I’d waited a long time, but then the phone call came in January. There was a job for me. It was 1975 and I was about to embark on a career as a paperboy. Despite wages of just 70p a week for working seven days (still only around £6.50 in today’s money) competition for jobs was fierce. The only way you got a call was if someone left school and got a full time job, or was taken on by a competing newsagent who wasn’t quite so tight-fisted.
Fast forward to last Saturday morning, and my mum received a letter from the newsagent with her regular morning newspaper. They were unable to recruit paper boys or girls, it said, and the delivery service was to cease forthwith. I spoke to the newsagent who confirmed the problem – he couldn’t get anyone to do the job. The £15-£25 a week it now pays, literally isn’t worth getting out of bed for. And that’s in a working class area of south Yorkshire, not some leafy Surrey suburb.
So what are we to make of that?
Well there are any number of possible conclusions, for example…
– Young people are no longer interested in money and the material possessions that it can buy.
– Young people are now forgoing short term gain to concentrate on studying for their long term future.
– Young people would rather devote their spare time to charitable works rather than personal gain.
– Young people have secured other employment which pays better.
When you’ve stopped laughing at these suggestions, I’ll give you another one which I think carries a bit more weight – kids are a lot better off in 2016 than they were in 1975. They no longer need the money that a paper round can bring, and aren’t prepared to sacrifice a lay-in for it.
Take a look at the stuff which the average 15 year old owns and it’s easy to see how £20 a week doesn’t look like a lot of money. When your iPhone cost £600, your iPad cost about the same and you have a £1,500 laptop in your bedroom, a 6.00am start to shove The Sun through someone’s letter box for three quid a day lacks allure.
Although I think a paper round provides valuable life-lessons and a useful first step on the road to work, I can live with all of this. It’s called progress. Things have got better. But what I struggle with is the barrage of negativity from politicians, social activists and the media claiming we have a significant proportion of the population living in poverty and things are somehow much worse than they have been in the past.
I don’t think there’s any congruence between a world in which there’s genuine poverty, and one in which you can’t get schoolchildren to deliver newspapers for £20 a week. By any rational measure, we are all better off than at any time in history.
Now I make no comment as to whether we are happier, more fulfilled or more satisfied with what we have (although the answer seems obvious) but as a society, we’re certainly richer in every tangible sense. I think it’s time that those in positions of power and influence, openly acknowledged the fact, and focussed their efforts on encouraging people to appreciate and enjoy what we all have, rather than nurturing a feeling of bitterness and resentment which is both unjustified, and which ultimately does nobody any good.
I’m aware that all this might seem at odds with what we do here at Streetwise. After all, most people read our blogs, newsletters and other publications because they want to move forward with their lives, and financial success is a big part of that. But it really isn’t at odds at all.
What the politicians, media and activists are saying is “The situation is bad and getting worse, it’s not your fault, someone should do something about it.” We’re saying something very different – “Things are better than they’ve ever been, but if you want to rise above the crowd, it’s down to you to make it happen. Here are some ways you can do it.”
I know that most people reading this want to go that extra mile, to rise above the mundane and the average, and to be the best they can be. But what about everyone else? Well in a world where you can’t get a schoolchild to push a newspaper through your door for £20 a week, things must be pretty dammed comfortable.