There are countless articles that relay just how bad unions are for business and employees, that the negotiating power and collective bargaining of unionized employees are just too much for average business owners. And so, over the last 40 years, private-sector unions have pretty much vanished and so have the middle class and raises that keep up with inflation.
The Economic Policy Institute recently released a study that showed that the weekly earnings of non-union private-sector male workers would be 5 percent higher, or $52 higher, if the share of unionized workers were the same as it was in 1979. The impact of unions helps unionized workers; but to stay competitive, business owners would have had to offer similar pay and benefits to nonunionized workers over the years. But lies spread, unions were broken, and now the middle class is disappearing with significantly more workers in the lower end of the economic scale.
According to a May 2016 report by the Pew Research Center, “America’s Shrinking Middle Class: A Close Look at Changes Within Metropolitan Areas,” “Nationwide, the median income of U.S. households in 2014 stood at 8 percent less than in 1999, a reminder that the economy has yet to fully recover from the effects of the Great Recession of 2007-09.” But the question is not when will we fully recover but will we ever fully recover? It goes well beyond the Great Recession, as is indicated by the diminishing private-sector unions study. The separation between the haves and the have-nots continues to grow, along with a shrinking middle class. This, in the long run, is unsustainable.
In August, Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index, via a monthly Consumer Confidence Survey, showed that people are feeling good about the economy:
“Consumer confidence improved in August to its highest level in nearly a year, after a marginal decline in July,” said Lynn Franco, director of economic indicators at The Conference Board. “Consumers’ assessment of both current business and labor market conditions was considerably more favorable than last month. Short-term expectations regarding business and employment conditions, as well as personal income prospects, also improved, suggesting the possibility of a moderate pick-up in growth in the coming months.”
While it’s good news that people feel good about job prospects, even though technically the U.S. added 151,000 jobs in August versus the 180,000 predicted by economic experts, stagnation in earnings and the fact that, collectively, workers make less money today than 30 years ago is a harsh reality that few can shake. Further, knowing that one-tenth of Americans own 75 percent of America and draw 40 percent of all U.S. income and that the wealthiest one-hundredth (1 percent) of Americans own 43 percent of America and draws 20 percent of all U.S. income, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, is disheartening. What’s it going to take for the top 10 percent, and especially the top 1 percent, to understand that sucking the labor force dry of its buying power means problems for them as well? All boats must rise for the economy to remain strong as consumer spending is a large part of what makes this country successful.
With Labor Day just in our rearview but still in mind, we hope our elected officials, labor advocates and business owners take a good look at a fragile economy and workforce that may not continue with the status quo. With Donald Trump speaking for an angry populace, including disaffected workers, we need to seriously consider the millions being left behind as the top gains more and the rest has less. If we are not careful, eventually, the 1976 film Network’s famous line might become a national anthem for workers: “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”