Common Dreams reports that much of the good news about job growth hides more troubling economic news. The article cites research by the National Economic Law Project that shows most workers have lost ground on wages. It also quotes economist Robert Kuttner, who notes that more new hires face part-time work schedules, including on-call jobs that give no set hours. We want more jobs. But they need to be good jobs, not work schedules that let employers make more money by making workers more insecure. America needs a raise and better working conditions.
Common Dreams offers a great essay by Laura Flanders that explores the success of worker-owned cooperatives. Flanders links a successful coop for home healthcare workers with New York City’s recent investment in promoting such business models. Workers in coops share the profits and collaborate to decide how the business will run. How does this benefit workers? In one case, a worker was able to move from a $6.25 minimum wage job to making $25 an hour as part of a coop. There are only 300 coops currently operating in the U.S. Hopefully we will see many more in the future.
Anyone familiar with Diane Ravitch’s writing knows she is on the political left. That said, her latest article does a great job of showing how our political and economic decisions are linked to education. Whatever your political views, I recommend that you consider her views and how they impact both students you care about and how they impact your tax dollars. As Ravitch points out, jobs are also at issue. As long as Americans are competing with workers in developing nations that earn much less, jobs will continue to outsourced. Ravitch, like a good teacher, helps us connect the dots.
Common Dreams is one of my favorite websites for understanding our world. Today it reposts an article by Jeff Faux that examines a very hot book, Capital in the Twenty-first Century by Thomas Piketty. The book’s thesis is pretty simple: the rewards of capitalism are now flowing to very few people. After WWII, the opposite was true. Economic expansion built the middle class in America and allowed Europe and Japan to rebuild after a terrible war. Poverty in America shrank. Now the opposite is true. Even though workers are more productive, their pay has declined.
Piketty claims that capitalist growth is fueling income inequality. Looking at capitalist societies over 300 years, he finds that most periods of growth increased inequality. The post-war period in the U.S was an outlier. Piketty refutes the claim that markets are self-correcting. Instead, they benefits most often go to those who do not have to work for a living (big investors, capitalists). Faux is careful to point out that Piketty is not a radical, that he is closer to Keynes than Marx. What excites me about a book like this is that it will challenge the way people think. It will force people to reexamine accepted wisdom, which is often the first step to real change.
PS: In Daily Kos, Mark Sumner criticizes Ross Douthat’s attempt to pooh-pooh Pikkety’s book.
Common Dreams has posted an article by Michelle Chen that examines one reason for wage disparities between men and women. In many states, employers can fire employees who discuss their salaries with other employees. Last week the Senate failed to pass The Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill that would have prevented this practice (if the bill passed the House, which would not have happened). How serious is this issue? Chen cites a 2003 study claiming that 1/3 of employers have rules that prevent employees from discussing pay with co-workers.
Why isn’t this practice a violation of the First Amendment? Chen explains that employers claim that pay is similar to a “trade secret,” confidential information. She also reminds readers of Lilly Ledbetter’s story. Ledbetter was doing the same job as her male peers at Goodyear Tire, but did not know she was paid less. When she found out and sued, the court ruled that she had not acted in a timely manner even though she did not have the information because of the employer rules described above.
I recommend that you read Chen’s story to get the full sense of this story. Should employers have this right? I don’t think so. Yes, employees should not discuss proprietary information. Salary does not fall in this realm. Instead, employers are bullying employees to control them and keep them afraid. This is another reason why American workers should support stronger labor laws and unions.
According to Common Dreams, McDonald’s employees in California, Michigan, and New York are suing both corporate owned stores and franchisees for wage theft. The employees assert that their pay has been lost due to fraud that includes: doctoring time sheets, preventing employees from taking breaks, making them work off the clock and forcing them to pay for uniforms. The workers in these states are trying to come together in a class action suit that could cover over 30,000 employees. If large companies don’t want to pay their employees and don’t want to let them have union protection, the next step will be courts. What popular companies have to hope is that judgments in courts of law are not followed by a worse fate: conviction in the court of public opinion.
Common Dreams has published several great posts that link the late Pete Seeger to progressive politics and workers’ rights. Today, it posted a remembrance by David Lindorff, a journalist who talks about Seeger’s impact on his life. While this essay touches on politics, it is more about how an artist can touch us and change our lives. All great art, like politics, is personal.
Today saw a second straight disappointing month for job growth. The number again is positive, but not strong enough. Common Dreams has posted an article by Michelle Chen that looks beyond the monthly numbers. Chen, a writer at In These Times, lays bare the mainstream media lie that workers are to blame for unemployment because they have the wrong skills. Citing a study from the Economic Policy Institute, she finds that workers of all education levels are struggling in the current market. Chen concludes that the real gap is one of understanding. People who claim that skills are the problem do not know how the economy works.
I would add to Chen’s analysis by noting that many fields have been glutted by intense marketing from universities, colleges, and training programs. Professions that once had easy entry know have more applicants than open positions, which lets employers drive down salary costs. My simple take is that good jobs are hard to find and getting harder to find all the time. Employers have the upper hand, and they know it, which means wages will continue to stay flat or go down until real job growth happens. Given the attitude of both business and government, we might be in this negative cycle for a long time to come.