Monday, February 18, 2008

"Don't worry, be happy" is a bunch of bunk

This isn't news to most middle-class Americans.
Even when experts were declaring the economy healthy, many Americans voiced a vague, but persistent dissatisfaction. ...But to many people, something didn't feel right, even if they couldn't quite explain why. [...]

A year ago — months before economic alarms went off — nearly two of three Americans polled by The Rockefeller Foundation said that they felt somewhat or a lot less economically secure then they did a decade ago. Half said they expected their children to face an economy even more shaky.

Other polls have registered similar unease in the past few years, showing large numbers of Americans dissatisfied with the economy, and worried about retirement security, health care costs, and a declining standard of living.
This unease reflects a disconnect between the "our economy is strong" rhetoric coming from Republicans and the reality we're living. Why are Americans feeling so insecure?
Except for the late 1990s, pay has been stagnant for more than a generation, barely keeping pace with inflation. In 1973, the median male worker earned $16.88 an hour, adjusted for inflation. In 2007, he earned $16.85.

For many families, the stagnation has been moderated by the addition of a second paycheck as more women went to work, and their pay rose over the same period.

But the largest gains went to workers at the top of the pay scale. Now, economic worries are rising fastest in households with smaller paychecks, and that chasm is widening.

"Over the past decades, whether inflation was much higher or lower, or incomes grew faster or more slowly, there has never been such a wide divergence in the experiences" separating richer households from poorer ones, Richard Curtin, the director of the University of Michigan's consumer survey said in summing up the most recent figures.
Workers also feel anxious because new jobs being created in this economy come with few assurances:
Rennie Sawade, the son of a Michigan auto worker, majored in computer science because he saw no future on the assembly line. He was rewarded with a job at Oracle Corp., but lost it in late 2005 when the company shifted his department's work to India. Sawade, who lives in Woodinville, Wash. near Seattle, has been unable to find a full-time replacement, instead jumping from contract job to contract job.

The contractor offers a 401(k), but contributions are entirely up to workers. When Sawade's wife was diagnosed with thyroid cancer last year he missed the equivalent of two weeks work — and pay — to take care of her. The job has health insurance but still left the family with a bill for more than $2,000. Contractors call to offer other jobs, but the pay is frequently disappointing, he says.

"It was pretty well known when I was working on my bachelor's degree that the auto industry was going to move overseas," he says. "Everybody said get into technology because you'll have a career. Now it looks like the same thing is happening to technology."
Workers have a choice. They can keep voting against their own self interests (translation, voting for Republicans) or they can vote for leaders who support living wages, unions, fair trade, universal health care, retirement security and a progressive income tax (translation, vote for non-corporate owned Democrats).


Anonymous said...

Someday, maybe these corporations will wake up and realize that no-one's buyin' their products because no one makes enough money to afford them. Until they do, the party at the top will never stop.

BobbyV said...

It has always puzzled me how a large majority of working-class voters lost their connections to the Democratic Party. Historians attribute it to the Party’s stand on civil rights that angered working-class whites who saw the gains of blacks coming at their expense. In Right Wing Populism in American, Lyons and Berlet write, “[T]he extremist right has long been a very useful tool of the corporatist right deployed purposely for precisely this function, as well as to drive wedge issues such as race between labor unions and working-class people.” What other function does Fox News play than to feed the racist and cultural bigots their daily dose of invective? Bush likes to convey an image of a hard-working American notwithstanding that he’s never earned a honest day’s pay in his entire life. “But the Bushes are men of social credentials who went to the right schools and passed through them without any detectable mark,” wrote Tod Gitlin in the The Renaissance of Anti-Intellectualism. “They represent aristocracy with a populist gloss, borrowing what they can from the evangelical revival, siding with business and its distaste for time-wasting mind work, holding intellectual talent in contempt from both above and below.”

The MSM gives life to the unrealistic image of America as a place where any hard-working stiff with the will to succeed can rise above life’s disadvantages to become one of the glitterati. Is it this image that anesthetizes the chronic pains of foreclosed homes, repossessed cars, and discounted health? In The Politics of America’s Working Poor, John Nettles describes a culture where, “[W]e are constantly fed the picture… of small-town America as the place where all is well in the glow of God’s love and the Puritan work ethic, the fact is that 34 percent of the population will work all their lives without cracking $35,000 a year (that’s the poverty line for a family of four) and will spend those lives bashing their heads against an ever-diminishing rate of return, at all times two paychecks away from homelessness and praying for the Angel of Outsourcing to pass over their twice-mortgaged dwellings but racking up debt to pay for the stuff that is the right of every American to acquire. …” After 7 years of the Republican’s trashing of the economy, the environment, the Constitution, the Geneva Conventions, and the simple concept of fair play and honesty, our freedoms can’t take another 4 years of conservative abuse.

Kathy said...

Ron, sadly, these corporations are finding markets outside of the U.S. to buy their products and keep their profits high. The auto companies are a good example. They don't make money here in this country, but their sales overseas are doing well.

Bobbyv, you said it: The MSM gives life to the unrealistic image of America as a place where any hard-working stiff with the will to succeed can rise above life’s disadvantages to become one of the glitterati. Is it this image that anesthetizes the chronic pains of foreclosed homes, repossessed cars, and discounted health?

The media pushes that image because people don't want to hear the truth. They want to believe that America has the best health care, education, elder care, etc., and if you try to challenge them with facts they call you a traitor and tell you to move out of the country. And the Republican party takes advantage of this misguided sense of patriotism because it serves them and their corporate interests well. It doesn't rock their boat, but it doesn't lift our boats either. Like you, it puzzles me that people can't see that.