Posts Tagged ‘wages’

jobs-day-public-sector.png

While much of the discussion of austerity has recently been about Greece, the United States has been enduring its own version of austerity: through declines in public-sector employment.

As the Economic Policy Institute explains,

public sector jobs are still nearly half a million down from where they were before the recession began. Moreover, this fails to account for the fact that we would have expected these jobs to grow with the population–taking that into consideration, the economy is short 1.8 million public sector jobs.

This shortfall in public sector jobs not only removes the multiplier effect on private sector demand, it also swells the ranks of the unemployed and underemployed, thereby increasing the downward pressure on workers’ wages.

burnout MW-BY216_vacati_20140403095851_ME

“Summer time and the livin’ is easy.” Except for Americans, who are burned out and overworked.

According to a recent study by Staples Advantage and WorkPlaceTrends [ht: ja],  more than half of office workers say they are suffering from burnout as a result of the hours they work.

half of all office workers in the United States and Canada now work more than eight hours a day. One in four workers say they usually work from home after their standard working day and 40 percent are working over the weekend at least once a month.

productivity

And, according to both employers and staff (although, not surprisingly, more staff than employers) believe burnout is a key factor contributing to poor productivity.

Millions of those office workers are not eligible for overtime pay (although that may change if Obama succeeds in raising the salary threshold from its current level of $23,660 to $50,440 for workers to automatically receive time-and-a-half pay after working 40 hours in a week).

But that’s not going to alleviate the burnout from overwork. Nor is the fact that the United States has no minimum paid vacation period (in contrast to the country from which I just returned, where 22 days are mandatory) or that American workers only take half of their paid time off.

Employees only use 51% of their eligible paid vacation time and paid time off, according to a recent survey of 2,300 workers who receive paid vacation. The survey was carried out by research firm Harris Interactive for the careers website Glassdoor. What’s more, 61% of Americans work while they’re on vacation, despite complaints from family members; one-in-four report being contacted by a colleague about a work-related matter while taking time off, while one-in-five have been contacted by their boss.

Workers appear to be getting more skittish when it comes to asking for time off. Although this is the first time Glassdoor asked questions about paid vacation and time off, a separate survey, “Vacation Deprivation,” carried out by Harris Interactive for travel site Expedia, shows that Americans left four days on the table within the past year, twice as many as in the previous year. That’s the equivalent of over 500 million lost vacation days a year.

Some 40% of Americans will leave vacation time on the table, a separate study released Tuesday found, citing a post-recession “work martyr complex” among worker who feel tied to their desk. The study by GfK Public Affairs and Corporate Communications and the U.S. Travel Association — which obviously has a vested interest in workers using up all their paid vacation time — found that one-third of the 1,000-plus respondents say they cannot afford to take their time, 40% fear returning to a mountain of work and 35% believe no one else can do their work.

It’s pretty clear that, as long as American workers have no say in the places where they work and live in a country where mainstream economists and business owners celebrate work-rules “flexibility,” they will continue to be burned out and overworked.

the-strip-slide-FNMT-jumbo

Special mention

Earnings_cartoon.spare_largesbr061415dAPR20150612094516

Special mention

FellP20150617_low tumblr_npssnubk6z1qf5yp8o1_500

capitalism-a

Thomas Palley does an admirable job summarizing and discussing the implications of four different stories about the relationship between inequality and the financial crash of 2007-08. The only problem is, he completely overlooks a fifth story about that relationship, one that hinges on the existence and use of the surplus.

According to Palley, there are four major stories of the financial crisis and the role they attribute to income inequality. They are identified with (1) Raghuram Rajan (according to whom inequality has not really been a problem per se but the government responded to populist pressures to do something about growing inequality by extending home mortgages to unwarranted buyers), (2) Michael Kumhoff and Romain Rancière (who developed a model in which worsening income distribution, caused by declining union bargaining power, led to a persistent surge in borrowing as workers tried to maintain their living standards, which rendered the economy fragile to a financial sector shock), (3) Gauti B. Eggertsson and Paul Krugman (who leave out inequality entirely and focus instead on the idea that a financial bubble drove excessive borrowing and leverage in the US economy—which, when the bubble burst in 2007-08, led to a financial crisis and a deep recession, which in turn prompted a wave of deleveraging as borrowers shifted to rebuilding their balance sheets and excess saving that reduced aggregate demand), and (4) Palley himself (who , in his “structural Keynesian” account, focuses on the shift from wage-led growth to neoliberal financialization).

Thus, according to Palley,

Income inequality did not cause the financial crisis. The crisis was caused by the implosion of the asset price and credit bubbles which had been off-setting and obscuring the impact of inequality. However, once the financial bubble burst and financial markets ceased filling the demand gap created by income inequality, the demand effects of inequality came to the fore.

Viewed in that light, stagnation is the joint-product of the long-running credit bubble, the financial crisis and income inequality. The credit bubble left behind a large debt over-hang; the financial crisis destroyed the credit-worthiness of millions; and income inequality has created a “structural” demand shortage.

Palley then proceeds to discuss the implications, for economic policy, of each one of these four stories.

The entire essay is worth a good, careful read. But let me focus here just on the causal stories, and leave for another post the implications of the stories for policy.

While I am sympathetic to Palley’s critique of the other three stories, what’s missing from his own account is the role inequality played in the financial crisis itself.

fredgraph

Consider, for example, what happened to profits and wages in the long run-up to the crash of 2007-08. What we can see, from 1970 onward, is a steady decline in the wage share of national income and an initially halting and then uneven increase in corporate profits (measured here in terms of “net operating surplus”).* The argument is that the decline in the wage share led to increased profits both directly and indirectly: directly, as wage costs for producing enterprises declined; and indirectly, as some of those corporate profits were recycled through financial enterprises to lend to workers, thereby further boosting the profit share of national income. That combination fueled the housing and asset bubbles that eventually burst in 2007-08.

So, on my account—on my structural class account—inequality played an important role in creating the conditions for the most recent financial crash. And now, during the Second Great Depression, the class inequality that was such an important factor before is on the rise again.

Now, I understand, that’s not a complete story about the relationship between inequality and the crash of 2007-08. But it’s a start. It shows that such a story is possible. And, as I will explain in another post, it has implications for economic policy very different from the other four stories out there.

*My chart doesn’t show all of what I consider to be the economic (class) surplus. To get there, we’d have to transfer some of what is included in wages and salaries (e.g., the salaries of CEOs, which put them in the top 1 percent) to “net operating surplus.” I’m still searching for a good way to do that.

fredgraph

Paul Krugman is right: there is no clear or unambiguous relationship between inequality and capitalist economic growth.

If there were such a relationship, liberal thinkers could make their case that less inequality would promote more growth and everyone would benefit.

The fact is, however, there are more unequal and less unequal forms and periods of capitalist growth. As a result, there’s no general correlation between inequality and growth within capitalism.

The chart above depicts both inequality (the profit-wage ratio, in blue on the left) and economic growth (nominal GDP growth, in red on the right) for the United States. We can clearly see periods of relatively high economic growth accompanied by growing inequality (e.g., in the late 1970s) and periods of very slow economic growth also accompanied by growing inequality (e.g., since 2009). The converse is also true: high economic growth with falling inequality (in the early 1950s) and slow economic growth with falling inequality (e.g., late 1980s).

What this means, at least for me, is we need to pay attention to the particular conditions for economic growth during each period or phase of capitalist development. In general, capitalism can grow (or not) under both more unequal and less unequal conditions.

That’s not to say, however, that within any given period (more or less) growth and (more or less) inequality are not connected. A plausible story can be told that growing inequality during the 2000s fueled the financial bubble that eventually burst in 2007-08.

We also need to reverse the relationship and look at the relationship from growth to inequality. It’s pretty clear that the nature of the growth that has occurred since 2009 has created more inequality, that is, the particular form of the recovery that has been enacted since the crash of 2007-08 has enhanced corporate profits (and incomes at the very top) and made everyone else (who receive wages to get by) pay the costs.

fredgraph-1

Finally, while we’re on the topic, there is one general tendency of capitalist growth we need to point out: the role of profitability. In the end, profitability is what makes capitalism work (or not). As we can see from the chart above (which includes just the corporate profit share and growth), each period of a declining profit share is followed by a recession, after which the profit share rises (at least for a time).

So, to paraphrase the Rolling Stones: capitalists can’t always get what they want. When they don’t (leading up to the most recent financial crash), neither will anyone else. And, even when they do (as they have since 2009), there’s no guarantee anyone else will.

fredgraph-1

Even the Wall Street Journal can’t answer the question.

When U.S. unemployment rates fall, conventional notions of supply and demand predict wages will go up as firms bid for increasingly scarce workers, and there are signs of that, for example, in building trades and restaurants. “Basic economics hasn’t gone out the window,” Loretta Mester, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, said in an interview. “When employment grows, wages will start to grow.”

But a Wall Street Journal analysis of Labor Department data points to persistent constraints on worker pay, even as the economy approaches full employment. The Journal found 33 U.S. metropolitan areas­­from the small to the sizable­­where unemployment rates and nonfarm payrolls last year returned to prerecession levels. In two ­thirds of those cities ­­including Columbus; Houston; Oklahoma City; Minneapolis-­St. Paul, Minn.; and Topeka, Kan.­­ wage growth trailed the prerecession pace.

So much for “basic economics”!

As is clear from the chart above, unemployment (whether measured in terms of the headline rate or the total, U6, rate) continues to fall and yet the rate of increase in nominal hourly wages has also been falling.

They throw lots of possible reasons against the proverbial wall, hoping something sticks. But here’s the one that is most compelling:

Companies tapping pools of workers who have disappeared from the U.S. unemployment tallies, creating what economists describe as hidden slack in the economy. Until this invisible labor supply is spent, these men and women, including part-­timers, temporary workers and discouraged labor ­market dropouts, could hold wages down.

The fact is, the rate of change of hourly wages was less than 2 percent in April, while the total unemployment rate in April still stood at 10.8 percent.

It’s what some of us call, without euphemism, the Reserve Army of the Unemployed and Underemployed.