Drives me crazy when Millennials I know (or even some entitled X'ers, for that matter) who've watched way too many episodes of "Mad Men," start pining on about how better professional office jobs used to be. Really? Showed up late 15 minutes 'cause there was a line at the coffee shop? Fired--and you're not allowed that coffee at your desk anyway. Felt like showing up in jeans and running shoes? Fired. Sick days? Fuggedaboutit. Found out you cheated on your spouse? Fired. Tattoos and a nose ring?! Yeah, right--yer ass is grass and we'll probably call the cops to boot!
I usually send them the attached pics and ask which office job they'd prefer. It was before my time, but I'm well aware it was anything but a barrel of laughs. Even when I started in the 90s, EVERY guy had to wear a tie at the office EVERY day. The Doc Martins had to stay at home.
And as for the "cost of stuff and inflation" tears? You're dead on. A casual glance through a Sears catalog from the 60s-80s will not only tell you things were more expensive, but (adjusted for today's dollars) completely unfathomable. It's a wonder that middle-class was able to stash anything at all for retirement. ...But I guess they didn't spend all their money on crap and restaurants.
Losing your job back then could be a devastating life-altering experience. People were paranoid about being fired or let go. And as a result, people would often do odious things when ordered to, as they lived in fear of losing their jobs. This, in short, is how "corporate malfeasance" occurs - when people are so worried about making their car payments or house payments that that go along with really bad ideas, like dumping toxic waste in the third world.
Now, compare this to my work experience at a semiconductor firm in Austin during the SXSW festival - a music and technology festival, if you can believe such a thing. I showed up for three days of work, wearing blue jeans and cowboy shirts (and cowboy boots). They gave me a conference room to work in - a glass cube that was cantilevered over the bar the company owned, right above the stage. Three rock bands played each day, at 10:00, 1:00 and 4:00. And no only was I not "sent home" but everyone else was largely dressed the same way.
The world today is a different place. Better in most ways, maybe worse in a few others. Despite the problem of global warming, pollution problems have been severely reduced. No longer do rivers catch fire from toxic chemicals. Roadsides no longer look like unsanitary landfills (I kid you not - the roadside next to any Interstate in the 1960's was a solid wall of garbage back then. Throwing shit out the window was just what you did). We no longer smoke like chimneys - and live longer as a result.
Yes, it is true that you can't go down to the Union hall and get a job on the assembly line because you Dad worked at DuMont Motors for 20 years. And no, you can't blackmail the company into paying you three times the prevailing wage rates by threatening a strike. But on the other hand, you are far less likely to be kneecapped by the Union rep.
There are still a few places today where you can make a lot of money - more than your qualifications entitle you to. And these are largely in the government sector. It is kind of ironic, but back in the 1960's and 1970's, everyone looked down on government jobs or teaching jobs, as they were low-paying jobs, albeit with good benefits and an assured modest pension. Over the years, the benefits got better, people lived longer, and the pensions got - well, pretty cush. And wages shot up like mad. It has gotten to the point where a local high school guidance counselor can make more than a doctor or a lawyer. And I am sure there a good guidance counselors out there who are worth six-figure salaries, I just haven't met one yet.
Of course, this may all change, and change very soon. As one generation retires, the workforce may find itself in a shortage situation. Already unemployment is very low, and in the recent past (1990's) there was actually a labor shortage. It could happen again, and soon. And as demand rises, wages may rise, too, which in turn will fuel inflation, which will decrease the wealth of the retired generation, resulting in a wealth-transfer from the old to the young.
But all that being said, if you have a worthless degree from Joke University and can't pass a urine test, life will be no better for you than for a high-school dropout in 1965 who was fired from his last job. Life will always suck for the ne'er-do-wells.
One alternative is to not be a ne'er do well. Radical concept, I know. But life is less circumstance than choice.