Economic Woes

Sunday’s Washington Post contained several articles that illuminate the tough job situations that many people are facing across the United States. The quantitative data started with the low unemployment rate but quickly raised the question of why did they receive so many stories documenting the struggles people are having. More people are employed as temporary or contract workers than ever before. The number of part-time workers has climbed from 1 to nearly 3.5 million since 2008; costing most of these people are range of benefits: from health insurance to retirement plans. Workers’ wages averaged a 4% increase in 2000 and dropped to a 2% climb by 2016. The value of these wages has essentially flat-lined since the 1970s.

The Great Recession of 2008 damaged the prospects of not only working-class and older people. The crises crippled the prospects of middle-class millennials as well. Alissa Quart’s book Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America, is reviewed in the Outlook section. This group suffered the double-whammy of rising costs of raising a family and declining prospects for professional careers.

The news has documented the costs of college education and student’s accumulation of debt. Sanders’ promoted the idea of erasing that debt in his 2016 campaign. Yet, whip away the debt and these people still need to earn a living. The new reality is that contingent work has spread into once stable professional careers, ranging from journalism and paralegal to academic and radiology technician. The adjunctification of these positions lowers the salaries of each and deprives the person of the benefits as well.

Most disturbing is the review hints that the book contains an underlying assumption that millennials should have seen the disaster coming so they are at fault for their own career choices. This approach of blaming the individual and the victim is common throughout American history (happen during the Great Depression as well). But it misses the systemic structures that are allowing and promoting jobs to become contingent and for those jobs to pay workers less. Indeed, the US economy has been doing very well according to recent reports but how does aggregate success help these individuals who are struggling? If workers make less then whom is making more? Follow the money and the profits.

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1 comment so far

  1. Mari Inshaw (@TruxtonTwit) on

    Sadly the book review was not very informative to me about the book itself.
    I have (or had if it didn’t survive the last book purge) a book that is old enough to drink in a bar about how the American middle class is in danger. You can probably have a small library just of books about how the middle class is declining or imperiled in some way.
    Journalism was in danger when news bureaus were having buyouts and closing down foreign bureaus due to budget cuts in the early 00s. I realized it is a losing profession when a class of J-school students admitted they did not really listen to radio, or subscribed to a dead tree paper!
    Journalism is one of many professions upended by change, be that change from technology, new processes, foreign competition, or change in consumer needs. Several contractors I’ve worked with have a message service instead of having a secretary/ office manager. They may outsource their bookkeeping, accounting, payroll, and other functions out.


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