State of Working America, 1998-99

W. Kiernan WKiernan at
Sun Sep 6 11:37:35 PDT 1998

Max Sawicky wrote:
> ...downloaded from our web site (

Your web site is, like, extreme, dude!

Wow! Look at all these numbers! I truly love this kind of stuff. The only one I want I can't find is a table showing the CPI-U-X1 deflator, and I don't remember ever seeing that at the Bureau of Labor Statstics either. Can you point me in the direction of a table? (I'd also like the original CPI-U for comparison.)

Sometimes you like to use the original dollar figures. For instance if I'm trying to talk to a 45-year-old engineer about wages when he was a teenager as compared to now, I don't want to use inflation-adjusted figures; he (I) can remember being paid $1.60 an hour, the then-prevailing minimum wage. I could say, "But the equivalent in 1970 dollars of today's minimum wage is $1.08 an hour (NOTE: I made that up; I'm guessing, that's why I'm asking for the indices) so if it was hard for you to get along on $1.60 an hour, imagine how hard it is for an ambitious-but-poor college student, a fellow just like you were, trying to make it today on the inflation-adjusted equivalent of $1.08 an hour."

(Because the last time a lot of these people didn't have a secure income was when they were teenagers, not yet out of college. They don't sympathize with workers today in the bottom ten or twenty percent of incomes, they feel they have nothing in common with those people. It's useful to remind them that they too once were in that income bracket. It's no use trying this argument on a guy whose wealthy Dad sent him off to college with all-expenses-paid, of course.)

Speaking of numbers, the last time I posted here (last time serious, Weekly World News doesn't count) I was talking about how completely indifferent the office guys were to political arguments (as compared with field guys, who earned nearly as much). Well, you tailor your pitch to your customer. These office guys are civil engineers. land planners, registered surveyors, and the like.

I remember the one and only time a political argument of mine made any headway at all in there; it was in '92 when I caught out Limbaugh exaggerating the cost of AFDC by a factor of two thousand percent; on the radio in the break room Limbaugh said "Welfare costs the Federal Government $300-billion a year." (AFDC cost about $14-billion that year.) I told the guys standing around that Limbaugh was a disgusting liar, and I downloaded an official-looking U.S. Government budget page, printed it and handed out copies. After looking at the numbers, everybody agreed that Limbaugh was a big liar and a shithead, and I believe I succeeded right then in permanently discrediting him for several of my cow-orkers.

What won the case, in front of that audience, was the fact that the number was so blatantly, deliberately bogus. Engineering types quite distrust, and thus ignore, any argument that involves long chains of verbal logic. But exaggerate a verifiable number by 2000% and you've lost your argument as far as they are concerned. They shake off arguments such as "It's bad for death squads to rape and murder nuns," and if you tell them "It's a shame, these Indonesian workers work in sweatshops for $1.50 a day," it's like "That's their fault for being foreigners," but they frown mightily to hear "So-and-so deliberately misreported this numerical datum by 1.3 orders of magnitude."

Yours WDK - WKiernan at

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