The Inverted American Dream

Today the minimum wage in my state is $9/hour. A pittance in this economy. I know it is a pittance because I have been working for nearly thirty years. I know it is a pittance because I did a little research, very little. As a stay at home dad $9/hour is not even worth setting my alarm. That may sound lazy or brash but let me assure, it is completely warranted. To explain to you how absolutely miniscule $9/hour is I will take you on a short tour of the jobs I have held that paid right around minimum wage for the time I worked. Before I begin here are the minimum wage statistics since 1983 by state.

Back to 1988 I was working for a newspaper putting together the different sections of the Sunday paper. There were four of us and we did piece work. At one point we went on strike. That is right, the four of us went on strike for better wages. They balked hired four newbies, called us the first week, gave $20/hour for the day and renegotiated our pay. Long story short in 1988 I was bringing home, as a junior in high school, between $145 and $170 per week. That was a lot of money in 1988. Just check out gas prices starting in 1980. I paid $0.89 per gallon for gas when I worked at this job.

Fast forward to 1999-2000. I pumped gas as I worked through my way through college. I made $8/hour. A nice piece above minimum wage, $2/hour more. Let’s be clear: I pumped gas, checked oil and other full service gas station attendant duties. I had no convenience store to run, no lottery or tobacco. I worked between 30-40 hours a week and brought home right around $200 per week. Again take a look at gas prices in the United States.

What about that elusive American Dream that has become a nightmare for so many? When the economy imploded in 2008 I had to take a nearly 50% pay cut in a different position in an attempt to save my house. That was not in the cards. We had to do a short sale for half the price we paid. Couple that with my severely curtailed earning power, getting back into a house while I worked minimum wage was impossible. Check out home prices in the United States since 1963.

So why is my alarm only set to get up with my kids to take them to school? I will tell you why. I recently worked a minimum wage job at a large retailer. I received the worst hours, nights and weekends. Some stay at home dad I was not around to help with homework and not around to go play on the weekends. I was scheduled for between 18-25 hours yielding an average check of about $170. After paying for afterschool care at $8/hour for both kids my net was closer to $100. Add in the price of gas, wear and tear on my 16 year old car and not being able to fulfill the obligations of a stay at home dad this job became simply a way to leave the house.

If you have been reading closely you will see that I had more purchasing power putting newspapers together or pumping gas in the winter. But I intend to turn this trend around. I will not be turning it around by applying for minimum wage jobs. I am entering this skewed to the rich and screw the poor economy as an Independent Contractor. By the way, ask a contractor how great it is to be always having to hustle up work. It can be daunting. As a stay at home dad contracting allows me to make my hours in order to be with my family as well as be somewhat in control of my earnings.

This week I enter the world of independent contracting in sales and education. There is certainly more potential for my family following this path than working for minimum wage at some random retailer. I encourage you to use the three websites I referenced to do your own research about your declining earning power over the years hoping it makes you as angry as it has made me.

This article was written by Daniel Mahan, a writer for dusk magazine. 

About danielmahan (8 Articles)
Writing to stay sane....sort of

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