Published September 15, 2011
Rick Perry should stop boasting about his jobs record. After all, thanks to Perry, Texas is tied with Mississippi for the highest percentage of minimum wage jobs in the nation. Is that our vision for the future of America’s economy?
This week, the Census Bureau reported that 46.2 million Americans lived at or below the official poverty line in 2010. Many of them have jobs. They’re just not good jobs. For instance, the average new employee at a Wal-Mart store made $13,650. In 2010, the official poverty line for a family of four was $22,314. That is unconscionable.
I say that not to pick on corporations but to make a larger point -- that there’s something wrong if our economy is recovering on paper but ordinary Americans are still suffering.
Last year, corporations posted record profits and CEO bonuses. But unemployment still rose. And according to the Census, median household incomes (adjusted for inflation) declined by 2.3% in 2010 over the previous year. Increasingly, the economy is getting better for those at the top while getting worse for the rest of us.
Of course, for the millions of unemployed Americans, any job seems like a good job. Still, why are we setting our standards so low? Why are we believing the lie that, in order for our economy to recover, we have to accept stagnant wages, lower benefits, less protections for workers, lower regulations on our air quality and water supply and degraded public services -- all while the rich haven’t been asked to lower their expectations or anything else for that matter.
In 2010, the average public middle school teacher made $47,000. The same year, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein made $13.2 million in take home pay. But big business conservatives attack public school teachers and resist even the slightest tax increase on folks like Mr. Blankfein. Have we gone mad?
I’m not begrudging Lloyd Blankfein for being rich (though I wish he hadn’t made his money crashing our economy). And if you want to be rich one day, good for you. Go for it! The problem is that in our collective desperation to be rich, we’re allowing the current rich people to structure our economy and society in such a way that they’ll keep getting richer while the rest of us fall further and further from the American Dream.
Republicans don’t have a jobs plan. They want to give more money to big business and the super rich who are already sitting on record profits and wealth --- not to mention a record $2 trillion in unspent corporate cash reserves --- and not creating jobs. And if big business is going to create jobs, Republicans want to remove all restrictions so they can as low-paying, low-benefit, low-safety, low-security as possible. Note that, as Republicans are trying to do away with collective bargaining across the country, workplace death rates are 52.9% higher across the board in so-called “Right to Work” states.
Fact: Since the 1950s, middle class incomes have declined as the rate of unionization has declined.
Fact: Public sector workers do get better wages and benefits than private sector counterparts but an independent study this week found that our government spends more money when it outsources to private companies because, even though private companies pay their workers worse, the companies make huge profits and enrich their CEOs.
In other words, public sector jobs and union jobs are blatantly better for middle class families but worse for corporate greed. Which side are you on?
The Republicans have stopped President Obama again and again from taking the bold action needed to put America on a better path not just for big businesses but for workers, small businesses, entrepreneurs --- all of us. Still, something needs to be done.
The president has put a plan on the table that draws heavily from Republican proposals, more than half of which is tax cuts that conservatives traditionally support. Moreover, the president’s plan will go a good way not just toward creating a bunch of bad jobs but solid, good jobs -- yes, including public sector jobs that will not only help rebuild America’s infrastructure but provide good wages and benefits to hardworking men and women across our nation.
I can’t imagine a single American whose dream for our economy entails a few Wall Street billionaires amidst a swelling underclass of millions and millions of low-wage workers with the middle class rapidly joining the ranks of the latter. So if that’s not our vision, why do so many of us keep endorsing anti-union, anti-government, anti-small business policies and politicians that are leading us directly toward this hell?
Sally Kohn is a political commentator and community organizer. She is a contributor to the American Prospect and the founder of the Movement Vision Lab, a grassroots think tank.