Saturday, December 3, 2016
In the early 1983, I was a 30-year-old Army Reserve tank commander and a dock worker at Yellow Freight Systems in Lancaster, Pa. For a drill weekend, I earned $180. At Yellow Freight I earned $12/hour with full medical, dental and even retirement if I had stayed longer.
Thirty years later in 2013, I was an Army National Guard sergeant and earned $360 for a drill weekend. My Army pay had doubled. Yellow Freight's Lancaster terminal closed years ago. But similar work in the Lancaster area pays $12/hour with fewer or no benefits.
In the 1980s, major trucking companies employed thousands of workers to transfer freight from one truck to another. Computers now consolidate freight in a way that needs far less handling and far fewer workers.
Most of the soldiers I served with in the 68th Armor in 1983 had blue collar jobs and earned a decent living, as I did, with their hands and backs.
Many of the soldiers I served with in the Army National Guard 30 years later were unemployed or underemployed. Some had volunteered for multiple deployments to get a year of full-time benefits and full-time pay.
By 1985, I had finished college and had a white collar job at Godfrey Advertising. I think the economy has been nothing but wonderful all of my life. I made a $1.60/hour for my first full-time job selling toys at Sears in Burlington, Mass. When I enlisted in the Army, I earned $283/month. By the time I left active duty in 1979 as a sergeant, my base pay was $5,000/year. When I was in Iraq in 2009 my pay at the same rank had almost quadrupled.
When I started at Godfrey Advertising I was making just under $20,000/year. Twenty years later I was a consultant with a six-figure income.
But the blue collar workers I worked with before I entered the professional world are making the same or less now than they did in the 80s, and with less job security. In the middle of the 20th century into the 80s, the American economy allowed almost everybody to make a living. Today's economy is skewed to the educated.
When I got back from Iraq in 2010, the state of Pennsylvania gave every returning soldier six months of medical care. They did it because half the soldiers returning from deployment had no medical coverage when they left active duty.
Capitalism pays for what it values. It is clear that 21st century America does not value blue collar workers.