US wages and salaries rise at record-low levels

From World Socialist Web Site
By Andre Damon
31 October 2009

Employment costs in the US rose at the lowest annual amount in at least 27 years, according to data released Friday by the Labor Department. Stagnant wages and salaries are the outcome of government policies designed to lower the living standards of workers.


Over the past 12 months, the Labor Department’s Employment Cost Index rose by 1.5 percent, marking the lowest wage and salary growth since these figures started to be collected in 1982.

Meanwhile, compensation costs for the three-month period ending in September increased by 0.4 percent, among the lowest level since quarterly records began in 2001. This figure was unchanged from the previous quarter, and up slightly from the 0.3 percent growth in the first quarter of the year.

In the 12-month period before September 2008, employment costs rose by 2.6 percent.

These figures were led by falling government wages, which shrank by 0.1 percent in the third quarter, while benefits rose by a smaller-than average 0.3 percent. Compensation costs in private industry rose by 0.5 percent, with benefits rising 0.3 percent.

The decline in government wages is a direct result of policies initiated by states and cities in response to their budget crises. Local governments have laid off thousands of teachers, city workers, and bus drivers in response to their budget shortfalls. Those workers who remain have been forced to take furloughs and pay cuts.

In Detroit, Michigan, for instance, both city workers and teachers have been told to take a 10 percent pay cut.

These cuts are the direct outcome of the Obama administration’s policies, which have left states to fend for themselves amid falling tax revenues. The administration has made it clear that states must balance their budgets through spending cuts. Many states are required to have a balanced budget, and nearly all have resorted to wage and salary cuts, together with layoffs, to meet their obligations.

Consumer spending, meanwhile, fell significantly in September, according to figures released Friday by the Commerce Department. Spending fell by 0.5 percent last month, negating a good chunk of the 1 percent gain in the previous month. Disposable income for households also fell by 0.1 percent in September, in the fourth consecutive monthly decline.

The fall in consumer spending, the largest since December, is in part the result of the end of the government’s cash-for-clunkers program on August 24. Economists have said that this program, among others, accounts for much of the increase in third-quarter consumer spending and GDP.

Lori Helwig, an economist at Merrill Lynch, told MarketWatch that she expects consumer spending to grow 0.5 percent in the last quarter of the year, down significantly from the 3.4 percent growth in the third quarter.

The Commerce Department said Thursday that the US economy grew at a rate of 3.5 percent in the third quarter of the year, after falling consecutively for three quarters. However, as numerous commentators have pointed out, this so-called recovery is unsustainable.

The Financial Times wrote on Thursday, “Household disposable incomes actually fell during the quarter, by 3.4 percent, but consumer spending rose, also by 3.4 percent. This is not a pattern that can be sustained for long.” The uptick in spending was largely financed by the government’s cash-for-clunkers program, along with homebuyer tax credits, which will expire later this year.

A picture of the real state of things emerges from these figures. Real wages in the US are declining, while consumer spending can only be maintained, at least in the short term, by government stimulus programs.

Meanwhile, the real living conditions for regular people are becoming more and more intolerable. Wages for non-managerial workers have fallen by 1.4 percent so far this year, according to an article in USA Today, and are on track for even further declines. The official unemployment rate has reached 9.8 percent, and when one takes into account discouraged workers and people who are underemployed, it is at 17 percent.

While the Obama administration has spent trillions to bail out the banks and financial speculators, it has done next to nothing to address the massive employment crisis.

The White House released a report on Friday cynically claiming that its stimulus program had “saved or created” 640,239 jobs, based on data from a non-governmental monitoring board. This is based largely on inflated estimates of how many additional jobs might have been destroyed—in addition to the far higher figure that have in fact been destroyed.

The number of workers the federal government has actually employed in new projects is miniscule—estimated at 30,000 by the administration itself in a report released earlier this month.

In some states, the impact of federal programs has been negligible—including about 400 in Michigan, which has the highest unemployment rate in the country at 15.2 percent.

In reviewing these figures, the Associated Press found significant reporting errors, with certain new positions being counted as many as five times. The analysis showed that, based on the government’s records, the figure should have been 25,000, not 30,000.

Similar overestimations were quickly discovered in the figures released on Friday. For example, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that the White House claimed that 6,598 jobs were saved or created in Utah. “But discrepancies were easy to find,” the newspaper noted. “Some entities seemed to create their own criteria, while others double counted employees over multiple contracts. The most common error appeared to be counting temporary or part-time work as a full-time job.”

Since the recession began in December 2007, 7.6 million jobs have been eliminated from the economy, and 3 million since Obama’s stimulus program was approved. Even if one were to accept the government’s estimates, a stimulus program that would address the unemployment crisis would need to be at least ten times the size of the one that has been passed. Instead, the Obama administration has rejected any further stimulus measures.

In fact, mass unemployment has been part of a deliberate policy, allowing for corporations to exploit workers’ fears over the poor labor market. The financial and corporate elite has used the economic crisis it created to carry out a massive redistribution of wealth. The bank bailouts will be paid for through attacks on the working class—including austerity measures, cuts in social programs and a continual attack on wages and benefits.

Posted in Classism, Economic Issues, Employment, Human Rights, Social Justice, Socialism. Comments Off on US wages and salaries rise at record-low levels

Fox News anti-intersex rant

By Curtis E. Hinkle

Below is some commentary from Fox News which landed in my email box this morning. I felt compelled to analyze this because it is typical of the right-wing anti-intersex, irrational thinking which passes as logical. Fox News is a channel I have blocked on my TV because I consider it to be racist, homophobic and nothing but a propaganda network for the Republican Party.

First of all notice that the writer uses “hermaphrodites” as the example, probably for comic and derogatory impact on the readers. As we know the hate crime bill which was passed into law has nothing to do with intersex people or protecting intersex people from hate crimes, but we end up being the example used in this commentary.

The author then pretends that people who are being charged with hate crimes are actually being prosecuted because of thought crimes, as if thought crimes are not already an important part of US law and many of these thought crimes are a result of the very same right wing thinking which is propagated by Fox News. The Patriot Act is definitely replete with thought crimes. As an example, right here where I live, a fellow member of an organization I am part of was arrested a few years ago for simply carrying a poster which condemned the war in Iraq during a visit by the former President Bush. He was charged with being in a “No Free Speech Zone”. Despite many appeals, the charge was upheld and he spent a long time in prison.

Conspiracy is a thought crime. One does not have to carry out the crime, just think about it and discuss is. That is very different from the Hate Crime legislation and that is the serious flaw in the Right Wing’s argument that Hate Crimes are thought crimes. You cannot be arrested for a hate crime or charged with a hate crime just for
thinking about it. You have to act on it.

I am not in favor of outlawing freedom of speech or thought. I am in favor of outlawing hate crimes and making sure that people are not targeted because someone thinks they belong to some identity group which the individual may or may not even agree with. It is not about what the writer says when he writes that we should identify just as human. It is about others who would divide us into groups and kill us. If they do that, they should stand accountable both for making such divisions within humanity and then acting on it because it is a form of madness which humanity desperately needs to end.


President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act, which by some weird circumstance also includes hate crime legislation.

Now, I’m no fan of hate. Hate in all forms is ugly, even when performed by beautiful people (that’s a shout out to Stephanie Von Pratt, who turned me down for my senior prom). But here’s what I don’t get: If I kill someone, I’m a killer. But hate crime law says that I also broke a new law, one that has to do with my thoughts when I
committed said crime.

So it’s a thought crime more than a hate crime. Which begs the question: How can a thought be against the law?

Now I can barely read, so I don’t want to get too deep into this, but if I were to kill my co-host Bill Schulz, whether I hated him or not, that’s a crime. But, if we find out later that he was a sequential hermaphrodite, one might say it could be a hate crime.

I don’t get that at all.

What of terrorists? Does the fact that they hate us make their crimes worse? Not to them; punishment is meaningless. Which is the real truth about hate, anyway: Hate crime laws won’t stop hate or crime. It’s an after-the-fact gesture that does nothing to stop evil.

Even more, focusing on the killer’s outlook diminishes the victim. It’s no longer Bill Schulz is dead, but “Bill Schulz, the sequential hermaphrodite, is dead.”

Humanity should come before identity. We need to see people as people, not as part of groups. We know bigotry is bad. But murder in any form is so substantially worse, that it needs no footnote.

And if you disagree with me, then you’re probably racist.


Posted in Human Rights, Intersex, Social Justice, Unequal Treatment. Comments Off on Fox News anti-intersex rant