I made the mistake of saying to a group of younger folks that I could remember when it cost 25 cents to get in the movies. It’s true. When I was under 12, which was not much more than 50 years ago, I could get in the movies for 25 cents. All of the kids would try to pass for under 12, because if you were 12 and over, you had to pay 75 cents. In those days, theaters were locally owned and operated, not like the mega corporations that run them now. One of the 30-somethings who was in the group said something like “I remember $6.50.” Next time I’ll be more careful about who I share this bit of history with, so I won’t feel so ancient.
The conversation took place when I was sharing how shocked I was when I took my grandchildren and their cousins to a movie here in the DC area, and we all got the “discount price” (they were all under 12 and I am a senior) of $9.50 each. Dinner and a movie now is for many people a major celebration event. For others, it doesn’t happen at all. Do you have any idea how much it costs to go bowling nowadays?
Contrast the rise in costs for simple things like restaurants, movies and bowling with what’s happening with salaries and jobs. Hundreds of people showed up at Wal-Mart’s employment office last week for jobs in the new stores that are being built here in DC–even though they were told that they had to apply online and were sent away. Wal-Mart had refused to open stores in the city if the City Council’s bill requiring a minimum salary of $12.50 an hour was not vetoed by the mayor. The mayor vetoed, Wal-Mart will open those stores, and a lot of people who really need jobs will go to work there. I don’t blame the mayor, though, because I’d rather see the people who need jobs get them. I’m hoping they will unionize to get the wages they deserve.
But they won’t make enough money with those jobs to live in this city, which is booming. Apartment buildings and condo’s and upscale businesses are going up all over the place. There are four large new apartment buildings in my neighborhood. The Safeway down the block was demolished and is being rebuilt with several stories of apartments on top of it. More and more often I’m hearing stories of people being shoved out of their affordable apartment buildings, which are being sold and renovated into luxury condominiums. You can’t afford a two bedroom condominium in DC for your family of three on $10.00 an hour.
Nowhere is the income inequality pattern–rising costs and diminishing ability to buy– more obvious than in our nation’s capitol. A September 20, 2013 Huffington Post article by Jason LInkins says it all: “Gilded American City Gets Much Richer And Much Poorer Simultaneously.” Rising income inequality in our nation has prevented the middle class from growing, another way of saying that poverty is being kept in place by creating a class of working poor.
I recommend for your viewing a new documentary entitled “Inequality for All” by Robert Reich, Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, who was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration. To see the trailer of the documentary and a discussion about the film with Bill Moyers, click here. It’s opening at theaters this weekend. I hope you can afford to go see it.
The thing is this, though–all that really needs to happen to prevent the train wreck that income inequality is creating is for government to enact policies that will protect and grow the middle class. I shared earlier this week on Facebook a link to an article by Mat Bruening on the American Prospect Website entitled “How much Money Would It Take to Eliminate Poverty in America?” which describes some of those policies.
It’s not good enough just to complain about rising costs and low wages. We need to participate in government processes that will put and keep in place policies that work for the betterment of all. Robert Reich’s documentary or either of the documents highlighted above are educational tools that can get conversations going in your church social action group about how to deal with the seemingly inevitable future of deepening income inequality. You don’t have a church social action group? Make one happen!
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