A few weeks ago Amazon announced that the company intended to raise everybody’s pay to at least $15 per hour. One of my acquaintances recently mused about how good the economy is doing these days. I am a regular consumer of Bloomberg Business News and CNBC so I hear a lot of the same information loop. It did occur to me that $15 an hour is certainly way better than $7.25 an hour but even at $15 an hour an awful lot of Americans are being left behind.
OK, the Dow is flirting with new record highs and unemployment is really low but there are other things to consider. If you have cobbled together a couple of jobs and you’re making minimum wage or even $15 an hour, the Dow at 26,000 isn’t changing your life. There was a time when wealth could be grown by wages and salaries; reliable health care that wouldn’t bankrupt a family, affordable higher education, a secure pension plan and the opportunity to bargain higher salaries as one’s employer did better. Not so much anymore. These days wealth no longer comes from wages, it comes from investment portfolios.
It’s pretty clear that the top tier of our economy is doing very nicely thank you. For a very long time the hope had been that as the economic recovery progressed the benefits would be shared with wage earners through pay increases. The economic recovery is now getting pretty old and finally there is beginning to be a little movement in wages, but guess what, prices are rising, need I say tariffs and trade wars anybody? Oh yes, our “friends” the Saudis are cutting back on oil production and the price of gas is surging up again. So much for the raises.
So, for the millions of American who lost their homes to foreclosure, lost their jobs and spent years unemployed or underemployed spending down their savings or IRAs just to hold on the Dow at 26,000 probably doesn’t mean as much as it does to the present Congress and Administration and Cabinet members. To those millions, well, they have in all likelihood missed out on the rally in the stock market and recovery of real estate prices. The profound shifts in the labor market, unfavorable trade and consumer practices, weakening of labor laws and the demise of organized labor have left the wage earners with little leverage to demand higher wages and improved living circumstances.
I am reminded of our governor, when some years back who famously invoked the phrase “divide and conquer” when speaking to the wealthiest woman in Wisconsin. We have been divided and the efforts to divide us further and more deeply recur day after day. Who will pay the price when the next financial crisis lands on our doorstep?
Sturgeon Bay, Wis.