Will this bleak economy become “the new normal,” consigning millions to an emerging American underclass?
By Joshua Holland
April 15, 2011
Corporate America appears to be prospering with far fewer workers than it employed before the crash. Wages are down, the stock market is up and firms are expanding their operations overseas. Meanwhile, Congress is suffering from the delusion that our greatest problem is the deficit, rather than the extreme economic insecurity so many Americans are suffering from today. And that focus will only exacerbate the crisis on “Main Street.”
The question is whether these trends will become “the new normal,” consigning millions to an emerging American underclass. Is our notably cruel brand of capitalism ultimately leading to something that looks more like feudalism – with low-paid serfs feeling fortunate just to have an opportunity to toil for their lords’ enrichment?
Consider a bleak snapshot of our ailing economy: Real corporate profits are now near an all-time high, yet one out of six working people are either out of a job or have no choice but to work part-time.
We just saw a huge two-year gain in productivity – the amount of goods and services produced per worker. In 2009, it rose by 3.5 percent, and last year we saw a 3.6 percent increase, the largest in eight years.
At the same time, labor costs – the value of wages and benefits – have seen their steepest decline since 1962-’63.
This is the result of companies putting the big squeeze on their workers – threatening to cast them into a sea of unemployed Americans if they don’t produce more for the same wages. These numbers tell us that an economy that now employs seven million fewer workers than it did in 2008 can produce the same amount of stuff, albeit at a great social cost.
Lower Wages, Fewer Jobs
According to an analysis of Census data by USA Today, just 45 percent of the population now holds a job, the lowest share since 1983. Over the past decade, the number of non-working adults in the U.S. has increased by 27 million.