Back when I was a young man, the volunteer fire fighters always had the cool cars. This was in the late ’60s, early ’70s, so the first-generation muscle cars were turning up in the used car lots and it was easy for a young man to afford one.

They’d get a used, say, Road Runner, join the nearest VFD, put a red light on the dash and if the siren went off they got to jump off their job and bang gears through town to get to the fire department and go put out a fire.

For a young man it was fairly exhilarating, and to watch them we could dream of our own time, hearing the siren and running out the door, banging gears in our own second-hand hot-rod sedan, flashing dashboard red light reflected off the determined clench of our jaw, men of action burning rubber and serving our community.

That was then.

One of the things coming up a lot in Cleburne County these days is the lack of volunteers for ambulance services. The county’s somewhat unique in that of its communities, five have volunteer ambulance services. The problem of lacking volunteers, however, is not unique.

Ultimately, the problem is a volunteer ambulance service without volunteers is an ambulance service which doesn’t get out much. It’s created a situation where the county is considering what it would take to meet the needs for ambulance service without volunteer crews.

But then you hear this a lot these days, and not just in that county. Volunteers – the backbone of rural emergency service response – are getting harder to find. The Mayor of Quitman, Cyndi Kerr, summed it up in discussing the county ambulance problem at the recent Quorum Court meeting there: People are working two jobs, or both parents are working, or both, and people just don’t have the time like they used to for volunteering.

I’ll add that people still have the heart for serving their community, but they can’t get away. Even if you had a job in town, these days it’s hard to just drop and run out the door when the siren hits.

Something, from those days gone by to today, has changed.

One of the little-discussed features of modern life is the Great Regression, as it’s called. You don’t hear much about it, but it’s had as much an impact on American life as any factor in our modern world.

It works like this: At the end of World War II, America had gotten pretty good at building things, so it kept building things. The post-war boom economy and production was good and kept getting better. And, best part, as production output increased, wages increased; wages increased, people made more money.

Everybody wins, right? More stuff, more money in our pockets.

Then something changed: Right around ’79 or ’80, and this is well established from a variety of sources, production continued to climb, but wages didn’t. Corporate taxes, which had been dropping since ’48, began a big, fast drop, while payroll taxes countered by climbing at a faster rate. The tax burden shifted from corporations to individuals.

This marks the start of the Great Regression.

Income inequality really started to climb about this point, where the so-called 1 percent began to separate itself from the other 99 percent at a much faster rate. More people, and this really picked up around 1987, began living in poverty. Fair to point out here, with the productivity/compensation change, the move from today, where wealth is what you own (stocks, assets, that kind of thing) as opposed to what you are paid. Think of some of the super-rich today, and would you rather have their paychecks or their portfolio?

The point being, before this turns into some economic treatise, is that the world of the United States has changed. In this world, some kid working at the transmission shop can’t drop everything and go hop in his hot rod to put out a fire. Jobs aren’t like that, times isn’t that free or flexible, and, really, nobody wants you roaring through town slamming gears anyway.

But what we can really see is that sometime around 1980 the economic nature of living in American changed – and having the time to spend volunteering was absorbed in a shifting economy.

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