Okay, I'll admit up front that I am stumbling for a thesis as much as anything else but I wanted to put this in writing to perhaps spur my own further investigation into what is being caused and why it is being cause but it starts like this:
It occurred to me today, while I was sitting at my desk at the office of the company I work for, that my actual rate of income is quite a bit lower than what is stated on my paycheck. My current hourly rate for labor is stated at $19.05/hour. But this is based on hours that I am "clocked in" to work, i.e., this is only for the time that the company defines as active work. My rate of remuneration does not count, as a matter of profitable course and insofar as the law requires, the time that is actually dedicated in my life to working for the company. All of the time I spend traveling to and from work, as well as the off-the-clock lunch hour, are in a practical sense actually time dedicated to my job but the company is not expected, perhaps on any level, to recompense me (a low leverage worker) for this time in spite of the rather significant impact it has on my quality of life.
The Actual Income Rate for my job is below $7/hour. How do I arrive at that figure? Take the entire amount of time that is dedicated to work, i.e. the total amount of hours spend out of the home in favor of the job, and accept this as the actual time dedicated to the job. For me, considering mode of transportation and distance to work as well as one hour per day for lunch, the total comes out to about 13.5 hours per day. Factoring in scheduled over time, the total ends up at about 70 hours/week that I am out of the house for work. The effective income also must be adjusted to account for the money that is not ever going to be possessed by the worker: taxes, employee contributions to healthcare accounts, et al. Due to my income level and place of residence, I am taking home approximately 70% of the stated income that my employer pays me. The figure that I came up with, extrapolating from what information I am given on my pay stub, I am bringing home $7.26/hour. This is not a very high wage and is not enough to pay for my debts and monthly obligations (student loans, telephone, rent, utilites, and the like). This is still not accounting for the cost of actually getting too and from work. I added up car insurance, gasoline, public transit and wear and tear on my vehicle and arrived at a figure of $3600 in travel costs that I am paying prorated per year to get to and from work. This is more than 10% of my take home pay.
What is the point I am getting at here? I am not sure. It seems to me that this is an opening to a larger discussion or several larger discussions. It has been an object of some speculation in popular culture that people are less happy on average now than they have ever been before. As much as something like that can be calculated and weighed against a decided historical lack of such data being collected and in the face of an inherent unreliability of such data (it stretches credulity to the point of asking if this collection of information can even be presented as "data") it begs the question, "Why are people unhappier now?" I think my personal example is applicable to the large amount of Americans in the same income bracket as me (the average wage of a full-time employee in the United States is listed as slightly higher than my own income but is within a range of 10%) and would explain why it is that the economic power one might expect to exert when their wage is expressed does not match up with the actual buying power that wage gives a person. So that could begin a discussion on why are actual wages in this country lower than what a typical worker might need just to tread water in the economy.
There is also, interestingly enough, a rather large disconnect between what a worker is keeping and what their relative cost is to an employer. I have somewhat reliable information that the overhead cost on my employer's payments to my health insurance account, payroll taxes, retirement fund contributions, and other insurance coverage (life insurance for one, perhaps for two if there is a separate policy on me that would pay out to my employer in case of death) comes out to between $16,000-$20,000/year. That seems absurd on the face of it but this is the way the game is rigged in the actuary's office whether or not it is practically true. So the total cost for my services to my employer might be as $60,000 even though I am only seeing around $26,000 of that. This is a glaringly inefficient relationship. Such an expression would be even worse in regards to an employer's cost and the relative income for a temporary employee but a lot of companies favor that type of arrangement at least for cost reliability if or if not any actual savings are realized by such a service. The potential gap of about 56% of my cost being unavailable either to me or to my employer seems far in excess of what I am personally standing to gain from any public services and such that should be explained by said deficit.
So what? That is where I'm at right now. Does this actually say anything about what my particular worth is as an employee? My mind does somersaults to figure out not only what the total profit figure is for the company in a given year (this given year, 2011) but what part of that is even possible to pool back into employee compensation while keeping the company positioned to extend it's business infrastructure and continue as a profitable business. I have no idea. I know I am personally insulted by the compensation of sales management level employees because of their low quality of work and there seemingly low investment in the past and continued success of the company. What I need for my own selfish ends is perhaps an advocate. A lawyer, perhaps? There is quite a bit of money and some obvious waste in the company that certainly could be working to suppress my wages but I know I am also on the higher end of compensation in my department and that leads me to believe that there is a more systematic structure at work to keep wages low. But that doesn't in and of itself make the argument that my work is any more valuable than what it is currently "appreciated" to be. On a side note, "You are a valued employee" and other similar lines of corporate propaganda to make workers feel a part of a family always make me feel particularly uncomfortable. I am valued at a dollar level and the fact that the dollar level I am receiving is orders of magnitude lower than other employees isn't exactly inspirational!
So that's where I am. This all means something but it's a big ball of string and it may be beyond me to unspool it.