Pat Garofalo of Think Progress reports on the ups and downs of the U.S. economy. What’s up? Corporate profits. What’s down? Workers’ wages. A graph embedded in the article tracks the growth of wages and profits in a way that shows how much workers have lost over many years. Wages slope down for every year since 2000. Corporate profits went up between 2000 and 2008, took a big dip, and now they’re back higher than ever.
How could big business be doing better? Wealthy Americans have also enjoyed increased benefits, especially through the tax code. We need to ask those who benefit most from common things like roads, schools, and the military to pay for their upkeep. Workers can’t afford it. Look at the chart.
Some true stories are still unbelievable. Think Progress reports that Bill Johnson resigned after working one day as CEO of Duke Energy. Johnson’s “golden parachute” – don’t choke – could be worth up to $44 million. The article explains the details, which I’m to disgusted to think about.
This story illustrates how the system in this country is geared in favor of the ultra-rich and powerful. Right-wing politicians and think tank spokespeople condemn unemployment as “welfare,” but none of them will criticize million dollar handouts to failed executives, especially those who can make $44 million after one day on the job. As the song says, “Nice work if you can get it.”
We've heard about the "job creators," the wealthy who should not have to pay taxes. Radio host Thom Hartmann put a different spin on this concept by referring to workers as "Wealth Creators." Hartmann said the real problem with our economy is that since the 1980s more and more of wealth created by working people in the form of increased productivity has gone to the wealthy, not working class or middle class people who would spend it.
Keep that in mind: Workers = Wealth Creators!
Think Progress has a revealing post about shrinking union membership and lower pay rates for all types of jobs, union and non-union. A graph tracks the almost in-step decline of union membership and middle class income. This information should be a big deal. But in a world where fake budget crises can dominate the news, few people care about unemployment or income disparity. Of course, what should citizens think when leading news outlets hype one story and ignore the other. Again, Think Progress offers an excellent analysis of our distorted media.
While listening to the radio today, I heard Speaker of the House John Boehner say that his party opposes tax hikes on the rich because they are “Job Creators.” To quote Boehner’s colleague Joe Wilson, Mr. Speaker, “You lie!” The Bush (now Obama) tax cuts on the rich have been around since 2003. If they are such magic in creating jobs, why are we in the mess we’re in now? Whenever you hear someone using the phrase “Job Creator,” know that that person is lying to you.
American workers incomes have gone up since the 1970s only because they have worked more and more. The rate of pay adjusted for inflation has been almost stagnate. What can workers do? Robert Kuttner from Demos reports that Labor’s Change to Win Coalition is partnering with the House Progressive Caucus in holding a 12 city organizing tour. Where the talking heads and our “political leaders” are focusing on debts and deficits, this coalition and other progressive are calling out the real problem: Jobs.
Consumers are the real job creators. As Henry Ford proved long ago, a person with a job that pays will buy big things like cars and houses. Those purchases drive the economy. We need to rebuild the working class and the middle class. What is happening in Washington is a sideshow compared to what will happen if more Americans are not given the opportunity to work – for a good wage!
Postscript: Think Progress offers a great chart to help us understand how we are making more only because we are working more.
Think Progress reports that 89% of income growth since 2009 has gone to corporate profits. Wage earners have only received 1%. Workers are losing while the country’s most wealthy corporations are taking more and more. The late Senator Ted Kennedy put it best, “When will the greed stop?”
On a positive point, nearly 100,000 people have signed Senator Bernie Sander’s letter to President Obama that urges the President not to give in to Republican pressure to cut social programs. Based on the statistics above, do the rich need even more?
Click here to read and sign the letter.
Writing in Huffington Post, Peter Goodman examines divergent trends in pay for executive and workers. CEOs of publicly traded companies saw their pay go up in 2010 by an average of 28%. Goodman says that working people only received a 1% raise after their pay is adjusted for inflation.
Some people will argue that wages are controlled by a free market. If that were true, why wouldn’t the workers who produce wealth for the company earn a similar percentage raise to the CEO? The game is fixed.
Common Dreams features an essay by Andy Kroll that re-examines McDonald’s hiring of 50,000 people in one day. I have written that this event was a good thing because it gives people work. Kroll challenges this point of view. Using a line of argument that I often follow, he asks us to look at what kind of jobs are being created in what he calls a “McEconomy.”
Kroll points out that works at McDonald’s make less than 50% of what the average worker takes home ($20,800 v. $43,400). It’s important to understand that Kroll is looking beyond one company to a broad trend in which America workers have lost income. More workers than ever before are working on a temporary basis. Most alarmingly, he compares the current plight of the middle class to trends seen before the crash of 1929. This article deserves your time and thought.
[On Sundays, Career Calling takes a break from job stuff to look at other aspects of work and play.]
When Billionaires Lock Out Millionaires
People who care about workers and their rights have been focused onWisconsin. However, there are two other labor stories that might tell us more about where we are headed as a country: the NFL lockout and a possible lockout in the NBA.
Many sports fans love to complain that athletes are overpaid. “It’s just a kid’s game.” “They don’t work every day like I do.” These folks would be sick if they read in the Seattle Times that “the 74 top wage earners together made as much as the combined income of the 19 million lowest-paid people in America, who constitute one in every eight workers.” We focus too much on sports, ignoring CEOs, bankers, and hedge fund managers.
That said, let’s talk about sports. The situation in the NFL troubles me for at least three reasons.
1. The players have been willing to compromise and restructure rookie salary. However, the owners want to take a majority of profits (the players now get the majority) and they want expand the season from 16 to 18 games per year. What worker in his right mind would agree to work more for less pay?
2. The average NFL player’s career lasts 3 ½ seasons. Owners run and profit from teams for decades and generations. The Halas-McCaskey family has controlled the Bears since the team was started in the 1920s. The Rooneys have managed the Steelers for decades. If owners aren’t making money, why do they keep these bad investments? (According to USA Today, 5 NFL teams are worth more than a billion dollars.)
3. Who pays the real price? We hear more and more stories about the physical and mental damage that retired players have to deal with. Yes, the league has better resources for retired players, but how can it compensate for the pain and shortened lives? Owners tend to live a long time. According to a study by the LA Times, players aren’t so lucky.
The situation in the NBA is almost as bad. Writing in Edge of Sports, David Zirin describes NBA Commissioner David Stern as a man looking for a fight. In recent months, he has challenged players, coaches, and referees. According to Zirin, Stern and the NBA owners are following the NFL example of seeking a bigger piece of the profit pie. They are also trying to end free agency, which would tie a player to one team and limit his bargaining power. This would turn the clock back 30 years – certainly Governor Scott Walker would approve of such forward-looking thinking.
Why should we as simple working people care about these battles between millionaires and billionaires? Like it or not, the millionaires are like us, working people who are controlled by company owners. Players are protected by unions. 93% of Americans working in non-public jobs are not. Who protects them? The lock out battle reminds us that no working person is safe in the current labor market. It also teaches us that workers standing together can protect each other and win some concessions. If you think athletes are overpaid, take a lesson from them – support unions!
Postscript (April 27): David Zirin comments on a recent op-ed by NFL Commisioner Roger Goodell, a rich man who thinks the world is against.
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