Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day- Not So Much

Labor Day is an American holiday that has celebrated “the economic and social contribution of workers” since 1882 (Wikipedia). For decades I’ve been as happy as the next worker to get a long weekend but now the holiday rings hollow. For one thing, I have lots of time off. All my time is off unless you count the hours I spend looking for my next job.

But this is not just about me. It’s about the 14 MILLION people just like me. No, wait. That’s a number based on those who still qualify for unemployment benefits. It does not include all those whose benefits have expired and those who take part-time work simply to survive. This means that the true unemployment rate is almost 16.5% not 9.1%. In the great state of Oregon reality is 19.6% making us the fourth highest rate after California, Nevada, and Michigan. Go team! Add to that the news that no new jobs in the U.S. were added in August, 24.6% of surveyed consumers expect things to get worse, the GDP is only going to grow by 1.7% (not the 2.7% estimated in February),  and Canada starts looking better and better (and I thought it looked good already).

You can’t talk about the economy without talking politics and that’s even more embarrassing. I don’t know anyone of any persuasion- Republican, Democrat- who thought their team came out smelling like a rose in the great debt ceiling debate. We’re all mortified. We elected these jackasses whose only interest is self and getting re-elected.

Whatever political clout Obama had was blown on his healthcare plan (which I still can’t figure out- even if it’s a good thing) leaving the Democrats without the majority after the midterm elections. Now we’re back to politics as usual, Republicans bitching that they will NOT allow tax increases and Democrats just as firmly entrenched against spending cuts. No one is listening. Why should they? They’ve got salaries and perks and lobbyists flying them to sunny places to discuss why the oil companies need subsidies, despite raking over in $36 billion in profit in the second quarter alone.

I’m no political or economic expert but even to the average Joe something is seriously, horribly, possibly irretrievably broken in our system of government. While the initial recession (yes, I’m calling it a recession!) was caused by the credit crisis from irresponsible lenders and borrowers it can still be traced back to the deregulation of our financial institutions and policies that, while democratic in their belief that home ownership is an American right, were sloppy and foolish in their execution. No one is stepping up to fix these mistakes. As if Wall Street is going to say, “Yeah, we’re out of control as evidenced by our obscene bonuses, we need to be reined in.” No. Instead, corporate America, even beyond Wall Street, is using this time to widen the divide between itself and the workers we recognize one day out of the year. The Institute for Policy Studies just released a new report showing the top 25 CEOs who were paid more than their corporation paid in taxes. Their job is not focused on revenue and therefore, jobs creation, it’s on lobbying for tax breaks and creating tax loopholes. Basically, on dodging taxes, the sort of thing that would get me audited by the IRS but gets the CEO of Black & Decker $25.8 million in compensation (despite laying off 4,000 of its 38,000 workers in 2010).

Again, I’m no expert but I imagine there are a few out there. Why aren’t they being called on by our government to brainstorm a solution to this mess? It’s a crazy concept most of us learned in school and possibly at some point in our jobs- get a group of knowledgeable people together and let them throw out ideas until they find something that works. Could it really go more badly then what we have now?

When I was growing up we often heard about “Third World” countries. They were scary places with a tiny upper class and an immense lower class. We felt bad for them; we were warned about ever becoming them. Hhhhmmm. Take a look at China and India now. While not balanced both have burgeoning middle classes. Yes, they have still have huge issues with poverty but they also have population levels at four times ours. How much longer before we have the sneer of superiority wiped off our faces? Our middle class is shrinking and without it recovery is almost impossible. Currently, the top 1% of the population in the U.S. takes home almost 25% of the pay and is responsible for 37% of consumer purchases. We’re becoming a third world country, the consequences of which are very eloquently laid out by Joseph Stiglitz in his article Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1% (Vanity Fair, May 2011). This should be mandatory reading for all of us.

So this is my Labor Day rant. If you made it this far, thanks for reading. I don’t like complaining without providing a solution but this is far beyond the girl who changed her college major so she wouldn’t have to take any math classes (yes, I did, really). I do know this, self-governance is a wonderful theory but has now been proven in this country to be unworkable in many instances. Rather than bickering about why I’m right and you’re wrong each side needs to climb out of their trench and agree that unless we find a solution we’re all going down.  


tweedlibrarian said...

I don’t even know where to begin to comment. I am disgusted with the Congressmen and women who pander to the corporations and won’t take a firm stand that the system is broken and needs fixing. I’m sick of hearing their BS that small business creates these great new jobs; therefore they need encouragement in the form of tax breaks. Big companies get the biggest handouts, and hardworking people like you get precious little even though you’ve worked for years and diligently paid your taxes. I want more control over how my tax money is spent. I would love to be able to choose where my taxes go. I’d happily pay MORE taxes if it benefited you, my mom, my numerous underemployed librarian classmates, and the other hardworking people in my life who are just getting screwed. Those C-level greedy executives are dragging the country down. They could still live a damned good life if they cut their bonuses completely. If we stopped pouring money into the defense department, maybe we could do something practical with it like create new, long term, well paying jobs.
On this Labor Day, I am incredibly thankful I have a good job. It’s not enough, though. I want every American to have a decent paying job. I’d pay a lot more taxes to see this happen.
Thank you for the links you included. The 1% article really got to me.

asampler said...

We have our own problems here in Australia too, but we do at least have a welfare safety net, universal healthcare and working tax system. I simply don't comprehend the 'I'm alright, stuff you' mentality of the super-rich -here's it tends to be mining companies shafting the general populace. So I'm not surprised by your anger. And good on you for ranting about a difficult topic.

MultipleMum said...

It certainly doesn't paint a very pretty picture, and its impact is far reaching. I like your idea of grouping the 'brains' of corporate America together and brainstorming a few solutions. It can't help? I hope that this is the month you find work and your situation improves. Thanks of Rewinding x

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