James Carville coined the phrase in the 1992 election year, “It’s the economy, stupid,” and like microphone feedback the mantra has just gotten louder and stronger with the passage of two decades.
In his Labor Day message (English | Spanish), Bishop Stephen E. Blaire, Bishop of Stockton and chairman of the Committee on Domestic Development and Human Development for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, asserted, “The broken economy leaves too many without decent work, and over 12 million workers are looking for work but cannot find a job and millions more have actually given up seeking employment.”
This Labor Day, “our country continues to struggle with a broken economy that is not producing enough decent jobs,” he wrote. “Millions of Americans suffer from unemployment, under employment or are living in poverty as their basic needs too often go unmet. This represents a serious economic and moral failure for our nation.”
The fact is, it is difficult to find a sector of the economy where there has not been workforce downsizing, whether it be industry, government or even churches.
Along with the prolonged recession, and really predating it, is the decline of the American labor movement, which has resulted in a diminished voice by the American worker at the bargaining table.
At its peak in the 1940s, 33.5 percent of American workers were unionized, “now it is about 11 percent,” said Dr. Rob Moore, a professor of sociology and expert on labor law at St. Joseph’s University. He was also director of the former Comey Institute of Industrial Relations, named for Jesuit Father Dennis Comey, Philadelphia’s most respected labor-industry arbitrator a generation ago.
A problem today, he believes, is that labor law is very much tilted in favor of management and it is more difficult to organize. “If a worker attempts to organize, the employer often retaliates by firing the worker.”
If the matter goes to the National Labor Relations Board, Moore explained it might take years to decide the issue. The only penalty to the employer would be that the company would have to hire the rehire employee with back wages, a relatively inexpensive risk it would be willing to take.
The weak economy itself puts employers in the driver’s seat, Moore notes, because there are more people than jobs. “Whenever you have surplus labor workers are at a disadvantage,” he said. “I’m not suggesting management is bad, it’s just the reality.”
Outsourcing has also impacted jobs. “In a global economy, unless there are tax incentives to discouraging outsourcing, it is going to continue to happen,” he said.
Sometimes, with the best of intentions, the government contributes to the problem. For example the North American Trade Agreement, which created a free trade zone including the U.S., Mexico and Canada, had bipartisan support from Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton because it was supposed to create jobs. The opposite has been the case and now the U.S. is running large trade deficits with both of its NAFTA partners.
“Objectively there has been a loss of jobs,” Moore said. “We are not creating the kind of workforce to produce the goods.”
He does not believe the situation will improve for workers in the near future. “When the economy turns around the workers will be in a position to have more leverage,” he said.
Daniel Grace, secretary-treasurer of Local 830 Teamsters and a member of Assumption B.V.M. Parish in Feasterville also believes the situation is harder for workers today.
“Employers don’t have the resources they had and are watching the bottom line,” he said. His local, which primarily operates in the beverage industry, doesn’t have to worry much about outsourcing, since its focus is transportation. Still, in this economy, sales are down.
“Our local had 6,800 members in the late ‘70s,” he said. “Now we have about 3,800. When more people are out of work, less beer and soda is produced, and also most of the local breweries have shut down.”
Grace also believes things will not improve for workers until the economy turns around.
“That won’t happen until they stop exporting jobs and bring back some of those they exported,” he said. “Some of these companies have very fat bank accounts.”
Lou Baldwin is a freelance writer and a member of St. Leo Parish, Philadelphia.
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Danny Grace is part of the problem. He makes a six plus figure salary and mocks the system. Looks like the employers arent the only ones with a little extra fat.
I’ve been blessed to be married to a union worker. I myself have always worked for non-profit organizations; it is my husband’s union job that has provided the safety net for our family.
In addition to a living wage, he receives many benefits that every American worker should enjoy. Thanks to his union, we received financial assistance to help us with our daycare expense when our children were very young. His health insurance, which 15 years ago would have been considered “budget”, has held steady when everyone else’s eroded; though unchanged over the years, our insurance is now considered very good compared to what most workers have. We will also have a “medicare wraparound” when we reach that age. After making 30 years of pension contributions (matched by an employer contribution of between 0% and 6% of salary, depending on fund performance) my husband has a defined benefit pension that will pay out for as long as either of us live.
My prayer is that every worker can receive the benefits my family has; it is not at all out of reach and it is simple justice to give the worker his wages.
I agree that the diminishment of unions has lead directly to the diminishment of the middle class in America. (I am an M.B.A. who is pro union which is a rather unique position). I think that American managers try to eliminate the unions because they think that reducung labor costs will lead to higher profits and higher stock prices. Since they only care about their own personal wealth they really don’t care about the effects of their decisions on the lives of subordinates. The reality is that by reducing the income of union members they are reducing the overall economy since union members typically have high propensities to consume. In my opinion, the only way to restore the American dream is to foster the growth of unions which will certainly increase labor costs BUT which will increase consumer spending more through the multiplier effect.
As was said at the Republican Convention, the public schools must have as a first priority educating the children to compete against the world with the second priority parents, teachers, teacher unions and administrators. Catholic schools always have put kids first and the convenience of the adult interest groups second. We will not get abundant jobs until all kids are taught to hustle and work hard(learn a foreign language,study civics and geography, for example) as they do in Catholic schools.