I Knew It: Even those of us fortunate to have jobs may not have it so great

Yes, yes, those of us who have jobs are supposed to be grateful. Especially when we hear from friends and neighbors another story of someone–maybe an educated professional like ourselves–who has been out of work for six, eight, 10 months. A year or more.


On the other hand, I have a theory–a hunch–that some employers are taking advantage of the recession and economic hard times to decide to pay existing employees less, or to cut back–in some cases way back–on employer contributions to health care.

Here is a story from today’s NPR’s Talk of the Nation, which says that unemployment continues to hover above 9 percent. But for the 90 percent of the U.S. workforce with jobs, the recession’s impact on paychecks is a mixed bag. Fewer co-workers can mean more hours for some, but for others, it can mean a cut in pay or perks. You can listen to the show or read a transcript. The show includes an interview with Steven Greenhouse, the labor and workplace reporter for the New York Times and the author of The Big Squeeze: Tough TImes for the American Worker.

Here’s a quote from Greenhouse:

So American wages over the past decade haven’t been doing very well. The last time wages for a typical American really boomed was in the late 1990s during the high-tech boom and when unemployment was at its lowest level in 40, 50 years, down below four percent.

So, like, from 1995 to 1999, wages really boomed, and that was kind of unusual because in the previous two or three decades, median wages were flat. For men, wages, for the typical male worker, wages were actually declining over the previous two decades.

Now, with the unemployment now nearly 10 percent, that generally weakens the bargaining power for workers. And over the past year and a half, median wages, after-inflation wages for the typical worker have been absolutely flat.
And I think that’s one of the reasons so many people are saying we need a lower unemployment, not just to put more people back to work, but to give more leverage, more bargaining power for workers to get higher wages.

If you’re working somewhere and aren’t happy with your salary, your chances of finding a better-paying job, you know, will increase of course when the economy picks up, when the unemployment rate drops. When there’s more competition…

Greenhouse adds:

A study done by some professors at Northeastern University shows that orporate profits have gone up nearly $400 billion since the beginning of the recession. But, you know, wages are only up about $70, $80 billion, and that’s almost the exact reverse from the 1982, ’82 recession, when the nation was recovering from recession, wages went up far more than profits.”

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