It’s almost a four-letter word among my peers I’ve noticed. Hanging around all our conversations about work, family, the house and yard, like some unacknowledged ghost whose presence is felt but ignored. I can’t say I blame them. I don’t like thinking about it either, much less talking about it. Of course, there are pieces of retirement I like to think about, where I might go, what I might do when I’m not working like mad hour after hour every week. But honestly, is that all that realistic?
I read an interesting and somewhat depressing article the other day about Gen Xer’s (of which I am a part) and our financial outlook. The article itself is here: http://finance.yahoo.com/news/gen-x-reality-really-does-090000804.html The thing that struck me was how in sync the article was with my own anecdotal experience, both me and my friends find ourselves struggling financially (and working with homeless folks as part of a ministry I understand struggling is somewhat in the eye of the beholder). There is a stress on my peers that I don’t necessarily see as profoundly impacting the people younger than me and the people older than me.
I don’t think I am living beyond my means particularly. My wife drives a 2002 Chevy with 100K+ miles on it and enough rust on the bottom half of the body that when it dies it will have to go to the junkyard. I drive a 1997(!) Pontiac that I hope continues to keep running for just a few years more, or at least until it becomes old enough to qualify as a historic/classic car. We are currently renting my parents old house from them, we have a basic internet and basic cable bundle (if it got any less we couldn’t get online or get local channels). We don’t pay for childcare as fortunately both of our parents are still living and able to assist with that piece of things. We don’t buy high-end items very often, I think almost all of our furniture is hand-me downs. We buy clothes at thrift stores and garage sales. I Do have a Netflix account for which I pay $8 a month. And three student loans…
We both work full-time, but for not-for-profits which is never going to be a high paying field. Our degrees were in fields that neither one of us ended up in (Interior Design and Theatre) and we do have health insurance and a retirement plan (saving approximately 6% of my monthly pay in). I don’t share all this to play poor pitiful me, but rather to illustrate that this is similar to many many stories around this country. I worry about taking care of Boo and D, I worry about how N and I will do as we get older, how we will (or will not) be able to take care of our parents as they age. Currently my college savings plan for my children is to work for a university so they get tuition benefit as a perk of my employment. It’s not like I have any money saved for them. But I have a roof over my head, food on our table, and a community of loved ones that help us when we need it.
I also do not make $15/hr.
When I hear people asking for a “living wage” I understand the resentment, the anger and the frustration that drives their protests. I get that the idea of working hard to be able to take care of yourself and your family is a central part of the myth of who America is. When CEO pay goes up there is no chatter among the talking heads or pundits about how their raise will impact the cost of goods and services and why is that? I think the discussion that we are currently having about retirement, a living wage and the mythical $15/hr has been hijacked and taken on a joy ride rather than considering other important points. To illustrate something consider this:
$15/hr x 40hrs/week = $600
$600/wk x 52 weeks = $31,200.00
For every $1,000,000 a CEO salary goes up, they could be paying between 32 and 64 employees $15/hr for full-time employment and still save around $2500….(since most of them would be earning the minimum wage to start with – currently $7.25/hr) and that’s assuming that these employees would be working 40 hours a week.
The CEO of Morgan Stanley, James Gorman, saw his pay go up by 5.6 million dollars in 2014. That would equate to between 160 and 320 of their lowest paid employees going from the minimum wage to $15/hr and would still leave him making 18 million dollars a year. Still think it’s too much of a stretch to raise the minimum wage? Consider too that if people made more money, they will be taxed more, which in turn create more revenue for roads & highways, police, firemen, college tuition grants and more. Maybe my pay wouldn’t go up much if this idea passed, but it might. And if that’s the case, maybe retirement would stop being a four letter word…