It can no longer be denied that, when compared to other advanced, industrialized nations, the United States, the country with arguably the most advantages, resources, and overall wealth, treats its workers poorly; particularly in terms of compensation, both in the form of benefits and wages.
This is an issue that affects both Republican and Democratic politicians, as the bases of both parties are sick of having to pick up extra jobs, on top of their already full-time job, in order to feed their families.
All of the above is not a product not of inexplicable market forces, but of deliberate policy decisions coming from corporate-bought Washington.
The kind of exploitation and maltreatment of working America is, among other things, a product of the vast income inequality the United States confronts in the present.
To be clear, the working class has always had a difficult time achieving basic rights and a dignified life in the United States.
Just observe the vicious and violent attacks on unions and community organizers throughout the beginning of the 20th century to the incredible corporate propaganda campaign, continuing in the present, against workers fighting for decent wages and working conditions.
This is all without mentioning the fact that today’s globalized economy makes it far easier for employers to exploit employees by threatening to move jobs overseas if they aren’t compliant. American workers are forced to compete with workers overseas making pennies per hour in horrific conditions, so they accept what they can get.
All of this, among other factors not mentioned, produces a working class that is burnt out, desperate, insecure, and easily disposable.
This isn’t the workplace of 10 years ago. There’s a lot of pressure. And it’s competitive in the sense that anyone in the world could take your job for less money, so you have to work harder.
One of the best ways of measuring worker exploitation in the United States is to observe the gap between productivity and worker compensation, which has grown steadily since the late 1970s and early 1980s, when wages began to flat-line while productivity continued to rise.
Below is data from the Economic Policy Institute.
On this point, Jan Rivkin, in an interview with The Atlantic, is worth quoting at length:
From the end of WWII until the 1970s productivity in the U.S. and median wages grew in lockstep. But from the late 1970s until today we’ve seen a divergence, with productivity growing faster than wages. The divergence indicates that companies and the people who own and run them are doing much better than the people who work at the companies.
If the U.S. economy was healthy and competitive, we’d see firms able to do two things: win in the global marketplace and lift the living standards of the average American. Large businesses and the people who run them, and invest in them, are thriving but working and middle-class Americans are struggling — as are many small businesses.
To be clear, as Riskin points out, “technology and globalization” can explain some of the productivity-wage gap; but much of the gap is a result of the decline of workers’ power to negotiate and collectively bargain for better pay, as unions are being crippled by so-called “right to work” laws.
There is simply no excuse for companies like Walmart, which has on multiple occasions been accused of storing massive sums of profit in overseas tax havens, to drag their feet in the process of raising the minimum wage for their workers.
The idea that “minimum wage jobs” are for teenagers, and that raising the minimum wage will mostly benefit teenagers — an idea that is still peddled by some — is absurd, and blatantly false.
Noam Scheiber, noting the potential impact of raising the federal minimum wage to $12 an hour, as opposed to 7.25, observes that teenagers are “only a modest fraction of those who would be affected.”
Moreover, contrary to the rhetoric of the right, most of the workers who would be affected are educated, another sign of how the lack of social mobility — or, the illusion of the so-called “American Dream” — has crippled so many.
This is all just one important battle in the vicious class war being waged by corporate America. As Warren Buffet has said:
There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.
Indeed they are.
Due to the stagnation of wages coupled with relatively low social mobility, what used to be called the “middle class” has virtually disintegrated, leaving a mountainous gap between the haves and the have-nots, allowing those at the top to suck up the share of income that should be going to workers who continue to produce and have nothing to show for it.
All the while, massive corporations and financial institutions are doing remarkably well, at the expense of the masses.
The Fight for 15 movement is doing incredibly thus far, and hopefully, with enough courageous activism and community support, their success will continue; as many as 35 million workers’ lives can be greatly improved as a result.