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is the average (young) worker worse off these days?

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Fall Back's picture
Fall Back
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Mar 6 2008 16:51
is the average (young) worker worse off these days?

being on the left, you get a lot about a decline in living standards for the working class. To what extent ARE absolute living standards going down?

Is someone in their 20s now worse off than 10, 20 or 30 years ago?

Would people my age have been 'better off' in economic, social and cultural terms if they'd been born in the 60s (for example).

Not asking this loaded, generally curious what people think.

Edit- typo in title fixed.

MJ's picture
MJ
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Mar 6 2008 17:09

Where? The answer is different in, say, Ireland or the US.

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Mar 6 2008 17:16

I wasn't around then & I can only speak for myself but just in the last few years work seems to have become way more scarce. When I first left school I found it very easy to get employed and nowadays it seems impossible. I have year 12 and some tertiary qualifications (incl. a traineeship) and have experience and am finding it very hard to find work. Today I was told about a position in a call centre through a job agency for $16 per hour... five or six years ago this job agency got me a similar data entry job for like $20 an hour! So in my experience it is harder. Plus rents are through the fucking roof. I am living with my folks at the moment cause getting a place on my own is not an option even if I was employed full time I don't thinK i could afford it. Not to mention even buying a house. That is my whinge. I am 25 by the way.

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Mar 6 2008 17:59

In the US it definitely feels like everyone i know is working shitty jobs, or is in college and 50,000 dollars in debt, or both. I get the impression that even the reagan youth didn't have it this bad.

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Mar 6 2008 18:15

in the UK you get the impression we're better off. But pretty much all of that is due to better and cheaper technology.

The easiest way to actually see the decline in real wages is looking at property costs. Loads of workers could buy houses 20 years ago. How many can now? In London at least the average property is what about 10 times the average wage or more? I'm pretty sure working hours are higher than 20 years ago as well, with longer commuting times as well due to more congestion and higher property costs.

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EdmontonWobbly
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Mar 6 2008 18:22

Lots of people here are making tonnes of money, McDonalds pays fifteen dollars an hour and officers hiring bonuses. Rents are through the roof though, overall I would say young workers in monetary terms have it better here than a lot of young people have had it in North America in a long time. Problem is rent is insane (our rent is equivalent to downtown Toronto now), and even bread has doubled in price since I moved here eight years ago. A lot of the work out here is really dangerous too.

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Mar 6 2008 18:51

I've no time to do a detailed reply on this but I don't think you can ignore the massive levels of consumer debt in the UK and the US. You can find some rather scary figures here. Much of the "cheap" new technology only seems so because there's plenty of credit instruments to help us pay for it.

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jef costello
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Mar 6 2008 18:57

I have more stuff and I'm relatively well off but that's more to do with my low levels of spending than anything else. I'm unlikely to ever earn equivalent wages to either of my parents and I'll never be able to afford to buy a house like the one I grew up in. I did save cash for a while but there seems little point when average house prices are rising 20 grand a year. Like most people my age(26) I've got fuck al in the way of pension as well. maybe a couple hundred each in two schemes.
My future seems fairly insecure, there's no job for life and the NHS will be gone fairly soon which wil be another big cost on top of extortionate rent prices. I really needed to have trained in a skilled profession.

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Mar 6 2008 18:59

I've got no debts apart from about £700 overdraft and student loans though.

Carousel
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Mar 6 2008 19:03
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I know for me since it seems so unrealistic i'd ever be able to afford, i just spend all my money and see no point in saving at all. And i guess more than this, people in their 20s seem less into saving

Definitely. If it can be made in China and shipped over in a big container then we’re better off in it, but the really prime stuff like land and energy are just too pricey. So, you’ve got like a Wii but it’s in a shit rented bedsit. There aren’t any jobs in subsidised industry to reward you for finding a dutiful wife/husband and settling down with your family responsibilities. There was a time when you could afford a wife, 2 kids, mortgage and bills on one man’s salary. Whether we're worse off now is a question of what we want.

Caiman del Barrio
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Mar 6 2008 19:11
jef costello wrote:
I've got no debts apart from about £700 overdraft and student loans though.

My debts:

£1250 overdraft
£500/month credit card bill
(as of summer 2009) roughly £15000 in student loan

Demagorgon's right, as far as I can see. Consumers now buy on credit and enter into payment plans, whereas previously you'd just slap the cash on the table. Basically you're tied into a constant cycle of spending and paying back.

Caiman del Barrio
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Mar 6 2008 19:15
Carousel wrote:
So, you’ve got like a Wii but it’s in a shit rented bedsit.

Someone once said to me that the difference between workign class and middle class is that the middle class saves their money. If that's the case, my entire generation is working class.

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jef costello
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Mar 6 2008 19:23
Caiman del Barrio wrote:
£500/month credit card bill
.

You pay £500 a month in interest? What the fuck did you buy?

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Mar 6 2008 19:40

yeah shit i forgot about debt! that has rocketed. we should do a user poll actually...

also fewer pensions now too.

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Mar 6 2008 19:53
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If it can be made in China and shipped over in a big container then we’re better off in it, but the really prime stuff like land and energy are just too pricey.

You lack resourcefulness Carousel, just move into the container.

Carousel
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Mar 6 2008 20:00
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yeah shit i forgot about debt! that has rocketed.

The debt is higher because we're undisciplined and irrational. Capitalism, in so far as it exists at all, is a stupidity tax. Without a nanny state to educate , house and nurse us and to protect us from money lenders some just cast themselves as victims. As slaves to their impulse to acquire status, they fail all the more at doing so.

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Consumers now buy on credit and enter into payment plans, whereas previously you'd just slap the cash on the table.

Not sure. HP, "on the never-never", catalogue payment plans etc.

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Mar 6 2008 20:42

Well, in my industry our wage increases over the past 10-15 years haven't been matching the rate of inflation. People working in my industry, marine shipping and passenger ferry workers, are certainly making less now than we were 20 years ago. I'm lucky to have a pension plan as well as a 401K. But i'm not sure how long that is going to last for me. These gains are slowly, and in some cases quickly, eroding. Housing is also another huge issue, especially in the Bay Area...and in terms of debt...I am over $30,000 in debt from school.

Most of my older co-workers, while not wealthy by any stretch, have done fairly well for themselves. Its the new folks coming into our union and the maritime industry who are going to have to fight tooth and nail to hold onto these benefits. Many of them are coming into the workforce with extreamly low expectations, and many of them can be heard saying, "well at least I'm lucky to have a job". Most have only worked very low wage service jobs, are coming out of the military, or in some cases, prison and have never had a job that they would consider working at for 30 years and retiring from. Many are looking for that kind of security, but those types of jobs are becoming fewer and far between.

Those planning to stay within the maritime or transport industry aren't expecting to work at one company or even through the same union until retirement...many people's retirement plans in the maritime industry hinge on getting into the Longshore division, becoming a Captain and/or moving into a management position or getting a public sector transportation job with the city or state.

The housing issue is huge out here. I know several people who have been working good union gigs on the waterfront for about 15 years...bought a home in Vallejo or some other Bay Area suburb....and are now loosing their homes because of the sub prime mortgage crisis. Most of the people who just joined our union 5-8 years ago are renting and barely getting by because of skyrocketing rents. These people do not expect to ever be able to afford a home in the Bay Area.

So, yea, I would say that our generation is in a worse position. I'm speaking from the point of view of someone working a traditional working class job in San Francisco...so thats a very different position than someone working a service job in Jersey. Its not a horrible position to be in, or nearly as bad as the job market in Philly (which is pitiful) but we're absolutely worse off than 20 years ago.

zarathustra
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Mar 6 2008 21:18

"Gurley" -- hopefully not as in "Gurly Flynn." A traitor to the IWW, a Bolshevik, and an idiot who was friends with American fascists.

[Totally off topic]

Convert
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Mar 7 2008 06:26

Well in NZ atleast, although im only 27, it seems that conditions for young people are much worse today than 20-30 yrs ago. Up til the 80s we had full employment and jobs were plentiful. I have heard many accounts from middle aged people that when they left school it was just a matter of picking a job you wanted rather than trying to find a job and if you didnt like it, go down the road and get another one the same day.

Until the 80s when National and Labour govts proactively went about to create unemployment all directed by the treasury and reserve bank. The reserve bank recommendation documents (not sure the proper name for them) actually say in black and white that unemployment needs to be created. This all under the guise of combatting inflation (read: breaking working class strength by offering unemployment as a powerful weapon to the bosses) .

So the money supply was restricted, increasing interest rates, thereby reducing spending, slowing economy and creating umemployment. Whilst simultaneously cutting benefits, privitising, deregulating... same old story.

Theres a couple of good docos on it 'Someone elses country' - on the take over of the labour party by the new right, and 'In a Land of Plenty' on the creation of unemployment (assisted by trade unions btw).directed by the treasury and reserve bank,

Caiman del Barrio
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Mar 7 2008 06:46
jef costello wrote:
Caiman del Barrio wrote:
£500/month credit card bill
.

You pay £500 a month in interest? What the fuck did you buy?

Mexico.

Nah seriously in real terms that's what I'm notching up since I lost my other card and suddenly rent and term fees arrived at once...plus if it's there I struggle not to spend it.

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Mar 7 2008 08:23
zarathustra wrote:
"Gurley" -- hopefully not as in "Gurly Flynn." A traitor to the IWW, a Bolshevik, and an idiot who was friends with American fascists.

[Totally off topic]

No. Its "Gurley" as in I like to wear stylish shoes, fierce makeup and I don't shy away from the color pink...all while working aboard ships, heaving dock lines, cleaning bilges and pumping raw sewage....does that answer your question ?

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Mar 7 2008 10:54

gurley, revol and zarathustra, let's keep this on topic. If you want to start a thread about Z's views on nationalism (fair play, it sounds interesting..) then start a new thread.. cheers smile

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Mar 7 2008 12:27
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some ways, such as access to consumer goods, stuff is hugely better. Even downloading aside, stuff like films, music, tvs, laptops etc are hugely more available. I mean a new dvd costs about 10 pound, a new cd about 7, a 40 Inch hd tv about 600, and a decent laptop 400. Even 15 years ago, a film (on an inferior format) was 10-15, a cd 10, a (much worse) similar sized tv thousands, and you could just forget a laptop.

I'm somewhat wary of ideas that such demand is artificially created, too. Fuck off, films, music and tv where i can see someones pimples are amazing, and having more access to them obviously improves peoples lives.

There has been definite improvements in quality of technology. I think your prices are a bit off. It depends very much what you buy and from where. In terms of PC technology, trying to keep up with the games market would mean replacing a £400 laptop every year. But the fact that a computer games market is available at all obviously highlights your point!

The general process of capitalism always leads to an advancement and cheapening of technology and well as most other consumer goods, as identified by Marx in Capital. However, the enormous expansion of consumer electronics in the last couple of decades has certainly been fuelled by overproduction. Markets for electronics (and cars, etc) in the West began to "mature" in the late 60s, early 70s and demand shifted from new demand (e.g. people buying a TV for the very first time) to replacement demand and thus slowing considerably. Accelerating technological advancement and particularly the concept of planned obsolescence has been used quite consciously to exploit the remaining markets as much as possible. This is particularly obvious in the home computer industry. In that respect, demand is certainly artificially created. Turning mobile phones into fashion accessories as well as functional items, serves the same trick. And anyone who's ever had experience of children near Christmas will know all about artificial demand in that area!

Whether these things improve peoples lives is an open question. In fact, they're probably the minimum compensation required with people facing more and more exploitation at work and an increasingly dehumanised society. They're also a factor in dehumanisation, raising the fetishisation of commodities to a fever pitch - the desire for the latest gadget (derided as materialism by the bourgeoisie) is becoming more and more of a destructive influence, IMO. At the same time, all these things are becoming less and less luxuries and more essentials. Children with home PCs and internet access do better in school than children who don't. Those without mobile phones can be socially isolated - it was missing out on the whole "txt life" of my friends that finally convinced (forced?) me to abandon my Luddite tendencies and buy one. Is a fridge today a luxury or a necessity? How about a washing machine? A kettle? All these have become widely available since the War but were initially luxuries confined to the middle and upper classes. Can we say the same today?

Marx makes the point in Capital that the value of labour power has two components, natural and social: "[The worker's] means of subsistence must therefore be sufficient to maintain him in his normal state as a labouring individual. His natural wants, such as food, clothing, fuel, and housing, vary according to the climatic and other physical conditions of his country. On the other hand, the number and extent of his so-called necessary wants, as also the modes of satisfying them, are themselves the product of historical development, and depend therefore to a great extent on the degree of civilisation of a country, more particularly on the conditions under which, and consequently on the habits and degree of comfort in which, the class of free labourers has been formed. In contradistinction therefore to the case of other commodities, there enters into the determination of the value of labour-power a historical and moral element."

In a natural sense, today's average worker with a washing machine, TV, etc. may be better off than the worker before the war. But in a social sense, it can be argued they only have the minimum required to meet the "historical and moral elements" that comprise the value of their labour power. The question is whether capitalism is able to meet these requirements.

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Mar 7 2008 12:44

An interesting quote from the conclusion of this report (which I haven't read in any depth), emphases mine:

Quote:
The fact that this report has taught its authors so much about the subject of the geography of wealth should help illustrate just how little we know about that side to the poverty–wealth divide to life and society in Britain today. A generation has grown up since Peter Townsend and Abel-Smith’s survey of 1967/68 was first out ‘into the field’. In Britain, over the course of the three decades that followed, slowly and not particularly steadily, more and more families became excluded from what it was normal to be able to do. That was not the direction of the trend at first; things were getting better in the 1970s. In the most recent period the very worst of what was achieved by 1990 has been reversed, but little more. There was also no great spreading of wealth, and those that had amassed most to begin with, now sit on more than ever before.
Carousel
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Mar 7 2008 14:26
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Quite, it is the real concrete individuals with their desire to enjoy their finite lives that are irrational, not an economic system based on the reproduction of value for values sake.

It's not the desires that are irrational, but the methods employed to realise them. As for the "economic system", the break down of religious authority and with it the notion of individualist flamboyance as sinful or wicked, has consigned the Victorian miser, counting money they'll never spend, to Ole Charlie’s realm. Jolly, jolly sixpence.

Carousel
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Mar 7 2008 14:55

It looks that way because of the psychological predilection you share with Marx, though you’re of course right in asserting the behaviour of large groups isn’t analogous to that of an individual, or sum of individual desires. As for the functioning of institutions, it hardly propels miserly behaviour into abstraction. Looking at the behaviour of cash rich institutions, Microsoft being a good example, they actually become acquisitive or pay dividends, responding to share holder pressure to put the money to work.

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Mar 11 2008 03:57

20 years ago, one could buy a house and raise a family on a postal worker's wage. Back then the routes were shorter, there was less mail and the union wasn't chickenshit and complacent. I am a letter carrier now, and I have trouble making rent sometimes; and cannot get pre-approved to purchase anything in my city.

When my dad went to school, he got his entire schooling paid for by selling one cow that he had raised in high school. With the current price of cattle, that would buy me one course at university, some textbooks and SU fees.

So are things better? Maybe. In Canada inflationary pressures are measured in an interesting, if rather voodoo manner. For instance, I read that as 10 years ago a high-def tele would have cost tens of thousands of dollars, and today HiDef TVs are cheap, ergo televisions are actually getting cheaper; even though the price of the average television has tripled (27" crt $150, 27" LCD $4-500). This logic has been extrapolated to the entire social. Meaning, iPods are relatively cheap now, so are nifty toys. Gas, food and shelter, however, have syrocketed, wages have stagnated (excepting Alberta from 2002-2007) and good manufacturing jobs are quickly being replaced with shitty service industry ones.

But now we have gay marriage, the Salish Sea and a stronger environmental consciousness amongst the wealthy.

That's my $0.02

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Mar 11 2008 10:08
Steven. wrote:
in the UK you get the impression we're better off. But pretty much all of that is due to better and cheaper technology.

The easiest way to actually see the decline in real wages is looking at property costs. Loads of workers could buy houses 20 years ago. How many can now? In London at least the average property is what about 10 times the average wage or more? I'm pretty sure working hours are higher than 20 years ago as well, with longer commuting times as well due to more congestion and higher property costs.

^^^^^

martinh
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Mar 13 2008 22:57

It's not just the tangible things that are different. Sure technology is cheaper, but it is also used as a substitute for other things and creates needs we didn't know we had. In the early 80s, I used to have to catch a bus to find a call box phone that worked, for example.

However, I could afford to go out most nights, mainly because there were a lot more places to go and things were a lot cheaper. Most small gigs (and there was a lot of d-i-y things going on, often with no conscious politics) charged £2 waged £1 unwaged. My take home in 86 when I got my first job was about £70 a week. I was squatting at the time, but a private rent at the time was about £25 a week for a room and it was perfectly possible to live OK on £45 a week (as a young person without responsibilities).

There was more of a sense of social solidarity; workers on strike would put up a picket line in the reasonable hope that it would be respected.

It's not that 25 years ago things were better - some things were some weren't. What is different is that society is a lot more atomised and alienated. This is not a good thing, even if some people find solace in technology wink

Regards,

Martin

RedHughs
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Mar 14 2008 01:31
Steven. wrote:
in the UK you get the impression we're better off. But pretty much all of that is due to better and cheaper technology.

Better and cheaper ideological technology for the use of mystifying people.

Well, that and when people are more atomized, as mentioned, they are also more easily deceived and don't have as much collective experience to contrast with the story of the media.

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Devrim
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Mar 14 2008 06:08
martinh wrote:
My take home in 86 when I got my first job was about £70 a week. I was squatting at the time, but a private rent at the time was about £25 a week for a room and it was perfectly possible to live OK on £45 a week (as a young person without responsibilities).

That was awful Martin, I was earning £150-225 at that time.

On a more serious point if a left communist had started this thread, many would posters would be screaming about how it wasn't true.

Devrim