Class Warfare and the Decline of Class

By | Oct 7, 2010

In order to end poverty we need a stable, robust economy. We need good jobs. We need to train people to fill them.

I’m currently in a masters program in public policy at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I’m fortunate to have a fellowship that places me with a local community development funding intermediary here in the city.

Coming from Los Angeles, I’ve been impressed with how well the bus system works here. I have further appreciated the work of bus drivers since I am here without a car.

From my simple observation, driving a bus seems like difficult, tiring work. I’m not only grateful that others do it, I’m grateful that I don’t.

So, why the bus driver love on Poverty Insights?

Well, yesterday I attended a talk by a gentleman whose focus is on preserving historical buildings in Pittsburgh. Toward the end of his presentation, speaking to a room full of privileged students, he cracked wise that “if you want a good paying job, become a bus driver because you can retire young at 70% of your earnings for life.”

The Good Life?

Not only did I think the presenters remarks were off-key, I thought his class-oriented rhetoric was likely statistically idiotic to boot.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2008 there were 193,900 transit and intercity bus drivers in the United States. The median hourly wage for these workers was $16.32 per hour, which annualized at 70% comes to $23,761.90.

Poverty thresholds vary by household size, which makes sense. The more people you have in a household the less money there is per person in it. The following chart shows poverty levels for families living on 70% of a bus driver’s median earnings per year. I looked at household sizes from one person up to five. The red line on the chart shows the poverty line.

As the chart shows, a household of one to two people can live somewhat comfortably on a retired bus driver’s wages. But don’t let your family get too big. A family of four would be at exactly the poverty line, and anything greater than four people below it.

Thrown Under the Bus

My point is not to argue that being a bus driver is a bad job. It’s not. I’m glad we have people doing it, and I’m glad we as a society can generate jobs that provide a valuable public services.

Instead, my point is that we should not talk out of two sides of our mouths, on the one hand demanding that people pick themselves up by their own boot straps and get to work, then slamming those people for any benefits they may derive from their work.

Service sector jobs are by-and-large lower paying and more physically demanding. As local, state, and the national government go through budget woes let’s not look for savings from people precariously close to poverty.

Photo credit meddygarnet