Back in the 1950’s and 1960’s – and yes, I was alive then – we were told that the future would be a time of leisure. Appliances would run themselves, and those that didn’t would be tended by robots as mechanical servants. Our time would be spent raising our families and enjoying our lives. There were projections that we would enjoy a thirty-hour work week, or get several months of vacation each year. No longer would we have to struggle to make ends meet. Life would be sweet.
Here we are, a half century or more later and I for one have less leisure time than I did twenty years ago. I work more than forty hours a week (but only get paid for forty), mainly because of the tentative nature of jobs these days.
At one time a person would work for the same company their entire career, and at the end of 40 or 45 years, would receive a handsome pension and enter a well-deserved retirement. Not these days, my friend. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average person stays in a job less than five years. Obviously, this plays havoc with the typical idea of seniority: that the oldest person has been around a company or department in a company the longest.
Employers gain a lot from a fluid workforce…the stigma of an employee layoff is lessened if everyone is comfortable with looking for a new job. Virtually no one accumulates enough time with a company to merit the highest bonuses, large vacation accrual, or other benefits of a long tenure – every employee is only a few steps removed from being a new hire.
Company-paid pensions have given way to employee-funded retirement plans. Sadly, most people do not or cannot save enough to live out their retirement on the amount they can afford to withhold from their paycheck. Moving to a new employer has an effect; the fees involved in moving savings from one company’s retirement plan to another nibble away at the nest egg little by little. The downtime between jobs is detrimental as well. Every month without a paycheck is a month where a person may have to draw on some aspect of their savings.
So here we are in the glittering twenty-first century future of our childhood. I have not taken a vacation on the moon. My car does not fly…nor does it drive itself. The minimum wage is about six to eight times what it was in the 1950’s and 1960’s, but the cost of living has gone up faster. A loaf of bread in 1950 was $0.15, but now it’s $2.00 or more. Gasoline was $0.26 a gallon in the mid 1950’s, but averages $3.60 a gallon as I write this, that amount in part due to imported oil and higher gasoline taxes.
Inflation has made us job-masochists. We can’t get ahead, so we work – longer and more diligently so that we will not lose our job.
I do not have robots that sort my laundry or clear the dinner table after a meal, or scrub the toilet. I am a college-educated professional and [this month] I am the age where my father retired with a pension. Barring discovery of precious metals on my property or winning the lottery, I will likely work until the day I die even if that means a trivial income and one dead-end position after another… I have no choice.
It is sad what I.. nay, what WE have become. We are consumed by our careers and driven to accept our fate as the drones in the hive, rather than being those enlightened, happy families zipping from city to city in rocket planes and underground tubes. Sadder still, we no longer dream that a future like that is in store for us at all.