$1.60 An Hour

The past few years have brought the issues of wage disparity and unequal pay to the surface. Teachers, who have more and more demands put upon their time while seeing their salary inch up like a one-legged worm walking uphill, have gathered at state capitals to voice their frustrations. Of course, the problem isn’t as much with stingy local school boards as it is with state governments who really hold the combination for the money vault.

And then there’s been the revelations of unequal pay that have shown the gap between women and men, and even different pay structures according to race.

Those fairness issues are justified. They are steps toward treating people with respect and showing that they are valued.

And then there’s the other side of pay philosophy that has raised its ugly head. On one side there’s the rising number of exorbitant salaries being paid to professional athletes. I acknowledge that most athletes, minor league baseball players and such, don’t get paid much at all (probably about what a seasoned teacher makes). We don’t hear about those minor league salaries. The ones we do hear about, however, are now extending to nine figures to the left of the decimal point. One baseball player, Juan Soto is reported to be on the verge of being the first player to sign a $500,000,000 contract. Can you imagine? Hey, I don’t disparage him for being blessed with such high wages. I’d just like to see a professional sports team decide to lower ticket prices as a way of saying their fans are also valued.

My first summer job after I graduated from high school was working in the Rollyson Aluminum Products factory in South Point, Ohio. The owner, Jim Rollyson, was a good friend of my dad’s. That was the only reason I got the job, because I had no resume to impress anyone with. I worked in the summer heat and humidity, being paid $1.60 an hour. After taxes, my paycheck for the week said $55.32! I was rich! Actually, the money went to help pay for the upcoming college expenses…slightly!

The thing is it was my first work experience. I didn’t deserve anything more than $1.60 an hour (Well, maybe a couple of dimes more!). Simply put, I needed to learn how to work, how to function as a part of a team and how my responsibilities were important for the completion of the product. That summer I learned that whining doesn’t get things done, that showing up for work on time was the expected not the exception, and that no matter what the pay is the work needs to be done well.

In essence, I learned what a good work ethic involves, and I showed up Monday-Friday from 7:30-4:00 and helped assemble insulated aluminum window frames. The next summer I was moved to a different department that worked the second shift, and usually 12-hour days, received a bump in pay to $2.00 an hour ($3.00/overtime) and worked harder than I ever had. I needed the extra hours. College tuition was going up faster than my dad’s blood pressure.

I think about those days and sometimes even smile. They taught me lessons that have affected me for the rest of my lifetime. As I think about them I also think of a generation of first-job workers who are receiving starting pay wages that are elevated. When I adjust my $1.60 an hour pay in 1972 to what it would equal today it comes to $10.85 an hour. However, fast-food restaurants are advertising $15-$17 dollars an hour…and they’re having a hard time finding workers!

And I think back to that first job I had, the lessons I learned, the importance of being responsible, and I ask myself, “How are a new generation of workers learning work ethic, team responsibility, and the importance of showing up every day?”

The ripple effect of the entitlement mentality has made its way into the workplace.

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