when I can. My sisters gotten married and now has her own house. My mom has worked the same job for over 10 years now, slowly moving up in the medical field (started at a nursing home, became an assistant nurse at a hospital, and has gotten a few promotions there). Yes, things are not always easy, and unexpected expensives can be killer. But we have all the basics, avoid debt, and save money where we can.

Why can't people walk in the winter? I recall pictures of children walking in snow with no shoes in my history classes, going to there factory job for the next 12 hours(more like late 19th century, but it still happened). People complain about insurance costs, while 50+ years ago people just died slowly of mystery illnesses. The idea isn't that its EASY to live on a small income in America, just thats its a hell of a lot better then it once was.

Guest's picture
Guest

I was a kid in the 1950's. We had a car, running water, indoor plumbing, a TV etc. My mother worked after we kids were in school. It wasn't The Flintstones. What I don't remember having is health insurance. I know for sure that there wasn't any Medicare or Medicaid, because I remember how opposed the doctors were to the idea of "socialized medicine."(Not to mention the Republicans and conservative Democrats) People didn't take much medicine, to my knowledge, and very seldom went to the doctor. If you broke your arm or something you did, but that was about it. When that happened, you paid the doctor and hospital over time--they didn't demand immediate payment. Hardly anyone was fat--look at crowd scenes from that era--so hardly anyone had diabetes, heart disease, etc. and hardly anyone took those multitudes of drugs that the drug companies push in the media now and which provide a great source of ongoing profit. There were few people taking drugs for emotional illnesses--the motto would have been to suck it up and don't bother people with it, everybody has troubles. I'm not at all saying it was better, just a very different culture. People weren't afraid of not having health insurance then, and maybe we ought to start thinking about whether we need to be so terrified of it now. I'm not one for conspiracy theories, but the fear of not having health insurance is keeping a whole lot of people working ten and twelve hour days and six or seven day weeks for fear of getting fired and losing it.

Guest's picture
Guest

Just to clear up something, the homicide rate in the US is DOWN from what it was in 1919 and 1929, so if you want to walk, you're LESS likely to get murdered now than you were back when people walked everywhere. TV alters our perceptions of our safety.

Guest's picture
Jasi

I see your point and I agree. My husband and I were raised in the same standard and hoped to raise our children in similar comfort. With prices rising, doing so in our hometown was an impossibility for us at present. We chose instead to move out to a less expensive and more rural location. We also scaled down (items, clutter, extras) and shopped smart. And now we're able to live better than our parents had at the time, on less and in a beautiful environment. Options for middle class families are really boundless in creativity if you are willing to research and stick to.

Guest's picture
Pino

You should compare the way the poor live today with the conspicious consumers, Not the poor in the 50's. Compare the capitalist class with the working class, working poor class and underclass. After comparing those classes tell me if you still think the working-underclass has high expectation.

Guest's picture
Wingsofarbla

Pffft standards imposed by law have always been something of joke to me.

Outhouses are still the law at Alaska. I support those as well enough. Toilets overflow duh! Nice to have a backup plan.

I think the laws some places that state someone must have plumbing or a house be unfit to live in [resulting with homelessness] rather than not allowing them to stay drawing from a creek or branch nearby and boiling be ridiculous!

Guest's picture

If this was in fact 1960 you could use the same spiel for how good we had it, and how expensive we were living compared to 20's standards.

Managing a budget appropriately is something learned over time .. or for some people.. never.

Guest's picture
Guest

Why don't you try living the way you've described?

Someone has: read Barbara Ehrenreich's book Nickel and Dimed.

She tried living on a minimum wage job in the Florida Panhandle, as a single person starting from nothing. Of course, she didn't really have it as bad as these people, because she didn't cancel her health insurance (although she didn't use it while doing the "experiment"). And she didn't erase her education or her family support network, although again, she did her best not to use these.

By the time she quit, she was suffering from carpel tunnel and back problems, on her way to doing herself permanent damage. (Which would have been the end of her job.) (And years later, she required treatment for cancer, which almost certainly would have killed her had she been real working poor.)

Yes, it's possible to live on minimum wage: I've done it. But only if you've had a lot of good breaks up to that point, if you've got family support (not necessarily monetary) and good health and good luck. If any one thing goes wrong -- you get sick, you get robbed, you get raped, etc. you're sunk.

You also don't mention the increase in single parent households. For reasons beyond my control (I'm a young widow), I'm raising 2 little kids on my income. The baby's daycare alone costs more than $700/month. Fit that into your budget! I guess that in the 1950's I would have to move in with family (if I had any). Or give my kids up for adoption... or maybe become a prostitute... the options aren't so pretty when you start putting it that way. The bottom line is that welfare is the price we as a society pay to keep families together; to keep children with their parents.

One should never confuse deliberately *reducing* one's expenses to minimum-wage levels (when you're in a position of health and prosperity) with starting from scratch at minimum wage. It's a whole different situation.

Philip Brewer's picture

@ Guest:

I agree with you completely.  In fact, I've written on exactly that topic in a post called Voluntary simplicity versus poverty.

The Barbara Ehrenreich book you mention, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America is fascinating, although I was never quite comfortable with the way she'd make poor choices that undermined her success--I thought it weakened her point.  If she'd tried as hard as she could to make a success of living in mock poverty and almost succeeded, I think it would have made a much more powerful statement than to make unwise choices (never looking for a roommate to split expenses, for example), fail, and then say, "See--it's impossible!"

Guest's picture
Guest

Yes, I felt the same way, that some of her choices were bad and undermined her point. I guess what I came away with was not that it is impossible to pull one's self out of poverty -- obviously a few people do it -- but that to do so requires an iron will to defer every tiny bit of gratification (damn hard when your life sucks), coupled with physical stamina and just plain luck. Most of us like to think we would make better choices in that situation, but most of us are deluding ourselves.

I think she does do an excellent job of illustrating a point you made in your other article (thanks for the link!) about how being poor makes life more expensive: the people living at the motel because they couldn't afford a security deposit for an apartment, the fast food meals eaten for lack of basic kitchen equipment, etc. Other manifestations of this are paying to have checks cashed and to pay utility bills because you can't open a bank account (no min. deposit, or no banks in your area); doing grocery shopping at convenience stores because there are no grocery stores in the neighborhood; and so on. And you can never take advantage of any economy of scale, whether it's bulk buying at the grocery store or a ten-ride bus pass, because your budget is so limited. The lack of a cushion is what makes life simultaneously more expensive and more risky. Once you have that cushion, once you "get ahead", you can live much more cheaply. It's a whole different situation.

Anyway, I see you know all this. :-)
Thanks for the response.

Guest's picture
Guest, Vancouver

At the risk of breathtaking oversimplification...

In the 1950's and 60's my father's income as an average tradesman could support himself, his wife, four children, pay for the house, the car, the summer vacation and the countless large and small necessities and little luxuries it took to be 'middle class.'

In the late 70's as a clerk in the service sector I could afford an apartment, pay the utilities with ease, have plenty of spending money for my pastimes, save for school and for holidays, and still have something left over.

This was on a part-time job, by the way.

Today, as a middle-aged man, over the past five years of full employment--admittedly at the lower end of the scale--over half my income has gone to rent alone for just ROOMS, and the rest is taken up by food and public transportation, such as it's called where I live.

And that's it. Period. The End. Note no budget for clothing, utilities, healthcare, spouses, children, rainy days, emergencies or insurrections. Wages minus rent and food equals absolute zero.

And this is fulltime work.

Even bearing in mind the difference in pay scale between such an occupation as my father practiced, and the jobs open to degree bearing, liberal educated good-for-littles as myself, one would think that if in one time a single man could pay for himself and a large family, a few years later another man could at least earn a proportional degree of comfort just for himself, but this is no longer the case.

So, despite the many fascinating accounts of how frugality can beat all (one is reminded of that scene in 'The Pink Panther' where Inspector Clouseau explains his wife's ability to buy mink comes from care with the housekeeping money) and dubious comparisons between living in Hickville, Arkansas and the Big Apple, or between life in the third world and in this one, I think the overwhelming conclusion to reach is that in North America we are on something of a downward trend, and no amount of cell phones, MP3 players and other digital toys are going to change the fact that for many people new shoes are now a luxury.

What is more disturbing--as demonstrated in some responses here--is how present society--which for much of the twentieth century had been fiercely egalitarian--now comes to think of working poverty as acceptable, as 'okay', as 'normal' and even 'serves them right'. And, needless to say, by most political figures, as highly desirable.

By the way, why has there been so little comment on the political factors behind the current cost and standard of living?

Thanks to Guest #49 for the great summary of the hidden costs of poverty. It describes many people's lives to a T.

Guest, Vancouver

Guest's picture
Guest

I know this is an older article now and the bickering has seemingly settled down by now. But a lot of people were saying "prove it," so I'll give you a glimpse into my life in Naples, FL, surrounded by all these more...afluent people.

Now, I admit off the bat that I have a number of advantages here. I am NOT trying to support a family, only myself. I have a college education and will likely not be in this situation for long, at least not when the economy turns around. I have an 11-year old car that was paid for in cash and is still in great shape. I have a bicycle, albeit a little old and rusty in some spots. It still works just fine, though! I also have a (small) emergency fund built up to cover some minor disruptions.

Anyways, working two part-time jobs (totalling +/- 40 hours/week) and earning $7.25/hr, I pull in roughly $1050/month after taxes, social security withdrawals, etc. My housing expenses include $350/month for an apartment that I share with one other individual and $80/month for utilities (electricity and, to my consternation, cable). Water is included in the rent.

Food sets me back an average of $146/month and transportation about $60/month to fuel up my car--to and from work mainly. My bike and my own two feet are there for most everything else. Car insurance, due to the car being in my mother's name to save money until I turn 25 (I send her the check every month), runs me $26.95/month for liability coverage. A cell-phone costs me $10/month (look into Net-10 and other prepaid phones if you are like me and hardly ever use the thing). I also set aside $20/month for clothing to replace used-up shirts, pants, or to save for new shoes. I usually don't spend that $20, but it's there just in case I need to swing by Goodwill.

Lasty, I am paying five different student loans, which total $166/month for minimum payments on a standard 10-year plan.

If you total the numbers up, my monthly expenses add up to $858.95, leaving me about $200 extra/month, which I use a little of for "fun," a little of for short-term savings (to cover family birthday and Christmas gifts and cheap regular auto-repairs), and some for long-term savings (retirement savings and a new to me used car fund for when this one finally croaks). Anything I have left over goes towards paying that little bit more down on my student loans.

As I said, I have nobody to support but myself. However, I also have a few "luxuries". If I could convince my roommate to drop the cable, I'd have a little more money for savings, as well. I could see getting two people by on my budget if not for some of my savings and if we stretched things a little more. Just maybe three if I didn't have these student loans, but I'm not so sure about four!

Guest's picture
Guest

I think many people don't consider the impact smoking and drinking has on their finances. That is probably the difference in more cases than not (not considering medical problems) between getting by and not getting by. I bet many people feel those things are off-limits to discussion due to the lack of addressing them here or anywhere else I've seen. I think there is a double standard. I get bad-mouthed because I have plenty because I don't do those two things, but someone who does do those things feel they have all the right to gripe about their situation.

Guest's picture
Randall

As a college history professor, I make a decent income, however, my father's one income in the sixties FAR surpassed the buying power I have now. (I have a much higher comparable job than he did) Our 3200 square foot home we had as a child, in an upscale neighborhood, in suburban America cost them LESS than 25,000 dollars. We DID have two cars (in fact three). Where it took my father a year and a half to earn enough to equal the value of our house, it takes me four. Today, the house my wife and I both pay for is smaller than my parent's home and cost us a half million.
Economic historians will tell you that the decline of the American way of life came in the late sixties, and from everything I have read that is pretty much fact.
I applaud your spin, but unfortunately it is only that, a spin. Middle class standards have dropped due in part to supply side economics which saw corporate America expand. Companies like Wal-Mart displaced local business, displacing upper middle class owners. Wages HAVE NOT kept up with inflation, for example, when I started driving, gas was $.69 a gallon. It went to $1.00 by the late 70s. Gas was a 35 cents in 1969, I paid 3.15 yesterday.
But the argument can be settle relatively easy. Just compare wages vs relative costs. Average wage in 69 was 9.4k, houses averaged 23k, cars 3k, gas 35 cents, bread 25 cents, hamburger meat 75 cents/lb. In 2008, average wage was 40k, houses averaged 238k, cars 28k, gas 3.05 (widely fluctuating to as high as 4.10) bread 2.79, Hamburger meat 3.99/lb.
Simple math would tell you that 9.4k into 40k is about 1/4. So we are making four times what we made in 1969 (remember, it gets BETTER the further back we go) The problem with phil's assumptions is this, houses went up TEN x, cars went up 9x, gas 9x, bread 11x, hamburger meat 5x. Pretty easy argument to defeat Phil. Throw in that insurance for cars was NOT mandatory back then, that the price of a ticket for not wearing your seat belt cost you money today and wouldn't have been a ticket then (we didn't have seat belts.)
I applaud your faulty logic for being cheery, but alas, not very well researched.
One last factor that should be considered with makes your argument even more faulty, is how the average income has been calculated. Although the average income in 69 was 9k, there were fewer individuals below poverty income. Today's figure has a small number of individuals making such an enormous amount of wealth that the medium is skewed and there are a larger number of substandard incomes. In otherwords, the middle class has shrunk considerably.

Philip Brewer's picture

It's a tough calculation to make, because in so many cases the comparisons aren't equal.  But take cars for an example.  A car that you might have bought in 1960 would have been new(ish) for a couple of years, then it would have been old for a couple of years, and then it would have been a rusted-out beater for a couple of years.  (At least, that's what I remember happening with my parent's cars.)  My first car, on the other hand, lasted for 17 years, and my wife's first car is just about to hit 20.  So, yes, they cost more (although not, I think, 9 times as much), but they're much better cars--they last longer, they're safer, they use less fuel, take less maintenance, and so on.

Which was exactly my point.  It would be tough to find a way to live at a 1960 standard of living--a car that dangerous would be illegal to sell, medical care that poor would be malpractice, there aren't as many people taking in boarders or people who want to form car pools, and so on.  But if you could push your standard of living down that far, you could support it on a single minimum-wage salary.

Guest's picture
Guest7

Randall: you pay $3.99/lb for hamburger? You should shop around more, dude.

And living standards have not declined since the 60's. Total compensation (not just wages) has roughly increased along with productivity growth.

Guest's picture
JB

I am 45 years old, I live in central Pennsylvania and I own my own home, a half of a duplex, a 125 year old coal mining company house.

I bought this house from my grandparents estate for $5000 and I have put $35,000 into it so far. That is doing all the work myself and hiring private contractors to do the rest of the work.

I have had 65 employers in my life. Some people say I cannot hold onto a job. The only reason I have any money is because I was hurt while working, where a logging truck ran into the back of my car while I was employed changing electric meters as a subcontractor for a electric co/op locally.

The electric company pays their linemen about $60,000 - $80,000 a year and union rules states that there has to be two people in the truck at all times. I was doing the same job they would have had to do - by myself with no phone or radio for $8.50 a hour.

The logging truck that hit me was owned by a large timber company that had a saw mill 20 miles down the road that employed over 100 people directly and another 200 indirectly.

Taking a settlement out of court for a lifetime of pain and suffering, the insurance company gave me $99,000 and told me to move on with my life.

That was how I got the money to buy my own home and live since then 6 years since the settlement.

I have been willing to work most any job and I have traveled as far as 120 miles one way each way every day for as little as minimum wage - wearing out many vehicles in the 25 years that I have worked.

I am not a bum and I am willing to work!

3 years ago I worked for a corporation called Siemens as a temporary worker through a employment agency. They told me I had to work 65 hours a week for the next 9 months before they would even hire me and give me any benefits. By that time, they easily could have found a reason why to get rid of me or not hire me and they would have their work done for nothing and have paid me nothing for doing it.

I made a stink and they called the agency I worked for and told them to tell me not to come back. I had found a job down the road at a machine shop - working for .16 cents less a hour that had no minimum amount of hours that you had to work and hired me directly on the spot.

It was almost 70 miles one way from my home, and at that time I was renting a identical half a house for $350 a month and could not afford to move to the city of Pittsburgh. So I had to drive it every day and it cost me $26 a day in gasoline.

The shop was union and they charged $500 to join the union.
The shop was located in a town that had a ambulance service that was out of money and so every person working in that town was charged a $100 a year ambulance fee.
The town also charged a $80 a year - right to work in that town fee.
It was going to cost me $450 a month to have some type of crappy insurance that didn't cover anything and didn't pay for anything, due to the fact that it was through UPMC and I lived so far away that I would have had to drive to Pittsburgh if I got hurt or sick and was at home.

I found that I could not make a go of it working 40 hours a week, so I increased my work to 50 hours a week. When I found that I could not make a go of it working 50 hours a week, I started working 60 hours a week. When I found out that I could not make a go of it working 60 hours a week, I increased my work to 70 hours a week.

I am a single person, living alone with almost no bills and no credit cards. Just that after all the deductions from my pay - I was not making $60 a week.

Finally the transmission in my truck went out and I had to buy a used vehicle $3800.00 I also had to pay $1200 to get the transmission repaired, which took 3 transmissions at the garages and 3 months to get repaired the right way.

1 - used transmission lasted 3 days and cost $500 just to have it put in. 1 - rebuilt transmission went 12 miles before the line fell off and all the fluid pumped out and I had to drive it back to the garage and they had to rebuild it a second time.

I ended up quitting my job and I didn't even go in the last day of work. The other employees were so jealous of me because I owned my own tools and I had a nice vehicle and I was working all kinds of overtime that they complained to the employer and he cut my hours back down to 40 - so I would not have been able to make a go of it anyways.

That was 3 years ago and I have not since found any type of gainful employment. I look for work 4 hours on average a day and last year while getting my car inspected - after the windshield was broke by a stone chip, a 98 year old woman with Alzheimer's ran into the back of my car and my back was re injured and the insurance company said I had a pre existing condition and offered me $500 as a settlement and my lawyer said that he thought that I should take it.

I am not, nor have I ever been able to get any public assistance because I have some money left in the bank from the settlement 6 years ago from the first automobile accident.

I signed off on all benefits and rights from the first accident and I pay for my pain medications out of my own pocket along with office visits for my doctor.

If it was not for Deer meat and hunting in the wintertime and a vegetable garden in the summertime, I would not be able to afford food. Right now my budget is about $40 a week for milk and day old bread and eggs and crackers and soup. I cannot afford to buy even meat other then hot dogs or occasionally ground meat. I cannot afford to go out to eat. I cannot afford to buy my family members Christmas presents.

I feel like a real bum.

Twice a month, I round up all my bills and I get out my checkbook and I pay everything off. About every month, I have to remove $1000 from my saving and put it into my checking account to cover my bills.

Slowly buy surely every month I deplete more and more of my savings. The annalists say that this recession will be a long one and not to expect any relief for at least the next 6 years.

Even when the government gave out free money with the stimulus checks, I was not eligible because I had no income to declare.

I couldn't explain to the people that I worked with - who all had wives or girlfriends that they lived with - that a person cannot live on a one income family when that person is not making even the minimum amount of money necessary to live on - which in Pittsburgh is way more than $11 a hour.

The employer was charging thousands of dollars to get the steel mills repair work done in this shop and he was paying me a couple of hundred dollars a week. The amount of money I made him in 4 hours paid my whole weeks salary.

I do not have a family - because I do not make enough money to support a family. I do not have a girlfriend because I do not make enough money to be able to take a woman out on a date or show her a good time and I do not know any women that would just want to sit around my house and look at my computer and watch tv and scrimp and save all day. Surely they would leave and find themselves a man that would take them out and show them a good time and maybe even hire a maid so they wouldn't have to cook or clean and so they could get a part time job so they wouldn't have to ask me for spending money.

The way I see it, as long as women work and people depends on a two income family to make ends meet, we are never going to get ahead in this world. Basically what has to happen is for the men folk to tell the women to stay home and keep them barefoot and pregnant. Force the employers to raise the wages of the men and force the employers to give Blue Cross / Blue Shield insurance with no co pay as a standard form of insurance.

Make men work to the age of 70 and make people save a small portion of the money they make. If you take the women out of the workforce, you will have 50% more jobs for the men to work at.

At the same time, once you force the women to stay home, and you take that easy spending money away from them. You will get rid of 99% of the lesbianism because women won't have money to take each other out and show each other a good time and provide for each other - so they will need a man to take care of them.

If you want to live in the 1950's - you have to have the same workforce as in the 1950's. If a woman is a school teacher and she becomes pregnant or gets married, you force her to stay at home and give up her job. Give the job to the man - who now has to work and provide for the family.

All of a sudden you will get rid of single parent families, because when women cannot get public assistance, they will not spread their legs to every Tom, Dick and Harry and they will not let themselves get pregnant and they will hold onto a man - once they do get married and get pregnant - because there will be no security net for them to fall back on if things gets hard or things don't work out the way they think that they should.

When women have too many options, they can come and go as they please and they can pick and choose who they want to be with and when they are done they can break up with that guy and move on and ruin someone Else's life.

My way of thinking, if you cannot afford to leave, where are you going to go? If you cannot afford to have kids - then how are you going to take care of the ones that you already have.

It is the crazy women in this world that has this world all messed up!

Go back to the 40's and 50's and see how many women were single parents and how many of the women were forced to find husbands to take care of them, even if the man in their life left them.

We can straighten this country out - but it isn't going to be easy.

Guest's picture
Daisy

To JB:

I am a woman and you do make a great point about women not working. Too bad your message will likely get lost because of the disrespectful way you said it. Also, when men don't step up to the plate, women will. What other choice do we have? This is the fault of BOTH men and women. Women ought to expect more from men and be willing to be ladies.

About your own situation...if you received $99,000, why didn't you put that into education and/or training for a new field??? One where you would not have to physically labor so much or drive such great distances?

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Guest

WOW. Not sure that having money will help you find a woman.

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People don't want to hear it but it's the feds who are responsible for most of our troubles.

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Did you take into account that most Americans lived an agrarian lifestyle also?

Food costing a third of one's income seems high.

My parents both grew up on farms in rural Kentucky in the 1950s. This was before rural electrification got everyone here "on the grid". Before that, there *was no grid*.

You can maintain a decent lifestyle and not go hungry if you have no electricity, and car manufacturers were still designing cars that the average person could afford to pay cash for, without taking on a HELOC. Remember, cars in the 1950s didn't put you into debt for 15 years.

Also, living on the farm, you grew most of your own food. My dad remembers with laughter that some school food program was put into place in his rural, small town school, to provide free lunches for all the students from poor rural families. The thought was that they were probably going hungry, since the average income was so low in their county. The irony is they had plenty to eat, because their families were farmers!

Of course, winters were ice cold, and after dark you had only the light of kerosene lanterns to read by. If you're a farm boy you won't stay up late after dark anyway, since you have to get up before dawn to milk the cows. Going to bed on a cold January night was a pain, 'though. Granny would prepare hot coals in a cast iron "bed warmer" thingy that you would stick under your blankets to keep your feet warm. No electricity = no heat and no electric blankets.

Cooking was done on a wood stove, which also kept the room warm enough for most family activities until bedtime. The woodlot on the farm supplied their fuel, so they didn't have to buy wood. There was no indoor plumbing - people had well water, and outhouses. My grandfather sprinkled lime I think around the outhouse. I'm not sure what else he had to do to keep the outhouses clean. I suspect it wasn't good for the well water, and maybe there were occasional cholera outbreaks?

Basically, you could probably live okay on minimum wage if you were living Amish-style on a family farm that was mortgage free and had been in your family for generations, and didn't need a car daily, so you could just hitch a ride with someone else into town once a week to run errands. My parents rode a school bus to go to school, no helicopter soccer moms driving them to soccer practice or piano lessons either. My mom took piano lessons from a neighbor who lived on the same street.

City living in the 1950s is another story, but one I know less about, personally, since I come from an agrarian state and live a suburban type of lifestyle in a small city of under 250K people.

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You need to do more research before you write such an article. There is a very high population of homeless in this country that never existed in such numbers before the early 1980's. The numbers are much higher than the stats they have as most middle class newly homeless, live in their cars and eat at the Shelters. There is a very large number that are hungry in this country as well. This is happening all across America and continues to get worse as I write. The Middle Class is living from paycheck to paycheck and all they need to have is a catastrophic illness or a catastrophic blow from nature and they are homeless and not even able to live in a shack. It's a no-brainer that health care has improved as it will continue to do, however, that does not mean that "people are living better". Please do your research.

Philip Brewer's picture

Things have gotten worse since I wrote this article, back in 2007, but I still stand by it.

Basically, I agree with your assessment of current conditions. Poverty and homelessness are worse and the middle class live a more precarious life than they did (except during the heyday of social safety net, from the late 1930s until 1990 or so). A lot of of people are only one severe illness or injury, one natural disaster, one divorce, one pink slip away from falling out of the middle class. But that was always true for people who lacked a backup—a union, a family, an alternative skill set.

However, I think you're arguing against something I never said. I didn't say that people were living better. What I said was that way a lot of people lived in the 1950s would be considered "living in poverty" today. I stand by that.

What's different is that, in those days, standards of living were rising. Today, living standards are falling. That's a big difference.