I admire former Labor Secretary Robert Reich’ ability to take complex ideas and present them in language that should be accessible to most working people. Citing the coming of Labor Day, Reich reflects on the “shared” or “on call” work models that are becoming more and more popular as ways to staff and manage employees. He cites studies that say 40% of Americans can be working under such conditions over the next five years.
From the employer’s standpoint, this model makes sense. Why pay people to work when they are not needed? The problem with this business model, as Reich points out, is that it gives the loyal no security. They don’t know when or how they will earn their next dollar. The worst part of such a work schedule is that it leaves works panicked about their future. We need to respect labor and have laws that limit employers’ ability to offer “uncertain” work.
Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich recently wrote an editorial that contrasts the few workers who get good benefits and the rest who are “replaceable.” Reich notes that Netflix and some other large companies are offering better work-life balance to their employees. However, these employees are considered “talent,” people who are hard to replace. Reich says this about the rest: “Employees treat replaceable workers as costs to be cut, not as assets to be developed.” Rather than work-life balance, these people endure what Reich calls “work as life.”
Reich is not referring to low wage workers. Instead, citing a recent story in the New York Times, he is talking about Amazon and similar companies that ask employees to give up family and personal interests in the name of professional advancement. He notes that Sheryl Sandberg can advise young women to “lean in” because it makes sense from her privileged status as an executive. Some do enjoy good benefits. For most workers – even some with high incomes – the workplace generates stress and anxiety, offering little chance to live a balanced life. Once again, Reich helps us look beyond the headlines and ask critical questions about how we can manager our careers and our lives.
Of course, things could be even worse. Jan Mickelson, an Iowa talk show host, has suggested that any undocumented worker who does not leave the U.S. should become “property of the state of Iowa.” He adds that these people would be an “asset.” Was Mickelson joking? If so, the joke was vulgar. It further shows how some Americans have no respect for hard work and the people who do it. Work should be paid, not as Mickelson puts it, “compelled.”
While this month’s employment report again showed more jobs being created and a falling unemployment rate, wages dropped. According to past trends, wages should go up as labor becomes scarcer and companies want to retain productive employees. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich analyzes this situation in a recent blog post. Reich points to factors that can hold wages down even as unemployment shrinks. Two main culprits are the global economy and automation. Companies can offshore cheaper labor, and they can find new ways to let technology replace humans. Reich scoffs at those who call these factors “efficiency.” Reich concludes by blaming both large corporations and Wall Street for holding down wages. I’d agree with him and add one more culprit: spineless politicians who serve Wall Street and large corporations. Nothing will change until our politicians and laws provide some protection for American workers. Or, to put it another way, nothing will change until American voters elected politicians who represent the interests of working people.
Poor kids are falling behind in more ways than one. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich examines how educational outcomes have grown wider between the richest and poorest children. He notes that race is not the defining factor because that gap is closing. The widening gap is between rich and poor, regardless of race. Reich points out that local educational funding is based on property taxes. The richest districts fund their schools at twice the rate of the poorest.
Reich ends his article with these words:
“We’re requiring all schools meet high standards, requiring students to take more and more tests, and judging teachers by their students’ test scores.
But until we recognize we’re systematically hobbling schools serving disadvantaged kids, we’re unlikely to make much headway.’’
Another way to look at this issue is to use the words of writer Nelson Algren: “The game is fixed.”
How can America be a land where all have equal opportunity if the children of the most wealth are educated in schools that have twice the funding of the poorest school? This problem is just a matter of rich and poor. Social mobility is not what it was twenty or forty years ago. Education inequality seems to track income inequality. Land of the free and home of the brave?
Writing in Huffington Post, Robert Reich explores the power billionaires like the Koch brothers and the Ricketts family, former owners of TD Ameritrade, current owners of a team I root for, the Chicago Cubs. Reich lays out the different ways these super rich families have used their wealth to influence politics. While Reich cites a Democratic billionaire and middle-of-the-road Michael Bloomberg as non-Republican super PAC bosses, most of the action is conservative. And it is anti-worker.
Rather than look at this as a conservative/liberal issue, it would be better to think about the growing influence of neoliberal ideology, which unites people like Democratic Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his former boss, Republican candidate for Governor of Illinois Bruce Rauner. Neoliberals believe that the public sector is always superior to the private. They also hate unions the way Joe McCarthy hated communists. These groups control the money, which means they control the media, which – as McLuhan taught – is the “message.” Most Americans distrust unions because they have heard the same propaganda for over 30 years. It’s gotten so bad that 35% of Americans are against raising the minimum wage. I wonder what percent would agree with reversal of the 13th Amendment?
The former Secretary of Labor takes on those who claim that a raise in the minimum wage would be a “job killer.” Instead, Reich, a trained economist, points out a simple fact: economies grow when people spend. People living on $7.25 an hour can only cover essentials, and often can only do so with the help of safety net programs, which are being cut. Reich points out that Walmart could have raised the wages of its $9 an hour employees to $15 by using the money spent buying back stock on salary.
If we want more jobs and higher wages, we need more spending (and less billionaire greed). Raising the minimum wage (and extending unemployment benefits) would give working class people discretionary income. As they spend more, companies will need more workers to make and sell things. Reich is outlining common sense. Opponents of the minimum wage have no good data to support their claims, so they rely on fear-based rhetoric like “job killer.” They used the same language to demonize the Affordable Care Act. I’m with Reich and President Obama: “America needs a raise.”
Three cheers to Common Dreams for giving thinkers like Reich a platform that is not found in the corporate media (which includes PBS).
Check out this short (150 second) video in which former Labor Secretary explains inequality. It could be argued that his explanation is not inclusive, but it helps us see where too much of our money is going. The video shows how job loss is connected to corporate schemes to make more money for investors. It is worth your time.
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.
Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich looks at today’s job report and finds not even a sliver of silver lining. While agreeing with the experts that a slowdown in the world economy has hit the U.S., he also notes that American companies have cash, which they could use to hire workers. They aren’t hiring because the American middle class isn’t spending. The American middle class isn’t spending because wages are down and jobs have no security. I wrote a few months ago that I hoped Reich’s dire outlook was wrong. His view is getting dimmer and harder to deny or hope away.
Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich is a great economist. That said, I hope his latest column misses the mark. Reich says the American economy has “stalled.” He attributes the problem to cutbacks in government spending, which we have also seen in several European countries. Then Reich digs deeper: “But widening inequality is the underlying culprit here. As long as almost all the gains from economic growth continue to go to the top, the vast middle class doesn’t have the purchasing power to boost the economy on its own.” This argument makes sense. Still, I hope he’s missing something.
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