Archive for the ‘Income Inequality’ Category

Freelance Nation: How Protections for American Workers Are Becoming Increasingly Irrelevant   2 comments

Once upon a time you could be fairly certain that investing the time, money, and effort required to earn a four-year degree would allow you to land a good job with medical/dental/vision benefits, a retirement plan, and paid vacation time. In the event of a bad break, you could count on being covered by worker’s comp and unemployment insurance. While you may never get rich, you’d be comfortable, with no trouble financing a new car or qualifying for a mortgage. In fact, go back far enough and this type of security and lifestyle was even available to many people without a college degree.

Those days are increasingly behind us.

While big companies have spent the last 2-3 decades offshoring jobs to countries with low labor costs and few worker and environmental protections, businesses of all sizes are in on the latest trend to impoverish American workers and strip them of protections. What am I talking about? The rise of freelance nation.

Companies have figured out that in a labor market where demand for jobs far outstrips their supply, there’s no need to put workers on the payroll when it’s so much cheaper to just hire them as independent contractors. Pay only for the work you need, and then it’s adios, baby.
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Speeding Toward Disaster   Leave a comment

I was planning to write a few blog posts this week but I’m too weak, too tired, and too sad to focus on anything complex. Maybe in a few days.

I’m also scared. I keep thinking of my partner, our dogs, and myself in a car speeding toward a cliff. Unless something changes, we’re going to go over that cliff. And I don’t know what I can do to slow down the damn car, let alone put it in reverse.

Things were bad before I got sick and now they appear utterly hopeless. My partner continues to look for work but the job situation around here is pretty bleak. Either he isn’t qualified, or the job is only part-time and/or the pay is so low it would barely cover our rent, leaving nothing for our bills and food. On top of that, most of these jobs aren’t local. They’ll require spending two hours a day commuting, and he would be working over an hour a day just to cover the transportation costs. That’s a lot of commuting for a job that’s only part-time. But he keeps applying, hoping that something will work out.

My partner has a college degree but he can’t find a job that pays a living wage. Unfortunately that’s not unusual these days. I wasn’t surprised to learn that in 2010, over 43% of low-wage workers had attended or graduated college. Oh, and that other myth conservatives never tire of flogging, the one where most minimum wage workers are unskilled teenagers just trying to make a few “extra” bucks and gain much-needed work experience? Not surprisingly, that’s more BS. In 2010, just 12% of low-wage workers were under age 20 (down from 26% in 1979). And I’m sure a substantial number of those teenagers aren’t middle class kids living at home or attending college on their parents’ dime but young people working real hard to support themselves (like I was at that age).
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Sex, Class, and Occupy Wall Street   19 comments

I’ve been following the Occupy movement with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it’s the first thing in a very long time that’s given me any hope for this country. It’s high time that we start focusing on economic injustice and the damage done by the greed of the mega rich and the corruption of those who do their bidding. The system is badly broken, as evidenced by the fact that politicians of both major parties are talking austerity and cuts to safety net programs at a time of record unemployment, growing poverty, and economic inequality comparable to the developing world. Clearly there’s a desperate need for a movement that raises awareness of the class war the wealthy have been waging on the rest of us.

Which brings me to my first issue with Occupy Wall Street. Who exactly are “the rest of us”? From a branding perspective, the 99% versus the 1% is very appealing. But is it accurate? Clearly not. If your household income is half a million a year, I’d say the system has been working very well for you. You may even be part of the problem if you outsource jobs or pay workers less than a living wage. But you’re still part of the 99%.

At the same time, “the 99%” has become synonymous with the downtrodden, debt-ridden, and dispossessed. I remember a Tumblr entry written from the perspective of a small child who’d witnessed her mom cry because she was unable to buy her kid a birthday present. It ended with the words, “My mom doesn’t know that I know we’re part of the 99%.” Huh? The mom doesn’t realize her kid knows she makes less than $590,000 a year? No wonder people are confused. I’ve seen numerous blog posts and comments by individuals with low six-figure incomes stating that they “stand with the 99%.” No, actually, if you have a low six-figure income, you are the 99%. In fact, if your household income totals $190,000, it could triple and you would still be part of the 99%.

So. Not very useful, is it? The bottom 90%, on the other hand, have an average household income of $31,244, which is probably more like what people have in mind when discussing the economic difficulties experienced by “the 99%.”
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Dear Dick   Leave a comment

As if you needed any more evidence that congressional Democrats are completely out of touch with the needs of the people they are supposed to represent, Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who is close to Obama and frequently thought to be signaling the President’s positions on issues, announced yesterday that massive deficit reduction is “the challenge of our generation,” urging fellow Democrats as well as Republicans to “seize [the] moment” by supporting a truly “historic” package that would, without question, include deep cuts to social safety net programs. Because what we really need in this country is even more desperate people who are unable to make ends meet.

If Dick Durbin thinks debt reduction is the preeminent challenge we’re facing, all I can figure is that he must be living in some alternate universe. Which I guess he is. Durbin and the rest of the millionaires’ club in the Senate are so far removed from the lives of the people they were elected to represent that they might as well be from another dimension. The deficit that so concerns Durbin and the DC establishment barely even registers as a concern for the people in my community. Indeed, the only reason it registers at all is the ruling class’ relentless propaganda campaign.

Let me tell you, Dick, what people in my California community are concerned about. Our county’s official unemployment rate is 14.7%, but the real unemployment rate in our neck of the woods is at least 10-12 percentage points higher. Sometimes a whole week goes by without a single “help wanted” ad appearing in the local paper (not counting “make thousands stuffing envelopes from home” schemes and the like). Jobs are so scarce and people are so desperate for work that a supermarket putting up a Help Wanted sign for three no-benefits, minimum wage positions received hundreds of applications in a matter of hours.

While at least one in four are unemployed, many more are underemployed or stuck in low wage jobs that don’t pay enough to cover the basics. The lack of discretionary income in the area has devastated small businesses. The barbershop that used to cut my partner’s hair, the Mexican restaurant we occasionally stopped by for takeout before our car broke down and we couldn’t afford to get it fixed, the two Internet cafés we visited a couple of times per month to escape the unbearable slowness of our dialup connection–they’ve all closed their doors. So have countless other businesses during the last few years. You can’t run a business without customers, and most people in our area have no money to spend.
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The Economy’s Real Confidence Problem   Leave a comment

I haven’t blogged much during the past few months because I’ve been super busy with work. The joys of freelancing are such that you can go for weeks with so little work that you’re unable to pay your bills and have nightmares about being evicted, when, suddenly, several clients want to hire you at once, and of course they all need you to get started yesterday. Since you don’t know when the next paying gig is coming your way, you don’t dare tell any of them that it’ll be a couple of weeks before you can get started on their project lest they hire someone else, so you end up putting in 12 hour days, 7 days a week.

As jobs are increasingly outsourced or replaced with temporary contract work, more Americans will find themselves in our shoes. That’s bad for workers, but it’s also bad for the overall economy. Aside from the lack of pensions, 401Ks, and health care benefits, people who aren’t confident they’ll have much income next month won’t be spending much money this month. They certainly won’t be making any big purchases. You may have had a good month or two, but since you can’t be confident that you’ll continue to get work, you save every dollar you don’t absolutely need to spend.

Of course it’s not just contract workers who lack confidence. With a lousy economy and sky high unemployment figures, those fortunate enough to have a full-time job that pays a living wage realize just how precarious their position is. If you are laid off, it could take a very long time to find a new job. Better save that discretionary income in case your job makes tracks to China or India.
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Uber-Privileged Feminists Say “F*ck You!” to Low Income Women   4 comments

And to lesbians and to immigrant women and really to anyone who isn’t wealthy, straight, white, and preferably male and Christian. Because that’s what you’re doing when you’re supporting the presidential aspirations of anti-feminist wingnut Michele “Kill the Poor” Bachmann. And yes, The New Agenda, a nonpartisan women’s activist group, is actually urging women to vote for Bachmann, or Palin, should she throw her hat in the ring.

For those not familiar with this organization’s history, The New Agenda was founded by former Wall Street executive Amy Siskind in the aftermath of the 2008 election. Siskind, a longtime Democrat, supported Hillary Clinton during the Democratic Primary and, like many of us, was appalled by the sexist treatment of first Clinton, then Palin. And so The New Agenda was created to combat sexism and elect more women to political office. Laudable objectives to be sure, except for one thing: The politics of the women they champion appear to be irrelevant; simply being equipped with a vagina is all it takes to win the support of The New Agenda.

As a result, Siskind’s organization routinely supports conservative candidates whose policies do enormous harm to huge segments of the female population. Such as South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley who championed the nation’s toughest photo ID law in an effort to disenfranchise low income voters (who tend to vote Democratic). Cheering on Bachmann, however, is a little surprising, even for The New Agenda.

For one, Bachmann is an outspoken anti-feminist who believes wives must obey their husbands. But no worries! Siskind explains that while Bachmann may not be a feminist, she’s definitely “pro-woman”! In fact, feminism is kinda passé; the new “pro-woman” movement is where it’s at!
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Jobs Aren’t Enough   5 comments

Every time I hear that the administration needs to focus on job creation or that X number of jobs have been created last month, I can’t help but wonder what kind of jobs people are talking about. Because it’s not just jobs we need. America desperately needs well-paying jobs. The type of jobs that will allow workers to buy more than the bare necessities. The type of jobs that make home ownership possible. The type of jobs that do not leave workers dependent on government assistance. The type of jobs that produce substantial tax revenue. The type of jobs that have been eliminated in droves to be replaced–in so far as they are replaced at all–by ever lower paying jobs.

The reason the economy–and with it the country–is going down the tubes can be summed up as too much wealth in too few hands. For a while, rising property values and easy availability of consumer credit shielded most people (and the economy as a whole) from feeling the pain associated with stagnant middle and working class wages, but the massive income inequality at the root of our problems has been in the making for at least thirty years. And it has finally caught up with us. The growing number of people at the bottom of the income pyramid are going without because they can’t afford to buy much-needed products and services, while those at the top horde much of their income because they already have far more than they will ever need. Unfortunately their greed knows no bounds, so we’re seeing 25% pay increases for senior executives, while low income workers in the same company must subsist on minimum wage.

Speaking of which, what’s the point of having a minimum wage that doesn’t pay enough to live on? At $8/hr, California’s minimum wage is higher than the federal minimum wage, but it’s still grossly inadequate. According to the California Budget Project, a single adult with no kids needs to earn twice the minimum wage just to make ends meet. Note that this budget does not allow for any vacation time ever (unthinkable in the rest of the developed world), nor does it include saving money for retirement or a down payment on a house. Also not included are dental/vision coverage/care, Internet access, cable or satellite TV, costs of having a pet, travel, entertainment (e.g., movies, concerts, video games, music), or saving for emergencies (such as car repairs or the included health care plan’s $500 deductible). And, of course, the cost of having and raising kids isn’t included. Families with children need to earn three to four times the minimum wage to get by.
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