’Tis the best of times; ’tis the worst of times

With apologies to Mr. Dickens, his characterization of Victorian England could be ours today. How the worlds of employment and finance have changed! Here are some features of life in the 21st century for which I am grateful:

  1. Credit cards. I don’t have to carry as much cash as in the old days, when there was always risk of losing it or being held up. Widespread card use goes back, amazingly, only into the 1970s. The technology for almost instant verification today has reduced the risk of fraud. And I love the online records and cash-back bonuses.
  2. Debit cards. These are even better than credit cards, especially for the young ’uns, for they compel you to live within your means and won’t let you buy things for which you do not already have the money.
  3. Spreadsheets. How was human life possible before Excel? Or calculators? I made it through advanced algebra and trig with a slide rule.
  4. Job-posting networks on the internet. It’s easier than ever to find a job you like that aligns with your particular job skills.
  5. Fewer dirty and dangerous jobs. There’s less coal mining today, which means fewer coal jobs, but that means less black lung too. Machines do more and more of the dirty and dangerous jobs.
  6. Online banking. The bomb. Direct deposit. Instant knowledge of cleared checks. I no longer have to balance the checkbook each month.

But in some ways, it’s the worst of times as well. The employment and financial world when my parents were a young couple had some significant advantages:

  1. Pensions. Fifty years ago around half of American workers could look forward to a stable pension. Except for some government jobs today, pensions with guaranteed, defined benefits are fading away. We’re on our own now for old age financial security. Millennials today have no confidence that Social Security will be there for them, at least at present levels.
  2. No credit cards. I happen to love them, but it’s because I have decided to pay off the balance each month. Many of my fellow Americans today are deep in 16.5% debt. They solve their cash-flow problems by opening up another card and paying off their minimums with a new high-interest loan. The average American owes over $15,000 at these loan-shark rates.
  3. Few subsidized and guaranteed college loans. Young people could attend only as much college as they or their parents could afford. Hardly anybody in my college graduating class complained of any debt because we couldn’t get any unsecured loans back then.
  4. Small personal indebtedness.
  5. Cheap health care. One big disadvantage of life today is that all the technology and procedures that we have come to view as a right, like MRIs and CT scans, are really expensive. The percentage of income we pay today for health care premiums and health care debt is miles higher than 1955.
  6. No identity theft. In 1955 nobody even knew what that was.

So—what features of work and money do you appreciate most about today? What do you miss about yesterday?

Pastor Mark Jeske has been bringing the Word of God to viewers of Time of Grace since the program began airing in late 2001. A Milwaukee native, Pastor Jeske has served as the senior pastor at St. Marcus, a multicultural congregation on Milwaukee’s near north side since 1980. In addition, he is the author of six books and dozens of devotional booklets on various topics.

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