Coffee heat rising

The Third-Worldization of America: Proceeding Apace

Lineman_changing_transformerThe electrician and his sidekick were here this morning to install a few outlets at hip height, so I don’t have to crawl painfully on the floor to plug in a vacuum cleaner, a laptop, or a heating pad.

This guy, Dave, has been the electrician of choice for the past 30 years, so we’ve become casual friends. We’re both beginning to enjoy the vicissitudes of old age — he more than me, I’m sure, since he does a lot of physical work. While the two men were working, I was fiddling with installing a new battery-run doorbell (one of the previous Happy Handyman homeowners took out the hard-wired doorbell!), and I remarked that compared with the one I put in eight or ten years ago, it’s a piece of junk. That, of course, kicked off the Going-to-Hell-on-a-Handcart conversation.

Dave remarked that he feels unhappy in the 21st century, because so many changes keep coming so fast. He doesn’t like either the changes or the pace of change.

I said, well, if you’ll recall that’s exactly what our parents said when they got to be our age.

He said, that’s true. But there was a difference between 20th-century change and 21st-century change. In the 20th century, the changes put people to work: people had jobs. The opposite is happening now. Fewer and fewer people have jobs, and those who do don’t have very good jobs. Then he clucked about the stupidity of sending all the decent jobs offshore — and the harm it’s doing to America.

One thing that’s good about having a trade, I said, is that they can’t offshore electrical installation.

That’s true, he said. But the problem is, when people don’t have decent-paying jobs, they can’t afford to have maintenance work and improvements, like installing outlets where you can reach them, done right. So they either don’t do them, or they just jury-rig things to try to keep them going as long as possible.

You’ve been in Mexico, he continued. You’ve seen how the construction and infrastructure are thrown together, just enough to hold it up for a few days. That’s because nobody can afford the material or the skilled labor to do a proper job. They toss things up, they patch things together just so they’ll last until tomorrow. When tomorrow comes, they’ll figure out what to do then.

Well, that kind of thing is happening here more and more. When repairs need to be done, they either don’t get done or they don’t get done right, because people can’t afford to hire an electrician or a plumber. They’re just not earning enough.

Holy sh!t.

I think I’ve talked before about the Third-Worldization of America. As Dave said in passing, the only people who benefit from the changes we’re seeing today are the very wealthy and the upper-level, extravagantly paid executives of huge corporations.

Listen to the workingmen. They’re the people who are on the ground, trying to make a living with American jobs — you could say they’re the canaries in the mine. And in my opinion, they have a clearer, truer view of the health of our country’s economy than does any theoretician in academe or any politician in Washington.

What they have to say will curl your hair.

Image: Lineman installing a new transformer. Dave Pape. Public domain.

This post was included in the Carnival of Wealth at the feisty iconoclast Greg MacFarlane’s site, Control Your Cash. Thanks, Greg! 😉


5 thoughts on “The Third-Worldization of America: Proceeding Apace”

  1. Hmmmm….Electricians and plumbers are a pretty good indicator of what’s going on in our economy. My beef is for whatever reason these guys’ pricing has went thru the roof. Just got an estimate from “my electrician” to install 7 electric baseboard heaters and thermostats to be placed on the wall for asthetics and the best performance. I will be providing the heaters and the “stats”….easy access to panel and heaters thru the unfinished basement below. He will provide the wire, connectors, boxes and new breakers (3)….as well as his expertise….$1550…should take a day…maybe… I’m gonna see if my dentist has an opening in his schedule because it would be cheaper for him to do it!…

    • LOL! Wonder what kind of wiring the dentist would provide…copper dental floss? 😀

      Hm. Let’s see. How much do those devices cost? Three breaker switches…hmmm… What kinda breakers? Lowe’s is selling 20-amp ground fault circuit breakers for prices ranging from $3.48 (single-pole) to $86, but they seem to average around $42. And, hmmm…electrical boxes, amazingly cheap: $1 to $5, depending, although there are some varieties that run higher. Romex is cheap. Connectors, probably cheap, $2 apiece on the outside.

      Let’s say he spends $120 on the circuit breakers, $15 on the electrical boxes, and, oh, say, another $30 for a roll of Romex, $15 on the boxes (he buys top of the line, lucky you!)…gasoline to drive his truck to Home Depot and then up to your place runs him about $8 (big truck; he lives in the country): all told, about $188. So that leaves him $1362 net, not counting taxes, self-employment taxes, upkeep on the truck, licensing, and the like.

      If he works alone, he nets $170.25/hour before taxes and various other business expenses. If he has a hireling…hmmm… In 2011, the average hourly pay for an electrician was about $25 an hour — and we can safely assume that electricians haven’t gotten any better raises than the rest of us have. That leaves, for the boss’s pay — again, before taxes and a slew of business costs — $145/hour.

      Not bad. Until you figure the payment on the truck(s), the repair and maintenance on the truck, the vehicle insurance, the health insurance, the business insurance (think of the houses his stumble-bum assistant is capable of accidentally burning down!), his tradesman’s licensing and bonding, advertising, accounting, office help, business phone, office utility bills…chances are he’s not netting a lot more than his underling, assuming he can afford an underling.

      But wait! Lookit here: installing one baseboard heater involves 34 steps, according to WikiHow. That could be quite the pain in the tuchus. Imagine the number of trips to Home Depot you, as the happy handyman, could put in while jumping through 34 hoops!

      Ohhh the horror! This could actually be worth fifteen hundred and fifty dollah…

    • That is really high. I oversaw 5 gut renovation jobs in the past 8 years and the electricians charged no more than $500 per day. And I thought that was on the pricy side. I am located in NYC where there are lots of electricians so I just call around and keep getting quotes. $500 seems to be the going rate for 8 hours of work as an electrician here at least.

    • @ Kelly: True. That’s more than I’d earn at my maximum rate!

      But then I don’t have to pay for a truck, tools, and business insurance.

  2. Color me as an optimist. In the end, a country competes on what can’t be readily exported offshored. Land, clean environment, good social structure (strong laws, public safety), readily available capital, good physical infrastructure, and reasonable upward opportunity. I realize that this contradicts what your electrician says, but all this is here in spades in North America. Most especially, opportunities for recent immigrants that want to bust their humps, work hard, scrimp and save.

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