Editorial: Honoring labor / American workers deserve better than thisMichigan workers could use someone to speak up for them and advocate policies to reverse declining wages and benefits too, but don't look to the News for help. They ran a story today about new-era auto jobs that thousands of people are glad to work despite lower pay, less job security, and fewer benefits. They point out that "many of the new factory workers are learning firsthand the lessons of a global economy" but then go on to say, "the jobs don't promise the American Dream, but they are jobs worth having."
America's employed began the Labor Day weekend with news Friday from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that 128,000 new jobs had been created in August and that the unemployment rate had dropped a hair to 4.7 percent.
The new-jobs total in August was better than July's 113,000 but still way below the 150,000 needed to meet the number of new entries to the job market. Any joy at the slight drop in the jobless rate was tempered by analysts who said it was due to people leaving the job market in despair or in quest of more training, rather than an improvement in the jobs climate.
Previous news that wage increases are not keeping pace with the rising cost of living underlined the dilemma. Many people -- perhaps most -- are working harder and longer hours, but are still unable to keep pace.
Their concern is increased by a weak housing market, which means that most families' principal asset is losing value. Speaking last week in Gulfport, Miss., where he had gone to view the repairs that the federal government has failed to carry out in that Katrina-struck area, President Bush announced Delphically, "Houses will begat jobs, jobs will begat houses," thus revealing a misunderstanding of procreation, economics or grammar, or all three.
Thomas Carlyle, a 19th-century Scottish essayist and historian, said: "The progress of human society consists ... in ... the better apportioning of wages to work." In other words, the quality of one's work should be rewarded proportionately, in wages and benefits or in other sources of satisfaction. That is manifestly not what is taking place in the United States. A CEO, even in a company with mediocre performance, pulls in millions of dollars in compensation, while a lower-wage employee, perhaps holding two jobs, can't pay the rent, afford medical insurance or put much aside for the children's birthday presents.
And what kind of job is "worth having" according to the News? One where a person could make $30,000 with overtime, a big improvement from Wal-Mart where a clerk earns $7 an hour. Yeah, right. I'd like to see William Singleton, CEO of MediaNews Group, try living on $30,000 a year.
At least the Freep had the decency to point out a few truths [emphasis added]:
Michigan is among the particular places where the workforce is undergoing a wrenching transition of uncertain outcome. Thousands of manufacturing jobs have vanished, and thousands more will soon go the way of buyouts, retirement deals or outright elimination. There are no equivalent replacements on the horizon, and a serious ripple effect can be expected on the retail and service sectors. [...]Falling wages means people have less to spend on non-essential items like newspapers, which might explain why the Free Press and News are losing thousands of subscribers each month. Why should workers pay for a paper openly hostile to their plight? Those journalists and editors who turned their backs should be careful about biting the hand that feeds them though. Who do they think will speak for them when their jobs get outsourced?
For those who are working, too many feel they must focus more on survival than on getting ahead. That does not create an atmosphere conducive to innovation, risk-taking and the "can-do" spirit that created the world's leading economy. But it's a predictable mood, considering that the economy has continued to grow since 2001 in terms of output while incomes have stalled or lost ground for all but the wealthiest households. [...]
In its annual State of Working America report, released Saturday, EPI said that despite consistent growth, the U.S. economy has failed to generate a "full employment" labor market where wages would rise as employers compete to attract and retain people.
"When it comes to an economy that is working for working families," the report concludes, "growth in and of itself is a necessary but not a sufficient condition. The growth has to reach the people; the bakers need to benefit from the bread they create."