On December 6, 2023, a Black woman named Verna Mae Jackson died in a work-related accident at FedEx World Hub in Memphis, Tennessee. She was loved in her community and respected at her job. A tragic circumstance, especially during this holiday season.
However, there is another tragic aspect to this story. Ms. Jackson was 86 years old. 86!! Here is a link to the story: https://trib.al/vYFHVqf.
Why is anyone 86 years old working at a manual labor job in 2023? I am sure people reading this will say that she obviously loved her job and that she was dedicated. I get that. What I don't get in this day and age is why any of us are compelled to continue to show that dedication at 86 years old.
Ms. Jackson should have been enjoying life as a retiree, living off the money she accumulated during her previous years of service. However, our economy, and past public policy, doesn't allow for that anymore. People like Ms. Jackson have to work to survive, well beyond even the sanctioned retirement age of 65.
That doesn't sound like an economy that is beneficial to all of us, especially African Americans. With a wealth gap disparity that shows for every $100 a white person has, a Black person has only $5, that doesn't sound like an economy that is beneficial to us. That disparity leads to tragedies like the one that befell Ms. Jackson.
How many other Ms. Jacksons are there in America? How many other Black people are literally working until the day they die? It would be one thing if Ms. Jackson owned FedEx and she passed away in her office. But the reality is that very few of us in the Black community are afforded that luxury.
I hope that Ms. Jackson was like Oseola McCarty, the Mississippi washer woman, who saved up enough money at the age of 86 to retire off of, and create a scholarship at a university. However, the tenure of the story, and the times that we live in, doesn't give me much hope that was the case. Instead, it seems indicative that Ms. Jackson was doing what she could to survive day to day, paycheck to paycheck.
None of us should be living paycheck to paycheck at the age of 86, but if we don't make enough to save at 26, 36, 46, or 56, we'll be working, like Ms. Jackson, until it is time for us to go to the next realm. It also seems that the people near Ms. Jackson's age in our government have no desire to fix it, except in favor of those near Ms. Jackson's age that reside in the domain of the 1%.
People need to be paid a living wage, at the very least. People have been demanding a living wage since 2012. Right now, based on inflation, that wage would have to be $20.32 an hour. That would be a gross salary of $42,265.60. If Ms. Jackson was making that amount of money in Memphis, she would have to make $49,652 in Atlanta and $89,213 in San Francisco to maintain her modest lifestyle.
The disparity in the cost of living, the dissolution of pensions, the diminished impact of labor unions, policies that encourage greed and financial institutions not being held accountable have led to more Ms. Jacksons out there working than should be tolerated. That has been detrimental to African Americans, not only financially, but physically and mentally.
I do not want to be working until I am 86 years old. You shouldn't either. So to truly honor the life of Verna Mae Jackson, let us fight for a living wage and economic policies that provide Black folk a fairer share of the nation's wealth. A nation that we basically built.
Rest in Peace, Ms. Jackson. My condolences to her family.