Commentary: Job insecurity and lower wages plague the American worker

Teresa Ghilarducci

Teresa Ghilarducci Professor, Economics, Schwartz Centre for Economic Policy Analysis

Every economics student knows that when demand outpaces supply, prices should go up. But, despite an historically low 3.9 per cent unemployment rate in the United States, the “prices” for American workers – their wages – are stagnating. Why?

There are two reasons: One pertains to measurement, the other to power.

The first explanation is admittedly superficial and bypasses the capital-labour conflict altogether. It is possible, though unlikely, that labour-market tightness is being misread and that many people who want jobs are not being counted.

The second reason is more profound: Simply put, labour has lost, and capital has won. Consider the evidence:

From 1973 to 2013, hourly compensation of a typical US worker rose just 9 per cent, while productivity increased 74 per cent, putting little pressure on prices but dramatically boosting profits.

Of course, this raises another question: Why might capital be stronger than labour? There are four main explanations.

STAGNANT WAGES

First, unions are weaker today than in the past. Between 1979 and 2013, the share of private-sector workers in a union fell from about 34 per cent to 10 per cent for men, and from 16 per cent to 6 per cent for women. This has not only hurt workers on the job; it has also damaged labour's ability to lobby for higher minimum wages.

Government policy and corporate power have eroded unions’ influence, and laws and regulations have made owning capital more rewarding than ever relative to working.

For example, the 2017 GOP tax bill was sold to the public with the claim that cutting corporate taxes would give companies room to raise wages and keep profits steady. Instead, wages haven’t budged, and profits have soared.

Second, even with low unemployment, workers are insecure at work. While two thirds of Americans say this is a good time to find a quality job, just as many people fear losing their job now as in 1991, when the unemployment rate was 7 per cent, or nearly double what it is today.

The third explanation is the rise of super firms. These very large companies – think of Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google (the FAANGs) – are consolidating monopoly power. 

While the technology the FAANGs deploy and the scale at which they operate have lowered consumer prices, this come at the high cost of suppressed wages for workers – who of course are the consumers.  

Finally, most new jobs today pay poorly. In fact, among the ten occupations now recording the most employment growth, only three – software developers, registered nurses, and managers – pay above-average wages.

With productivity decoupled from pay because of the rise of super firms and government policies tilted in favour of capital, popular and voter outrage should come as no surprise. But whether protest will lead to meaningful political reform or more of the same remains an open question.

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Reposted from Channel News Asia



Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

America’s Wealthy: Ever Eager to Pay Their Taxes!

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

Why do many of the wealthiest people in America oppose a “wealth tax,” an annual levy on grand fortune? Could their distaste reflect a simple reluctance to pay their fair tax share? Oh no, JPMorganChase CEO Jamie Dimon recently told the Business Roundtable: “I know a lot of wealthy people who would be happy to pay more in taxes; they just think it’ll be wasted and be given to interest groups and stuff like that.” Could Dimon have in mind the interest group he knows best, Wall Street? In the 2008 financial crisis, federal bailouts kept the banking industry from imploding. JPMorgan alone, notes the ProPublica Bailout Tracker, collected $25 billion worth of federal largesse, an act of generosity that’s helped Dimon lock down a $1.5-billion personal fortune. Under the Elizabeth Warren wealth tax plan, Dimon would pay an annual 3 percent tax on that much net worth. Fortunes between $1 billion and $2.5 billion would face a 5 percent annual tax under the Bernie Sanders plan.

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