I’ve Lived Long Enough to See the Work World Change
It’s Not Been for the Better Either.
Once upon a time in America, my father-in-law worked for a company called Roots Blower. He lived in a small factory town in central Indiana. Like most factories, they had a strong union that went to bat for the workers in order to negotiate a living wage.
With only a high school education, he was able to support a stay-at-home wife and two kids.
They bought a double lot in a neighborhood where they built a three-bedroom ranch house with an attached two-and-a-half-car garage. They owned two nice cars, an RV, and a string of motorcycles. They took their kids camping in the summer. He retired at age 65 and collected a pension from the company as well as his social security. My mother-in-law is now 93 and still collects his pension. She never worked but between social security, his pension, and the fact that she owns her home and car, she’s still able to save a little money every year.
My husband tried to follow in his father’s footsteps, but that dream was dying across America.
He worked for several factories over the years. Little by little many of them began to ship their work overseas. Pensions were becoming less and less probable. Unions were dying. We also found it very hard to live on one paycheck. So, I went back to school and got a degree. We took out a loan of $2000 to pay for my classes. It was a wise decision. Unlike my mother, I entered the workforce when my oldest was about five years old and worked until I retired.
For 20 years, I was an elementary teacher.
I taught fifth grade. Not only did I love my job, but I was also good at it. I was a respected member of our small rural community. My salary helped lift my family out of poverty. Just like my husband’s parents, we were able to have two cars, a house, and vacations. It took the two of us working but life definitely improved.
Eventually, most of my women friends were working, too.
My school district paid for teachers to continue their education. So, I took night classes at the University of Maine in Orono. In three and a half years, I earned a Masters in Educational Leadership. It was rough because I was still teaching fifth grade while taking classes, but the district covered tuition. That was a great opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. Eventually, I applied for a position as a principal in a neighboring school district. For six years, I enjoyed better pay which ensured that I would also get a better pension upon retirement.
It paid off. I’m now retired.
So, my generation said goodbye to the American expectations of the 1950s by the 1970s. An average job with average pay no longer provided the same lifestyle as our parents. Everyone I knew no longer expected those days to return. We were happy if we had two jobs in the family.
Yet, things were about to change again.
Pensions had disappeared for most employees and were replaced with 401Ks, often with no company matches. So, workers were funding their retirement. I don’t think the loss of pensions has ended either. Recently the state of Florida passed a law that did away with teacher’s state pensions. They’ve promised to grandfather the older employees and retirees, but any new person applying for a job in a Florida school will no longer be part of the pension plan.
That boat has sailed.
So, it’s just a matter of time until other states follow suit, I’m sure. If you’re a teacher or planning on going into teaching, be prepared. Florida often sets the pace for the downgrading of the American workforce.
Have you noticed?
Employers’ health insurance plans are also providing fewer and fewer benefits. For many to put their families on their plan comes at an exorbitant price. Health insurance is little more than catastrophic insurance with high deductibles. Americans are funding their insurance plans.
When factory jobs began to disintegrate, it shocked middle-class America.
So, many middle-class Americans started pushing their kids to go to college, get a degree, and enter careers like teaching, nursing, doctors, lawyers, and professors. These careers offered hope for the next generation of middle-class kids. Wealthy kids don’t tend to choose these professions.
We never thought that by the time the next generation joined the workforce, these careers would also lose promise.
No one could have predicted that doctors with private practices would disappear nor that professors would see tenure become useless. Teachers had no idea that reimbursement for continued education would cease or that pensions would become obsolete. Nurses had no idea they’d carry school bills around their necks for far too long or work for pay that barely kept up with the cost of living.
Where did the hope and promise of attaining a middle-class life go in the last 40 years? It slipped through our fingers before we knew it. I’m pretty sure the work world will never be the same again.
So what is the future of work? Where will my granddaughter be working when she’s grown?
Teresa Roberts is a retired educator, author, world traveler, and professional myth buster. You can find her books on Amazon.