|It's hit the mainstream - the rich are getting richer, and the poor |
are getting poorer. Cartoon courtesy of AM 1600 WWRL.
by douglas reeser on March 21, 2013
Having spent my teenage years in and around the city of Philadelphia, and with my family still there, it's a morning ritual of mine to read through the Philly news on philly.com. This morning in the business section, I couldn't help but notice the stark negativity on display in the headlines. Leading off the section, with a photo and large type was an article titled, Rich get richer, everyone else poorer, which contrasted the record levels hit on the Dow, widely recognized as a leading indicator for the US economy, with a 17-month low on a survey of US consumer confidence. According to the article, economists don't know how to explain the 17-month low and the lingering effects of the Great Recession, however, this statement is contradicted just a few paragraphs later:
Economist, Emmanuel Saez of the University of California at Berkeley, crunched the numbers for the two years coming out of the financial meltdown, starting in 2009, and came up with the jaw-dropping finding that the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans had captured 121 percent the nation's gains in income. Income for the remaining 99 percent actually declined further over those same two years.
In other words, "we" have moved out of the recession only if we consider "we" to be the top 1% of the wealthiest Americans. Meanwhile, high unemployment rates are keeping wages suppressed for the rest of us. The other headlines in the business section seemed to support this unpleasant reality: Study: Philly leads nation in 'deep-poverty' residents, Low-wage workers gloomy about future, College educated dishwashers, Survey: Low-wage workers missing out on training. Kind of a depressing series of articles to stumble upon in the morning, although I am trying to see it as a positive development that this issue is being addressed in the mainstream media.
The top five states (or is it the bottom 5?) in which to work at minimum wage, if you need to afford a two-bedroom home, are Arkansas and West Virginia (63 hours/week), South Dakota (64 hours/week) Kentucky (65 hours/week), and Mississippi and Montana (66 hours/week). The top five worst states for minimum wage earners are Hawaii (175 hours/week), Washington DC (140 hours/week), New Jersey (138 hours/week), Maryland (137 hours/week), and New York (136 hours/week). In 17 states (33%), you would need to work 88 hours/week or more, and in 19 states (37%), you would need to work from 71-88 hours/week to afford your 2-bedroom abode. Keep in mind that a week is 168 hours.
In a country that champions the imposition of the 40-hour work week, we have made it nearly impossible for millions of minimum-wage earners to house themselves and their families. In Hawaii, there literally aren't enough hours in the week for a minimum wage earner to afford that 2-bedroom home. In a full one-third of US states, you would have to work more than 12 hours per day everyday just to cover rent. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, "in 2011, 73.9 million American workers age 16 and over were paid at hourly rates, representing 59.1 percent of all wage and salary workers. Among those paid by the hour, 1.7 million earned exactly the prevailing Federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. About 2.2 million had wages below the minimum." And yet, the rich keep getting richer, as the bottom 99% of the US population continues to see their wages fall. Class issues are alive and well in the US, and people are starting to recognize them.