I was talking to an acquaintance the other day; she was telling me how tired she was after her week of work. She told me that after being laid off from her job of 28 years with a carpet company in Georgia, she now makes minimum wage on a factory floor standing for eight hours a day on her fifty-something legs. At one time she made as much as $15 dollars an hour when she worked for the carpet company; seniority did have some benefits, and that was the only benefit she had. Never at any time did she have employer-supported health insurance, and she had health insurance only when she was married and currently does not have any health insurance at all. After her divorce, she had to move in with her sister and family, scraping by, living frugally day to day.
“I know I will never make $15 dollars an hour ever again,” she told me. I could see the defeat in her eyes and I could hear it in her voice.
This is the plight of many Americans; black, brown and white lower middle-class workers who, when times were good and both husband and wife were working, might have been making fifty, sixty thousand dollars a year. In many cases they were able to buy a house and take the kids to the beach once a year. Year after year they worked and the American dream seemed to be in their grasp, until they lost their jobs and they had to start over.
Since 1973 the actual wage of Americans making under $250 thousand dollars has declined to all time lows. At the same time the top 2% have increased their wealth to record numbers. The wealthy are paying today to the Treasury of the United States the lowest percentage of taxes ever paid. Tax collection is at levels from the 1940s when the country was at war.
The middle class has seen its wages lowered and benefits cut well before the current economic downturn. The erosion started with Richard Nixon and the slide of the middle class is in direct correlation to the erosion of trade union membership. There is direct correlation between the dwindling American middle class and the frequency, length and magnitude of American Economic downturns and stagnation.
As the middle class goes so goes the country. As the lower end of the middle class spectrum drifts into poverty in record numbers, we have produced the largest number of people living in poverty in two decades.
A teacher friend from Georgia told me she will now be furloughed seven days. That is 7 days the students in her district will not be in school and 7 days pay, taken out of the economy. Georgia is not the only State cutting teacher and other civil servants pay. Police departments and other public safety agencies all over the country have cut basic services by layoffs and retirements.
Republican state legislatures and governors have slashed State budgets in an austerity laden philosophy of reducing their deficits. This is same philosophy used by the same Republicans in 1929. Austerity was the fuel the ignited the Great Depression and yet Republican leaders refuse to look at the evidence of the past, or of the present.
America will never be the same is the mood of the nation. The middle class and the poor have suffered at great expense from the philosophy of trickledown economics and false dreams. There is no ‘American Dream’ for the families who have fallen into poverty; there is only despair.