I always worked all I could. We also always lived well below what we earned. That way we could keep an emergency fund. We had times that ends did not meet but we managed to get by and just would work harder to get the emergency fund back. I usually like to have at least a few months income in that fund.
As for how the average wage/living is going. The average working man has lost ground the last twenty years. I do not blame the rich like many do. If you look at the actual numbers the top 10% pay 90% of the total tax load. Most of us that just make an average income really do not pay that much in direct taxes after you take all of the exemptions off. I think the trouble is the one that do not earn anything. The people drawing a government check is way higher than any other time in the country's history. Also the the medical cost caused by those that do not pay for their care. It is passed along to the rest of us.
Also the attitude that people have about never being at fault for any of their actions. Burn your tongue on hot coffee you sue the restaurant. Then jury's that treat any business that is sued like a Lotto pay out has cause extra cost all through the system. It also is helping cause a loss of productivity that is helping the job loss here.
I often wonder what discovery we are missing because of liability concerns. Think about it. Penicillin has saved millions of lives but it also can kill a small percentage. If it had been developed today it would never have made it out of trials. The first person that reacted to it would have cause the Feds to shut it down as too dangerous to ever be used or if some one died they would have sued the company for millions. That would have stopped the company from making it.