Speed pitch. Guess your speed on the third pitch and win fantastic prize. Back in 1984 this was a relatively new thing. I was 16 years old and a lover of baseball at the end of my playing days. I didn’t want to win a prize. Just wanted to see how hard I could throw the dang ball.
My brother and I were sitting on a bench at the Pavillion, a Myrtle Beach amusement park, watching other people do the same. We’d probably spent our last $5 throwing out our arms. I topped out at 64 MPH. My brother Scott hit the high 60’s (I guess that’s what made us outfielders instead of pitchers).
Out of money, we just people watched. It must have been a slow part of the day, so we had no trouble overhearing the conversation of a couple of custodians chatting as they walked by. “You makin four dollas an hour? Well suck my a%# !”
For a couple of teenage boys, it was just plain funny to overhear because of the way he said it. But it also rang true. This was a time when minimum wage was $3.35/hr. I was working 40 hours/week and bringing home $103 as a helper on satellite dish installations and cable TV hookups. A $.65 raise would have been a great thing. But of course my main skill was being able and willing to crawl into tight spaces that the average adult male wouldn’t fit and being low enough on the totem pole to take off with a roll of coax through a brier thicket that the adult males didn’t have to conquer.
I don’t fit in those tight spaces anymore. And I manage to avoid brier patches whenever possible. But I do still love telling the story and getting a laugh about the way that guy belted out his amazement of “$4 dollars an hour!”.
No I wasn’t the most perceptive or socially aware 16 year-old around. But there was a scene that repeated itself every day along Myrtle Beach’s Ocean Blvd that I couldn’t help noticing. Each morning, school buses would stop at designated spots along the boulevard, dropping off African American ladies who worked as maids at all the Myrtle Beach hotels.
I figured these ladies were probably bringing home the same amount of money as me, just over $100. I wondered how they could make it on so little. I wondered if they had kids at home and wondered how many of them had husbands at home and whether they had jobs or not. And if they were single, what their kids did while their moms rode buses each day to clean the rooms of travelers.
I may have been pretty clueless about a lot of things at that age, but splitting time between my mom and dad in those days (with my mom trying to finish college while working), I did have at least some awareness of the difficulties of a family trying to survive on a single or small income. So I felt for those housekeeping ladies, knowing that they didn’t have an easy life.
I haven’t been to Myrtle Beach many times since then, but I assume that it’s the same there as it is most everywhere else in the hotel industry. Housekeeping jobs are mostly held by immigrant workers today. I wonder how that shift came about. And I wonder what happened to that demographic of workers who no longer hold down those jobs.
I don’t know for sure, but I’m not afraid to venture a guess. The time comes where the break-even point becomes too low for low wage workers. Available government benefits exceed the total earned income (at a specific time), so it technically becomes too expensive to work some of these jobs. So people don’t. They go from low wage earner to no wage earner. From payroll to welfare roll. But their quality of life seems to improve……..in the short term anyway. Who can blame the mountains of people teetering at the breaking point from grabbing at whatever help is available?
But there is a price to pay.
I can’t be convinced that we can celebrate removing someone’s temporary struggles in exchange for permanent dependence. The dignity of self-sufficiency is quietly stolen in the process.
Once a person leaves the workforce, how many will ever return? How many opportunities for advancement to better jobs are lost while they’re away? Nobody knows. The cost is deeply hidden.
How do you fix it? I don’t see that you can. Tradeoffs are made by government but they’re not always wise ones. The bickering is extreme, and the truths and complexity of human nature are too often ignored. Left alone in the middle of “I care about the poor, and I’m saving them” and “I care about the poor too but I don’t want to create more future poor in the process of helping the current poor”.
I don’t have answers. Just a modern day example of a flawed system:
An entry level worker goes from earning $16,000 in year 1 to $21,000 in year 3. But in year 3, there are changes in the number of kids in the household and the spouse’s employment status. So this employee calculates that they can make the same amount of money by working 3 days (when they figure in benefits like food stamps and healthcare subsidies) as they were making working a full work week.
So they work only three days, thinking they are better off. But they’re only better off for right now. Their path of upward mobility just died, possibly never to return. Opportunities are hard to come by, and too many people are missing them by taking a shortsighted view of breakeven decisions.
I wonder what happened to the $4 dollars/hr guy? He did provide quite a memorable and funny moment for my brother and me. I wonder now what path he has found himself on since that day. I sure hope he kept steadily working and moved from $5 to $6 to $7 and on up to $20/hr. But probably not. Somebody probably “helped” him way back when, and he’s been stuck every since.
Help for the poor is a pretty complex matter. If you pretend to have it figured out, just stop. And if you insist on telling people “they don’t care about the poor”, just because their methods of helping don’t align with yours………..well, you can just stop that too. Levels of compassion probably don’t vary as widely as you think. But timelines do.