November 26 2013
Poor Workers Still Struggle
Patrice J. Lee
The U.S. stock market is riding at an all-time high with the Dow topping 16,000. For those with investment portfolios, this news is very good news. Perhaps it even signals that the economy is strengthening.
However, this economic recovery masks hardships for those at the lower end of the economic pay scale. For all of their talk of helping the poor and working class, our national leaders are not committed to the economic policies that will help workers of all stations – and no I don’t mean raising the minimum wage.
The Washington Post published a jarring sob story about low-wage workers who, although optimistic about a better job prospects in the future, are stuck in jobs that don’t pay enough for them to move through life at a bare-bones level. That drives anxiety for many of these workers as the story report:
Job insecurities have always been higher among low-income Americans, but they typically rose and fell across all levels of the income ladder. Today, workers at the bottom have drifted away, occupying their own island of insecurity.
What matters in this new anxiety, what unites the people who worry more now than ever, are income and education. Workers who earn less, and workers who didn’t graduate from college, fear losing their already weaker livelihoods more than anyone else.
There is a reason workers like Stewart are so nervous in today’s economy. That reason is the economy itself. There are still 11 million Americans looking for work who can’t find a job. The unemployment rate is 7.3 percent, higher than it has been since 1980, except during recessions and their immediate aftermaths. Adjusting for inflation, average household incomes for the poorest 40 percent of workers have fallen steadily — by more than 10 percent, total — since 2000.
Several economists say there’s a simple explanation for that gap: Poorer people can’t spare the time or money to go to school. Stewart, for example, would love to ditch his airport job to work as a hospital aide, hopefully for higher pay and at least some health benefits. (His job now offers none.) He’d need to take classes to earn a certification to qualify for that work. He has no idea how he’d swing that, financially. But he has hope that he will — and that, too, is typical of low-earning, anxious workers today.
What’s striking about this story and missing from other reports about the “improving” job market are the numbers of U.S. workers who are working less than they would like and getting stuck in jobs instead of progressing in their careers.
Career mobility is an issue with the current job market that gets glossed over. Entry-level and minimum wage jobs are meant to be starting points in one’s career. Instead, for Americans of all ages, they are increasingly a career death sentence.
The priority for our leaders should be policies that drive growth and encourage businesses both small and big to hire workers instead of laying them off, delaying hiring or cutting back workers.
We often highlight when President Obama pivots back to the economy again and again. And that’s for good reason. It’s because employment and a healthy economy with steady growth is not a priority for him otherwise he wouldn’t get distracted time and again with pushing his own agenda of redistributionist and expansive government policies. He claims the economy has improved under his leadership touting a 7-million job creation number, but that still falls short of the 11 million Americans who are out of work and have been for some time.
The President clings to his signature healthcare law despite its technical glitches, underlying problems, financial burdens and unintended consequences on workers and companies. ObamaCare both requires Americans to fork out more discretionary spending for higher healthcare costs and requires businesses to provide coverage that is ObamaCare-approved. This drives up the costs of doing business and the results are companies cutting back workers’ hours and delaying hiring decisions.
And we have a Congress that is more committed to short-term spending bills that keep government hobbling along than passing –gasp- (balanced) budgets that set tax rates and reintroduces certainty that business can plan for.
As Americans we deserve more and better from our leaders. We understand that the White House doesn’t have a magic button to improve the economy nor can Congress pass a law to stimulate growth –despite what they think. However, we can expect them to abandon failed policies that rest on increased government spending, higher taxes, more restrictions on business, and less freedom for Americans.