Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The disappearing middle class

All arguments aside over who's right and who's wrong in the Delphi case, you can hardly dispute that the middle class is squeezed today like it never has been.

Harold Meyerson of American Prospect and the LA Weekly expresses it well in this piece picked up last week in the Press. First he reminds us of the grand and glorious rise of the middle, thanks to union contracts and America's pride, the auto industry:
For much of the 20th century, [the auto industry] was, by many measures, our premier industry, the pride of the nation. Its Big Three manufacturers employed the most workers, produced the most output, made the largest profits, and paid their workers enough to transform the economic profile of the entire nation ... In the post-World War II decades, America became home to the first decently paid working class in the history of the world. This was no mean distinction.
Then Meyerson sums up what's happening to the middle class today:

In the face of the combined onslaught of globalization, de-unionization and deregulation, the bottom may not be falling out of the American economy, but the middle certainly is. The very notion of a decently paid working-class job has become a defining oxymoron of our time.

...So we level downward, and the normal workings of the economy seem powerless to stop it. We are in the third year of a recovery, but poverty rates and the number of medically uninsured continue to rise, while median household income continues to fall. Many millions of Americans are doing very well, of course, but, the inflation of home values aside, their ranks don't include their countrymen whose jobs can be offshored or digitized.

Meyerson pins some hope on the new federation (which he doesn't name) made up of the seven unions that recently left the AFL-CIO and whose efforts are being led by union organizer Tom Woodruff.

According to Meyerson, Woodruff claims that about 50 million private-sector workers -- nurses, trucker, retail clerks, others -- have jobs that cannot be sent offshore. Of these, some 44 million are unorganized. The goal of the new federation is to change that.
Sums up Meyerson:

That's no small task in a nation where the legal protections for union organizing have eroded to the point of nonexistence. But in a nation whose economically secure working class has gone the way of the dodo, few tasks are more important.


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