If you like these cartoons, then you’re a terrible terrible person and you should definitely consider a mountain retreat to work on your spiritual size, say five to eight years of contemplating the pine trees, going barefoot and living only on barries. And since you’ll be saving so much money on food and shoes, why not support my Patreon?
From the Center For Economic Policy Research: “If the minimum wage did rise in step with productivity growth since 1968 it would be almost $21.50 an hour.”
The CEPR article includes this graph, showing that the minimum wage’s real value has been dropping ever since the late 1960s.
Activists have largely switched to demanding a “living wage” rather than a “minimum wage” because today’s minimum wage is so inadequate. But it’s worth remembering that decades ago, the minimum wage was a living wage!
In my original script for this cartoon, the older character was angry and mean. That’s sort of the default state of any of my characters who express right-wing views, which is sort of an inevitable byproduct of the simplifying exaggeration I use in my political cartoons. And I’m okay with that.
Still, I was pleased when I realized that this strip would work just as well, and maybe better, if I had the older character be friendly at first and surprised at the end. It feels nice to break away from the default now and then!
I really like Frank Young’s colors on this strip, and especially how he colored the older character – the backlighting looks really nice. Check out how neat that character looks with my lines taken away!
TRANSCRIPT OF CARTOON
This cartoon has four panels. Each panel shows two women on a sidewalk in a residential area, talking. The younger woman has black, straight hair, and is wearing a short-sleeved blouse with puffy sleeves, black tights with some tears, and sandals. The older woman has big curly hair, and is wearing a light blue blazer over a black shirt and slacks, with black kitten heels.
The two women are talking; the younger woman has an earnest expression, while the older woman is holding out a palm in a somewhat dismissive manner and smiling.
YOUNGER: $17 per hour is a living wage. Everyone should be paid at least that.
OLDER: Your generation just has to work harder. Like mine did!
A close-up of just the older woman, She’s pointing at the younger woman, smiling and lifting an eyebrow.
OLDER: I started working in 1970. I got $2.20 an hour and felt lucky! Then I worked my way up! You should be paid what I was. You’d learn something.
A longer shot of the two of them. The younger woman has turned away and is tapping on her smartphone.
YOUNGER: Hold that thought…
The younger woman has turned back towards the older woman, and is grinning and pointing to something on her smartphone screen, which she’s holding up to display to the older woman. The older woman leans down to look at the smartphone, and she looks taken aback.
YOUNGER: $2.20 per hour in 1970 is $17 per hour in today’s money. I agree, we should be paid like that!
The minimum wage in 1975 was $2.10 per hour.
That’s a fair point! I used $4 because that was the number someone used in an online argument I saw. But it does have the effect of putting the metaphorical thumb on the scale to make the cartoon’s point. :-)
Given $2.10 is $11.28 in current dollars, it puts rather more than a finger on the scale, basically doubling the amount. Though, at least in California, it would have been $2.50 in 1976 (https://www.dir.ca.gov/iwc/MinimumWageHistory.htm) or ~$13.00 in current dollars.
Now, either way, all options are above the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 (though this is mildly complicated by the executive orders on pay for federal contractors, setting the minimum there to $15.00).
ETA: This is probably too much to fit in a comic, but I would have been more interested if both of them had been wrong. So stick with the speaker having made $4 an hour, but also reference the $2.10 minimum wage, which nicely brackets that the older woman doesn’t know what it’s like to be on minimum wage, but the younger speaker doesn’t actually know what it was like in 1975…
Technically, neither of them mention the minimum wage. The older woman says that she started work at $4/hour, but she didn’t necessarily make minimum when she started. She implies that she started at minimum wage with the whole “bootstraps” speech, but she may well have started at a low but higher than minimum wage.
The younger speaker has been told all her life just-so stories about her parents’s and grandparents’s hardships. She’s read the history, studied the Billy Joel lyrics and her entire childhood was awash in a pop culture dominated by heroic white Boomer revisionist narratives.
No, it’s the person not working now, not finishing school or pursuing higher education now, not trying to rent a place for the first time or buy a home now, who is ignorant of the present facts on the ground and what it costs to live with more debt than other previous generation, fewer professional prospects, no money to move, and no social safety net waiting to greet them upon reaching the retirement they will never be able to afford.
Eta the older person DOES know what it was like to live on minimum wage, when the cost of living and housing was such that you could live off of it.
Though one could point out that interest rates in the 1970s and 1980s were much higher than currently so buying a house was non-trivial. Per Freddie Mac, mortgage interest in 1975 was 9% on average. In 1981 it was nearly 17%. In 2021, it was a little less than 3%. (It’s gone up this year, though.) It’s not like the wealthy have ever made it easy for those who are not to make a decent living.
Also, if you want to annoy a Boomer, point out to them that they sound just like their parents did back when they were young. If you want to annoy a Millennial, point out to them that they sound exactly like the Boomers did when the Boomers were their age. (Yeah, I’m a gen Xer. How could you tell?)
The first job I had was on my grandmother’s farm. I crawled in the tall un-mowed grass under the apple trees picking up apples that had dropped off the tree so that they could be pressed for cider. I got paid the grand sum of $0.10 for each bushel of apples.
Things I learned:
1) It takes a lot longer to fill a bushel box of apples than you might think. It’s not much money and the working conditions suck.
2) Especially after a rain.
3) I didn’t want to do that ever again.
4) Hornets like to burrow into apples, you don’t always see the hole they burrowed into when you pick the apple up, they might not crawl out until after you toss the apple into the bushel box, and at that point they get pissed off.
5) Snakes generally run away from you when you uncover them.
6) Which you will.
7) A lot.
Things I learned years later:
1) Lots of chemicals are sprayed at multiple different times of the year to keep insects, fungi, etc. from attacking the leaves, blossoms, buds and fruits of apple trees.
2) For many decades one of those chemicals was lead arsenate.
3) Yup. Lead and arsenic. A twofer.
4) Which hadn’t been used for a few years by the time I was crawling around on my hands and feet under those trees.
5) Because it had been replaced by DDT.
6) WTF was I crawling on?
Dianne, I bought my house in 1986 on a 30-year mortgage. The interest rate was 9.95%. About 15 years later I refinanced it with a 15-year mortgage at (IIRC) 5% in order to (partly) finance my first child’s college education. After 10 years and both kids out of school I paid off the last few years in a lump sum.
When you talk about minimum wage don’t forget that farm workers and service workers don’t have to get paid minimum wage. And years ago farm workers especially made up a larger fraction of the work force than they do now.
There’s what I’m sure is an unintended irony in the cartoon’s 4th panel. The phone that the person arguing for a higher minimum wage is pointing to in order to make their point was made by someone making far below what would be considered a living wage in America (based on the living conditions and level of goods and services an American expects to live with and on) under conditions that Americans would consider intolerable and would in fact be illegal in many instances.
And if it was made by an American in America under U.S. labor laws I cannot prove but am willing to bet it would cost at least 2x as much and a lot fewer people would own them.
Ron, you’ve reminded me of this classic cartoon by Matt Bors.
How? I said it was ironic, not hypocritical.
And yes, I’ve seen that cartoon before.