Opinion

The Great Debate

One nation, underemployed

By Sally Kohn
October 7, 2011

By Sally Kohn
The opinions expressed are her own.

In our national desperation to create jobs, we’ve forgotten that quantity doesn’t necessarily mean quality.  For instance, Rick Perry boasts of creating jobs in Texas, but Texas is tied with Mississippi for the highest percentage of minimum wage jobs in the nation.  According to the latest jobs numbers, the United States gained 58,000 jobs in September, with an additional 45,000 communication workers returning to work after a strike.   But as any busboy cleaning up after a Wall Street banker can tell you, not all jobs are created equal.

Of course, the 9.1% of unemployed Americans in our country would gladly take even the worst of jobs to put food on their tables.  But as recent Census data reveals, 46.2 million Americans lived in poverty in 2010 — many of whom have jobs, just not jobs that are good enough. In fact, for all American workers, the Census Bureau found that media household incomes (adjusted for inflation) declined by 2.3% in 2010 over the previous year — even as worker productivity and corporate profits rose.

America needs an economic recovery not just on paper but on principle — where the quality of life for workers rises as the quantity of jobs and our overall economy grows.  Which is why it’s deeply troubling that so many in our government are trying to undermine the quality of current jobs, let alone create more and better jobs for the future.

Union jobs = good jobs

There’s a reason the protesters at Occupy Wall Street are linking arms with unions.  Unions raise wages for all workers.  Studies have shown that a large unionized presence in a given industry raises wages for all workers in that field.  In draconian, anti-union “Right to Work” states, all workers make on average $5,438 less per year than workers in states that allow free bargaining.  Not to mention the fact that many benefits non-unionized workers now expect on the job — from health insurance to sick leave — were first established because unions fought for them and such benefits became the norm.

In the prosperous 1950s, nearly one-in-three American workers belonged to a union.  Today, thanks to attacks on union rights by big business conservatives, closer to one-in-ten workers is a union member. In the intervening decades, data show that as unionization rates have declined, so have middle class wages and income.

Some voters are put off by the political power of unions, understandable in a political system that is more controlled by special interests than ordinary citizens.  But unlike corporations that lobby Washington so they can make more money, unions are advocating for better jobs — to raise your quality of life, increase your pay and benefits and put more money in your pocket.  The conservative case against unions is entirely political.  From an economic perspective, unions are essential to creating good, middle class jobs.

Public sector jobs = good jobs

Big business conservatives have also increased their attack on government jobs and workers.  These critics claim that government is inefficient and wasteful and that the private sector can teach our kids, build our roads and administer our social services in a more cost-effective and competent manner.

But a recent study by the nonprofit Project on Government Oversight found that, in 33 out of 35 areas, the government paid more to private contractors then it would have cost for the government to perform the work itself. What’s interesting is that, last year, the conservative Heritage Foundation released a study showing that public sector workers earn on average 22% more than their private sector counterparts, and public workers get more generous benefits packages as well. It turns out that privatizing public services is just a scam to dismantle good public sector jobs while taking your tax dollars and giving them to private companies that drive down wages and benefits for workers while driving up profits and CEO bonuses.

The recent college graduates, soldiers and single mothers protesting on Wall Street and across the country don’t just want crummy jobs — they want good jobs.  President Obama’s plan is a good start in the right direction — a plan that will stimulate the economy and get Americans working again through public sector investment.

Our goal must be an economy not just in which all Americans have jobs but good jobs — so we can provide for our families, send our kids to college, save for retirement and have some money left in our pockets to spend.  Whether they’re out in the streets or crying at their kitchen tables, that’s what all Americans are clamoring for.

Sally Kohn is a political commentator and community organizer.  She is a contributor to the American Prospect and the founder of the Movement Vision Lab, a grassroots think tank.

Comments
54 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

The fundamental spontaneity of the worldwide protests, not just here in the U.S. but everywhere, is indicative that people everywhere are FED UP with special deals, privileges, monopolies, tax avoidance for special classes of people who feel they are, somehow, exempt from rules that apply only to “little” people. In foreign countries these entrenched special interests have manipulated themselves into even greater control of governments than has occurred here.

All of these corporatist machinations are then rationalized with pseudo-patriotic appeals, absurd rationalizations about capitalism with little basis in fact, and media supported nonsense about job creation and opportunities coupled with official “statistics” which are designed to conceal rather than expose the full extent of the problem.

All unions are not without sin, there have indeed been excesses in the past as is the case in every organization, but the outrageous attempts by a small minority of politicians to represent their narrow election victories as a “mandate” to turn back the achievements of over a century of labor laws, often bought at the expense of bloody and even dangerous strikes opposed by company thugs, this represents a complete and obvious misinterpretation regarding voter disgust with the corporatist and special interest controlled congress and a dysfunctional government.

The Occupy Wall Street movement represents no confused goals – its goals, the goal of all of us remains united to end the interregnum of corporatist subversion of our government and restore the representative democracy which is the basis of our socio-political philosophy and heritage.

One of America’s greatest presidents, Franklin Roosevelt, now the subject of misrepresentation and castigation by historically misinformed special interests, called explicitly for an 2d Bill of Rights to address fundamental economic issues. The opposition continues to tout a make believe and non-existent “capitalism” as justification to continue their special deals, monopolies and tax breaks while insulting our intelligence with nonsense about how only this will cause “job creation”.

The full extent of the reforms necessary to wipe away this self righteous subversion of our government is nothing less than the same process which stripped them of their assertions about slave ownership 150 years ago… their “property”. Let us, like Kohn here, explicitly expose the charade to pave the way for real, and long overdue, reforms.

Posted by CitizenJimserac | Report as abusive
 

Definition: A Recession is when your neighbor’s house is foreclosed on. A Depression is when your house is foreclosed on. It’s hard to focus on business bankruptcy when there is so much personal bankruptcy everywhere. No more Obama bail out’s! If a company cannot keep up with the times then let ‘em fail. That’s the American way!

Posted by Burgerness | Report as abusive
 

This article seems extremely biased and narrow-minded to me.

First of all, “union jobs = good jobs” is hogwash. The only “good” aspect of those jobs is short-term, for the selfish interests of the individual. Unions foster corruption and laziness, and discourage excellence. This is a huge part of why American products from union shops became non-competitive in the world marketplace. Unions extorted higher wages and better benefits, thus forcing higher prices. Our steel industry was completely destroyed by unions.

Another gross distortion:
“Public sector jobs = good jobs”

Public sector jobs simply drain the working cleass of money. Those public sector jobs do not create tangible products to sell in the world marketplace, thus bring in no revenue. In conjunction with unions, again extorting excessive wages and benefits at the expense of taxpayers, the unfunded liabilities of pensions for public sector employees will bankrupt the nation. We are pushing near 100 TRILLION dollars in unfunded liabilities. Where is that money to come from???

The problem with jobs:

America lost millions of high salary jobs, especially in the high tech sectors. Those jobs paid GOOD money (all without the need for unions), and those employees were in the upper tax brackets. Those employees also had large amounts of money to invest, and large amounts of disposable income to SPEND, which helps build local economies. Those already-taxed dollars go into the local economies, to be taxed again, so local, state and federal tax revenues are increased. The current administration seems to think “shovel ready” jobs will magically cure our ecomonic problems, but they will not. Partly because those jobs are all very low-paying jobs, and partly because the cost of lawsuits from far-left environmentalists who try to block virtually every construction project will kill any benefit from the few jobs actually created. Locally we had the opportunity for over 2,000 “shovel ready” jobs from the stimulus, but not one came to fruition. Each project has been blocked by far-left environmental extremists.

It has become clear that the current administration is as much pro-corporate as any other administration ever was. They continue to make life easy for the already rich, while their policies are virtually destroying the middle class. While the administration has been aggressively attacking small farms, health food stores, and Gibson Guitars, there have been ZERO prosecutions of the corrupt bankers who were a significant factor for the economic disaster we are facing. The administration continues to support unions which continue to cause economic harm; especially public sector unions.

America needs a complete change in Congress, on both sides of the aisle. The current Congress is the most corrupt in the history of America, and are doing the will of Wall Street, the pharmaceutical industry, the insurance industry and the oil industry. They are become RICH beyond rich, while America suffers. Unfortunately, so many people are brainwashed by organizations calling themselves a “grassroots think tank”, which are in fact simply a tool used by the ultra liberal far-left extremists who are so arrogant they believe THEIR way is the ONLY way.

Posted by Active0ldLady | Report as abusive
 

This article seems extremely biased and narrow-minded to me.

First of all, “union jobs = good jobs” is hogwash. The only “good” aspect of those jobs is short-term, for the selfish interests of the individual. Unions foster corruption and laziness, and discourage excellence. This is a huge part of why American products from union shops became non-competitive in the world marketplace. Unions extorted higher wages and better benefits, thus forcing higher prices. Our steel industry was completely destroyed by unions.

Another gross distortion:
“Public sector jobs = good jobs”

Public sector jobs simply drain the working cleass of money. Those public sector jobs do not create tangible products to sell in the world marketplace, thus bring in no revenue. In conjunction with unions, again extorting excessive wages and benefits at the expense of taxpayers, the unfunded liabilities of pensions for public sector employees will bankrupt the nation. We are pushing near 100 TRILLION dollars in unfunded liabilities. Where is that money to come from???

The problem with jobs:

America lost millions of high salary jobs, especially in the high tech sectors. Those jobs paid GOOD money (all without the need for unions), and those employees were in the upper tax brackets. Those employees also had large amounts of money to invest, and large amounts of disposable income to SPEND, which helps build local economies. Those already-taxed dollars go into the local economies, to be taxed again, so local, state and federal tax revenues are increased. The current administration seems to think “shovel ready” jobs will magically cure our ecomonic problems, but they will not. Partly because those jobs are all very low-paying jobs, and partly because the cost of lawsuits from far-left environmentalists who try to block virtually every construction project will kill any benefit from the few jobs actually created. Locally we had the opportunity for over 2,000 “shovel ready” jobs from the stimulus, but not one came to fruition. Each project has been blocked by far-left environmental extremists.

It has become clear that the current administration is as much pro-corporate as any other administration ever was. They continue to make life easy for the already rich, while their policies are virtually destroying the middle class. While the administration has been aggressively attacking small farms, health food stores, and Gibson Guitars, there have been ZERO prosecutions of the corrupt bankers who were a significant factor for the economic disaster we are facing. The administration continues to support unions which continue to cause economic harm; especially public sector unions.

America needs a complete change in Congress, on both sides of the aisle. The current Congress is the most corrupt in the history of America, and are doing the will of Wall Street, the pharmaceutical industry, the insurance industry and the oil industry. They are become RICH beyond rich, while America suffers. Unfortunately, so many people are brainwashed by organizations calling themselves a “grassroots think tank”, which are in fact simply a tool used by the ultra liberal far-left extremists who are so arrogant they believe THEIR way is the ONLY way.

Posted by Active0ldLady | Report as abusive
 

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