Robert Reich

Anti-Labor Day

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

This will be the first Labor Day of the presidency of Donald J. Trump, who came to office riding a wave of anti-establishment anger from average working people. No one can say they didn’t see it coming.

By the time Trump was elected, the typical American household had a net worth 14 percent lower than the typical household in 1984. The richest 1 percent owned more than the bottom 90 percent.
Last year’s annual Wall Street bonus pool alone was larger than the annual year-round earnings of all 3.3 million Americans working full time at the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

While 90 percent of U.S. adults born in the early 1940s were earning more than their parents by the time they reached their prime earning years, only half of adults born in the mid-1980s are earning more than their parents in their prime earning years.

Most also have less economic security than their parents. Nearly one out of every five American workers is in a part-time job. Two-thirds are living paycheck to paycheck.
Most are working more hours than they worked decades ago and taking fewer sick days or vacations.

The gap in life expectancy between the nation’s most affluent and everyone else is also widening.

Increasing numbers of Americans on the downward economic escalator are succumbing to opiods, chronic liver cirrhosis, and poisonings that include drug overdoses.
The standard explanation for why all this has occurred is that most American workers are no longer “worth” as much as they were before digital technologies and globalization. So they must now settle for lower wages and less security.

Rubbish. 

This doesn’t explain why workers in other advanced economies facing similar forces haven’t succumbed to them nearly as dramatically as have workers in the United States.

Or why the pay of top executives at big companies has soared from an average of 20 times that of the typical worker 40 years ago to almost 300 times now.

Or why the denizens of Wall Street, who in the 1950s and 1960s earned comparatively modest sums, are now paid tens or hundreds of millions annually.

And it can’t account for the decline in the starting wages of recent college graduates. A college education is now a prerequisite for joining the middle class but no longer a sure means for gaining ground once admitted to it.

To attribute all this to the impersonal workings of the market, and assume it’s because most workers aren’t “worth” as much as before, is to ignore the increasing ability of moneyed interests to alter the system for their own benefit—demolishing trade unions, turning full-time employees into contract workers, and monopolizing industry.

America’s economic and political elites could have used their growing political and economic clout to help workers get ahead—through better schools and more affordable college, comprehensive job retraining, wage insurance, better public transportation, and expanded unemployment insurance.

They could have pushed for universal health insurance.

They could have paid for all this by accepting, even lobbying for, higher taxes on themselves.

They could have sought to reduce their own political clout by demanding limits on campaign spending.

But they did the reverse: They spent more and more of their ever-growing wealth and power to rig the game to their own advantage.

As a result, trust in all the major institutions of our society has plummeted.

In 1964 more than 60 percent of Americans thought government was “run for the benefit of all the people” while just 29 percent said government was “pretty much run by a few big interests looking out for themselves.”

Nowadays the numbers are almost reversed, with 76 percent believing government is run “by a few big interests” and just 19 percent saying government is run “for the benefit of all.”

In the early 1960s most Americans said they had a “great deal of confidence” in the nation’s major companies, banks and financial institutions.

Now just one in ten has a great deal of confidence in them.

In his first seven months as president, Trump has done nothing for American workers. In fact, his attempt to undermine the Affordable Care Act, his retreat from Labor Department regulations boosting overtime pay, and his proposed tax cuts for the wealthy and big corporations will make most workers worse off.

But he is in office because of their anger and distrust, and he’s still feeding off it. “The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country,” Trump said in his inaugural address. “Their victories have not been your victories; their triumphs have not been your triumphs.”

Tragically, Trump was right.

Now all of us are paying the price.

March Silver Reef
Past Columns
Bernie is Back

February 27, 2019

Watch Your Wallets

December 26, 2018

America’s Bullies

October 10, 2018

Meltdown Lessons Unlearned

September 19, 2018

The Next Crash

September 5, 2018

Preparing for War

March 28, 2018

A Prescription of Greed

March 14, 2018

The true path to prosperity

December 6, 2017

Dynasty Dystopia

September 20, 2017

Trump’s Big Loss

August 2, 2017

The End of Trump

May 17, 2017

First 100 Days

April 26, 2017

Events
Today
Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest

8:00am|Whatcom County

La Conner Daffodil Festival

10:00am|La Conner and the Skagit Valley

Regional High School Art Show

8:00am|Northwest Educational Service District

Essence of Bellingham Photo Competition

10:00am|Whatcom County

Cook It and Book It

3:30pm|Lynden Library

Artist Workshop

6:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

Flavors of the Philippines

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Skagit Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Bayview Civic Hall

Books on Tap

7:00pm|North Fork Brewery

Imar

7:00pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Punch Up Comedy Showcase and Open Mic

7:30pm|The Shakedown

Legally Blonde
Tomorrow
Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest

8:00am|Whatcom County

La Conner Daffodil Festival

10:00am|La Conner and the Skagit Valley

Regional High School Art Show

8:00am|Northwest Educational Service District

Essence of Bellingham Photo Competition

10:00am|Whatcom County

Lynden Front Streeters

2:00pm|Village Books

Ferndale Book Group

2:30pm|Ferndale Library

Group Run

6:00pm|Skagit Running Company

Ferndale Books on Tap

6:30pm|DownTime Taps

Creekside Open Mic

6:30pm|South Whatcom Library

Balanced Plant-Based Living

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Moon Walk

6:30pm|Whatcom County

Milo Petersen Quartet

7:00pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Grain by Grain

7:00pm|Village Books

Burlington-Edison Choir Concert

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

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Thursday
Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest

8:00am|Whatcom County

La Conner Daffodil Festival

10:00am|La Conner and the Skagit Valley

Regional High School Art Show

8:00am|Northwest Educational Service District

Birding Adventures

9:00am|Skagit Valley

Essence of Bellingham Photo Competition

12:00pm

Imagine Convergence on Orcas Island

12:00pm|Rosario Resort

English Country Dancing

1:30pm|Bellingham Senior Activity Center

Dig Deep

3:00pm|Deming Library

Happy Hour Thursdays

4:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Pub Run

6:00pm|Stone's Throw Brewery

Ancient Beauty

6:30pm|Deming Library

Native American Flute Workshop

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Cross-Country Bicycling Travelogue

7:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Peter Pan, A Musical Adventure

7:00pm|Meridian High School

Balkan Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Wild Mercy

7:00pm|Village Books

Asleep at the Wheel

7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

Dyo Festival Plays

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Bellingham Puppetry and Mask Festival

7:30pm|Alternative Library

Asleep at the Wheel

7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

see our complete calendar »

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