The Average American Has Reason to Be Angry
Low pay, long hours, and a widening gap between rich and poor
IT has recently been widely reported that the average American is angry. Well, the average American should be angry.
Since 1973, the working people of this country have worked longer hours, earned less, and lost much of the economic security they previously had. During the last 22 years, 80 percent of American families have experienced falling or stagnant real incomes. Meanwhile, average Americans are experiencing a major drop in their standard of living, while the rich and powerful have never had it so good.
New statistical studies show that the wealth-iest 1 percent of the population own nearly 40 percent of the wealth of this country, more than the bottom 90 percent. That is the greatest concentration of wealth in the industrialized world and, most significantly, it is a trend accelerating faster here than anywhere else.
In 1959, the richest 4 percent of American families earned as much income as the bottom 35 percent. By 1989, that top 4 percent earned as much as the bottom 51 percent. In 1980, the average pay for a chief executive officer of a major corporation was 42 times as high as that of a factory worker. Today, the CEO earns 149 times as much.
Meanwhile, while profits soar and CEOs reap huge salary increases, the purchasing power of the minimum wage has declined by 26 percent over the last 20 years. Many of the new jobs being created are low-wage, part-time, or temporary, without benefits. As major corporations continue to ''downsize,'' the number of temporary jobs in America has exploded from 962,300 in 1987 to 1,657,700 in 1993.
Tens of millions of American workers are experiencing extraordinary financial insecurity and pressure. Will they have their jobs tomorrow, or is the owner moving the company to China where he can get workers for 20 cents an hour? Will their limited health-care benefits be cut even further? Will they ever collect on the pension plan they've been promised?
From 1988 to 1993, worker productivity in the private sector increased by 5.9 percent. Average hourly earnings, however, declined by 4 percent. By 1993, the typical family had lost $1,400 of the buying power it had in 1991. People are working longer, harder, and more productively -- and they're becoming poorer. Should the average American be angry?
Given the crisis facing the American middle class, what has the new Republican-controlled Congress been doing to address our nation's underlying economic problems?
Jobs: There is nothing in the ''Contract With America'' to address our $160 billion trade deficit, the decline of our manufacturing base, and the loss of millions of decent-paying manufacturing jobs. How do we get corporate America to reinvest in this country, rather than in cheap, unprotected labor abroad? This is apparently not a subject of much interest to the Republicans, who have recently received huge amounts of corporate campaign contributions.
Declining living standards: At a time when the rich are getting richer and the middle class and the poor are getting poorer, the Republicans have adopted a series of bills to cut benefits drastically for working people and the poor -- making life more difficult for those already hurting the most. The Republicans are proposing major cuts in child nutrition, fuel assistance, education, affordable housing, Medicare, Medicaid, and college financial aid.
Tax cuts: Fifty percent of the individual tax breaks passed by the Republican House will go to people making a $100,000 a year, and the upper 1 percent will get more in tax breaks than the bottom 60 percent. For the lower middle class, there will be virtually no tax reductions at all.
Should the average American worker be angry?
If we are to turn this country around and create an economy that provides well for all the people, and not just the rich, we must focus on the real causes of our problems -- and demand real solutions.
Most importantly, we must have the courage to take on the big money interests who -- through their control of the economy, the political parties, and the media -- make most of the decisions that affect our lives now and those of our children, too.