A Better World For Our Children?

This has been a pretty disappointing day considering the results from last month’s U.S. elections.  Except for a win for raising the minimum wage here in Nebraska, it was pretty much a disaster for a liberal living among the barbarians.

This led to me posting a bunch of comments on Facebook about the current state of politics.  One of the posts I commented on was one by Amanda Marcotte on her article at her Pandagon blog.

My initial comment was:

“I live in Nebraska and voted to raise the minimum wage. Of course none of my picks (Democrats all) were elected. Still, I am encouraged that a sizable majority, about 60%, of voters voted to raise the minimum wage. A good number of those also likely voted Republican. The benefit here is that the Republicans who were elected will have to look at the minimum wage vote and realize that a majority of their constituents supported that. That should help move their position on the minimum wage closer to what the voters actually want. At least we can hope that will happen. Sadly, corporate money often talks louder than the voters.”

Amanda’s response to my comment was:

“Not to be a bummer, Jay, but if I were a Republican, I would look at this election and say, “Clearly having voters hate my policies doesn’t discourage them from voting for me.” Republicans realize they can dish out all sorts of bullshit, policy-wise, and voters won’t notice or will blame Democrats for it.”

And my response to her response was:

“I know this is most likely true, but I can’t help but hope that it might at least give some of them pause. Sadly, I think our political process and resulting government is broken, maybe irrevocably. I’ll keep fighting the good fight as long as I feel I can make a difference. I really hope the pendulum swings back to something more moderate. Last time our country faced a dilemma like this it took a great depression and a world war to effect any change. That is something I just couldn’t deal with. I’ve worked hard all my life to end up worse off than my parents were while having to work longer and for less relative pay. I’ve got 15 years to retirement and absolutely nothing to show for it because I’ve never had enough left over from just trying to keep up with monthly expenses. Unfortunately, I fear it may reach a point where emigration becomes the better option, at least if I want to live out the rest of my life in some semblance of peace and happiness. But, I’m digressing into a rant about my personal problems. They do, however, represent a situation that many Americans find themselves in, so maybe it’s relevant to this conversation after all.”

This lead her to say:

“I’m extremely sorry about that, Jay. And I agree whole-heartedly. Last night, watching the returns come in, all I could think was how much so many older Americans hate their children and want to burn this country down so we inherit garbage. It’s working.”

This pushed my parenting button:

“I’m not one of those who hate my children. I fear for them. The idea that I’m leaving behind a world that is worse than the one I grew up in is so disheartening. My consolation is that I know that I’ve instilled good values in them. My daughter is a strong, confident, take-no-prisoners young woman who believes that she can do and be anything she chooses. My son, well, he has issues, but he is decent and has a good heart. My step-daughter has a beautiful 6 month old daughter who I hope with all my heart will grow up in a society where being a woman is valued just as much as being a man. Again, I digress. Instead of dumping this here, I need to head over to groundedparents.com and write up a blog post about this.”

You can probably guess by now that this is exactly what I’m going to do, or am doing, or have since done since you are reading this now.

When I was growing up, my father worked a 9-5 job as a white collar worker.  He worked for a large, international company when most employees worked for their entire careers at a single company. They had good health benefits and a pretty sweet pension.

We lived the solid middle class dream in a nice house in the suburbs.  Life was great.  I went to good schools, got cool gifts for birthdays and Christmas, had a TV and an AM/FM, phonograph/8-track stereo in my room.  I had a nifty 35mm camera and a darkroom in my closet to develop and print film.  There was always food on the table.  When I was 16, I got my dad’s old car when he bought a new one. We took yearly vacations to Cape Cod, Canada, Texas, and Washington D.C.  We never wanted for anything.

My family achieved this on my father’s salary alone.  He rarely worked late and was almost always home by 6:00pm sharp.  Working on a weekend was unheard of.

When my father had to retire due to medical reason, he was making about $27,000 a year.  In today’s dollars that works out to be almost $78,0000 (http://data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/cpicalc.pl).  Today, I make a little more that 80% of what my father made, doing a job that is about equal in salary to the job my dad did.

No money or savings
No money or savings

Image by 401(K) 2013. Edited by the author.

So, my earning power is less that what my father made by a pretty significant margin.  He had an Associates degree, I have a BA.  You  may think that part of that difference is that System Administrators aren’t as rare as they used to be so aren’t paid at the same relative rate as they used to be  But I am in a pretty rare group of System Administrators because I am well versed in multiple operating systems, especially legacy systems.  This pretty much makes up for the difference.

The upshot of all this is that I have had to raise two children (just as my parents did) on 20% less income than my family had when I was growing up.  My father was able to save money and put money into his pension.  I have never had enough left over after paying bills and buying food to be able to do this, except for short periods of time.  Those periods usually ended when a large, unexpected expense would wipe out our savings.  This doesn’t count the three times I’ve been laid off over the course of my career, something my father never had to worry about.  All this makes me anxious for the future that my children face.

My daughter is 16 and she is looking into colleges to attend.  The tuition costs are insane.  She went to visit one college a few weeks ago.  It is a private college which has what is considered to be a very reasonable tuition for a school of it’s kind: $47,000 a year!  I could buy three cars for that.  The tuition over the course of 4 years is enough to buy a pretty nice house.  The problem, of course, is that for my daughter to be able to afford tuition like this would mean taking out significant student loans.  She would probably have to spend the rest of her working life paying them off.  Not a good outlook.  A state school is more reasonable, but still pretty expensive.  Student loans would still be needed.

Debt ball and chain
Debt ball and chain

Image by StockMonkeys.com

The real concern I have, though, is that our government is quickly becoming a plutocracy, if it isn’t one already.  Big money controls everything from state legislatures to the U.S. Congress.  Many Federal and Supreme Court justices have close ties to industry.  Even the President must bend to appease the banks and corporations since they control the flow of money throughout the entire economy.

Income inequality continues to grow.  Where will this leave my children when they enter the workforce?  Will they be able to own a house?  Will they be able to support a family?  Already most families need both parents to work (assuming there are two parents in the home) in order to afford to live anything like the middle class American dream. This means less time parents spend with their kids.

Part of the reason I don’t have the savings and retirement put away is because my ex-wife and I made the choice that whoever was making the most when we had children would stay at home to take care of them. I was the one with the bigger paycheck, so I worked.  Even then I made the sacrifice of working the night shift so I was there for my kids when they got home from school everyday.  We know we would be sacrificing a lot financially, but to us it was worth it.  Even with the financial hardships I still face, I still believe it was worth it.

My children have had time with me and their mother that many kids don’t get.   This has given them confidence and a sense of security and love that will follow them throughout their lives and that they will likely pass on to their children.

We made that sacrifice, but considering the salary I was making, we shouldn’t have had to.  Had salaries kept up with the cost of living, I would likely be able to be living the same middle class existence that my family did when I grew up.  Because salaries haven’t kept up with the cost of living, most families now have to make the same difficult decision.  The money that should have gone to salaries have instead gone to the wealthy, who continue to acquire more and more of a share of the pie that is our economic output.

GOP elephant pooping on the U.S. flag.
GOP elephant pooping on the U.S. flag.

Image by EN2008

Some people will likely feel that a parenting blog is not the place to be discussing politics, but I disagree.  Politics directly affects our ability as parents to provide for our children.  The costs of housing, food, day care (if you use it, or lack if the extra income if you don’t), tuition, and health care have all risen and continue to rise at a pace that outstrips our ability to afford them.

We have to make difficult choices that our parents didn’t. My relatively reduced income, compared to my fathers at this point in his career put me well behind where I could and should have been. I can’t afford to pay to send my daughter on school trips to Washington D.C. and other places. She had to have a well-to-do uncle pay for her Show Choir outfit because I didn’t have the money to pay for it. My son needed someone to co-sign to rent an apartment, but my credit sucks. My kids have a stack IOUs for birthday gifts that couldn’t be bought.  I haven’t taken my family on a vacation in over 12 years and I don’t see that happening anytime in the near future.

As I said in my last Facebook comment above, my one real consolation is that I know that I have raised my children to be confident in themselves and have instilled in them the importance of family.  Thasee it as the norm that we love and care for one another.  It may not sound like much to some, but I believe it will make a real positive difference no matter what kind of world they grow up to face.

 Featured image by DonkeyHotey


Jay is a dad, husband, and pet lover. He has a degree in Theater Arts and works as a Unix systems administrator, mainly because he has a degree in Theater Arts. He used to be a single dad, but now he is married to the perfect woman. He has two teenagers, a daughter, and a step-son. He also has an adult son. He shares his home with his wife, kids, an Australian Shepherd, and a bevy of adorable chihuahuas. He is a skeptic and humanist and tries to contribute to spreading rationality by writing about skeptical topics. You can find samples of his writing on his personal blog at Freethinking For Dummies, the JREF blog, and in Skeptical Inquirer magazine.

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One Comment

  1. Hi Jay, I know this is not the overall topic of your post, but on the subject of college, I really encourage you not to look at the price tag of the private college as the final say. Most private colleges (especially need blind ones, i.e. ones that accept students without looking at their finances) give extensive financial aid to 50% or more of their student body. The high price tag exists so that wealthier families in essence subsidize the education of less wealthy ones. I was able to pay less (and have less debt) going to a private college (and receiving 90% financial aid) than I would have had I gone to my state college. Good luck!

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