Data from the United States Census Bureau reveals that workers in North and South Dakota have fared better than those in any other state ever since Ronald Reagan was elected President in 1980. Before everyone decides to become wheat farmers or Mount Rushmore tour guides, perhaps I should point out that these states have only fared better because their median wages have dropped less over that period of time than in the rest of the country. When we consider that the median wage for full time Dakotan workers in 1980 was four buffalo hides and two complimentary tickets to Branson, Missouri for the highly anticipated opening of the Roy Clark Celebrity Theater, there wasn’t much to lose.
Lest you think I have anything against North or South Dakota, or buffalo for that matter, let me assure you I love the people in the northern Great Plains. There’s no other place in the world where a person has to wait for the wind to die down so they can hear their best friend declare he’s switching his allegiances from the Packers to the Vikings because he can’t stand to see the referees give in to Aaron Rogers’ crying anymore.
And, there’s no other place in the world where saying “Uff da” won’t be met with blank stares of confusion. If you’ve never said, “uff da”, you should try it. It’ll make you feel better in just about any situation. Like the situation in which your boss tells you that he’s not going to be able to continue to supply Yakov Smirnoff tickets this year. Uff da, indeed!
No really, why am I picking on the Dakotas? What did they ever do to deserve such derision? It’s not like they’re Minnesota or something. I know Minnesota has given us plenty of great things, like Al Franken and Michelle Bachmann. Michelle Bachmann, now there’s a name we haven’t heard in awhile. Man, it’s been pretty nice hasn’t it? Sorry I had to ruin that winning streak we’ve been on. My bad.
And, the Dakotas certainly aren’t Wisconsin. Never has anyone from either Dakota tried to call the shape of their state a mitten. And, while Wisconsin's elected officials tend to remind us of overly anxious ushers at a funeral parlor trying to get everyone seated before Ayn Rand’s body completely deteriorates, politicians from the Dakotas could easily fill in for our high school social studies teacher.
Clearly, one would be luckier to call North or South Dakota home than to suffer the fate of being from Wisconsin or Minnesota. And, I haven’t even mentioned Ohio, Kansas, Nebraska, or Indiana yet.
Illinois, you’re cool. At least part of you. You gotta do something about violence in Chicago. Don’t pretend like it’s not a thing. It’s been a thing for decades. You kind of brought some of it on yourself trying to glitz and glam up mob violence so Geraldo would come to town. Now, you wonder why young people try to settle scores with drivebys. Maybe you shouldn’t embrace the violent criminals in your past so readily and turn them into modern day heroes for clueless children to follow.
Michigan, you get a free pass. I simply don’t have enough time to explain all of your greatness. And, I certainly don’t have enough time to discuss all of your flaws. To make it easier, I plan on telling everything to one of my friends. He’s going to tell three of his friends. They’ll tell eight of their friends. Eventually, it’ll get to you.
But, back to the Dakotas. They’ve really had a great few decades in comparison to the rest of the country. Sure, the median real wage for workers has gone down, but nowhere nearly as much as it has in the rest of the country. In fact, South Dakota is the only state outside of the East Coast where the real median wage for full time workers has actually gone up since 1980. How is that South Dakota has been able to raise their median wage for full time workers while actually decreasing their overall median wage? It’s simple. More than half of workers in South Dakota work part-time or less. So sure, those that are getting full-time hours are seeing slightly better wages than three-and-a-half decades ago. But, fewer and fewer are actually getting those full-time hours.
But, hey you’ve always got Fargo. Oh, sorry!
Where does this leave us economically as a nation? Fucked. That’s where. Screwed. Up shit crick without a paddle scooping dung with our bare hands trying not to fall out of the canoe. That’s where it’s left us. Most of us feel as hopeless as Mark Cuban trying to convince Ed Rush that Tim Duncan shouldn’t get nine steps before having to put the ball on the floor.
Over the next few months and years, we’re certainly going to hear a lot about tax reform, tax cuts, progressive taxation versus flat taxes, consumption taxes versus entitlement taxes, tax this, tax that, death taxes, federal sales taxes, tax, tax, tax, tax, tax, tax, tax. Frankly, the only people who should care about taxes in the United States at the moment are those who’ve benefitted greatly since Ronald Reagan tricked the world into believing that the trickle-down they were feeling was anything other than the wealthiest among us dropping their pants to pee on the crowd.
Shocking, a bunch of wealthy Republicans want to see their tax rates dropped. A bunch of people who’ve never had to eat cold hot dogs directly out of the package because their parents couldn’t pay the utility bills are going to whine that they shouldn’t have to pay an estate tax on their millions and millions of dollars. A bunch of billionaires are going to claim that if we give them tax cuts, it’ll give them more money to invest in creating jobs and donating to charities. Scores of people who were born on third base and barely made it home are going to want to be praised for their superior intellect that helped them bilk senior citizens out of their retirement funds. Never mind the nearly full century of data available that clearly shows the opposite of most of their claims.
Here’s where we really are.
Home ownership for Americans below the age of 35 is at an all-time low. It’s set a new all-time low every year since the financial crisis. That’s a huge fucking problem. While Steve Forbes may believe millennials love the idea of renting, most don’t really have a choice unless mommy and daddy swoop in and help them out in some way. Again, this is a huge fucking problem. Rental markets have become super-saturated in the last several years with people fleeing the financial crisis. This has driven up rental prices to astronomical levels in most parts of the country. This is a huge…I’ll stop for a minute with that.
Here’s the reality on this. When younger Americans are forced to put off buying homes, they are forced to put off building equity in property. Because equity in property has become the primary means by which most working Americans finance their retirements over the last half century, this delay in younger Americans building equity is only going to make matters worse. As rental prices continue to go up and up and up, these younger people have less money to devote to things like healthcare and retirement planning. We need younger Americans to be able to purchase their own homes and start building equity that can be used as a buffer against uncertainty in their older years.
Of course, the problems don’t start with home ownership for people under 35. That’s just the end result of horrible economic policies in this nation going all the way back to the Old Gipper. The cost of absolutely everything in this nation has increased dramatically in the last half century, with the exception of one thing; the cost of purchasing labor. Healthcare costs now consume nearly 20% of our total economy. The cost to attend a college is so unaffordable to many people, they find their solace in for-profit universities offering them nothing more than a cheap piece of paper and a cheesy photo taken next to a boring reality TV star. Even the cost of food in this country has outpaced the ability of the average person to buy it.
So, I’ll let everyone argue about how to fix our economy. And I know they will. The current generation in power has been arguing about it for decades. At the end of the day, it has nothing to do with NAFTA. It has nothing to do with tax policy. It has nothing to do with the morality or immorality of greed.
What it comes down to is simple. If wealth and income in this nation continue to be distributed so inequitably as they have been for the last 40 years, the resistance people believe in today will turn to a full blown revolution tomorrow. We’re already seeing the seedlings of that movement causing violence in many of our streets. One of the chief roles of the government is to ensure the Domestic Tranquility. That ain’t gonna happen for much longer if the average person can’t afford to make it through on their hard work.
What’s the solution you might ask? Fix it. That’s the solution. Just, fix it. Otherwise, we’re all going to be cramming into South Dakota looking for a couple buffalo hides to stay warm.