Umbrage over injustice. Doom for some is right here.

Started by K-Dog, Apr 08, 2024, 09:22 PM

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American Workers are Being Screwed by Both Parties

Dave Lindorff
Mar 13, 2024
Work life hasn't changed that much in the US over 100 years. Neither has the pay. The political system keeps it that way, with a pro-capitalist duopoly party of Republicans and Democrats funded by corporations and the rich.

According to the the Pew Foundation, one-fifth of of people over 65 are working. That's the first time such a high percentage of American elders were working since the early 1960s.  That same study paints a rather rosy picture of those working elders — at least the white ones who represent the majority of such graying or balding elder laborers, whom the Pew study claims are earning more than young workers, often get better benefits and retirement accounts, and often actually enjoy their jobs.

  Now, it might make sense that older workers who are receiving Social Security benefits could be making out well.  After all by combining the wages they get for continuing with or finding a new job, and those monthly SS checks, some may be earning more than they were earning before retiring. But for many of those retirees, the Social Security benefits can be woefully low Consider those who were laid off or had to quit hard jobs they could no longer handle, often in their early '60s when their benefit checks, for example if claimed at the age of 62, will forever be 75% lower than if they had waited until age 70.

As for workers being happy about working longer, I got a good object lesson on that earlier this week from a 63-year old white floor clerk at a big-box store. I had gone in to buy a large box of 60-watt equivalent LED light bulbs to cut down on our electric bill. I was looking, but not finding GE bulbs, which I've turned to because the other companies' bulbs, when they fail well before the absurdly long advertised 5-10 years, make it hard to get them replaced or the cost refunded, while GE makes good on the bulbs when they fail cease to work. 

The older white guy found the bulbs I wanted and I thanked him, as he had initially told me he actually worked in a different part of the store. He assured me that he was happy to help, saying, "This job gets pretty boring, but I do it because I need the money. And when I can help people, it least makes it less boring."  He explained that he was working part time because he had to quit the job he used to do until age 62 because of the physical strain of it.  His retirement check of about $1000 a month from the Social Security Administration was not enough to live on, but with the part-time work, he was at least getting by.

I told him it was true that for most people, Social Security was inadequate for living decently on, and that it had never been intended when it was created to be more than a supplement to savings and company retirement plans. (The original intention was to replace about 40% of Ann average worker's pre-retirement income). Meanwhile, with the ups and downs of the US economy, the decline of unions and company pensions, and the refusal of many employers to even contribute to 401(K) plans if they even offer them at all. And, as I pointed out, the benefits paid to retired workers by Social Security have declined by 36% over the past 24 years due to inflation which Congress — primarily Republicans, but also conservative Democrats too— has never adequately adjusted for in a kind of stealth cut-back in funding.

Is that really what's happened?" He asked in shock. "Yes I assured him."  It's easy for them to do. Most people don't know what their parents were getting in their monthly checks a quarter of a century ago, and they did, you they likely wouldn't know what it was buying them. So it's really a sleight-of-hand go enable these advocates of higher corporate profits and less for elders and current workers.

"That's outrageous!," he said.

I told him about Finland, where when their social security system was under strain in the 1990s because of increasing numbers of older people and fewer children becoming workers to pay for their benefits, the parties in the government— socialists, liberals and conservatives— came together to fix it. But instead of just cutting benefits and adding years to the time people had to wait to collect benefits, they instead first conducted a study to see how much income replacement in retirement should be in order that most people could retire without taking a hit in their standard of living. When they concluded that magic number was 60% of final salary in one's retirement year, they set about figuring out how to come up with that money, and ended up  significantly increasing the employer contribution to the fund, and only tweaking how much workers paid into it (the payroll tax per FICA) for Social Security is locked in at 50% paid by workers and 50% paid by the employer). The system is solvent now and elderly Finns live very well on their savings and their benefit checks. (Of course they don't have to blow their retirement money on putting their kids through college because not only is college free there, but students get a monthly stipend of about $700 while attending university.)

His eyes widened. "I'm booking a flight there," he said, although I had to warn him it's not an easy country to immigrate to.

From there I took my bulbs to the payment area. Seeing a young black woman at an empty cash register, I happily passed the self-checkout line. "You look like you might need a  customer." I said as I set my bow of bulbs on her counter. "Oh, I'm happy doing nothing," she said, running them over the scanner. "This is less boring, but I work two jobs, so not having anything to do occasionally is okay by me."

"Two jobs eh?  So how many hours do you work a week?   She sighed and said, "About 70, forty here and 30 on another job."

"Wow, that's a lot of hours!" I replied.

"Tell me about it," she said. 

I called the situation "disgusting" and said that workers should be paid a living wage, noting that Pennsylvania's Republican legislature refuses to raise the state's hourly wage above the $7.25 it was set at in 2009, 15 years ago.

I thought about how the narrowly Democratic House in Harrisburg here in Pennsylvania had just passed a bill to raise that minimum gradually to $15 an hour by 2026 by a vote of 103-100 with all but one Democrat voting for the measure and only two Republicans ignoring their party's position and adding their votes. The bill will still probably not become law because the Republican-led Senate would have to approve it, and that body will probably narrowly vote it down. And consider this: In 1968, the year Richard Nixon was elected and began an era in which Republican and neo-Liberal Democrats took over Congress and the Whitehouse and began dismantling New Deal programs for workers, the federal minimum wage reached its peak, $1.60/hour, in terms of inflation-adjusted buying power. Since then, Republicans and even Democrats in thrall of neo-Liberal pro-corporate economic theories, have resisted adequately adjusting the minimum for inflation. Had they simply adjusted the base hourly wage annually for inflation since 1968, the federal minimum wage today would be $14.27/hour, as the cost-of-living over those 55 years has been 792%. A $15 per hour minimum today would be accurate for today. But in any case, even if it were raised to $15/hour tomorrow, that action would not compensate for the lost wages and pocketed profits of capitalist owners over that two generation period.

"You really should have a union here," I offered. 

"Yeah," she replied, but her weary tone of voice (it was 5 pm, the end of a long day), made it clear that with another job to go to, she was thinking someone else would have to do that organizing.

"The worst thing about it," she said, "is that I used to work at the IRS until I was laid off."

Republicans in Congress have for years been forcing cuts in IRS staffing, playing to the basic anti-tax ideology of their base, though that base, many of whom are low-income and not particularly well educated, don't realize that when the IRS isn't auditing and getting the real taxes due from rich people who use artful accountants and high priced lawyers to whittle their taxes, sometimes down to zero like "Biden's predecessor,"  the taxes fall instead on the middle and low-income worker.

So I said, "Oh, you work. At the IRS?  So you probably saw how the rich get away without paying their share of taxes."  She rolled her eyes and said, "Oh yeah!"

I left the store thinking how pathetic it is that the Democratic Party and their octogenarian standard bearer, President Joe Biden, as well their professional campaign-managed House and Senate candidates, most perched safely in the "moderate" category, are about to blow this election in favor of a crooked, lying, sexual abusing, racist, xenophobic and psycho-narcissist because they cannot bring themselves to go to war over the domination of federal and state government policy by capitalist greed-heads, the 'billionaire class," and the neoliberal "think tanks" that always tout the wonders of unregulated capitalism, instead of blowing a bi-partisan trillion a year or more on arms and solders to promote war and chaos abroad.

Whether young or old, American workers are being screwed, and many of them don't even know it. Or if they do, they don't know whom to blame and are easy to lure into blaming "immigrants." The American people need to wake up and demand that the Democratic Party fight for them, and not the monied class.  The Democratic Party is using them, not fighting for them.

I know two workers I bumped into in a store are a tiny sample, but when the only two people I talked with — one an elderly white man and the other a twenty-something black woman —  turn out to be smart and angry about what is happening to them, I tend to believe  they are representative of something important.