My science teacher in middle school told us the story about the frog in a beaker of water. He explained that a frog dropped in hot water jumps out. If the frog goes in cold water, which is gradually heated, it'll stay there and eventually be cooked. The same applies to American workers; if you gradually crush them, they'll never notice.
As a student of history, I know the hardships workers have faced over the years. Back in the Gilded Age, there were a few incredibly wealthy people and most workers were desperately poor. Over time, workers fought for and won many basic rights: the forty-hour week, overtime pay, unions, the end to child labor, worker safety and so on. Thus, the middle class came about.
Then came the 60s and 70s, a period of economic and social change; workers began their slide backwards. Yet, it was so slow and subtle that they didn't notice.
Just like the frog. When I grew up, my dad worked as a general contractor, he was blue collar, but we lived fine: house in a suburb of Boston, two cars, cottage on Martha's Vineyard and he had his sailboat. Oh, and my mom was the classic stay at home mom like out of a sitcom of the era.
The changes started slow. First, families found it hard to live on one income. The husband took a second job or, more often, the wife took a full or part-time job. In some cases, it was simply due to the wife not wanting to be merely a homemaker and mother.
Over time that changed, a family needed that second income to make ends meet, and sometimes a third! Yet, at the same time, union membership declined. People had forgotten the hard-fought battles of long ago and, as my father told me, those who forget the past are doomed to relive it. Thus, workers continued their slide downward, yet weren't aware of it. The authorities kept them distracted with talk of gays, feminists, immigrants and social issues.
As the decades wore on, things only got worse. Workers went from nice-sized homes to small places, rentals and now the so-called “tiny house nation.” They’ve seen vacation time evaporate, pensions become 401(k) accounts, wages remain stagnate or even drop and their children unable to attend college.
Globalization meant manufacturing jobs moved to nations with lower labor costs and no regulations. Now we have come full circle. The rich are super rich, blue collar workers struggle to make ends meets and the middle class is disappearing.
The "frog" has boiled. I have to wonder: will workers now begin the long slow climb back up or will they stay down? One of the other common threads in history is that people tend to blame the wrong things and other people, when things go wrong. That’s why American workers now complain about immigrants, too many government regulations and women and minorities.
I have to say, with Trump and his ilk in control, I'm not optimistic that things will improve anytime soon. The one and only good thing I see coming out of his presidency is that maybe, just maybe, the common folk will finally wake up to the fact that the GOP is not their friend.
After all, Trump is going to give them more of the same: lower wages, higher taxes and a lower standard of living for them and their children. Maybe when he fails to deliver on his promises they’ll turn to someone who can truly help them. We can only hope!
Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.
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