Posts Tagged ‘wages’

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Today is National Adjunct Walkout Day. Adjunct professors on campuses across the country hope to draw attention to their poverty-level wages, with no chance of advancing to a tenure-track position.

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According to an extensive crowd-sourced survey of adjunct working conditions conducted in 2012 by the Coalition on the Academic Workforce,

Adjuncts don’t make much money, they receive little support in terms of professional development from the institutions where they teach, and most would accept a full-time tenure-track position if it were offered to them.

As Karen Hildebrand, an adjunct professor at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, explains,

This National Adjunct Walkout Day aims to help adjuncts achieve parity with full-time faculty – better pay, job security, equality in professional development opportunities, etc.

But there are two things about this day that are pretty basic to how we treat each other and how we view the world.

First, hiring people as adjuncts sets a very bad example to college students. That’s not the way to treat people.

Instead of signaling “Get used to it – this is the world you will inhabit, we will use you, wring everything we can out of you and throw you out,” educators should be signaling, “Young College Graduate – we will help you make the world a better place.”

Second, this thing of paying substandard salaries to teachers is a victimization of people who love what they do.

Ask any musician or actor how many times she or he has been asked to donate a free performance. After all, to the people hiring them, it’s not real work – it’s fun! It seems people who love what they do are punished for it.

Parents tell their children, “Get a degree in something you love – but make sure you can make a living from it.”

Following that logic, teaching is one of the things that you shouldn’t get a degree in.

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Special mention

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Feed the Birds

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As I have explained to generations of students, Americans like to think that education is the solution to all economic and social problems. Including, of course, growing inequality.

Why? Because focusing on education—encouraging people to get more higher education—involves no particular tradeoffs. More education for some doesn’t mean less education for others (at least in principle). And providing more education doesn’t involve any structural changes in society—just more funding. (Of course, suggesting more education under current conditions—when public financing of higher education continues to decline, and students and their families are forced to take on more and more debt—is itself disingenuous).

As a result, there’s a broad consensus in the middle—among conservatives and liberals alike—that encouraging more young people who have yet to enter the labor market and existing workers who want to get ahead to obtain a college education will solve the problem of inequality.

Uh, no. That’s because, as Paul Krugman points out, focusing on education is an elaborate dodge from the real issues.

the reason this is an evasion is that whatever serious people may want to believe, soaring inequality isn’t about education; it’s about power. . .

The education-centric story of our problems runs like this: We live in a period of unprecedented technological change, and too many American workers lack the skills to cope with that change. This “skills gap” is holding back growth, because businesses can’t find the workers they need. It also feeds inequality, as wages soar for workers with the right skills but stagnate or decline for the less educated. So what we need is more and better education. . .

As for wages and salaries, never mind college degrees — all the big gains are going to a tiny group of individuals holding strategic positions in corporate suites or astride the crossroads of finance. Rising inequality isn’t about who has the knowledge; it’s about who has the power.

There are two ways to look at this. One, using the chart above (from the Economic Policy Institute), is to see how workers with different levels of education have fared since 2007. It is clear that those in every education category experienced falling or, at best, stagnant wages since 2007. And while the data do show that college graduates have fared slightly better than high school graduates since 2007, this is not because of spectacular gains in the wages of college graduates, but because their wages fell more slowly than the wages of high school graduates.

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The other way is to look at changes in average incomes within the top 10 percent, most of whom have college and advanced degrees. As we can see, the top 1 percent (blue line) has been pulling away from everyone below them (such that, between 1976 and 2012, the ratio of the average incomes of the top 1 percent to the bottom 90 percent rose from 10.5 to 33.5). But the top .01 percent (bright green line) has been pulling away even faster—from the bottom 90 percent (the ratio of their incomes to the bottom 90 percent increased over the same period from 80 to 661) and from their fellow college graduates in the top 1 percent (that ratio increased from 7 to 21).

In other words, the wages of college graduates haven’t been faring all that well in recent years and, over the longer term, inequality has been growing among college graduates. Thus, the lack of education is not the problem, and more education is not the solution.

The fact is, in recent years and since the mid-1970s, wages of most workers have been stagnant, while productivity has continued to grow. As a result, corporate profits have soared to new record highs and a tiny minority at the top has been able to capture a share of those profits in the form of spectacularly high earnings and capital gains. That’s not because they have more education; it’s because they happen to be at the right place at the right time.

The “very serious people” at the top may try to convince the rest of us that obtaining more education will make us “worthy” of more income, thus leading to less inequality. But that’s just an attempt to deflect attention from the real causes.

And, to be honest, it doesn’t take a college education to understand the real causes of growing inequality in the United States.

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This chart, devised by Branko Milanovic, illustrates the remarkable economic recovery that has taken place in the United States beginning in 2010—a recovery, that is, not for the vast majority of people, but for a tiny minority at the top.

Consider the first period (blue line). It is remarkable that real income of all groups declined. But the hardest hit were the rich, with percentage losses increasing as we move toward to right portion of the graph, and the very poor.  I am not an expert on US welfare system, but it seems to me that the system failed to protect the poorest people from substantial income losses between 2007 and 2010. But for the bulk of the population, the years of the Great Recession meant a modest real income decline. The median person’s real income went down by a little over 3 percent. The upper middle class (the people between the 80th and 90th percentiles) did not see much change in their real income. But the top 10% clearly lost out: notice how the blue line starts decreasing ever more steeply as you move toward the top 1%. The Gini coefficient decreased by less than 1 point.

Now, look at the red line which shows the real change in the second period. It is almost a mirror-image of what happened in the first. The growth was zero or positive along the entire distribution, the strongest among the very poor (around the lowest 5th percentile) and among the rich (the top 10%). Median inflation-adjusted per capita income decreased by just under 1%. For the two top percentiles, which got clobbered by the recession, real income growth was in excess of 10%.

In other words, those at the very bottom lost a great deal during and immediately after the crash and, as a result of special measures (like an expansion of the food stamp program and increases in state minimum wages), they’ve managed to claw back some of what they lost—and they’re still poor. For pretty much everyone else, they lost out (as a result of growing unemployment and stagnant wages) and they still haven’t recovered (even though the unemployment rate has declined but their wages are still pretty much where they were before the crash). And those at the top? They lost a great deal (because of the initial decline in corporate profits and the stock market crash) and, as a result of the nature of the recovery (which has successfully restored the profits of large corporations and Wall Street equities), have now recovered most of what they lost—and they’re still rich.

So, after a brief hiatus (in 2009), the United States is back to having the most unequal distribution of income of all the rich countries on the planet.

And, unless things change (and I don’t mean the Fed’s tinkering with interest rates or one or another corporation raising wages above the federal minimum), that obscenely unequal distribution of income is only going to continue to get worse.

Chart of the day

Posted: 21 February 2015 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

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As the Economic Policy Institute explains,

Figure A depicts some of the data presented in Table 1 by showing the cumulative change in real hourly wages for the 10th, 30th, 50th, 70th, and 95th percentiles between 2007 and 2014. After a sharp increase in real wages between 2008 and 2009, due primarily to negative inflation, wages for most groups fell through 2012. While there was an increase between 2012 and 2013, the increase was short-lived, and wages for most groups have fallen again over the last year. Wages for nearly all groups are lower in 2014 than they were at the end of the recession in 2009.

The only exceptions? Real wages for the top 5 percent have risen (by 2.2 percent) since 2007. And real wages for the bottom 10 percent of workers have increased since 2012, mostly because inflation has been low and many states enacted increases in the minimum wage.

Overall, real wages for the bottom 80 percent of workers were lower at the end of 2014 than they were in 2007.

productivity

To get a sense of how far workers are falling behind, productivity in the U.S. economy increased by about 12.6 percent over that same period.