I was listening to Thom Hartmann’s talk show a couple of days ago and heard some frightening news. Since 2008, 800,000 Americans have fallen out of the middle class. Hartmann added to this woeful statistic recent discoveries about McDonald’s and Walmart. McDonald’s gives its workers advice on how to limit their diets and how to access social services. Similarly, Walmart was called out for holding a food drive for its low wage employees. In both cases, taxes of the middle class are a type of corporate welfare because they keep employees of Walmart and McDonald’s sheltered, fed, and medically secure. Hartmann looks at these trends and sees one outcome: the death of the middle class.
Timothy Eagan of the New York Times has written a great editorial on the current declining state of the middle class. Corporations get tax breaks from the government. Then they do whatever they can to drive down wages. Eagan looks at the case of Boeing, which received an $8.7 billion tax break and then asked its unions to make concessions. The Machinists Union said, “No.” Now Boeing is threatening to leave the state for one where wages are lower (“Right to Work for Less State”).
Is Boeing in trouble? Eagan writes: “Boeing is on a roll, its stock at a record high despite the troubled rollout of its 787 Dreamliner, and the pay of its C.E.O. boosted 20 percent to a package totaling $27.5 million last year.” If Boeing can give its leader such a raise, why doesn’t it want to compensate the people that build its planes? That’s the magic question, and the answer is that executives and boards of directors do not care about their workers or the health of the national economy. All they know is that they want more and more, which means working people have to make less and less.
Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich has put forth a big proposal: unionizing workers at McDonalds, Walmart, and large hospitals that currently don’t have unions. Reich’s real concern isn’t union growth so much as it is finding a way to deal with growing poverty and lost income in the U.S. It’s not just the least among us who are suffering. Reich cites a study that shows the bottom 90% of American wage earners lost 1.2% between 2009-2011. He tracks the rise in worker income in the 1950s and its decline since the 1970s to the rise and fall of union membership. Workers are losing.
Who has been winning this game? The most wealthy Americans, the same people who attack unions and the poor. Reich argues that a country with more evenly distributed wealthy would help all Americans. Unfortunately, too many people don’t share his view. We live in an “I got mine and I want more” culture. Until that changes, expect more of the same.
P.S.: Writing in Think Progress, Pat Garofalo reports that nearly 50% of Americans are one financial misfortune away from poverty. Unions would help make our society more stable and secure. Of course, so many Americans have been bamboozled by the corporate media to believe in a "freedom" that leaves them at risk and makes only the super rich more secure.