“Worsening Jobs Crisis”: America’s Middle Class Is Burning To The Ground, While Washington Fiddles With Scandal Nonsense
At last, some excellent economic news for folks long-mired in the stagnant labor market!
At least, those were the headlines recently trumpeted across the country. “Jobs Spring Back,” exclaimed a typical headline or report that companies added a better than expected 165,000 private-sector jobs in April. Wow — the thunderous, three-year boom of prosperity that has rained riches on Wall Street is finally beginning to shower on our streets, right?
Well, as dry-land farmers can tell you, thunder ain’t rain. Read beneath the joyful headlines hailing April’s uptick in job numbers, and you’ll see the parched truth.
For example, more than a third of working-age Americans are either out of work or have given up on finding a job. Also, last month’s hiring increase was almost entirely for receptionists, waiters, clerks, temp workers, car-rental agents and other low-wage positions with no benefits or upwardly mobile possibilities. On the other hand, manufacturing — generally the source of good, middle-class jobs — did not add workers in April and has cut some 10,000 jobs in the last year.
Especially problematic was the continued rise in underemployment — people wanting full-time work, but having to take part-time and temporary jobs. Underemployment is also pounding college graduates. While they’ve been more successful than non-grads at landing jobs, they’re not getting jobs that fit their career goals or even require the degrees they spent money and time to obtain. Indeed, many of those rental agents and restaurant employees you encounter hold four-year degrees, forcing everyone else to scramble for the few, even lower-paid jobs further down the skill ladder.
Meanwhile, the next graduating class is already beginning to flood into the labor market from colleges and high schools with nowhere to go.
In May, another headline shouted: “Stock Market Soars.” It expressed delight that the Dow Jones Average topped 15,000 for the first time in its history.
Yet this index of Wall Street wealth gives a totally false picture of our nation’s true economic health. Yes, the privileged few are doing extremely well. But the workaday many are struggling — and falling further and further behind as the jobs market sinks steadily from mere recession down into depression.
The monthly unemployment reports don’t tell the depths of misery that’s out here in the real world, beyond the view of Wall Street and Washington elites. For example, President Obama hailed the news that unemployment dipped to 7.5 percent in April. Unstated, though, was the stark reality that this good-news dip was not due to a jump in job offerings, but to a bad-news labor market so weak and discouraging that more and more Americans are dropping out of it or never entering it.
More than a third of our working-age population is no longer even in the job market, and only 58.6 percent of us are employed. Put the opposite way, 41 percent of the potential workforce is not working — about 102 million people. One more statistic, and it’s a chiller: More than one out of five American families report that, last year, not a single family member had a job.
Our people are trapped in a jobs crisis that is sucking the economic vitality out of our nation, but our leaders refuse even to acknowledge it, much less cope with it. In fact, corporate chieftains are deliberately exacerbating the crisis by hoarding trillions of dollars that ought to be rushed into job-creating expansions, and politicians keep adding to the casualties by gleefully eliminating the middle-class jobs of hundreds of thousands of teachers, firefighters, police and other valuable public employees.
America’s middle class is burning to the ground, while Washington fiddles with nonsense and Wall Street feathers its own nest. It’s disgraceful.
By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, May 15, 2013
The Middle Class is in a funk, its view of the future growing dim as fear rolls in like a storm.
An Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor poll released Thursday found that while most Americans (56 percent) hold out hope that they‘ll be in a higher class at some point, even more Americans (59 percent) are worried about falling out of their current class over the next few years. In fact, more than eight in 10 Americans believe that more people have fallen out of the middle class than moved into it in the past few years.
The poll paints a picture of a group that is scared to death about its station in life.
By the way, 58 percent of respondents in the poll viewed themselves as either middle class (46 percent) or upper middle class (12 percent).
According to the poll, Americans see a middle class with less opportunity to get ahead, less job security and less disposable income than the middle class of previous generations.
Respondents were most likely (52 percent) to say that losing a job would put them at the greatest risk of falling out of their current class, followed by an unexpected illness or injury in the family.
Most of those polled believe that higher education is the key to staying in the middle class, but many worry about its prohibitive cost and inaccessibility.
And who did most of them say is responsible for making it worse for the middle class? Congress, chief executives of major corporations and big financial institutions.
Of those who blame politicians, there is some evidence that Republicans get more of the blame than Democrats. A CNN/ORC poll released last month found that 32 percent of respondents thought that Democrats favor the middle class compared with 27 percent who believed the same of Republicans. Sixty-eight percent of those polled believed that Republicans favor the wealthy, compared with 24 percent who believed that Democrats do.
This anxiety about a shrinking middle class is understandable.
A Pew Research Center study, “The Lost Decade of the Middle Class,” released in August, found that “since 2000, the middle class has shrunk in size, fallen backward in income and wealth, and shed some — but by no means all — of its characteristic faith in the future.”
According to the report, “Fully 85 percent of self-described middle-class adults say it is more difficult now than it was a decade ago for middle-class people to maintain their standard of living.”
The report continued:
“Their downbeat take on their economic situation comes at the end of a decade in which, for the first time since the end of World War II, mean family incomes declined for Americans in all income tiers. But the middle-income tier — defined in this Pew Research analysis as all adults whose annual household income is two-thirds to double the national median — is the only one that also shrunk in size, a trend that has continued over the past four decades.”
It’s important to note that many of the people who describe themselves as middle class would not be placed under that rubric by most objective observers. For instance, the Pew study found that 35 percent of people making $30,000 and under and 46 percent of those making $100,000 and over self-identified as middle class. (Meantime, six percent of those making $30,000 and under self-identified as upper class, and six percent of those making $100,000 and over self-identified as lower class. Go figure.)
As Pew pointed out, over the last decade, “middle-tier median household income” fell and median net worth plummeted, and people in the middle class said it was becoming harder to maintain their lifestyles.
To add insult to injury, another Pew report, released this week, found that “during the first two years of the nation’s economic recovery, the mean net worth of households in the upper 7 percent of the wealth distribution rose by an estimated 28 percent, while the mean net worth of households in the lower 93 percent dropped by 4 percent.”
As The Washington Post reported in September after the release of a frightening Census report: “The vise on the middle class tightened last year, driving down its share of the income pie as the number of Americans in poverty leveled off and the most affluent households saw their portion grow.”
The wealthy have come surging back, riding record stock market highs, but many in the middle class are at best treading water and at worst sinking.
In his State of the Union speech in February, President Obama said that the “true engine of America’s economic growth” is “a rising, thriving middle class.”
It certainly looks as if that engine has stalled.
By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, April 27, 2013
Over the weekend, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) described President Obama’s State of the Union address, which he had not heard, as “pathetic.” Today, Boehner pushed the rhetorical envelope a little further.
House Speaker John Boehner Tuesday forcefully denounced the Democrats’ campaign theme that they are for the middle class and Republicans are for the wealthy — saying the policies the president is running on are “almost un-American.”
“This is a president who said I’m not going to be a divider, I’m going to be a uniter, and running on the policies of division and envy is — to me it’s almost un-American,” said Boehner.
Even for Boehner, this kind of rhetoric is cheap and inappropriate.
At a certain level, it’s tempting to think the Speaker doesn’t even believe his own nonsense. What is it, exactly, that Boehner finds so offensive about President Obama’s message? The notion of a Democratic president championing the interests of the middle class isn’t exactly unusual, neither is the prospect of asking the very wealthy to pay a little more to help guarantee opportunities for all.
Indeed, there’s nothing in the White House’s agenda that wouldn’t have generated significant support from Democrats and moderate Republicans for the better part of the 20th century. Obama’s economic vision is, at a fundamental level, about as mainstream as you can get.
It makes sense for Boehner to attack this, to the extent that he sees it as his job to reflexively oppose everything the president is for. But officials, especially those in key positions of authority, really ought to avoid words like “un-American.” Just because the House elected an oft-confused Speaker, who lacks a cursory understanding of public policy and history, is no excuse for American leaders questioning other American leaders’ patriotism.
I’m reminded of a recent piece from Tim Dickinson:
The nation is still recovering from a crushing recession that sent unemployment hovering above nine percent for two straight years. The president, mindful of soaring deficits, is pushing bold action to shore up the nation’s balance sheet. Cloaking himself in the language of class warfare, he calls on a hostile Congress to end wasteful tax breaks for the rich. “We’re going to close the unproductive tax loopholes that allow some of the truly wealthy to avoid paying their fair share,” he thunders to a crowd in Georgia. Such tax loopholes, he adds, “sometimes made it possible for millionaires to pay nothing, while a bus driver was paying 10 percent of his salary — and that’s crazy.”
Preacherlike, the president draws the crowd into a call-and-response. “Do you think the millionaire ought to pay more in taxes than the bus driver,” he demands, “or less?”
The crowd, sounding every bit like the protesters from Occupy Wall Street, roars back: “MORE!”
The year was 1985. The president was Ronald Wilson Reagan.
Today’s Republican Party may revere Reagan as the patron saint of low taxation. But the party of Reagan — which understood that higher taxes on the rich are sometimes required to cure ruinous deficits — is dead and gone. Instead, the modern GOP has undergone a radical transformation, reorganizing itself around a grotesque proposition: that the wealthy should grow wealthier still, whatever the consequences for the rest of us.
I suppose the follow-up question for Boehner is, was Reagan “almost un-American,” too? Were the lawmakers from both parties who approved tax reform in the mid-80s a bunch of socialist sell-outs?
By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, January 24, 2012
You’re just jealous. At least that’s how Mitt Romney sees it. The millionaire who posed for a picture with the boys at Bain Capital with the long green clinched between their teeth and poking out of their collars and jackets now says that people who question what he did there, and what rich people do now, are just green with envy.
In his New Hampshire victory speech on Tuesday, Romney lambasted his Republican opponents (who have raised real issues about his role at the private equity firm Bain Capital) for following the lead of President Obama, whom he described as a leader who divides us “with the bitter politics of envy.”
The next day on “Today” on NBC, Romney defended the statement, rejecting the notion that there were questions about Wall Street behavior, saying the whole discussion was about class warfare. He even went so far as to suggest that such talk shouldn’t even be openly entertained. When the interviewer asked, “Are there no fair questions about the distribution of wealth without it being seen as envy, though?” Romney responded, “I think it’s fine to talk about those things in quiet rooms and discussions about tax policy and the like.”
In quiet rooms? That’s the problem. Too many have been too quiet for too long. And, on this point, we must applaud the efforts of the Occupy Wall Street movement. It took income inequality and corporate responsibility out of the shadows and into the streets.
A report released on Wednesday by the Pew Research Center found that about two-thirds of Americans now perceive a strong conflict between the rich and poor in this country. That was up 19 percentage points from 2009.
As The New York Times pointed out in regard to the report, “conflict between rich and poor now eclipses racial strain and friction between immigrants and the native-born as the greatest source of tension in American society.”
And this has nothing to do with envy and everything to do with fairness.
Elizabeth Warren, who is now running for the Senate seat that Romney ran for in 1994 and didn’t get, probably rebuts this myth of class warfare best by reframing the discussion in terms of a “social contract” between the rich and the rest of society. At one of her campaign events, she explained:
“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there, good for you. But, I want to be clear: you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory and hire someone to protect against this because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea. God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”
That is the corporate Contract With America: societal symbiosis. We create a society in which smart, hard-working people can be safe and prosper, and they in turn reinvest a fair share of that prosperity back into society for posterity.
But somewhere along the way this got lost. Greed got good. The rich wanted all of the societal benefits and none of the societal responsibilities. They got addicted to seeing profits go up and taxes go down, by any means necessary, no matter the damage to the individual or the collective. Those Maseratis weren’t going to pay for themselves.
And the resulting income inequality helped to stall economic mobility.
As The New York Times reported last week, “many researchers have reached a conclusion that turns conventional wisdom on its head: Americans enjoy less economic mobility than their peers in Canada and much of Western Europe.” The Times report speculated that: “One reason for the mobility gap may be the depth of American poverty, which leaves poor children starting especially far behind. Another may be the unusually large premiums that American employers pay for college degrees. Since children generally follow their parents’ educational trajectory, that premium increases the importance of family background and stymies people with less schooling.”
Indeed, a November report by the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Economic Mobility Project pointed out, “In the United States, there is a stronger link between parental education and children’s economic, educational, and socio-emotional outcomes than in any other country investigated.”
Pew has found that most children raised at the top of the income spectrum stay there and most raised at the bottom stay at the bottom.
An equal opportunity to success is central to this country’s optimistic ethos, but income inequality and corporate greed are making a lie of that most basic American truism. The rich and their handmaidens on the political right have consolidated America’s wealth on the ever-narrowing peak of a steep hill and greased the slope. And they want to cast everyone at the bottom as lazy or jealous, without acknowledging the accident of birth and collusion of policies that helped grant them their perch.
Income inequality is a threat to this country and the middle class that made her great. If Romney wants to be president, he needs to understand that.
As Alan Krueger, the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said on Thursday, “I think it is clear that we can’t go back to the type of policies that exacerbated the rise in inequality and threatened economic mobility in the first place if we want an economy that builds the middle class.”
Not envy Mr. Romney. Opportunity.
By: Charles Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, January 13, 2012
On NBC this morning, Matt Lauer asked Mitt Romney whether Americans with “questions about the distribution of wealth and power in this country” are necessarily motivated by, in the Republican’s word, “envy.” The host asked, “Is it about jealousy, or fairness?”
Romney was unmoved. “You know, I think it’s about envy,” he said. “I think it’s about class warfare.”
That’s rather remarkable, in and of itself. Plenty of Americans just want to have a conversation about rising income inequality, poverty, an unjust tax system, and wealth that’s increasingly concentrated at the top. For the likely Republican presidential nominee, those questions aren’t just wrong, they’re the result of “envy.”
And then it got worse. Greg Sargent has the video of the exchange:
LAUER: Are there no fair questions about the distribution of wealth without it being seen as envy, though?
ROMNEY: I think it’s fine to talk about those things in quiet rooms and discussions about tax policy and the like. But the president has made it part of his campaign rally.
I see. So, Americans are allowed to ask questions about inequality, so long as we’re not too loud about it. Let’s just stick to quiet rooms — perhaps Romney can loan us one from one of his mansions — where we can be told to stop being envious.
Greg added, “Romney was twice given a chance to nod in the direction of saying that concerns about these problems have at least some legitimacy to them, that they are about something more than mere envy or class warfare, and that they are deserving of a public debate. And this is the answer he gave.”
We’re getting a closer look at Romney’s ideology, and at this point, it’s looking rather twisted.
Remember, just last week, he argued that families who slip into poverty are, in his mind, “still middle class.” This is also the guy who takes a rather callous approach to firing people.
Romney is doing very well with wealthy voters. Why anyone else might vote for him remains to be seen.
By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Washington MOnthly Political Animal, January 11, 2012