From the Herald News:
At age 18, Joe Rocco proudly followed his father in hoisting steel beams and digging foundations. Construction was the ticket to a good salary, benefits and a comfortable lifestyle, his father told him.
And for a while, it was. Rocco bought a five-bedroom house in Whippany and cars that included a 1969 Firebird. But the good life didn’t last. A combination of divorce and the drying up of well-paying construction jobs in recent years forced Rocco to shed the house, then the cars. He finally moved back in with his father in Little Falls and took a job folding T-shirts.
Rocco once earned $27 an hour plus overtime. Now, he earns $10 hourly.
“How can you take care of everything for $10?” asked Rocco, now 44, as he stuffed green sweatshirts into boxes on Tuesday at Falls Screen Printing in Little Falls. “My phone bill is over $130 a month. I have a 12-year-old daughter to take care of. It’s not enough.”
The cornerstone American creed that each generation can do better than the previous one is no longer a safe assumption, according to an analysis of Census income data. Earnings for individuals, specifically men, have fallen dramatically between 1974 and 2004.
Average salaries for men in their 30s went from about $40,000 in 1974, to $35,000 in 2004 in income-adjusted dollars, a drop of about 12 percent.
For some, like Joe Rocco and his father, Rudy, the gap is greater.
Average household incomes grew between 1974 and 2004, primarily because more women took jobs. But the rate of that growth slowed since the 1990s, causing researchers to wonder about the health of the American middle class.
“This really challenges the national attitude in ways that we haven’t had to deal with before,” said John E. Morton of the Economic Mobility Project, a bipartisan coalition of researchers.