Sunday, July 5, 2015

For some of us, it has always been a "recession"

Last Sunday’s Seattle Times’ feature story was on the “unequal” economic  recovery in the state, and I quote:

“In the Seattle area, the top 5 percent of households — those making at least $230,000 in 2007 — saw their earnings fully recover to pre-recession levels. Meanwhile, the group earning less than $32,500 when the recession started — the bottom 20 percent — saw their incomes decline further…Most of the jobs lost in the state between 2007 and 2013 paid less than $30 an hour, while the number of jobs paying $54 or more an hour saw big gains. That contrast was even more stark in King County, where jobs paying $54 vior more an hour have soared.”

Two other recent local reports likely explained some of this. A Times’ columnist fulminated joyously at the recent Census statistics that showed that the percentage of the white population in King County made it one of the “whitest” counties in the country; the percentage of whites in the county no doubt accurately reflects the reasons why was a “big gain” in the higher income brackets. In a story in the Seattle Weekly, on the other hand, showed that there is still widespread discrimination against non-Asian minorities in most job professions, but particularly in the “tech” industry and its high wage jobs; I can tell you from personal experience that behind the façade of “liberalism,” there is a “me-first” mentality among such white people who profess to be “liberals”—and when they all feel that way, it all adds-up to widespread racial discrimination, even in “progressive” Seattle. 

Other reasons might include the influx of new residents of the white and Asian self-involved “yuppie” variety with and the promise of high wages, and the loss of affordable housing, driving mostly minorities who cannot afford souring rents out. Yet I sense that another reason for this may be that income disparities are in fact "artificial," that there is not just a lack of "fairness" in pay, but that arrogance, conceit and greed play a bigger role than most people imagine: An artificial class system is being created based on massive income disparities not just among the very richest and everyone else, but between the mostly useless "yuppie" class and working people, this need to feel "superior" to "common people."

I can’t help but be bemused by all of this, since I and everyone I know has never even sniffed at $30 (let alone $54) an hour. A high percentage of the jobs available in the area today are just barely above the state minimum wage of $9.47, and the highest hourly rate I’ve ever been paid, no matter how physically or mentally demanding  the work was, was $14 an hour, and that not even for a full 40 hours a week. I’ve lived in the Seattle area for almost 25 years, and it’s always been a personal “recession,” more so because unlike most people living on similar wages I don’t live with  parents, or a roommate or spouse who also works. Certain people tell me it is my “fault,” but those are usually white people who are taller and “prettier” than I am. All too often, an employer who liked what they read on my resume and sounded positive on the telephone suddenly become less certain I was “qualified” when they saw me in person; they always had to talk to another “candidate” before they got back to me about a job—and usually they didn’t even bother to call.

That begs the question “Who the hell are all of those people making $54 dollars an hour (or $100,000+ a year)? I’m sure that some of them probably have engineering or advanced technical skills, but I suspect that most of these people just sit around in meetings or talking glibly on the phone making “deals”; just give them a high-sounding title (like “Chief Operating Officer” to a frumpy blonde white female at a small sports apparel company I used to work for;. all she ever did was sit at desk all day and think of ways to disturb the orderly routine in the warehouse. 

Small business owners especially complain about their inability to pay employees a living wage or provide health benefits; they are, after all, in the “business” of becoming rich. Mid-size companies, like, say, Alaska Airlines, have become immensely profitable far beyond their larger competitors by a concerted campaign to depress wages; it’s all about profit, the more bloated the better. Only the hourly employees ask what is “fair” about this. Large corporations pay CEOs and other high-level managers eight-figure pay packages—perhaps they don’t feel any shame about this because it’s just “penny-ante” stuff compared to total revenue. One wonders how many percentage points the unemployment rate would go down and wages would rise if the pay of just one high level executive from each of the Fortune 500 companies  was instead used to employ workers at a living wage. 

It is apparent that since the “earnings” of the wealthy have continued to increase while those at the bottom have only seen their wages depress further, there was no moral or ethical lesson learned from the “Great Recession.” I once heard someone pontificate that money was the “root of all evil,” and white man, apparently of conservative leaning, respond by saying that neither money nor the desire for  it was “evil,” but only the way it was portrayed by the media and people who didn’t “have it.” I suppose he meant what Reagan derided as the “envy” of the poor of the rich. But that isn’t the truth. People who actually “create” things in the main are less motivated  in becoming “rich” than in making a “name” for themselves. Having a lot of money may lead to a comfortable, carefree life and buy everything you “need,” but it can’t buy you “immortality” like leaving behind something of social or cultural worth and memory. 

Corporate executives with exorbitant pay packages and “golden” parachutes when they are fired for running their companies into the ground (and workers with them) on the other hand have nothing on their minds but “beating the competition,” usually by finding ways to “cut costs” by targeting their own most vulnerable workers who are just numbers on a spread sheet. Most are hired by shareholders who themselves are motivated by the riches promised them.

Yet few realize that the people who actually make the things you use have no faces or names. They are the 47 percent that Mitt Romney accused of feeling that they are “entitled” to such basics of life such as food and shelter; Romney, like many like him, never worked an honest day in their lives—playing with other people’s money to make more money, not caring who won (mainly people of his “class”) or who lost (people like the rest of us).

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