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. [...]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?
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.
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.Workers also feel anxious because new jobs being created in this economy come with few assurances:
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.
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.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).
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."