2006

Writing Contest: Runner-Up

That '70s Show

Brendan Ocheltree, Columbia High School, Columbia Station, OH (Teacher: John Sheridan)

That &##8217;70s Show has been on television since 1998. It is still shown on Wednesday nights in its eighth season. It is about a group of teenagers dwelling in Wisconsin. Obviously, the show takes place in the 1970s. Many aspects of life in the United States during the 1970s are exhibited within the colorful and comedic episodes.

The show&##8217;s main character is Eric Forman. He and his friends spend most of their time in the Forman basement or around town. Eric and his next-door neighbor, Donna, have dated and broken up throughout the running of the show. Eric and Donna&##8217;s friends include Fez, Kelso, Hyde, and Jackie. Fez is a foreign exchange student. Kelso is a slightly dense, yet funny character who shares an on-again, off-again relationship with the controlling Jackie. Hyde is the wisest of the group and always seems to know what to do. The show is not only about these teenagers, but also about their parents. Red and Kitty are Eric&##8217;s parents. They are a traditional, conservative couple. Much different, however, are Donna&##8217;s parents, Bob and Midge. These two are hipsters; Bob even sports an afro hairstyle and is somewhat annoying to Red.

Over the eight years this show has been running, plenty of things have happened, but some events stick out as being representative of the economic climate of the 1970s. In one episode, Red&##8217;s hours at his job are cut back; because of this, he is bored and tries to fix things in the house that are not broken. Eventually, Kitty is forced to get a night-shift job at the hospital as a nurse. The family needs the extra money because Red stopped making as much as he did before. Kitty becomes very busy at home; in one episode, she comes home from her late-night job at the hospital and falls asleep on the dryer while doing laundry. Eric and his friends come home to find Kitty in the basement. When they wake her up, she goes on as if she hadn&##8217;t been sleeping.

In the second season, Red loses his job. His stint of unemployment lasts for a short while, until Kitty notices that all he does is watch soap operas. Red interviews for a job at the new Pricemart in town, but Eric gets hired there first. He eventually lands the job as Eric&##8217;s boss at Pricemart. Bob opens his own business, but it fails. He is angry that Red doesn&##8217;t offer him a job at Pricemart. In the sixth season, Eric loses a job he has at a dog food company. Soon after that, he competes with Kelso for a job as a waiter.

The most obvious economic idea presented in That &##8217;70s Show is unemployment, more specifically, the relationship between inflation and the effect it has on employment. In the 1970s, inflation was extremely high. (Inflation is defined as the prolonged rise in the general price level of goods and services.) In the 1970s, the inflation rate was growing much faster and higher than it normally would. Inflation causes prices to go up, so companies are forced to cut corners in order to keep production costs down. One way in which they save money is to employ fewer people for fewer hours or even to lay workers off. Hyperinflation causes the unemployment rate to go up because of this. There are two ways that inflation can occur: demand-pull and cost-push are two theories that explain why inflation occurs. In demand-pull inflation, demand is higher than supply, which causes a shortage that drives prices up. Cost-push inflation occurs when wage increases and profits drive prices up.

The unemployment rate is defined as the percentage of the civilian labor force that is unemployed but is actively looking for work. Because there are always some people who are in between jobs, in other words, are transitioning from one job to another, full employment is when the unemployment rate is under 5 percent. In the 1970s, inflation and unemployment rates were high. The Fed had to work hard to combat these two problems. Eventually these two problems were solved, but not before the damage had been done.

When the various characters in the show lose their jobs or their hours are cut back, this illustrates how the economic situation of the 1970s affected people&##8217;s lives. Red has a factory job. At first his hours are cut back. This was an attempt by the company to save money by keeping production costs low. The inflation during the 1970s caused prices to rise. This means the price of materials, energy, and the labor needed to produce in a factory went up. Companies hired fewer people for fewer hours in order to keep costs down.

The hyperinflation eventually caused many jobs to be lost. During the decade, unemployment rates approached 10 percent. The show&##8217;s main focus is a comedic one, but even with the humor, serious real-life issues are an undertone. With all the times documented earlier, and others within the show, the creators have shown how life was in the 1970s. They have historically accurate conditions. The economy of the 1970s started out booming, then grew into a recession with high rates of inflation and unemployment. That &##8217;70s Show, while one of the funniest, most popular shows on television, exhibits important historical information about the economic climate of the 1970s.