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Hullabaloo


Sunday, September 02, 2012

 
Low wages and low expectations

by digby

Dan Froomkin wrote an interesting article last week about our new low wage economy that I've been meaning to link to. He points out that both parties are running on a pretty tepid jobs agenda, with Obama being hamstrung by the GOP from doing anything that might work and the GOP just not offering anything that might work.

But the problem runs deeper than that:

Jeff Faux, a progressive economist who founded the Economic Policy Institute in 1986, is the author of the new book, The Servant Economy: Where America's Elite Is Sending the Middle Class. "The mantra, as you know, in today's political debate is jobs, jobs, jobs," he told an audience at EPI recently. "Listen carefully because the subtext is low wages, low wages, low wages."

Faux argues that by the mid-2020s, even with the most optimistic assumptions about economic growth, current trends indicate that the average American's wages will drop about 20 percent. One big factor is that more and more good jobs will go overseas, leaving even America's best and brightest no alternative but to enter the service industry.

"You go into an Apple store and you see the future," Faux said. "The future's not in the technology -- the future of the labor force is all in those smart college-educated people with the T-shirts whose job is to be a retail clerk for Chinese goods."

One impetus for job growth, Faux writes in his book, is that as the super-rich get even richer, they'll need more and more servants:

They will hire people to take care of their large homes and to tutor their children in Chinese, tennis, and sophisticated strategies for getting into the best private schools and universities. They will hire personal assistants to shop, pay their bills, and run their errands. Coaches will come to their homes to instruct them in physical fitness, mental relaxation, and spiritual transcendence. They will need maids, cooks, and gardeners.
What was that I was saying about the new aristocracy? Right.

Anyway:
Neither party, Faux argues, is addressing the economic realities that make this the most likely future for our country -- because changing course would require massive government intervention. There's a pretty strong consensus among all but the most ideologically conservative economists that the solution would involve considerable public investment in education, infrastructure, and green energy, new policies to promote domestic manufacturing, more activist regulation of the financial industry in particular, and a more progressive tax structure.

But no matter who wins the election, Faux said, the governing elite has pretty much already ruled out that agenda, in favor of light regulation and governmental austerity.

"I think Romney and Ryan are reactionary disasters. But the last four years should have told us something, and that is the power of big money to intimidate the Democrats," he said. "The deal has already been made … Government over the next 10 to 15 years will be starved for revenue."
I don't know that the Democrats have been intimidated. It looks to me as if they've bought into the program. But it doesn't really matter, does it?

Interestingly, this turned up in the New York Times, just this past week:

While a majority of jobs lost during the downturn were in the middle range of wages, a majority of those added during the recovery have been low paying, according to a new report from the National Employment Law Project.

The disappearance of midwage, midskill jobs is part of a longer-term trend that some refer to as a hollowing out of the work force, though it has probably been accelerated by government layoffs.

“The overarching message here is we don’t just have a jobs deficit; we have a ‘good jobs’ deficit,” said Annette Bernhardt, the report’s author and a policy co-director at the National Employment Law Project, a liberal research and advocacy group.

The report looked at 366 occupations tracked by the Labor Department and clumped them into three equal groups by wage, with each representing a third of American employment in 2008. The middle third — occupations in fields like construction, manufacturing and information, with median hourly wages of $13.84 to $21.13 — accounted for 60 percent of job losses from the beginning of 2008 to early 2010.
It would appear that everything's going according to plan. If they can agree to slash government severely over the same 15-20 year period, I'm guessing the 1% will be set up for a very long time.


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