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Americans’ Net Worth

5:01 pm in Uncategorized by Donald Goldmacher

This entry was written by Heist Co-Producer and Co-Director Frances Causey.

A recent report that the economy contracted the last quarter is no surprise. Despite the recent numbers, we consistently get rosy reports from the mainstream media that the economy is generally improving. But the reality is that tens of millions of Americans have never been less secure financially because the current economy leaves them out in the cold. The numbers never lie.

From 2007 to 2010, the median net worth of each middle class American family dropped by nearly 40%, wiping out 18 years of accumulated wealth. The housing crash contributed to most of the losses. In that same period, middle-class families went from having on average $126,400 to $77,300. Median income for middle class families is now about where it was in the mid-1990’s. These are stunning losses (not JUST a number) and not without severe consequences, particularly when one considers the psychosocial impact to families. The 1% had big losses too during the crash but they were significantly less impacted because their assets were more diversified. Yet consider this. The earnings of the top 1.0 percent grew a staggering 134% between 1979 and 2007 while those in the bottom 90% grew just 15%.

So where are working Americans suppose to make up for their losses? Apparently not by working. Most of the jobs lost in the economic collapse were replaced by low paying jobs with no benefits. One of the most astonishing numbers consistently left out of the national debate is how 40 million good jobs with benefits were lost well before 2007. These also were replaced with low paying, low-skill service jobs. And yet somehow we continue to think this restructuring of the American economy that began in the late 1970’s when Democrats and Republicans alike began to worship at the altar of free market utopianism is good for us.

Since the late 1970’s average workers have faced historic obstacles in the search for decent employment. Current forecasts suggest there will be protracted unemployment for years to come. To put it bluntly, there is little doubt (and Washington knows this) that the living standards of a majority of working Americans will continue to decline over the next decade.

Even many relatively high tech manufacturing jobs today are paying just $10-12 an hour. In a recent 60 Minutes/CBS News story the reporter filed a piece on the subject of how American manufacturing cannot find enough skilled workers to run their factories. The piece profiled several workers who went back to school to get the necessary training. And guess how the worker is being rewarded for her initiative? She is being paid $12 per hour! Yet the reporter never questioned the employer about the low wages he pays for his “skilled” workers. And American employers wonder why there is a dearth of candidates applying for these positions? These are not living wages when a gallon of milk costs $5. Workers simply can’t afford to take these jobs and support their families.

Yet, without rebuke from the people who elected them, politicians on both sides of the aisle continue to cry about a worker “skills gap”. Just recently, a bi-partisan group of Senators, guided by an addiction to the belief that the market always knows best, just sided 100% with multinational corporations against American high-tech workers by proposing a bill that would overhaul the high-skilled worker visa program. The bill would immediately increase the cap on temporary H-1B from 65,000 to 115,000 a year, giving guest workers an advantage of American workers. How are American workers of any skill level ever able to compete again with the deck so stacked against them?

We hear everywhere that we are in a “recovery” citing the fact that our economy is “growing”. But since the economic collapse, our Gross Domestic Product is consistently averaging around 2.5%. But that number is not high enough to create enough jobs for those job seekers entering the market for the first time much less the millions who need jobs but cannot find them.

Which brings me to another narrative waffling out there. A favorite mantra of the corporate and Wall Street class, and Tea Party is that America is a “welfare state”. Out of work Americans are taking too many handouts and after all “enough is enough.” A closer look at the numbers bearing reality reveals a much different truth. If readers will recall, President Clinton “reformed” welfare in 1996. To receive cash assistance or Temporary Assistance to nearly enough to meet even the most basic of needs. TANF’s role in providing income support to families has declined dramatically since 1996 yet the need has never been greater. For instance in 2011, only 27 families received TANF for every 100 families in poverty.

If the working poor are on Medicaid its because employers like Wal-Mart don’t offer health care. If the working poor participate in SNAP or the food stamp program its because they are not paid enough by employers like Wal-Mart to feed their families. Since 2007, over 12 million families have lost their homes to foreclosure. As of January 2013, another 11 million are underwater on their mortgages and in serious jeopardy of default. Yet, there are currently 1.2 million people in public housing, hardly a huge number given the number of families displaced by the housing crisis. But yet we hear the constant refrain from those who have never wondered where their next meal was coming from complain that our working poor are consistently “on the take”. Corporate or white collar welfare in the form of subsidies, low tax rates for corporations and wealthy individuals, and the auctioning of public resources like oil, timber and the public airwaves for pennies on the dollar costs taxpayers ten times what blue-collar welfare does.

So what is the solution? Profits are not the problem. Blind, relentless pursuit of them at any cost by any business small or large is. American style Democracy has always been grounded in the fact that a majority of America’s citizens worked hard and shared in her prosperity. American worker productivity has never been higher yet American workers are not seeing any return. So we have to make “work” pay again in this country. But how do we do that? If we truly grasp and follow the current numbers, we need a revolutionary change in what’s left of our Democracy.

Through organizing and grassroots efforts, we must rally those left behind in this economy and acting in unison, reconstruct our economy by rebuilding from the bottom up and pressuring those at the top to change policy. This means strengthening the power of workers wherever we can, through workplace laws, policy and unions, which remain the only institutional hedge against the power of Wall Street. Moreover, we must realize that our problems are not just about electing the next politician. Perhaps we even need to redefine the American Dream into one that is more inclusive of all.

This entry is also available at Daily Kos.

What Would FDR Do?

2:17 pm in Uncategorized by Donald Goldmacher

Written by HEIST co-director/co-producer Frances Causey.

History has proven time and time again that the United States has prospered the most when capital and labor work hand in hand with each other. When they don’t, you get the likes of Michigan, Wisconsin, Hostess and Wal-Mart. Henry Ford understood that he needed to pay his workers well or who else would buy his automobiles? Pretty logical, huh?

Today, the balance of power between workers and capital has been obliterated with a tiny few elites making off like bandits as we have illustrated in Heist. The 1 percent has captured 93 percent of income growth since the alleged recovery of the economy. (This page asks, how can this truly be a recovery when only 1 percent of the population benefits?)

The tragedy is that our own lawmakers have allowed American corporations and the super rich to makeover government to suit their own whims. Don’t be deceived. American corporations have abandoned America for emerging markets, dispensing with loyalty as easily as they would an unprofitable manufacturing sector. Corporate media consolidation has sold this bill of goods (free market mysticism) to the American people as patriotic.

There is a fascinating yet depressing book entitled At Any Cost: Jack Welch, General Electric, and the Pursuit of Profit that illustrates just what has gone wrong with corporate America. Jack Welch maximized shareholder value by turning one of America’s most enterprising companies, GE, into a mercenary financial monolith that was eventually bailed out to the tune of $140 billion dollars by U.S. taxpayers.

Tens of thousands of GE jobs were (are) being outsourced at the exact moment the American people were bailing the company out! Then in the cruelest irony of all, President Obama appointed GE’s CEO Jeffrey Immelt to run his Presidential Council on Jobs and Competitiveness!

When an American corporation benefits greatly from being American (favorable tax law, use of U.S. infrastructure, protection of U.S. embassies abroad, favorable trade deals et al), it is the duty of our lawmakers who allegedly represent us to hold these companies accountable to America and her workers. We are not naïve as we understand that capital flows to the highest return but everything must have rules. The 1 percent has made their own rules and 99 percent of us are paying the price.

If FDR were president today, my guess is he would not meet in secret with the House speaker to cut a backroom deal that would further hammer the 99 percent by reducing Medicare and Social Security benefits that we have already paid for. Instead, FDR would call it like he saw it — as he did in a 1936 speech while accepting the Democratic Party’s nomination for president. FDR addressed what he saw as a grave threat to the United States from within:

“These economic royalists complain that we seek to overthrow the institutions of America. What they really complain of is that we seek to take away their power.”

The economic royalists of today are the financial and corporate elite that lobbies for their own set of rules. Both U.S. parties are beholden to their outrageous cash flows. We as a united people can’t change things until we have accepted this reality. Under FDR, workers had a seat at the table but who speaks for us now? The Progressives won with FDR and we can do it again if President Obama stands with us. If not now, when? It’s time for President Obama to channel his inner FDR — if he has it in him.

This entry is also available at The Huffington Post and Daily Kos.

Obama, Jobs and the Demise of America

7:54 pm in Uncategorized by Donald Goldmacher

With the signing of NAFTA in 1993, Democratic President Bill Clinton signed a death sentence for the middle class in America, thus implementing the next phase of Republican Pres. Reagan’s dismantling of our economy. Yes, NAFTA was the Reagan administration’s idea.

I am writing this brief diary today in order to alert  Kossaks that the news today is very ominous for us all, and is an indicator of how much disinformation we have been fed these past 3 years by both the government and Wall treet. Today’s job report seems to have been a shocker for both Wall Street and the Obama administration, but not for ordinary Americans, or, for that matter, workers around the world. As the MSM has become a monopoly for a handful of companies, the truth about the worldwide economy and ours has been hidden.

Sadly, the truth is we are in the midst of an unprecedented economic downward spiral, as a result of 30 years of deregulation of the economy (and, yes, that means Wall Street and the other banks), accompanied by tax breaks for the 1% and corporations, and the continued growth of the Military Industrial complex. The upcoming national election will solve none of these issues as both parties are committed to continuing these failed policies.

If one looks carefully at job growth during the Bush years, half of the jobs were a result of the housing bubble, not manufacturing growth. You don’t see any housing construction, do you? So where will the jobs come from? Our grim reality is that large corporations have abandoned this country, and they are not coming back, unless you are willing to cut your salary in half. And that’s exactly what GM and Chrysler did to the UAW with our tax dollars.

So what is the 99% to do? Keep protesting? Well, sure, but maybe we need to get serious about creating a new cooperative economy, that is local, green, sustainable and works for the rest of us. I will be writing more about this in the coming days, but let me end with the prediction of Prof. Alan Blinder(he of the Clinton era Federal Reserve) that the US is going to lose another 30-40 million(yes, million) white collar jobs over the next 10-20 years. It’s called outsourcing.

Here’s a little clip from the film Heist:Who Stole the American Dream? that says it well. Full disclosure-I co-directed this film with Frances Causey. Where are the Jobs?