I joined a gym a few weeks ago.
Physical therapy wasn’t an option after my two back surgeries – my deductible was $5,000, and problems with my right foot made it difficult to drive myself there and back the required three times a week. The foot problem also means I cannot put any weight on the foot, which means walking is now out.
So I opted for the gym.
The nearest gym is less than a mile away. It’s also only $10 per month.
Ten years ago, I went to a gym a few miles in the other direction. It was over $100 a month, but was the only facility in the Lansing area that had squash courts. Squash was my favorite activity for 35 years. I first played it in college. In the UK and the African countries in which we lived, squash courts were ubiquitous. In the US, they are few and far between. Sorry, but a racquetball court is no substitute!
“Planet Fitness” is the name of the gym. It’s a franchise. They are all over the country. Although they don’t offer squash, racquetball or basketball, they are right up there with the (now) $125 a month gym, the Michigan Athletic Club (MAC), which caters for those at the other end of the social spectrum.
Planet Fitness (PF) has all the latest equipment for a first-class cardio and strength-training workout. It’s open 24 hours, 7 days a week. I don’t know how they do it for only ten bucks a month.
With the winter approaching, I’ve decided to ride one of their stationary bikes rather than venture out in the snow and ice. Regular readers will remember that I fell off my bike recently in a KFC entrance way. That is not going to happen now that I’m on a bike that doesn’t move, so to speak. I will, of course, risk the KFC parking lot, Arby’s, Taco Bell and McDonald’s again when the nicer weather returns.
PF does well precisely because it is offering first-class gym facilities to financially challenged people. The M.A.C. does well because it caters for the wealthy, who want to network with potential clients. They represent two different worlds, the haves and the have-nots.
The two men who work the early shift at PF are both under-employed. One graduated from law school some time ago and is looking for a job; the other has a comparable degree that qualifies him to teach in higher education. Neither has been able to find a job in their respective fields. Working at PF, they cannot be earning more than $10 an hour, which equals a take home pay of less than $400 per week.
So it’s not surprising that a similar division is taking place in the housing sector. Houses under $150,000 in a good school district are selling rapidly – buyers make an offer on the house before they even see it. At the same time, houses over $160,000 remain vacant for months. This is inevitable when increasing numbers of people are earning $10 an hour.
The “have-nots” reflect an economy that is not doing as well as official figures suggest. The 5.1% unemployment figure only takes into account those who are actively looking for a job. There are millions more who have given up or taken early retirement.
There are, of course, areas around the country where the economy is doing well.
Washington, DC, is one such area. The counties surrounding the capital of the United States have the highest per capita incomes and the highest house prices. This is not surprising when you consider that the average federal government employee receives twice the national average private sector pay and benefits.
This also means that those in government are increasingly out of touch with the common people. This partly explains how shocked establishment figures are by the success of Donald Trump and Ben Carson, two outsiders who have made socially unacceptable comments for which they are often attacked or ridiculed or both.
One example of government being out of touch with reality came last week. The Obama Administration is offering businesses a $12,000 incentive if they hire new immigrants with a four-year degree. This makes absolutely no sense when there are already hundreds of thousands of young Americans with four-year degrees and no job! It only makes sense to those living in the alternate universe known as Washington.
Some will read this and think that Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton are the answer, the former being a fast track socialist, the latter heading in the same direction in the slow lane. But the fact is that more government is not the solution. Rather, it’s the problem. Any expansion of government means higher taxes. In turn, this equals a greater burden on the private sector, where wages are already low compared to government.
The two gyms are not the only evidence of the growing gulf that exists in western societies. Along the main road, which forms part of my cycling route, are a number of cheap fast-food outlets interspersed with the occasional high-end restaurant. There are some in-between places, mainly all-you-can-eat buffets that are only adding to the nation’s health care bill.
Of greater concern are the “Cash Advance” stores, offering quickie loans to the desperate, who soon find an APR of up to 1,000% has been added to their loan.
Charles Dickens (1812-1870) wrote a number of books that focused on the great divisions in Victorian British society. A century and a half later those divisions are even greater, on both sides of the Atlantic. What’s more, they are getting worse.
Whoever started PF was very perceptive – he could see which way society was headed. The only way the gym can thrive selling $10 a month memberships is if increasing numbers of people are joining.
The way our economy is going, there will be no shortage of new members!