We started by talking about the change in attitude by the dental people who work third watch. She said she remembered when everyone was fairly happy and got along and worked together. I asked her when she thought the attitude changed. She said the major difference happened in February when just about everyone on third watch thought they were going to be laid off and then in March when one of the assistants actually was let go. Then she moved into how much it bothers her when people say that there’s no work out there because she’s worked two jobs for a large part of her working life. “There are jobs,” she said, “if people are willing to look for them.”
“The ones that are easiest to get are at places like KFC,” I said, “where the turnover is high. How can you support a family when you’re getting paid just above minimum wage?”
“Inflation’s a problem,” she said.
“It got so bad,” she said, “because all those women wanted to go to work in the ‘50s.”
I was shocked and a little bit outraged. To blame increased cost of living on women working? Absurd. Right?
I didn’t say that though. I just listened. She believes that because women started to work and households started to earn more money that when they started to spend that money prices on everything were raised. “It’s supply and demand,” she said. “If people weren’t willing to pay the higher prices then prices would go down.”
“But,” I said, “almost all families were single income until the mid ‘80s.” -- I don’t actually know if this is true. It sounds true enough, though. -- “By the mid ‘90s most were double income families. Most families can’t survive comfortably, or at all, without two people working.”
“They could if prices go down.”
“But they’re not going down, even during the mess that’s been going on for the last five years.”
“Prices are going down,” she said.
“What? Like car prices?” I asked.
She said that car prices are going down because so many people have started to buy used cars. The car companies have to lower their prices on new cars. I said that I haven’t noticed a difference. There’s not much below $20,000, I said. She said that everything that lasts has come down in price.
“Does that really matter if wages haven’t kept up with cost of living?” I asked.
She looked at me.
“I mean,” I said, “that when they take out the price of food and fuel it looks like prices haven’t gone up much.”
“But everyone has to eat,” she said, smiling.
“Exactly. How can a family do anything if the price of food and the heating and how they get to work keep going up?”
“They can’t,” she said, “but if they refused to pay high prices--“
“How can they pay less for food?” I interrupted. “Grow their own food? Most people can’t even have a garden. Food prices have nothing to do with women going to work.”
“It’s like this,” she said. “When one person works they only make this much money” – She raised her hand up a little. – “and can only spend so much. When two people work they make this much.” – She raised her other hand higher than the first. – “What do they do with all the extra? They spend it and that make prices go up. Better to have only one person work.”
My jaw hung slack. “I’m not an economist,” I said, “but I don’t think that’s right.”
“I haven’t studied economics,” she said, “but I grew up in the 60s and 70s and I remember my mom saying that everything was getting more expensive and this was when lots of women started to go to work. If just a few had gone to work everything would have stayed the same, but when most of them started working prices went insane.”
And if I start to pay you to protect me from tigers and I never get attacked by a tiger living in California then you must be protecting me from tiger, I thought.
“If all the women just quit their jobs” – She smiled and chuckled for the first time during this conversation, as if it were all a joke. – “prices would get better.”
For a second I thought about mentioning the insane inflation of food prices in China, but knew that she would just point out that more women are working there, too. It’s hard for me to point to any recently successful economy in this world where prices on food are going up where women aren’t a large part of the workforce. I think they have to word as much as they want to work. She’d just argue that all the prices there were cheaper before so many women started working.
“They wouldn’t go down,” I said, instead of speaking my thoughts.
“I think they would,” she said. “You know, people can survive with only one person working. They just have to make sacrifices.”
I let the conversation stop there. I had nothing more to say to her. She’s not going to leave her job even though she just married one of the officers here. We talked about that a while ago, long before she told me inflation is because women work. She’s going to work for a least another 10 years, she told me. She’s going work, even though he brings home a nice salary and will get a good pension when he retires, because she wants buy some nice things and fix her place up and live comfortably.