The defining characteristic of the recovery from the 2008 crash has been the fact that the benefits of the recovery have fallen on so few and left so many struggling.
Slowly, gradually, the American working class is waking up to this fact.
Here are a few vignettes for today's struggling worker.
By most measures "extreme poverty" is defined by living on less than $2 a day.
This definition is usually reserved for 3rd world nations. The World Bank does not measure this level of poverty in the United States, but it should.
Slightly more than one American household with children in every 25 is surviving on less than $2 per day of income from all sources. One quarter of that 4.3% (that’s 1% of all Americans with children) receive less than $1.25 per day. One third (that’s about 1.33% of all Americans) receive between $1.25 and $2. Another third of that 4.3% receive enough government benefits to be living on between $1.25 and $2 a day. A tiny 0.1% of that 4.3% are even surviving somehow on “Negative income & benefits.”These are the findings of a Brookings Institution study.
When America gets described as a 3rd world nation, it shouldn't be reserved for just our politics anymore.
The official poverty line for a family of three would equate to roughly $17.00 per person, per day, averaged over a year, so our measure is roughly 13 percent of the official poverty line.It's hard to imagine how anyone could survive on so little money, but if things keep going the way they are many of us will find out.
The World Without Retirement
The retirement crisis gets the occassional headline, but nothing ever gets done about it. Millions of Boomers are heading into old age with no hope of ever being able to stop working.
So what does that look like? Harper's magazine decided to find out. It looks like this.
In a must-read article in the current issue of Harper's magazine, journalist Jessica Bruder, adjunct professor at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, adds a new phrase to America's vocabulary: "Elderly migrant worker." She documents a growing trend of older Americans for whom the reality of unaffordable housing and scarcity of work has driven them from their homes and onto the road in search of seasonal and temporary employment across the country. Packed into RVs, detached from their communities, these "Okies" of the Great Recession put in time at Amazon warehouses, farms and amusement parks, popping free over-the-counter pain reliever to mask the agony of strained muscles and sore backs. And when they can't hold up any longer? The RV sometimes becomes a coffin."Elderly migrant worker" is a common thing in 3rd world nations, but most of the people reading this probably have trouble accepting that this is the United States today. We are that country.
Since the financial crisis ripped the security out from under millions of people, the bulk of our politicians, including President Obama, actually tried to reduce, rather than increase, Social Security. The absence of pensions, along with the inadequacy of 401(k)s, skyrocketing healthcare and job insecurity and unemployment, are sending more and more people scrambling to figure out a way to keep body and soul together. Even grandparents are joining the ranks of those for whom life has become a game of Survivor.
What's truly disgusting is the way the companies "sell" this migrant worker lifestyle.
Amazon calls their program “CamperForce” and how they were recruiting “flexible and enthusiastic RV’ers with a positive, can-do attitude to join us in our warehouses.”
American Crystal Sugar Company calls their migrants "workampers," and refer to the work as “an unBEETable experience!”
The Wage Deflation Recovery
The Federal Reserve is puzzled by the lack of wage inflation. After all, when unemployment falls and you get five years into a recovery, you are supposed to see wages really taking off.
In fact, the problem is that not only are wages not rising. Wages are falling.
Comparing the first half of 2014 with the first half of 2013, real (inflation-adjusted) hourly wages fell for workers in nearly every decile—even for those with a bachelor’s or advanced degree.What sort of "recovery" sees wages fall alongside unemployment? None that current economic models predict.
Of course not everyone is struggling. The 1% are doing fantastic!
Corporations are having record profits, that are being extracted directly from the working class.
Not everyone is blind to the fact that this growing inequality is not good for our democracy, our society, or our economy.
Standard and Poor's and the International Monetary Fund has acknowledged the growing inequality in the United States and that it will hamper economic growth.
An analysis by S&P, for example, noted income inequality is endangering the nation's economic health by making it more prone to boom-and-bust cycles and has slowed the recovery from the Great Recession. In response, S&P cut its growth estimates for the economy over the next decade.Personally I'm not a believer in raising the minimum wage as the primary means to fixing this. I think it starts and ends with a strong labor union movement, but for that to happen people need to realize what class they belong to and accept that they will remain part of that class.
Meanwhile, an IMF report detailed how America's economic growth is being hamstrung by the current $7.25 federal minimum wage. It forecasted that the U.S. economy will grow by only 2 percent annually over the next several years and that low wages and bad tax policies are a major part of the reason why.