Posts Tagged ‘workers’

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That’s the way Fatih Guvenen, an economist at the University of Minnesota and one of the authors of a new paper on the decline of the American middle class, characterizes the results of their study.

What the authors found is, first, comparing the cohort that entered the labor market in 1967 to the cohort that entered in 1983, median lifetime income of men declined by 10–19 percent. Thus, for example, in terms of real earnings (deflated by the personal consumption expenditure), the annualized value of median lifetime wage/salary income for male workers declined by $4,400 per year from the 1957 cohort to the 1983 cohort, or $136,400 over the 31-year working period.

For women, median lifetime income increased by 22–33 percent from the 1967 to the 1983 cohort, but these gains were relative to very low lifetime income for the earliest cohort.

Second, they found that inequality in lifetime incomes has increased significantly within each gender group, which is largely attributed to an increase in inequality at young ages. Thus, for example, the median income at age 25 has declined steadily from the 1967 cohort to the 1983 cohort. Moreover, median incomes over the first 10 years in the labor market for more recent cohorts (those that turned 25 in the 2000s) indicate that the trend of declining median lifetime incomes seems likely to continue.

What the results show is that more unequal incomes are not primarily a result of a widening gap between younger and older workers. Even among older workers, typical incomes have been falling while the richest have been enjoying more and more of the economy’s gains. Poorer workers—who tend to be younger—will likely earn more as they get older but they are not going to earn enough to make up the difference.

Yes, indeed, this is a pretty bleak picture.

CEOs

According to the AFL-CIO Executive Paywatch project, in 2016, CEOs of S&P 500 Index companies received, on average, $13.1 million in total compensation. In contrast, production and nonsupervisory workers earned only $37,632, on average, in 2016—a CEO-to-worker pay ratio of 347 to 1.

Above is a list of the top twenty CEOs, ranging from Kenneth Lowe of Scripps Networks Interactive at over $28 million to Sundar Pichai of Alphabet, who managed to capture over $100 million in executive compensation.

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Think about it: food makes up a large (5.5 percent) share of the U.S. economy. But millions of American workers struggle to put food on the table.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (pdf), the nation’s largest anti-hunger program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, provides over 40 million low-income people with the means to purchase food in a typical month.*

Moreover, the share of SNAP households with earnings has been growing since the 1990s. As is clear from the chart above, the share of all households with earnings in an average month while participating in SNAP rose from 19 percent in 1990 to 32 percent in 2015. Among households with children and a non-elderly, non-disabled adult, about 60 percent have earnings while participating in SNAP.

And it’s pretty clear why American workers are forced to turn to SNAP:

  • They work in occupations that pay low wages.
  • Their jobs often have scheduling practices that contribute to workers’ low and volatile incomes.
  • Most low-wage jobs lack benefits such as paid sick leave and health insurance.

The result is that roughly 14.9 million workers, or about 10 percent of all workers in the United States, were in households where someone participated in SNAP in the last year.

The problem is that, for millions of working Americans, work does not itself guarantee steady or sufficient income to provide for themselves and their families. Thus, they are forced to turn to SNAP to obtain supplementary income to buy food.

SNAP, of course, is not the solution. It’s a social bandaid applied to a private problem of an economy that thrives on employing workers at low wages, on irregular schedules, with few benefits.

Creating a social economy—in which people who do the work have a real say in how the economy is organized—is the only way American workers will finally be able to put food on the table.

 

*United States Department of Agriculture outlays increased by 48 percent from fiscal 2006 to fiscal 2015, with the largest increase coming from food and nutrition assistance programs:

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Greg Kahn

I am quite willing to admit that, based on last Friday’s job report, the Second Great Depression is now over.

As regular readers know, I have been using the analogy to the Great Depression of the 1930s to characterize the situation in the United States since late 2007. Then as now, it was not a recession but, instead, a depression.

As I explain to my students in A Tale of Two Depressions, the National Bureau of Economic Research doesn’t have any official criteria for distinguishing an economic depression from a recession. What I offer them as an alternative are two criteria: (a) being down (as against going down) and (b) the normal rules are suspended (as, e.g., in the case of the “zero lower bound” and the election of Donald Trump).

By those criteria, the United States experienced a second Great Depression starting in December 2007 and continuing through April 2017. That’s almost a decade of being down and suspending the normal rules!

Now, with the official unemployment rate having fallen to 4.4 percent, equal to the low it had reached in May 2007, we can safely say the Second Great Depression has come to an end.

However, that doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods, or that we can forget about the effects of the most recent depression on American workers.*

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For example, while Gross Domestic Product per capita in the United States is higher now than it was at the end of 2007 ($51,860 versus $49,586, in chained 2009 dollars, or 4.6 percent), it is still much lower than it would have been had the previous trend continued (which can be seen in the chart above, where I extend the 2000-2007 trend line forward to 2017). All that lost output—not to mention the accompanying jobs, homes, communities, and so on—represents one of the lingering effects of the Second Great Depression.

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And we can’t forget that young workers face elevated rates of underemployment—11.9 percent for young college graduates and much higher, 30.9 percent, for young high-school graduates. As the Economic Policy Institute observes,

This suggests that young graduates face less desirable employment options than they used to in response to the recent labor market weakness for young workers.

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Finally, the previous trend of growing inequality—in terms of both income and wealth—has continued during the Second Great Depression. And there are no indications from the economy or economic policy that suggest that trend will be reversed anytime soon.

So, here we are at the end of the Second Great Depression—no longer down and with the normal rules back in place—and yet the effects from the longest and most severe downturn since the 1930s will be felt for generations to come.

 

*As if often the case, readers’ comments on newspaper articles tell a different story from the articles themselves. Here are two, on the New York Times article about the latest employment data:

John Schmidt—

Any discussion about “full employment”, when there are so many people who’ve essentially given up looking for work or who’re working in low-skill or unskilled labor positions, seems like the fiscal equivalent of rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Based on data from the Fed and the World Bank, GDP per capita has doubled since 1993, while median household income has risen ~10%. Most of the newly-generated wealth and gains from productivity increases are being funneled upward, such that the average worker very rarely sees any sort of pay increase. Are we expected to believe that this will change now that we’ve [arguably] passed some arbitrary threshold? Why should we pat ourselves on the back for reaching “full employment”? Shouldn’t we be seeking *fulfilling* employment for everyone, instead, at least inasmuch as that’s possible? Shouldn’t we care that the relentless drive for profit at the expense of everything else is creating a toxic environment where the only way to ensure a raise is to hop from job to job, eroding any sense of two-way loyalty between companies and their employees?

I’m not sure what the solution is, but I know enough to see there’s a problem. Inequality of this sort is not sustainable, and it’s not going to magically disappear without some serious policy changes.

David Dennis—

There is a critical parameter missing from full employment data. very critical. Here in Pontiac, Michigan before the collapse of American manufacturing, full employment meant 10, 000 jobs working at GM factories and Pontiac Motors making above the mean wages with excellent health insurance as well as retirement pensions. You can not compare full employment at McDonalds and Walmart with the jobs that preceded them. The full employment measure doesn’t mean much if it isn’t correlated with a index that compares that employment with a standard of living as it relates to a set basket of goods, services, and benefits.