Reading the Paper Edition

Posted by Dave W. | Thursday, May 01, 2008 | , 0 comments |

Yesterday I got to do something I rarely get to do, read the newspaper. An actual newspaper, that is, not just catching an article online. Newspapers appear to be a dying breed, with online media and television being the primary way to get news today. I got to read 2 good articles worth noting.

The first, from the Philadelphia Daily News, called Let us Pay: Struggling with Soaring costs of Food, Fuel, Rent, talks about the struggles of people meeting their daily living expenses. A staffer at a local church speaks about how the economy has changed the members of her congregation: “I remember when I came, we had the conversation of ‘What are we going to do for “them,” for those in need?’ ” Eileen Jones of the First Presbyterian Church in Germantown said. “But with the way the economic status is now, it’s no longer them - it’s us. There are people in our congregation that need the help of our food cupboard, and they’re embarrassed to ask.”

And as one person put it when talking about their bakery business being slower than usual: “You can’t run your car on chocolate mousse.” With gas at over $3.50 a gallon, people are making choices with their discretionary spending. Buy a cake or put gas in the car? Maybe buy food for the dinner table or put gas in the car? As someone who has worked in the gasoline business for many years, I have been on the receiving end of many irate customers complaining about rising gas prices. However, what I’ve seen over the past several years as prices have risen, the complaints have went from being directed at the poor clerk or merchant that makes the same profit regardless of gas prices to venting about the oil companies that are raking in the profits. Customers now seem to understand that it is not the fault of the local gas station. That doesn’t change the fact though that, especially in the suburbs, even going to the grocery store requires a car. It’s a simple equation for many: No gas, no car. No car, no job. No job, no food on the table or money for rent/mortgage.

Along with this article was a Q&A of with Bruce Rader, an assistant finance professor at Temple University. One of the questions struck a chord with me:

Q: Do people’s salaries typically reflect what’s going on in the economy?

A: That’s what eventually should happen. We haven’t seen that in a while, though, especially for the middle class. We might see that pressure. I think the Fed has to worry about this rise in oil and food prices feeding over into the rest of the economy. People are demanding higher wages so they can meet their costs. No one wants to have a lower cost of living.

This is because on Tuesday, I received my letter with my new salary, which will be in my paycheck this week. I was rewarded with a 1.5% raise (woo-hoo!), which not only does not cover the cost of living, it doesn’t even cover the increase in the cost of medical benefits that I received January 1st.  Amazing how the cost of benefits always promptly hits your paycheck, but you are basically taking a paycut for the first several months of the year until the raise kicks in (if you even get a raise, which I didn’t get for 2 years at my job prior to this). When I read the letter, my reaction was “I’ll be sure not to spend all the money in one place.” Which prompted the comment from our office’s admin: “Yeah, that seems to be the general reaction from everybody.”

It seems we have all been beaten down by the economy, resigned to shrinking wages and higher costs of everything.