This graphic, based upon Department of Labor statistics, shows that overall middle class income has decreased with union membership.
According to Michael Moore, the beginning of the end was 30 years ago yesterday. On August 5, 1981, President Ronald Reagan fired striking air traffic controllers who had defied his back-to-work order. They had been on strike only two days. From Michael Moore’s The Day the Middle Class Died.
From time to time, someone under 30 will ask me, “When did this all begin, America’s downward slide?” They say they’ve heard of a time when working people could raise a family and send the kids to college on just one parent’s income (and that college in states like California and New York was almost free). That anyone who wanted a decent paying job could get one. That people only worked five days a week, eight hours a day, got the whole weekend off and had a paid vacation every summer. That many jobs were union jobs, from baggers at the grocery store to the guy painting your house, and this meant that no matter how “lowly” your job was you had guarantees of a pension, occasional raises, health insurance and someone to stick up for you if you were unfairly treated.
Young people have heard of this mythical time — but it was no myth, it was real. And when they ask, “When did this all end?”, I say, “It ended on this day: August 5th, 1981.”
Beginning on this date, 30 years ago, Big Business and the Right Wing decided to “go for it” — to see if they could actually destroy the middle class so that they could become richer themselves.
And they’ve succeeded.
Thirty years of trickle down economics later…
Productivity is up, wages are in decline, union membership continues to decline, corporate profits are breaking records, unemployment and housing forclosures are ravishing the middle class, Americans are going bankrupt due to sky-rocketing medical costs, and income disparities between the richest 1 percent and the rest of us are ever-widening.
Meanwhile, Congress– owned by big business and paralyzed by ideology– fiddles while Rome burns.
Americans are weary from grinding recession and disenchanted [putting it mildly] with our out-of-touch government. After the recent debt ceiling fiasco and the shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) due to an ideological, anti-union battle, a full 14 percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing, according to a recent CNN poll. (A commentator on National Public Radio’s Diane Rehm Show quipped that the 14 percent who said they approved of Congress’ performance must not have understood the question.)
And why shouldn’t we feel disenfranchised by this corporate-controlled government? In poll after poll taken during the protracted debt/deficit battle, Americans said they favored a balanced approach to deficit reduction– one that decreased spending + increased revenues– but that’s not what we got in the end. What we got was a Tea Party dream, a deficit reduction deal based solely on cuts which will likely cost the US 1.8 million jobs. Congressional Teapublicans– including five from Arizona (Jeff Flake, Trent Franks, Phil Gossar– even scared Wall Street and financial markets worldwide with their intransigence and extremism.
From Noam Chomsky’s America in Decline…
For the public, the primary domestic concern is unemployment. Under current circumstances, that crisis can be overcome only by a significant government stimulus, well beyond the recent one, which barely matched decline in state and local spending – though even that limited initiative probably saved millions of jobs.
For financial institutions the primary concern is the deficit. Therefore, only the deficit is under discussion. A large majority of the population favor addressing the deficit by taxing the very rich (72 percent, 27 percent opposed), reports a Washington Post-ABC News poll. Cutting health programs is opposed by overwhelming majorities (69 percent Medicaid, 78 percent Medicare). The likely outcome is therefore the opposite.
The Program on International Policy Attitudes surveyed how the public would eliminate the deficit. PIPA director Steven Kull writes, “Clearly both the administration and the Republican-led House (of Representatives) are out of step with the public’s values and priorities in regard to the budget.”
The survey illustrates the deep divide: “The biggest difference in spending is that the public favored deep cuts in defense spending, while the administration and the House propose modest increases. The public also favored more spending on job training, education and pollution control than did either the administration or the House.”
The final “compromise” – more accurately, capitulation to the far right – is the opposite throughout, and is almost certain to lead to slower growth and long-term harm to all but the rich and the corporations, which are enjoying record profits.
Is Tucson the new ‘Hooverville’?
Homeless shanty towns-- Hoovervilles-- sprang up during the Great Depression. (Photo Credit: Dorthea Lange for the Farm Security Administration.)
What has all of this got to do with life here in Tucson? Plenty. Two recent studies show that: 1) Tucson has the highest rate of poverty of any major city in the sunbelt and 2) Tucson has the “sickest” housing market in the US.
These statistics– coupled with Arizona’s Starve-the-Beast-Feed-the-Capitalists state government and Teapublican Congressional representatives–Gosar (CD1), Franks (CD2), Quayle (CD3, Schweikert (CD5), and Flake (CD6)– paint a pretty bleak future for the Old Pueblo.
What can we do about it? A few weeks ago at a City Council meeting, political activist Jim Hannley suggested that the Tucson Mayor and Council set up a citizens’ commission to study local poverty (Check out the video at about 3:16 minutes in part 2.) In 2007, then Tucson City Councilman Steve Leal’s office compiled a “Poverty and Urban Stress” report. With dozens of statistical graphics, the 90+ page document details poverty, educational attainment, crime, and other urban stress indicators citywide and by Council ward. At the time, the Arizona Daily Star lauded the report and the City Council agreed to revisit the report annually… but didn’t. That was 2007– before the market crash of 2008 and the ensuing recession. Obviously Tucson’s economy– as well as the state’s and the nation’s– has slid since the report was created.
Repeatedly, the Tucson City Council has bowed to local business interests, at the expense of citizens and workers. The City’s budget– like the state’s and the nation’s– has been cut by cutting jobs, thus worsening our economy by increasing unemployment.
It’s time for Tucson’s Mayor and Council to take the long view on our economy. Leal’s report should be updated and expanded to include multi-year trend data. After the update, a citizens’ commission focusing on poverty, the local economy, and jobs should be created to study the data and make recommendations based upon economic research and best practices from other cities.
As Tucson celebrates its 236th birthday this month, it’s time for Tucsonans to stop grumbling, to start fighting for economic and social justice, and to take a lesson from The Little Engine that Could: I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.