Mike Kilen | October 21 2016 | Des Moines Register
FORT MADISON, Ia. — After being laid off from her factory job in 2008, Becky Haage took a job at Dollar General.
She started out making $8.50 an hour and moved up to $11 an hour as an assistant manager, but says she knew that was as much as she could make at the retail job.
“Retail is almost sickening to me, how much corporate America makes and throws peanuts to their workers, who are working so hard,” she said. “So you just have to fight for yourself, is what it’s come down to.”
The anemic rise in wages over the past five decades is one factor stirring unease among voters as the Nov. 8 election nears.
In Iowa, wages for low- and middle-income workers have not increased as much as for high-income earners.
And Iowa workers have seen even slower wage growth than their counterparts across the country. In the past 35 years, their wages dropped to 81 percent of the U.S. average, while the cost for Iowans to purchase all goods and services is roughly 90 percent of the U.S. average, said economist Dave Swenson of Iowa State University.
In other words, it’s cheaper to live in Iowa, but average wages of about $42,000, which have increased only $2,300 in seven years, don’t necessarily cover living costs
Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have both supported spending on infrastructure to create jobs and a boost in the minimum wage — Clinton to $15 an hour and Trump to $10 — but they differ on other strategies to boost wages. Trump, the Republican nominee, supports cutting taxes and reducing costly regulations, while Clinton, the Democratic nominee, has promoted plans to grow the economy through investment in manufacturing and clean energy.
Some economists see recent signs of improvement, including last month’s Census Bureau national data that showed a 3.8 percent gain in real median household income in 2015.
That’s little comfort to employees like Haage, who has struggled to find better-paying work since her layoff eight years ago, amid the Great Recession, and now makes $11.50-an-hour at a Fort Madison factory.
The factory worker
“I’m not a genius. I haven’t gone to college,” Haage said. “But I’m not stupid or lazy. It’s just not there. Used to be, you work at a factory, and you have it made. With two of us working factory jobs, we should have it made. We don’t. We’re paycheck to paycheck.”
Both Haage, 41, and her husband, Dan Haage, 47, were laid off from factories in Missouri during the recession. They moved to Fort Madison four years ago with their three children.
She eventually left Dollar General for a temporary job at Silgan Containers, slipping plastic sleeves over can lids in the canning factory, for $11.50 an hour. Her husband found a job at a nearby factory starting at $20 an hour, and with union backing has been able to move up to $25 in the last four years.
“It’s not like we are starving, but we could be better off,” Becky Haage said.
They have student loans from when her husband returned to college after his layoff and are trying to buy a house on contract. The house needs a new roof, windows and a bathroom remodel.