Sunday, November 6, 2011

Economic Future Is Dark as Fake Economic Recovery Consists Only of Low-Paying Jobs

(Many of you out there think we're just going through a rough patch but that things will eventually go back to the way they used to be. Dream on. The way things were is a bygone era. Those days are gone and they aren't coming back. Things are going to get a whole lot worse before ever getting better, and they won't get better until many things have changed. And those wealthy controllers of the economy won't go down without a fight, either. Zbigniew Brzezinski, the Democrat's "snake in the grass" (whose Republican counterpart is Henry Kissinger), was recently quoted saying "in earlier times, it was easier to control one million people than to physically kill one million people; today, it is infinitely easier to kill one million people than to control one million people." If that isn't a rather ominous warning to those of us protesting against the corruption of the wealthy, then nothing is. 

Life is not going to go back the way it was, it's going to get a whole lot worse for everyone who isn't a billionaire (even millionaires will suffer). You might have a lot of money now, but you might as well spend all of it before it gets taken away from you. Your heirs won't see a dime of your fortune, no matter how much you leave to them. It's OK to be afraid, in fact, it's quite natural.--jef)

The current "recovery" is actually a deepening deficit of good jobs.
By Annette Bernhardt, AlterNet
Posted on November 6, 2011

Major newspapers last week reported a trend that won’t come as a surprise to working Americans:  incomes are falling.  In fact, median household income, adjusted for inflation, has fallen faster since the recession "ended" (and the "depression" began--jef) than during the recession itself.  Analysts point to high unemployment and weak economic growth as the culprits, but that is only part of the story.

Just as the country struggles to confront a seemingly insurmountable jobs deficit, America’s chronic low-wage problem is reasserting itself with a vengeance.  Here are three ways to understand just how severe the problem is.

First, the current recovery is actually deepening our deficit of good jobs. During the Great Recession, the jobs we lost were concentrated in mid-wage occupations like paralegals, health technicians, administrative assistants and bus drivers, making $15 to $20 an hour.  But so far in this weak recovery, employment growth has almost completely come from low-wage occupations like retail workers, office and stock clerks, restaurant staff and child care aids – most making $8 to $10 an hour.  There has been barely minimal growth in mid-wage occupations, and net losses in those that pay higher.

In part, this unbalanced growth is a byproduct of the Great Recession.  The financial crash and bursting of the housing bubble caused big job losses in construction, finance, insurance and real estate, and these better-paying industries are having a harder time coming back than low-wage industries such as retail trade, restaurants, temp agencies, and nursing homes.

But there are also other factors at work, such as the long-standing decline in manufacturing and outmoded telecommunications industries (again, better-paying sectors).  The slashing of state and local public jobs has also continued unabated during the recovery, dragging down middle-class employment.

Second, the paychecks of workers in low-wage occupations are shrinking.  While real wages for the average American worker have been essentially flat (adjusted for inflation) since the start of the recession, wages for Americans in low-wage occupations have actually declined by 2.3 percent. That’s a troubling pattern for jobs that are also growing the fastest.

Finally, job quality was already a problem in the U.S. labor market even before the Great Recession began.  From 2001 through 2008, low-wage and high-wage occupations grew significantly more than mid-wage occupations.  In fact, mid-wage occupations constituted only 6 percent of net job gains during this period, continuing the increase in economic inequality in America that dates all the way back to the late 1970s. 

The U.S. has struggled to respond to these trends.  The failure to pass a strong enough stimulus package in 2008, the endless fights to continue unemployment benefits, the debt ceiling debacle that  imposed fiscal austerity when government should be investing in the economy – this dysfunction in our politics has done significant harm.  Even House Majority Leader Eric Cantor acknowledges that there is too much income disparity in the United States (He does have to get re-elected and say the "right" things for his campaign in a district that is suffering like the rest of the country, after all...--jef). Yet the recent unveiling of President Obama’s American Jobs Act gave us only a brief glimpse of sensible policy debate before it, too, disappeared into the same vortex of take-no-prisoners politics.

In this context, the problem of low-wage work and declining wages doesn’t even register on the radar screen.  

Putting aside the abysmal political context for a moment, it is clear that the U.S. needs to work on dual fronts and tackle both job creation and job quality.  There are plenty of ideas out there:
  • rebuilding and modernizing America’s infrastructure, 
  • incubating green jobs sectors, 
  • creating universal pre-K, 
  • sending more fiscal relief to the states to avoid lay-offs, and more.  

We can also strengthen the wage floor by raising the minimum wage and putting more resources towards fighting wage theft, an endemic problem in low-wage service industries.

All are win-win solutions, but the politics at the federal level aren’t even close to being there.
There are rays of hope, however, in our states and cities.  The bipartisan U.S. Conference of Mayors is calling for quick investment in infrastructure, small business, manufacturing, trade and tourism to create jobs. Renewed activism, like the Wisconsin and Occupy Wall Street protests, is advancing calls for job creation, living wages and a strong safety net for the unemployed.  The immigrant community has become a powerful voice for workers’ rights, increasingly winning anti-wage theft campaigns.  And diverse coalitions have successfully fought back attempts to weaken state minimum wage laws, as they launch campaigns to raise the minimum wage in more than half a dozen states.

The question, of course, is will it be enough – enough to pierce the bubble of insanity that is holding American politics hostage and put jobs and wages squarely on the front burner of domestic policy.  The answer to this question has enormously high stakes, not just for avoiding a second recession, but for the long-term project of building a competitive, sustainable, and just America.