Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Cutbacks in workers' pay and benefits will not solve our economic and social problems.

I wrote this blog last year but given the recent and visible attacks against workers and unions in this country, I decided to re-post it.

In this post I layout my opinion that the degree of income inequality in this country (as in any country) has a direct relationship to our economic and social troubles. Contrary to the rhetoric repeated by politicians, working people and their wages and benefits did not cause the economic recession and reducing the wages and benefits is not the remedy; instead, the greed of the wealthy income earners caused this problem and a redistribution of wealth is the solution.

Since the 1970s, the wealthy people of this country (i.e., the top one percent of income earners) have outpaced the middle class and poor in the amounts of income they have accumulated. During this time and in the 1980's working people could not keep up with the cost of living the American Dream on one income, so to afford the dream the nonworking spouse had to join the work force and for a few years that generate enough income to live comfortably. In the 1990s and 2000s, having two incomes was not enough. The income gap between the middle class and the wealthy got wider and the cost of living the American Dream seemed out of reach. Then in 2008, the Great Recession hit this country and immediately the wealthy started to blame workers and unions for the financial problems of this country.

State and local government have bought into this propaganda and have ignored the reality of how the elite played fantasy finance with other peoples' money, lost the money, and as a result caused the Great Recession. But instead of punishing these crooks, the wealthy received trillions of dollars from the government treasuries to make up for these gamblers' lost profits. Then after the rich received governemnt money they started a campaign against workers and unions and falsely claimed it was workers’ greed and unions that caused this country’s economic downfall. By falsely identifing workers and their unions as the causes of the recession the wealthy now want a decrease in workers’ wages and benefits, cuts in spending for most social service programs, and new sales taxes on basic consumer items. However, at the same time the wealthy want more taxes cuts on their income and investments, elimination of government oversight on banking and commerce, and privatization of public programs like education and socia sercuity.

During the past forty years the wealthy have taken actions just like these to maximize their profits by polluting the environment, violating employee wage and hour laws, moving their plants to other countries and leaving millions of workers unemployed and homeless. Within these decades the wealthy have convinced the voters to vote against their own self-interest and vote for politicans who serve only the rich resulting in a steady decline in livable wages, less public funds, slow destruction and privatization of government services, deep cuts in social welfare programs,the elimination of unions and basic bargainig rights, and the immediate deportation of immigrant workers and their children.

We cannot continue to ignore the obvious that income equality results in a dysfunctional society. California for example is one of the top ten worst states based on income inequality along with Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Studies have shown that direct results of income gap widening on working communities include increases in levels of mental illness (beyond those related to drug and alcohol abuse), staggering infant mortality and life expectancy rates, overwhelming obesity rates, severe drop in children education performances, rising teen pregnancies, higher unemployment or underemployment and unsustainable rates of imprisonment.

Yet in the mist of all these social and economic ills caused by the greed of the wealthy and corrupt government policies, people point their fingers of blame at the victims themselves. The rich continue to get richer and the poor continue to get poorer. [For an excellent and detailed analysis of this theory regarding the global and national causes and effects of income equality read: The Spirit Level, by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, Bloomberg Press, 2009].

We must embrace an agenda dedicated to providing our communities with jobs that produce higher livable wages and benefits with a goal to narrow the income inequality. How do we do this?

Of course, I know there are no easy answers to these problems and solutions are beyond this post, but here are some suggestions. First, the local and state governments must pass legislation that help employers, unions, politicans, and everyone in the communities to work together to create safe work places that enhance the manufacturing of goods and create well paying jobs in the United States. An example of such legislation would include investments in clean energy technology and manufacturing. Second, the centuries old business model of profits at the cost of social and economic problems must cease. We must replace this greedy and antiquated model with a new model that focuses more on the prosperity and well-being of everyone. Corporations and the rich must pay their fair share of taxes. Third, enact legislation and policies that reward employers who apply this new model of business with tax and other monetary incentives. Then punish and eliminate employers who continue to pollute the environment and violate workers rights to a safe workplace and fair wages and benefits.

Of course, this is a difficult and complex problem; however, how else can we address these ills if we do not start talking about them and being honest with ourselves?

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