Working Wounded Blog: Dad Earned More

There have been two truths for the majority of my working career. First, real estate would always appreciate in value. And second, boomers would earn more than their parents.

Welcome to the new world. Neither of these truths can be taken to the bank any longer.

Don't get me started on real estate. Subprime loans, declining sales prices, foreclosures and a nest egg suddenly showing a big crack have made real estate seem more zirconium than diamond. But I'll leave any further discussion to people who know more than me about the housing market (aka renters).

Boomers and Gen Xers would probably be handling the real estate debacle better if it weren't for the other guillotine hanging over our collective heads -- our declining earning power.

But don't take my word for it. According to a recent study, in 2004 the median income for men in their 30s was $35,010, 12 percent less than for men in their 30s in 1974 -- their fathers' generation -- as adjusted for inflation. In 1994, median income for men in their 30s was $32,901, 5 percent higher than 30 years earlier.

Wish as I may, those are not typos. Even in a time of relatively low inflation, our earning and buying power are at best going sideways.

But the bad news doesn't stop there.

"Along with data showing more workers are earning less in comparison with the incomes of top earners, the report suggests a growing number of Americans 'believe that the rules of the game are no longer fair,'" said John Morton, director of the Economic Mobility Project at the Pew Charitable Trusts and one of the study's lead authors.

Welcome to the generation of workers who suddenly learned that the escalator of earnings doesn't only go up.

So put down your copy of Forbes Richest People and deal with the fact that you'll probably earn less than your dad. Who knew that your parents lived the high life?

I'm sure I speak for everyone reading this when I ask why?

"Outsourcing and the demise of higher-paying manufacturing jobs have contributed to the stagnation in men's incomes," Morton said. "The influx of well-educated women into the work force since the 1970s also might have exerted downward pressure on men's wages," he said.

The report also found that between 1947 and 1974, productivity, or output per hour, and median family income, adjusted for inflation, roughly doubled. Between 1974 and 2000, however, productivity rose 56 percent while income rose 29 percent.

Between 2000 and 2005, productivity rose 16 percent while median income fell 2 percent, challenging "the notion that a rising tide will lift all boats," the report said.

I'd like to tell you that I have a magic bullet to address this topic. But I can't even fake it. We're all going to have to work harder and longer to just get by. The idea of a sole breadwinner has probably left the room; everyone in a household now has to pitch in.

But I would not be the Working Wounded columnist if I didn't point out that at the same time regular folks' earnings are declining, the corner office crowd is pulling in bigger bucks than ever. Call me old-fashioned, but I'm a believer that the "C" level folks earn their money the old-fashioned way, through the labor of everyone who works for their organization. I'm not preaching for socialism, just less greed at the top.

Quote of the Week

"In modern society the opposite of courage is not cowardice, it is conformity." -- Rollo May

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