A Better Life in the U.S.A.
Everyone has a story about the ancestors who came to this country looking for a better life and Income Equality that was unattainable in their homeland. As we approach the Labor Day Holiday, it’s important that we look at where we are today.
My roots came from the potato famine in Ireland and from a King’s Sheriff who received a land grant from the King of England.
They were two vastly different families, the Kennedy’s and the Burton’s, but the differences between the two backgrounds melded when my grandmother and grandfather fell in love and married.
What I remember most about Grandma was her feisty nature. She loved telling the stories of her adventures on the back roads of America during the Great Depression.
She and my grandfather worked in a grocery store at the time, but the money they earned was not enough to cover their needs. It had nothing to do with income equality during the depression. Back then, everyone struggled to put food on the table.
After work, Grandma would whip up a batch of her fly spray, bottle it in the glass containers returned to the grocery store, and head out to sell it to the farmers.
Grandma would giggle when she shared how much the farmers looked forward to her arrival. For whatever reason, the flies were horrible that summer. The cows and horses were suffering from fly bites until she came up with her “recipe.”
Grandma was very consistent in her telling of the story, but each time she ended it she’d look directly at me and say:
Peggy, don’t you ever go on the ‘dole.’ You hear me?
Then I Lost All Hope –
Income Equality Doesn’t Matter When There Is No Income
We had just moved from Keota to Des Moines in 1972.
Back in Keota, I’d held the position of Regional Credit Manager for Kaiser Aluminum’s Ag Chemical Division. The man I’d replaced earned far more than the $7,800 per year they offered me. The funny thing was, I didn’t even try to ask for more. I’d risen from the rank of filing clerk at $5,000 per year and thought the $2,800 increase was the biggest thing that ever happened to me.
A New Job
I worked as the Assistant to the Manager of Bellas Hess Department Stores in Des Moines. He was a decent man and a great boss, but I didn’t enjoy the benefits others had at the company.
He hired me knowing I was two months pregnant. Because of that, they put me on the payroll at 30 hours per week.
It was not enough to qualify for benefits. (Even back then, businesses didn’t want to pay the price of maternity leave for full-time employees.
Things probably would have turned out fine if the baby hadn’t come two months early. I remember how tiny he was. I held him in my hand, not in my arms like our first baby.
After the new baby was born, it only took four months of working thirty hours per week and feeding a baby every two hours for me to go down with complete physical exhaustion according to the doctor. They told me to quit the job and get some rest, or I’d end up in the hospital.
It was bad enough that our insurance wasn’t nearly enough to cover the expensive medical bills for the baby, but now my health threatened the whole family. My husband’s wages were only enough to cover the mortgage and electricity. My income covered everything else. For the first time in my adult life, Grandmother’s words rang in my head: Peggy, don’t you ever go on the ‘dole.’ You hear me?
Grandma wasn’t a socialist. She was a staunch democrat her entire life. She often lamented the fact that the rich seemed always to get richer and the poor poorer. It didn’t seem to matter who was sitting in the White House. That’s just the way it was.
Keeping My Promise
I didn’t have many choices based on our situation. Income equality wasn’t an issue after I had to quit my job.
We eventually maxed out all our credit cards, and I needed to do something fast.
We made our garage sale sign from a piece of plywood I found in the garage. I moved the picnic table into the garage and set up a card table.
Now, I was in business. I could set the garage sale sign out on Douglass Avenue when the baby went down for his daily naps. Two 2×6’s were placed on top of some sawhorses to add another table. The addition of a few tablecloths embroidered by my grandmother and mother finished the well-appointed garage, and the sale was on. As things sold, I’d search the house for more items to donate to our cause.
After the boys were down for the night, I climbed into the shower and wept for those things I would never see again
The Loss Was Offset By The Benefits
- Grandma’s old treadle sewing machine that I made all the baby clothes and draperies with
- My beautiful white leather ice skates
- Our fine china and crystal wedding gifts
- My 45 rpm records and most of the newer records I’d purchased
- The beautiful dresses I wore in the Miss Iowa Pageant and my Prom Dresses
- Anything and everything that was precious to me
The money collected each day was then used to purchase groceries and baby formula. We never asked for charity, but we did receive some. Once each month while I wasn’t working, someone from the family would show up to visit from Keota with the back seat of their cars filled with grocery bags. We wouldn’t have survived without their extra help.
My injuries, after the truck hit our car in 1979, were far more severe than the exhaustion that comes with a sick infant.
I can’t even count how many nights I went to bed hungry because there wasn’t enough food to feed everyone. Grandma’s words still rang in my head.
Once more, the credit cards we had paid off were used again for food and clothing for the children.
How can it be fair that the boss gets paid enough to purchase decent insurance while his workers suffer from inadequate coverage when they both work forty hours per week?
Why is it that only 0.37% of Americans received pay raises or bonuses after the Trump Administration’s well-publicized tax break?
Perhaps Grandma was right all along.
You have the fortitude to withstand the hardest challenges life can hit you with, you refuse to give up or take government handouts, but what did it accomplish?
I feel better knowing I didn’t let my grandmother down. Even now, I don’t regret the two teeth I lost due to malnutrition. I did everything that needed to be done to protect those two beautiful little boys.
Will Our Future Provide Income Equality to Our Workers?
Someday, perhaps we will make decisions based on the love of family instead of on protecting the unholy bottom line.
After all, isn’t that what we are at work, a family of sorts?
If I’m smart enough to do the identical work the man who held the position before I got it did, I expect the same or better pay.
Why is it such a shock that I want to educate my children the same as you?
How can you accept a million-dollar bonus at year-end knowing our children will be lucky to find one present under the tree?
Yes, I worked in management at a factory and witnessed the miserable wages and benefits the people on the assembly line received. It made me sick day in and day out. It’s one of the reasons I quit the job and moved on.
Nothing I said seemed to make a difference to management.
It should have.
They not only missed me when I was gone, but the owner closed the doors shortly after I left. All those highly-paid managers lost everything, as did those who worked on the line in the warehouse.
It was all about Corporate Mother’s bottom line…isn’t it always?
The middle class is losing ground every day, and the poor were left behind long ago.
Income equality is only a dream in the lives of the majority of our citizens.