Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Definitely In The Crosshairs

I have written a few posts this year about the problems of the shrinking middle class.  About how one feels when one realizes that one is an endangered species.  I gotta tell you, it doesn’t feel great.

And I know there are folks out there who think, “What a whiner!  She’s got food on the table, a roof over her head…the wolves are in no way at the door.  Maybe she should save her complaining for when she has REAL problems.”

Why shouldn’t I get a jump on the complaining?  Why should I wait until the REAL problems arrive, which I see happening within the next five years?  Like, when we SHOULD be retiring, but will be unable to do so, because our retirement income will not be adequate to KEEP that roof over our heads or that food on the table, much less provide for the growing health care needs we’re likely to experience as time goes on.  Relaxation?  Travel?  Entertainment?  We’ll be lucky if we can continue to afford cable tv so that we can live vicariously watching others do those things.

We have been having a hard time making ends meet over the past few months.  Husband brings home a pretty decent income, we haven’t bought a car or taken any vacations…  So what is the problem?  Could it be the $800-$900 monthly tab for gasoline that we were paying during the summer months, with the travel we had to do for our business?  Could it be that the husband had to take out yet another small loan from his 401k so that we could pre-emptively replace our nearly shot roof before it failed?  Could it be that in April we shelled out $5000 for veterinary surgery that produced a $300/month payment for, roughly, -ever, along with an “unhappy outcome?”

Could it be the $12000 in bonuses that the husband brought home last year—which we thought were to make up for the absence of raises since 2005—shrank to less than $4k this year? I set up a spreadsheet a couple of years ago, and if husband had merely been receiving 3% COLA’s for the past nine years, his base salary would have been up over $113k in 2014. Instead, his base salary is just over $88k—less than it would have been had he received a 3% COLA  in 2006—which he did not.

We did an intensive grocery shop the other day, which we have not been able to do since October.  This means going to Costco and stocking up on things that you have to buy mass quantities of, but you save enough money on the “per each” cost that it makes it worth tripping over 30 rolls of toilet paper or a dozen rolls of paper towels for a while.  Or stocking the freezer with a large quantity meat…whatever meat you can afford, even at Costco prices.

I swear to god, as I walked around that store, I gasped and shook my head so much that I wonder why somebody didn’t walk up to me and ask me if they needed to dial 911.  Sliced cheese--$5/lb.   Bacon--$5/lb.  A 24-ounce bag of precooked “organic” chicken meatballs--$12.  The vegetarian “sausage” patties that used to go for $8 for a 3# box are now $13.  The “giant” box of laundry detergent that once cost $17.99 is now a third smaller and prices out at $30.  

The exact cut of rib eye roast that we bought for Christmas dinner five years ago for around $7/lb now goes for $14/lb.  That chunk of meat sitting there in the case was tagged at over $100.  One hundred dollars for one piece of beef that might serve a family Christmas party.

Oh…and you say you’re interested in throwing a party?  Just by-the-by, we checked out the price of fresh Dungeness crab at Pike Place market last week, and it was a mere $180 for four “large” whole crabs.  I don’t know how much that figures out to per pound for the crab meat.  I don’t want to know.  Not that I was intending to buy it anyway; but now I have a great reply for customers who ask us if we put fresh local crab into our crab cakes.  How does “Hell f*#king NO!” sound…?

Do you know what kind of meat came home in our Costco box?  Ground turkey.  It was on sale for under $3/lb.  So, y’know…just talking about FOOD, the price of some stuff we use all the time has doubled or nearly doubled in just the past 60 months. 

Tell me again why I shouldn’t be upset about the husband NOT getting crappy 3% annual cost-of-living adjustments for the past ten years.

But…oh, yeah, I forgot.  He’s “lucky to have a job.”

So, a couple of days ago, husband emails me, all excited.  Fourth quarter rolled around, and the company finally coughed up a bonus.  $3500—a little over $2800 after taxes.  Which will go right into the bank to cover property taxes, because we’ve been eating away at our property tax account to cover monthly shortfalls on the bills, or stuff like another $400 vet bill, or car repairs that would be too dangerous to file away under the heading of “deferred maintenance.”  Forty years in the workplace, over twenty years with the same company, a salary that would have put my parents on easy street…and we are living virtually paycheck to paycheck.  And sliding backwards a little more each month. 

I don’t know about any of my other middle class friends and acquaintances of “a certain age,” but this is not what we signed up for.

But what really frosted me, and was in fact the catalyst for this post, was when I overheard the husband explaining to my niece the reasoning behind the bonus structure at the company where my husband works.

It seems that if, after employing every accounting trick in the book to hide, re-arrange, and obfuscate sales to make it appear that the company has not made a profit, there is danger that a profit might actually appear—upon which the company would have to pay taxes—they throw the “profit” into the employee compensation pool and divide it out into bonuses.  Basically, they throw the money at the employees rather than pay taxes on it.  Oh, but Uncle Sam still gets a share—in the form of the income taxes the employees have to pay on the money.

So you don’t get a bonus for doing a good job.  You don’t get a bonus in lieu of the raises you should have been getting for the past ten years.  You don’t get a bonus for sticking with a company that has basically treated you like crap for the past twenty years.

You get a bonus because the company has money left over upon which it does not want to pay taxes.  I kid you not, the company line is, “Might as well give it to the employees if all you would be doing is handing it over to the government, otherwise.”  Nothing like a little creative (and perfectly legal) tax dodging to make your staff feel all warm and fuzzy, valued and appreciated.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I think that just…sucks.

1 comment:

  1. I could write a post to go along with your post. I refuse to quote 'misery loves company' but dammit. We do. We have our own business and struggle month to month to year to year and there are times when my good nature about circles thet drain because of worry over bills and taxes and just having a little bit of fun. Are there ways we can cut down? Of course there are. But after all these years of working our asses off, why should we have to not live and only survive paycheck to pay check? I am so looking forward to retirement. So I can work another job and collect my pension and SS. And of course, SS won't let me collect my entire benefit because well, gee, I worked a job that has a pension too.
    I am SO RIGHT WITH YOU on this. And I don't even know where to start to help in the fixing of it. Voting has become a joke. Politicians are smarter than any of us. They get a job that they don't do anything at, have great benefits and get away with it.