Sunday, August 11, 2013

Working People Get The Shaft

I've noticed a disturbing tend. Across all levels of society, people who do actual work, be they laborers, professionals, blue-collar, white-collar, pink-collar, skilled, unskilled, highly educated, specialized, unspecialized, etc., at every level from engineers to teachers to chefs to airline pilots - people who actually work for a living - are getting paid less and less and have to work harder and harder. Meanwhile, certain individuals who sit atop the economic pyramid are getting an ever-larger share of the fruits of society, while claiming that they "earned" it (why didn't they earn it in previous decades?).

Without those workers, of course, society would fall apart. Without firefighters responding to blazes, nurses tending to patients, systems administrators making sure computers are running smoothly, airline traffic controllers to make sure planes can land smoothly, or pipefitters to maintain mechanical and plumbing systems, the things we enjoy today, from modern healthcare to air travel to electricity to safe streets - none of it exists. Yet the people who make it happen are getting poorer and poorer, while the professional lunch-eating and golfing class has more money than they can spend in twenty lifetimes.

This is aggravated by the fact that post-Fordist economies seem to be only capable of producing jobs with abysmal pay. Two of the three largest employers in America are Wal-Mart and McDonalds, yet we maintain the fiction that these are just second jobs for housewives or summer jobs for teenagers. Keep in mind, those are just two employers, there are also umpteen retailers like Target, JC Penney, Kohls, and fast-food shacks like Arby's, Wendy's Taco Bell, etc. Outfits like Manpower and Kelly Services are also booming. And let's not even talk about unpaid internships, prison labor, migrant workers, H1-B visas, "undocumented" immigrants, and the like. The "service economy" is a low-wage economy, and a cruel joke played on all of us. It's yet another bullshit story from the economic priesthood that we've managed to accept without question as if it were some sort of religious doctrine.

A small technocratic elite still makes relatively decent wages, and everyone is working themselves raw in a desperate effort to join this vanishingly small privileged class. That technocratic elite recruits worldwide; odds are your company's new accounting manager could just as likely be from Bangalore as from Bangor. Meanwhile, anyone not in this elite is blamed for their own fate - for not getting enough education, or studying the wrong thing (the devil take you if you do not study for a STEM degree). If you don't want to sink yourself into debt for the mere "chance" of getting a position that will pay enough to cover costs, you're not entrepreneurial enough to succeed apparently. What would be considered a rational cost/benefit decision is recast as not believing you have control over your destiny. Musical chairs is not a way to structure a workforce.

All of the costs for becoming an effective economic member of society have been placed onto the backs of employees themselves, so is it any wonder that we have less and less people who are qualified to be economically productive members of society? Yet corporate America does nothing to rectify this, even while constantly complaining about a skills mismatch.

Thankfully, there is finally some pushback. If nothing else, the Occupy movement has pushed inequality to the top of the national agenda, so that even the President and corporate-owned media are paying lip-service to doing something about it (as long as they don't actually do something about it, of course). Economists are starting to point out that reducing workers to penury is not smart in an economy dependent upon consumer spending in a mass market. And, most hearteningly, fast-food workers have walked off the job in major cities around the country.

Faced with a total abandonment of governance at the national level, municipalities have started to pass legislation on their own mandating decent wages. It is telling that some companies, even those with billion-dollar profit margins, are so resistant to the idea of paying their employees decent wages that they are refusing to open stores, that is abandoning those markets altogether! To which we should all say good riddance - we don't need their crap goods and crap jobs. That's the first step to independence from the corporate wealth pump that siphons money away from communities and into the Sodom and Gomorrah of Wall Street. It's the first step to local economies.

The white rump that forms the core of the Republican party has managed to maintain abnormally high wages, but the increasingly young, racially-diverse and urbanized future of the country who have been getting low wage jobs and temp work, even with large amounts of education, has finally begun to do what previous generations have done - fight for more. I see this as one of the major trends that is going to unfold more and more. It's an encouraging development. The trickle-down doctrine that Americans have swallowed for years is finally losing it's hold on America.

There was once a time where people on the top of society were seen as parasites. They knew their fortunes were derived from the people who worked for them, and if they took too much, they would destroy the very society that made them rich in the first place. Now, we've gone to the extreme that sees working America as mere parasites of the financial aristocracy, and dependent on their good graces to have a job at all. I recall seeing in the news a Tea Partier who loudly proclaimed "no poor person ever gave me a job," while protesting for lower taxes on the rich and less workplace regulations. I think such extreme idiocy is finally on its way out, as Calvinist America gets a strain of Liberation theology from Latin America.

I've often noted that at no point in history have we ever been more interdependent, and at no point in history has our wealth been produced more collectively (since complexity and globalization mean that no one person has much knowledge to produce much of anything anymore - what single person can make a car or a microchip, or run an Internet?), yet at no point has our wealth been so concentrated in fewer hands! I forget the exact statistics, but the wealth of the Forbes Billionaires alone could eliminate global poverty twenty times over. You would think they would be hiding their wealth, but instead, it is flaunted, so sure are they over control over the hearts and minds of the world's workers. Communism is dead, they proclaim, secure in the knowledge that any notion economic justice died along with it. Perhaps we're finally seeing the signs that the people who really make society function have finally had enough.

More than 1.5 million workers living in U.S. make less than minimum wage (RawStory)

Prison Labor Booms As Unemployment Remains High; Companies Reap Benefits (Huffington Post)

You Want a Living Wage With That? Fast Food Workers of N.Y.C. Prep for Another Strike (Village Voice)

The faculty are unhappy (Marginal Revolution). Shows that even in industries that are extremely wealthy, the people on the front lines are getting the shaft. While University administrators collect seven-figure paychecks and extreme perks from housing to travel:
Public university professors don’t enter the profession to get rich. But some faculty are having trouble paying bills, and have even qualified for foods stamps, Olson said. “For somebody to go five to seven years beyond college to obtain a Ph.D. degree and to realize that you are in need of federal assistance to make ends meet — and that’s for a tenure-track position –” is devastating.

Adding what some view as insult to injury, a recently published database of public employee salaries shows that some professors earn less than their colleagues at local high schools without doctorates.
Wage deflation charts of the day (Felix Salmon). See the pay chart at the bottom:

80% of All Adults in U.S. Face Near-Poverty or Unemployment (Gawker)

Apple, Walmart, McDonald's: Who's the Biggest Wage Stiffer? (Alternet) All three companies pay their employees poverty level wages

True Stories of Life as an Amazon Worker (Gawker)

The Pay Is Too Damn Low (James Suroweicki, The New Yorker) Must read.

Still Waiting For Change (Symposium Magazine)

Fox News’ Neil Cavuto: Workers should be grateful for whatever jobs they can find (Raw Story) Good illustration of the viewpoint that the elites are pushing - a heaping helping of Horatio Alger.

Colbert: Hitler would have raised the minimum wage (Raw Story)

Yes, Wall Street is Overpaid (Gawker) Shows that increasing wealth to the financial aristocracy is undeserved and has not benefited the economy.

Fighting Back Against Wretched Wages (New York Times)

Fast Food, Low Pay (Mark Bittman, New York Times)
We can afford to pay these workers: a petition titled “Economists in Support of a $10.50 U.S. Minimum Wage” estimates that McDonald’s could recoup half the cost of such an increase simply by hiking the price of a Big Mac from $4 to $4.05. One item; 1 percent.

So the only reason this kind of outrage continues is that many ultrarich are denying the needs and suppressing the rights of our lowest-paid workers. These people face huge odds, but equal challenges were overcome in both the 1930s and the 1960s by bold and sometimes “crazy” actions. There was mild government support then, and that’s weaker now; but perhaps midterm elections will change that.

The recession killed 60 percent of $15- to $20-an-hour jobs, which should be the lowest-paying ones. Around 20 percent have returned, but the rest are being replaced by those paying less than $13 an hour. Thus median income for working-age households fell more than 10 percent from 2000 to 2010.

A vast majority of Americans are much closer in income to McDonald’s workers than to corporate C.E.O.’s. Yet we tolerate the fact that one in seven of our fellow Americans live in poverty, with half of those people working tough jobs. Do we want to be part of that? Surely, better scenarios exist. And victory for the lowest-wage workers will have a positive impact on wages for everyone.
You thought Ryanair's attendants had it bad? Wait 'til you hear about their pilots (The Independent) Old, but relevant. I'm always amazed at how low everyone involved with keeping planes in the air are paid, from pilots to mechanics to security personnel to stewardesses. Millions of people literally trust their lives to people getting paid poverty level wages every single day! This is so fucked up! Meanwhile, airline CEO's get paid millions despite constantly losing money and requiring government bailouts.

Myth and Reality: The Low-Wage Job Machine (Macroblog)
Employers added a seasonally adjusted 162,000 jobs in July, the fewest since March, the Labor Department said Friday, and hiring was also weaker in May and June than initially reported. Moreover, more than half the job gains were in the restaurant and retail sectors, both of which pay well under $20 an hour on average.
Higher wages won’t increase unemployment! (Salon)

True Stories From Wal-Mart Workers: “I Am Not a Slave” (Gawker)

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