Mark Thoma in The Fiscal Times:
If we want to ensure that our children and grandchildren have the brightest possible future, the national debt is not the most important problem to address. Reversing the polarization of the labor market – the hollowing out of the middle class and the associated rise in inequality over the last thirty years or so – is much more important. But money driven politics and a political class that has all but forgotten about the working class – Democrats in particular have forgotten who they are supposed to represent – stand in the way of progress on this important problem.
As everyone surely knows by now, the last few decades have not been kind to workers in the middle and lower parts of the income distribution. Technological change, globalization, and the decline of unions that gave workers political clout and countervailing power in negotiations over wages, benefits, and working conditions have eroded the economic opportunity and security that the post World War II era brought to working class households.
During that time it was possible, with little formal education, to get a relatively secure job offering decent pay and benefits. But those days are mostly gone, and changes in labor market conditions during the recent recession highlight the longer-term trends. Consider, for example, four facts from a recent speech by Federal Reserve Governor Sarah Raskin.
First, around two-thirds of the jobs lost during the recession were in moderate-wage occupations, but more than one-half of subsequent job gains have been in low wage jobs. As she says, recent job gains have been largely concentrated in lower-wage occupations. Second, since 2010 the average wage for new hires has actually declined. Third, about one-quarter of all workers are “low wage” (just over $23,005 per year in 2011 dollars). Finally, involuntary part-time work is increasing, and more than a quarter of the net employment gains since the end of the reces-sion involve part-time work.
Solving these and other problems – low and stagnant wages, reduced health care and retirement benefits or no benefits at all, fewer hours, reduced job security, and, if Republicans get their way, substantially less social insurance – won’t be easy. To be successful, we must make jobs our top priority.