My father come from Poland after World War II. Grade 3 education and the shirt on his back. My mother basically the same. Long story short Germans had forced them out of their ancestral homes. They abandoned Europe and crossed the Atlantic, meeting and marrying on this side of the pond.
My father was a steel worker and my Mother stayed home when I and then my sister came along. My father was able to buy a house with two small apartments upstairs. The mortgage was a fixed rate for thirty years. He never needed to renegotiate. the rents paid for the mortgage, real estate taxes and utilities.
We had one car at a time. A Pontiac Laurentian which we drove until it fell apart. Holidays were modest but enjoyable. We rented motels with kitchen efficiencies and made are own meals. When colour TV’s came out it was years before we got one.
I and my sister had good clothes on our backs and food on table. Polish households ate meat and didn’t skimp. No take out or delivery. Everything was in the fridge. If we needed something for school it was bought right away. Study desk, encyclopedia, globes, books, pencils the whole bit.
My father had a fully funded pension. He never heard that the employer wasn’t able to make contributions. It always seemed OK. On Sundays he would wear a suit to go to church. All the working guys would wear suits. They all looked like a million bucks. Styles were better then. Mothers look well dressed as well.
I and my sister finished university without crippling student debts. We stayed at home and worked during the summer and part-time jobs.
I started well-educated, no trauma from war, healthy and no debts.
I could not buy a house with a 30 year fixed mortgage. the deal just did not exist. The rates were always a crap shoot. Both my wife and I had to work. We could not afford a house otherwise. You end up with two cars and the expenses that go with it.
I have had to change jobs a few time. Sometimes to manage my career and get something better. Sometimes because my idiot employer could not stay in business despite my best efforts. Lots of my friends had the same experience. My wife could stay home for a few years until the kids were school age. But the middle class squeeze was on. After school care costs were significant until they were old enough to be latch key kids.
The cars did not seem to last as long and I think I spent more time in garages than my father did. For that matter the appliances and TV sets also seemed to wear out way faster and very soon it’s not worth repairing. gas and groceries are way more expensive even though I’m pretty sure my car is more fuel-efficient than my fathers old Pontiac.
I spend more time commuting and listening to radio shows telling me how bad commuter traffic is. Wife never seemed to have a job were we could car pool. Mass transit is expensive, exhausting and just not convenient. Sometimes when wife and I were too tired to make supper we would spend a fortune on junky quick service food which probably didn’t help my health. My kids got a cheap plastic toy that seemed to make them happy. Then we would buy a DVD featuring the plastic figure. The DVD would cost the same as the junk food but at least we could watch it a few times on our brand new VCR with ever-changing technology. Can’t remember how many VCR’s and Blu Ray’s I’ve owned.
Had wonderful kids and got them educated without debt. The drug problem did not knock on our door but a few neighbours had problems. Good people just bad luck. Now daughter and son-in law both have to work. Daughter cannot stay a home past maternity leave. Childcare expenses are like another mortgage payment. Commuting costs are ridiculous.
I keep hearing about the underprivileged and how we have to help. I’m taxed like crazy. Every time I drive through a poorer part of town I marvel at the really nice cars that they supposedly can’t afford. Everyone seems to be wearing the latest fashions.
I try not to shop at Wal-Mart. They import cheap stuff and helped destroy manufacturing in North America not to mention gutted a lot of inner city neighbourhoods. I keep being reminded that Wal-Mart is a great dividend paying stock and that’s good for retirement. Does make sense right now.
We now have fourth generation welfare. Unwed uneducated mothers bringing helpless babies into the world and perpetuating a stupid cycle of poverty all the while nicely dressed and driving decent cars. Useless fathers who feel no shame or obligation.
I’ve tried to hire some of these guys. They say they finished school. But they cannot read or write. Not properly at least. They can play computer games but can’t give me a spread sheet on where the problem lies. Most of them can’t do the arithmetic on their pay cheque. You know gross earnings less deductions for taxes, social security and benefits equals take home. No one brings lunch from home and everyone has a big screen TV. No one makes enough money.
Most of my friends are divorced. A few guys from high school did very well. A little hazy on the details of where they work but they seem to have lots of cash. Divorce did not create wealth and you have to cover the same ground again.
All in all I’ve done fairly well. But I feel like one of the few remaining survivors after an epic battle. Lots of fallen bodies and destruction.
We aren’t paying our way as a modern society. Foreign economies are eating our lunch. Their agendas conflict with ours. Most western Governments at all levels are heavily in debt. The middle class is too small to be squeezed any further. The 1% is nimble enough to move around. The reality is lots of the 1% made their money because of western problems and then bought fancy Condo’s in New York and London.
We argue about taxes and health care and infrastructure. The real infrastructure we need are working people who are not trapped in economic minefields.
George Gutowski writes from a caveat emptor perspective. Follow him on Twitter @financialskepti