Living today, even by Florida standards, is pricey. The average cost for a loaf of bread is $1.41 as opposed to $1.08 five years ago and 88 cents in 2000. The average per pound cost for bananas now is 62 cents, 50 cents five years ago, and 35 cents back in 1999. A pound of bacon is $4.54, $3.44 five years ago, and just $2.47 15 years ago.
The average cost of a gallon of gasoline today is $3.50. In 2007 it was $2.80; $1.36 in 2002; $1.13 in 1992; 65 cents in 1977, and 31 cents in 1962.
I’m old enough to remember gas prices in the teens and when windshields were washed and oil, air and water was checked. The attendant waved farewell with a fist full of S&H Green Stamps.
Today, big oil and other industries boast billions in profits while paychecks remain stagnant as skyrocketing living expenses crush Americans into submission.
Even a trip to the happiest place of all ... Disney World’s Magic Kingdom ... costs $99 plus tax. That’s in addition to a $15 parking fee and the inflated prices for food and soft drinks.
It’s outrageous to visit parks that are little more than glorified shopping malls for Disney merchandise.
Working Americans feel the brunt of the challenges to meet everyday expenditures. Many companies are reducing manpower, hours and sending jobs overseas. Full timers who enjoyed company-paid medical care, sick leave, vacations and other benefits face demotion to part-time status to circumvent federal and state employment laws.
One restaurant chain has even announced that it may soon add an “employee insurance surcharge” to meals.
The Consumer Price Index indicates that it costs $3,632 in Tampa Bay to maintain the same standard of living that costs, for example, $6,500 in New York. That means consumer prices here are 23.87 percent lower. Renting an apartment or home is 65.80 percent higher in the Northeast, groceries are 19.57 percent lower in Tampa Bay, while overall purchasing power is 41.77 percent higher than in New York.
Compared to other states, it’s still cheaper to live in Tampa Bay when state income taxes (we don’t have them) are factored in, along with transportation costs ($13 to cross the George Washington Bridge from Manhattan to New Jersey), as opposed to less than $2 at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge tollbooth.
Florida property taxes that seem excessive to some really are dirt-cheap. My property tax is less than $1,000 annually. The rate on a home I once owned in New Jersey nudges $11,000 ... that’s eleven thousand dollars!
Some may argue that workers in major U.S. cities earn more money than their counterparts in the Southeast. In Florida, for example, a customer service representative earns roughly $12 an hour while an administrative assistant rakes in a few pennies more. Statistically, Floridians earn 6 percent less than workers in most other states.
Now let’s take a look at our New York example where a customer service representative earns $43,000 annually. Meanwhile, the minimum wage worker will earn $8.75 an hour this coming December, and a quarter more to $9-an-hour in December 2015. Florida’s minimum wage rose by 14 cents last January, or 68 cents higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25.
Thus, there are thousands of Americans holding on for dear life so they don’t fall below the poverty line.
So how does a low wage worker find money for the mortgage, rent, car payments, groceries, insurance, clothes, and all the other expenses on roughly $400 a week after taxes?
They don’t, and that’s why so many gainfully employed workers depend on government subsidies for food, housing and health care in order to survive. Some municipalities, like Pinellas Park’s Angel Fund, helps some low wage earners pay utility bills. Food banks operated by churches and civic groups offer free groceries to the working poor. Some corporate executives actually advise their minimum wage workers on ways to obtain various forms of public assistance, including Medicaid, rather than pay a decent salary.
According to a study by the University of California at Berkeley, more than half of America’s minimum wage workers rely on at least one government public assistance program to support their families. Taxpayers are on the hook for $7 billion annually thanks to one major burger chain that offers take it or leave it minimal wages, no benefits, and limited work hours. The fast food industry combined is said to cost taxpayers an estimated $3.8 billion annually in government subsidies for the working poor.
The Obama Administration is pushing for a federal minimum wage of $10.10 an hour by 2016. That would help roughly a million Floridians in the hotel, restaurant and service industries who live in a state that has the second-largest number of minimum wage workers, only after Texas.
And so it goes for struggling Americans who are living paycheck to paycheck while trying to eke out a living.
Meanwhile, the price of gasoline, groceries and insurance continues to escalate while big business reaps in the profits.