Watching the death of America’s middle class

There has been some modestly good news on the jobs front recently, but we shouldn’t let any of that lull us into thinking we’re back on the right track. Long-term unemployment is still high, and a lot of workers who are finding work aren’t getting the same kind of deal they once had.

One of the best economics journalists in the business, Louis Uchitelle, as this very troubling piece in the NY Times. It’s bad enough that workers are coming back, particularly in the manufacturing sector, to jobs with lower wages and reduced benefits. But read closely, because there’s something else – they’re scared.

“You don’t want to rock the boat,” Ms. [Linda] Thomas said. “You take a chance on losing everything you have if you do.” Ms. Thomas took a job at GE and has nearly “topped out” in terms of her income, which is about $40,000 a year, and she is not going to see the kinds of wages older workers now receive, ever. But she’s not about to complain, fearful she’ll lose her job if she does.

Corporations see a once-in-a-lifetime chance to take back much of workers’ gains since WW II. With their Congressional supporters stifling any attempts at getting the economy going, they’re sitting on their gains and putting their foot on workers’ necks. And they appear to have everyone else over a barrel.

So I doubt that anyone above the shop floor – the people who actually make the products – will have the yoke of the “globally competitive wage” around them. Many commenters have noted the huge pay differential between, say, the CEO of Toyota (under $2 million) and General Motors (9 million). What’s more, executives at Toyota are are accountable in ways US executives are not. There’s a long list of examples of CEOs who received golden parachutes after losing market share or otherwise screwing up. Although we have had at least a measure of control over some companies who have been bailed out courtesy of taxpayers. (“Taxpayers,” by the by, would include those workers now getting shortchanged by the CEOs.)

As Mr. Uchitelle notes, this is a direct threat to our middle class. By the way, if you get a chance, read his book, The Disposable American.

UPDATEDavid Dayen weighs in at Firedoglake. Note the Germans . . . .

As 2012 dawns this weekend, it is worth thinking about the long-term costs of the Recession that was triggered by the private sector, costs that will be paid by generations of working Americans as they watch their lives become harder and less secure.



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