Too complex to succeed

A new article reiterates what I’ve seen for awhile: Many Americans aren’t making enough money to make ends meet, much less save for retirement.

 

“Our research has shown that 78 percent of people are living paycheck to paycheck,” financial expert Chris Hogan said on Yahoo Finance’s On the Move. “That means if one check doesn’t show up, they don’t have enough to really make basic needs met month in and month out. So we need a wake-up call all the way around, and people need to engage in this and get more serious.”

Hogan added that he doesn’t think “people understand that it’s really important for us to make sure that we’re putting money away and saving because if we don’t save some money, we won’t have any to spend later.”

https://finance.yahoo.com/news/personal-finance-us-debt-wakeup-call-180504062.html

Survival mode

While that second paragraph is true, I’m not sure Hogan understands how deep this crisis really is. I’ve worked two jobs in the past 10 years where I’ve earned between $9 and $10 an hour. The first job was in a call center, with mostly college-age kids earning spending money. The second was at a company serving adults with developmental disabilities. Many of the people I worked with there had second jobs or took overtime whenever they could because they had a family to provide for.

No one can live on $10 an hour, which is above Ohio’s minimum wage of $8.55 an hour (but not by much). Saving money for a rainy day isn’t an option. It’s already raining.

The unemployment rate is 3.6 percent, the lowest rate in five decades. Yet hourly income rose only 3.2 percent over the last year, less than earlier projections.

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/03/upshot/unemployment-inflation-changing-economic-fundamentals.html

Debt inevitable?

The Yahoo article further states that according to a recent survey conducted by Freedom Debt Relief, 41 percent of Americans have not set aside any money at all for retirement. The main reason indicated was due to the cost of everyday expenses.

Debt was another impediment to saving adequately. About 79 percent of those surveyed said they have debt: Credit card debt accounted for 46 percent, mortgage debt 41 percent, and auto loan debt 28 percent.

“Having fallen into that trap myself and taken a few years to get out of it, I really want to encourage college students to avoid this trap,” Hogan said. “Credit card debt is something that once they get their hooks into you, this can take you 12 to 15 years if you’re not aware of it to attack it and get it out of your life. So, I want people to understand credit.”

 

Hogan works for daveramsey.com, which abhors debt of any kind – including mortgage and credit card debt.

Hogan and Ramsey have a point, but I won’t go that far. I will say this: Don’t spend more than you can pay off every month. We have a major credit card; debt is not an issue for us, because we write a check for the balance before each month’s due date. We have a mortgage, but again we make the monthly payments on time.

We can afford the payments. That kind of debt is acceptable, in my opinion.

When I worked for the call center, we dipped into our savings to pay the bills. When I had the second $10 an hour job, my wife also was (and still is) working, so between us we covered our expenses.

While unemployment is low and the economy appears to be booming, wages have not kept up. If you work in the tech industry or in a few other sectors, you’re making good money. But many folks aren’t sharing in the wealth. If the best you can do is $10 an hour – or if that’s all the company or industry is willing to pay – then you will struggle to make ends meet.

A complex economy

But the economy is not that simple. According to inequality.org:

 

The higher the U.S. income group, the larger the share of that income is derived from investment profits. By contrast, Americans who are not among the ultra-rich get the vast majority of their income from wages and salaries. This disparity has contributed significantly to increasing inequality because of the preferential tax treatment of long-term capital gains. Currently, the top marginal tax rate for the richest Americans is 37 percent, while the top rate for long-term capital gains is just 20 percent.

 

I had one job for 24 years that offered a generous 401(k) plan. I don’t consider myself “ultra-rich,” but that investment plan will soon pay dividends as I near the time when I can begin withdrawing from it. The money I put into the 401(k) during my working years was pre-tax money that we never saw. We learned to live without it.

Oh, for simpler times when we could spend less than we brought home, and when we could afford to invest part of our paychecks into a retirement fund.

This is why we need education beyond high school, whether college or a trade school, to learn skills so that we can make a living wage.

Simplicity outdated?

In the June/July 2019 issue of AARP The Magazine which came in the mail this week, Jeff Daniels describes his role as Atticus Finch in the Broadway version of To Kill a Mockingbird. AARP compares Daniels’ version with the 1962 movie, which has never been remade, in which Gregory Peck portrayed Atticus.

AARP compares the two men’s versions of Atticus with these words:

 

While Peck’s Atticus represents virtues that are timeless, he is perhaps too simplistic to be a modern figure, just as “I Want to Hold Your Hand” is too simple to be a modern love song. His Atticus is modest, fierce, brilliant, austere and self-contained. Though people need him, he doesn’t need other people. Daniels’ version has a broader range of feeling and a decided warmth …

Peck’s portrayal is, in addition, from the era when American movie heroes … met danger courageously and hoped to persuade by their example … Daniels’ Atticus, by contrast, seems to be shadowed by the awareness that doing all he can might not be enough. Along with the rest of us, he seems to share the modern awareness that life is possibly too complex, and too many interests are at stake, for a single moral stance to answer all situations. (emphasis mine)

 

Is our modern life so complex that we can’t determine what financial and social values would benefit society as a whole? Do we not even care about that anymore?

Are we so caught up in our own individual pursuits that we have lost the big picture of life?

I’ve met many wonderful people making less than a living wage. Many hop from job to job, trying to get ahead. We too often are leaving these folks behind, in the pursuit of our own goals.

Can we work together to improve all of our lives? Is that even possible today?

I wonder.

Majoring in minor issues

My outlook on life is changing a little bit these days.

I’m much more detached when reading or watching the news. Politics, especially at the national level, doesn’t interest me much anymore.

I’d rather deal in real life.

Politics

For those of you who live and die by what the Democrats and/or Republicans do, I’m sure you won’t understand.

As a newspaper journalist for about three decades, I followed politics closely, because it sold papers.

Does it still?

Perhaps that’s one reason why what newspapers print isn’t the talk of the town anymore. Their editorial pages, as they have always done, focus on politics and not much else.

Not even government. Politics.

There’s a difference.

I rarely read any editorial page columns. They are so predictable. They say the same thing every day, using the issue of the day to promote their agenda.

Most of them these days slam President Trump. I get that.

But how many times do you have to say it?

Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un seemed to have an actual discourse leading to a summit, where they would talk about nuclear weapons, among other things.

The summit apparently fell through.

That was interesting, though.

But decades of mistrust can’t end in a few short weeks.

Maybe someday.

For the most part, the national discourse majors in minor issues.

Is kneeling during the National Anthem before NFL games really an issue worth dividing the country over?

Are school shootings really about gun control, or is something deeper at work there?

Do thoughts and prayers actually work? Do they change our outlook on life?

Sex

What’s the point of the #metoo movement, actually? Is it women’s rights, or is there something bigger at work there as well?

We are a sex-crazed society. We are massively messed up, and we all know it.

Exhibit A: #metoo.

Exhibit B: The divorce rate.

Exhibit C: Sex outside of marriage, including among teens, is not only normal, it is expected.

Exhibit D: Pornography is out of control in this country.

Exhibit E: Rape, sexual bondage, date rape …

Exhibit F: Clothing choices. How much cleavage is too much? Only for women, of course.

Exhibit G: Gender identity. Just the fact that we’re talking about this means we don’t know who we are anymore.

I don’t even have to quote statistics. You understand all of this because you experience it, or you know people who do.

But we won’t talk about it.

Not in a way that actually solves anything.

How do we expect to resolve the #metoo movement without talking about the role of sex in society? If sex outside of marriage is normal, why are we surprised when many men (and women) push the limits?

Nearly every song on the radio is about sex, some more blatantly than others. That’s been true for decades. I frequently listen to an oldies’ station that plays songs from my teen years. Talk about politically incorrect …

And yet we still play them. And listen.

Escape

Why are video games so popular? And illegal drugs? And porn?

Those are escapes from real life.

Real life is full of anxiety and stress. We don’t know how to solve real issues. Relationships. School. Jobs.

I’ve done the whole job search thing, and it’s not designed to bring out the best in anyone. It’s not even designed to connect passions with talent with careers. It’s all about being in the right place at the right time.

Some people say there’s no jobs out there. I see “now hiring” and “drivers wanted” and “positions available, all shifts” signs all over the place.

On the other end of the spectrum, highly technical jobs go unfilled because not enough of us are trained for them.

Most of us would prefer a job/career somewhere in the middle, something more than minimum wage and something that doesn’t require an advanced degree that we don’t have time for or can’t afford to get.

Are most of us left behind?

Dreams

I mentored a fourth-grade student in inner-city Cleveland this spring. He has no concept of a long-term future. All he thinks about is getting dissed by a classmate, for which he gets in trouble. He lives with his grandfather. His mother and two older sisters also are in Cleveland, but he doesn’t see them often. His dad is in Arizona, and my student hopes to move out there with him this summer. Cleveland is too violent, he says.

People are people wherever you go, I told him.

If he leaves Cleveland, will his life magically get better?

I doubt it.

How does arguing about President Trump’s tweets solve my fourth-grader’s lack of focus and maturity? How can he learn not to respond in anger when things don’t go his way?
His family is broken. His school is trying, but isn’t reaching him. His teacher can do only so much.

He got suspended recently for cussing out the school principal. Seriously.

Seriously?

A good friend of mine is a Big Brother to a teenager in another nearby city. That teen also lives in a broken home. Some days, he doesn’t feel like going to school, so he doesn’t.

Is there no big picture in this life?

No goals to aspire to?

No dreams?

Respect

In the mentoring program I’m involved in, we’re not allowed to talk about politics or religion. Too divisive. Yes, they are.

But is that how we solve problems, by saying that certain subjects are off-limits?

I thought democracy meant all issues are on the table. By discussing, even debating, issues, we understand what’s too radical and what actually works.

We don’t know how to talk issues without talking personality. How can we talk about sex without condemning those who practice sex differently than we do? Can we disagree and still respect each other?

That’s what we’ve lost in this country. Respect.

For teachers. For parents. For the boss. For the mayor. For the police.

For ourselves.

I’m right. You’re wrong. The world revolves around me. I can set whatever rules for my life that I want.

And we wonder why we’re so messed up.

A motorcyclist passed me the other day in a right-turn lane. Another vehicle and I were stopped, waiting for traffic to clear before proceeding on to state Route 57, a 45 mph highway at that point. The motorcyclist passed us in the turn lane and roared onto Route 57 before the other driver and I could move.

So much for “look out for motorcycles.” It goes both ways, you know.

Or, I wish you knew.

Faith

So, what is the big picture? How is my outlook changing?

While I can’t talk about my faith in school (unless my student brings it up first, of course), that’s where the answer lies. Not in your perception of faith, or mine, but in real faith.

In a God who wrote the big picture. Who wants the best for us.

Discipline is good, sometimes. My student doesn’t understand that. Most adults don’t either.

Good parents do understand that. Children need boundaries. If you’ve had children, you know this.

So, why do we think that we don’t need boundaries as adults?

Political boundaries change all the time. You and I think differently, so the boundaries I set may not work for you, and vice versa.

If we don’t like them, we can change them.

Why will we not look up? Put the video games down, look away from the porn, turn off the music. LeBron James and Steven Spielberg make far more money than you and I will ever see, but are they the best role models? Do they have all the answers?

When I talk about faith, I don’t even mean in a pastor or the Pope. Their interpretations of faith aren’t always right, either.

The best role model? Jesus Himself. And we killed Him.

If Jesus walked the Earth in the flesh today, we’d kill Him again. I’m sure of it.

We still don’t get it.

We’re searching for love in all the wrong places.

Haven’t heard that song in awhile.