Yes, American workers are angry. But not just for one reason—for many reasons.
It took a long time for U.S. political and economic elites (and their friends in economics) to understand that the American working-class has been squeezed far beyond what it can take. Even now, it’s not clear they understand, although the campaigns of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have given clear indications that the establishment is out of touch.
Even then, the anxieties and frustrations of U.S. workers can’t be put down to one thing.
Sure, as Mark Muro and Siddharth Kulkarni explain, the American working-class is angry about the loss of manufacturing jobs.
But let’s also remember that the share of manufacturing jobs in the United States has been on a steady decline since its peak of 39 percent in 1943.
Still, the drop in the number of U.S. manufacturing jobs accelerated in the new millennium, coinciding with a rise in the offshoring of jobs to and the rise of imports from Mexico, China, and other countries in the process of capitalist development. That’s certainly one key factor.*
But American workers are angry for other reasons—such as the fact that, as Jared Bernstein explains, their wages, which had doubled from the 1940s to the 1970s, have flat-lined since.
Even more: only wages at the top—above the 90th and 95th percentiles (which, as I have explained before, aren’t really like other wages but, instead, represent cuts of the surplus)—have seen any appreciable increase since the start of the Second Great Depression.
Meanwhile, even with slow growth, corporate profits (both financial and nonfinancial) continue to rise to record levels.
Thus, workers are falling further and further behind, while the tiny group at the top continues to pull away from everyone else.
What this means is that every indicator we have—such as average incomes and the share of income captured by the top 1 percent—shows grotesque and growing levels of inequality within the United States.
So, yes, American workers are angry—at the loss of jobs, their stagnant wages, their employers’ record profits, and the obscene and still-increasing levels of inequality they witness every day.
*Daron Acemoglu et al. (pdf) estimate that, considering both the direct and indirect effects, import growth from China between 1999 and 2011 led to an employment reduction of 2.4 million workers—and thus about 40 percent of the decline in manufacturing employment during that period.