OPINION: Talking wages with Santa

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By GLENN KOENEN

Monday night I talked trucks with Santa Claus. (Of course, we’re both Chevy guys.)

I explained why I liked my regular cab, short bed four-wheel drive with a spartan (rubber mat) interior. He understood but prefers his crew cab with the luxury carpets.

We discovered that Santa worked for Pepsi in Jefferson County while I worked at Coke in St. Louis County. A route driver back then, he earned three-cents a case commission on all the product he moved, plus an hourly wage.

“I was averaging $20 an hour back then,” he reminisced. “A man could have a family on that job.”

I recalled that at Coke they took away the drivers’ commissions a bit before I started. Still, the better than $7 an hour I made as a summer hire surpassed other seasonal work.

Run those wages through an Inflation Calculator and Santa’s $20 becomes $90

WAGES HAVE INCREASED LITTLE SINCE THEN
Alas, today soda truck drivers don’t make $90 an hour. The last I heard union soda truck drivers made around $25 an hour with a few dollars an hour more in union benefits.

President Donald Trump speaking recently said, “If the stock market goes up or down — I don’t watch the stock market. I watch jobs. Jobs are what I watch.”

Yes, jobs are important. Yet, as they proved behind the Iron Curtain, you can have full employment and rampant poverty.

Remember, a parent with two kids can make $12.75 an hour, 40 hours a week, and still qualify for food stamps. That same parent can make almost $20 an hour, full time, and still get reduced price school meals for the kids.

In other words, jobs are only part of the equation.

IT’S THE WAGE RATE
The bigger factor is the wage rate. Per the census folks, in 2018 the median wage in Missouri worked out to about $20.75 an hour, meaning half of workers earned less. (For women the median wage was $18.47 in a full time job.)

That means the median worker in this state could easily have kids getting reduced price meals at school and close to half the workers with families are eligible for a lot of government help.

That’s because average wages in Missouri last year were about what a soda truck driver in Jefferson County made 40 years ago.

WHY IS THAT?
If the soaring American economy of the 1970’s could afford to pay a route driver enough to raise a family, why doesn’t that happen in 2019?

Why has executive compensation increased better than 900 percent in 40 years while worker pay has only grown by 12 percent after inflation

Santa didn’t have an answer for that one. He doesn’t do politics.

By the way, I didn’t spend Monday night at the North Pole. Santa came down for the annual Crystal City – Festus Christmas parade. My truck pulled his sleigh. (Something about visas for the reindeer.)

(Glenn Koenen is the retired executive director of Circle of Concern and a member of the Jobs with Justice Workers Rights Board. He chairs the Empower Missouri Hunger Taskforce and is a member of the organization’s board of directors.)

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