We're Paying

Last night, after the State of the Union, I was thinking about the part of the address in which President Obama said that we have "cleared away the rubble of crisis," followed shortly thereafter by the observation that we've had more than a decade of wage stagnation, and I began to consider all the ways in which nondiscretionary individual spending has increased while wages have flattened, and how that has created an ongoing crisis.

Mike the Mad Biologist gets at some of that here, noting: "For many people–and not just the poor–once you factor in higher housing prices, more rent extraction (all those damn fees), increasing insurance rates, as well as the 21st century accoutrements that keep you competitive in the job market (internet access, cell phone), most people are not [able to save]."

Mobile phones and home internet access are indeed things many people need to compete professionally, not only because they are key tools in finding a job, but also because they are requirements of keeping many jobs. Lots of employers require employees to maintain a mobile device and have off-site internet access, even though the employers are not paying for those things.

And online access is only one of many things for which we're paying now (those of us who can, even though many/most of us need them) that weren't part of a household budget 20 or 30 years ago.

A home PC or laptop is also a requirement of many employers, who are often not inclined to pay for those, either.

Cable/satellite television is no longer a luxury in some places: They're the only way to get TV, and, particularly if one doesn't have internet/mobile access, TV is still the primary means by which one can get information in emergencies, follow important local news stories, and find simple, basic shit like whether one needs to carry an umbrella on any given day.

There are many places in the US where water filters (not cheap) are not an indulgence, but a necessity because of deregulation that has left tap water with dangerous levels of undrinkable stuff. I still remember a post my friend Lance Mannion wrote fully one hundred years ago in which he observed: "Turning on the tap to get a drink of water is a political act if only because the water flows and is relatively clean because of decisions made by politicians who owe their jobs to political decisions made by us."

Et cetera.

We're paying for wage stagnation. And paying. And paying. If that isn't itself living in crisis, then it's living in the rubble.

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