Labor-Related Thoughts to Labor on a Week after Labor Day
If you find yourself slowly realizing that Labor Day already feels like a month ago and wondering why it feels like you already need another vacation, it might be a good time to wonder why it feels like you already need another vacation.
Especially as we head into an election cycle where candidates are going to be throwing big ideas and crowd-tested numbers at us when it comes to proving they know what’s up with our economy, why not at least make sure we’re well-defended from their bullshit missiles with steel-fortified knowledge of some cold, hard, spin-busting facts? As Jon Stewart said in his farewell address: “The best defense against bullshit is vigilance.”
The Minimum Wage
The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. If you worked 40 hours a week, that would end up being $15,080 a year. Before taxes.
If that seems like a “How does one even live on that little money?” kind of low number, that’s because it is. And that’s why the average US household owes about $7,281 in credit card debt alone, a number which includes all the crazy rich people# who have zero debt and are keeping that number lower than one might expect it to be.
But who gives a shit about some asshole you don’t know making minimum wage, right?
Except there’s also this big group of what Pew Research Center calls “near-minimum wage” workers who make more than minimum wage but less than $10.10 an hour. And that group represents 30% of all hourly, non-self-employed workers 18 and older.
Plus, statistically and according to our latest Google analytics report, there’s almost no chance that you’re in the top 1%, who appear to be the only ones who have really pulled up out of this recession I keep hearing is over:
In fact, if you take inflation into account, US median household income is 8% lower than it was before the recession, which is 9% lower than what it was at its peak back in 1999.
And we’re talking about every conceivable demographic:
Admittedly, wage stagnation has a lot of factors that affect it, but as Annie Lowrey explained so succinctly for New York Magazine:
…foreign-produced goods became sharply cheaper, meaning imports climbed and production moved overseas. And computers took over for humans in many manufacturing, clerical, and administrative tasks, eroding middle-class jobs growth and suppressing wages.
That is why 29 states have enacted laws that call for a minimum wage higher than the federal minimum, though even those changes only happened after tons of striking and organization and unionization. Fortunately, because this is the internet, if you want to see if your state is one of those 29, you can by simply clicking here.
If you aren’t happy with that low number next to your state’s name, your next step might be to see if the public official elected to represent you voted no on The Fair Minimum Wage Act, which called for a raise of the federal minimum wage to $10.10 over the next few years#, which a majority of Americans (even Republicans, at 56%) want to see happen.
Or you could do the political version of brushing your teeth for 10 minutes before you go to the dentist and just vote for a certain presidential candidate who has been vocally championing a $15 minimum wage#.
The US Workforce
Finding A Job Is Hard
On September 4th, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that unemployment had fallen to 5.1%, which is pretty commendable. But unemployment numbers can be a bit misleading and vague (think of them like RBIs in baseball#).
Let’s say you’ve lost your job and haven’t had any luck finding a new one. If you’ve stopped actively looking for a job for over four weeks, you’re not counted as unemployed. You still don’t have a job, but according to the unemployment rate criteria, you don’t want one. And a lot of Americans are falling into this statistical boat. According to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, the nation’s labor participation rate — defined as the share of the working-age population that is either working or looking for work — hasn’t budged from a 38-year-low of 62.6% this summer. Part of the explanation behind that number is we’re hitting that awful period in our country’s history when Baby Boomers are starting to retire en masse, but a lot of that has to do with the fact that we’re hitting that even more awful period when we realize our available workforce and our available job market are completely out of sync and have been for quite some time.
Speaking of, you know what else the unemployment rate doesn’t count? Anyone who is looking for full-time work, but who is making ends meet with part-time work, even if it’s outside their chosen field. So that former structural engineer whose making your coffee 3 times a week? He’s considered gainfully employed according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Fun fact: If the U.S. had the same labor participation rate today as in late 2007, the nation’s workforce would be roughly 8 million people larger than the July figure of about 157 million.
Having A Job Is Hard Too
A Gallup poll from 2014 found that adults employed full-time in the US report working an average of 47 hours per week, almost a full workday longer than what “9-to-5” is supposed to mean. In fact, half of all full-time workers indicated they typically work more than 40 hours, and nearly 40% said they work at least 50 hours.
And yet the United States is the only country in the world with an ‘advanced economy’ that doesn’t require paid vacation for its workers. In Europe, four weeks vacation is the minimum, which kind of makes Labor Day feel like a bit of a slap in the face. Especially when a new study just found that working between 41-48 hours led to a 10% increased risk of stroke and working between 49-54 hours a week caused a 27% increased risk of stroke.
At least, in an effort to elegantly rearrange a few deck chairs on the Titanic, President Obama signed an executive order last week that will require federal contractors to give their workers the ability to earn 56 hours of paid sick leave each year. And being sick for a few days is basically the same thing as four-week vacation in Europe.
Because it’s election season, you’re going to hear a lot of
sucking up to discussion about “the middle class.” It’s a term that is supposed to resonate with you, the average American, because that’s who these politicians are and that’s who they care about:
The only problem, though, is that “the middle class” doesn’t really exist anymore…
It’s one of those tricky, high school math things where the middle isn’t really the average, which is what one might naturally assume when they hear ‘middle.’ But despite what Mr. Robot says, it’s not really the 1% vs. the other 99, either.
It’s more like the top 10 v. the other 90%…
Did you get excited when you got to the last bar on the right to see what we’re winning at, only to realize that was total debt and deflate completely? Samezies.
But this money has to go somewhere though, right? Isn’t that what trickle down economics is all about? Well, yes, and sort of. Which brings us back full circle, to the 2016 election…
As the New York Times reported earlier in the summer:
The Republican presidential candidates are almost uniformly relying on [Super PACs], which can tap unlimited corporate and individual contributions, to amass the financial firepower they need to break through a crowded field. This is a stark departure from past campaigns, and has made most of the candidates deeply reliant on a handful of ultra-wealthy donors.
So, in about 1,500 words, that’s where we’re at right now. It may not be great news, but at least we’re slightly more prepared for the bullshit missiles about to fly our way.
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