People are going into debt for the majority of their lives in order to get the college degree that’s necessary for many jobs, yet that BA has become less and less valuable over time. Why should people invest so much in their training if it’s not going to pay off?
Yup. My notes about it being fucked up were hashtags. The expectation of personal dignity has become a luxury.
Oh I get that. But your comment gave me an opportunity to discuss the alarming trend of work being severely undervalued in this country, which I’ve been wanting to bring up.
I remember reading articles years ago about how productivity in the U.S. jumped by a huge amount in the ’90s, which was one factor for the economic boom of the Clinton years. But the fruits of that productivity have not being equally shared. And the invisible hand of the market isn’t responsible for the enormous wealth gap in this country—there have been deliberate policy changes that have led us to this new Gilded Age, in which we’re expected to be grateful for being paid anything at all.
Basically: Fuck Ronald Reagan.
I made 25K with a BA working a full time research-heavy desk job. I worked in the Chicago Loop. Basically: Aww, how cute
Yeah, that’s the thing. NO ONE is being paid enough. The people at the very, very top of the pay scale have experienced a huge jump in income, but everyone else is being underpaid. I just saw an article the other day about a federal judge who was looking for a law clerk who would work for him for free:
This is the practical endpoint of a social system that has produced a vast oversupply of bright, ambitious, hardworking and highly educated young people, who are increasingly desperate for any sort of employment that bears a vague resemblance to the kind of work they thought they were being trained to do. The zero-salary job is merely the logical extension of what has been called “the internship rip-off,” which allows employers to exploit unpaid labor under the guise of educational training.
Casualization is happening in both blue and white collar jobs. And employers are expecting both white and blue collar workers to work for less money and fewer benefits. And the fact that white collar workers are being underpaid is a means of turning them against blue collar workers. If you’re not getting paid that much for your white collar job, then why should a retail worker get paid more? Eric Loomis characterizes the class warfare this way:
So much of our ideology about workers is looking down on blue-collar labor. They aren’t educated so they deserve to be at the bottom. Plus I have a college degree and I have an unpaid internship. I am so lucky to get this “job” and I am so valuable with my bachelor’s degree in journalism from Michigan. So if I’m not getting paid, certainly those losers should be getting even less.
The thing is, almost everyone is being underpaid. Work in general is being undervalued. Everyone is working harder and investing more in their education and skills, but income hasn’t risen to match increases in productivity. And that’s because the very wealthiest among us are effectively cutting wages and salaries so that they can pay themselves the most. The 1% are making off with the lion’s share of this country’s wealth while the rest of us squabble over the scraps.
Wall Street, the real victims
This Bloomberg article by Max Abelson is bursting at the seams with outrageous quotes from high-profile Wall Street executives responding to attacks on the wealthiest 1%:
- “Who gives a crap about some imbecile? Are you kidding me?” - Bernard Marcus, Home Depot co-founder, on Occupy protesters
- “It still feels lonely, but the chorus is definitely increased.” - John Allison, BB&T Corp. director
- “Instead of an attack on the 1 percent, let’s call it an attack on the very productive.” - John Allison
- “I am a fat cat, I’m not ashamed. If you mean by fat cat that I’ve succeeded, yeah, then I’m a fat cat. I stand guilty of being a fat cat.” - Ken Langone, Home Depot co-founder
- “You have to have skin in the game. I’m not saying how much people should do. But we should all be part of the system.” - Stephen Schwarzman, Blackstone CEO, on low-income households not paying income taxes
- “If I hear a politician use the term ‘paying your fair share’ one more time, I’m going to vomit.” - Tom Golisano, billionaire and founder of Paychex
And my absolute favorite…
- “You’ll get more out of me if you treat me with respect.” - Leon Cooperman, billionaire and former CEO of Goldman Sachs’s money-management unit
Over the last quarter-century, the vast majority (81.7 percent) of increases to wealth have gone to the wealthiest 5 percent, while those in the middle saw declines in their wealth.
Whether in Egypt or the United States, young rebels are reacting to a single stunning worldwide development: the extreme concentration of wealth in a few hands thanks to neoliberal policies of deregulation and union-busting. They have taken to the streets, parks, plazas and squares to protest against the resulting corruption, the way politicians can be bought and sold, and the impunity of the white-collar criminals who have run riot in societies everywhere. They are objecting to high rates of unemployment, reduced social services, blighted futuresand, above all, the substitution of the market for all other values as the matrix of human ethics and life.
The global protests of 2011 have been cast in the American media largely as an “Arab Spring” challenging local dictatorships— as though Spain, Chile, and Israel do not exist. The constant speculation by pundits and television news anchors in the United States about whether “Islam” would benefit from the Arab Spring functioned as an Orientalist way of marking events in North Africa as alien and vaguely menacing, but also as not germane to the day to day concerns of working Americans. The inhabitants of Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan clearly feel differently.
An interesting piece pointing out the similarities of student-led protests around the world. I found it particularly valuable since it discusses protests in places like Chile and Israel that were not widely reported on in the U.S.
It makes sense that old people would have more money than young people, because they have been working and saving longer. But this wealth gap is massive by historical standards. In 1984, old people were a mere 10 times richer than young people. Not only have old people gotten richer since then, but the median net worth of households headed by young people has declined considerably.
Households headed by adults ages 35 and younger had a median net worth of $3,662 in 2009. That marks a 68% decline in wealth, compared to that same age group 25 years earlier.
Over the same time frame, households headed by adults ages 65 years and older, have seen just the opposite. Their wealth rose 42%, to a median of $170,494.
It gets worse, for young people: “37% of the young households held zero or negative net worth in 2009, up from 19% in 1984.”
The fact that this gap is getting worse helps explain why so many older Americans don’t get it, when the young people complain. The amount of debt young Americans take on today is way higher than it used to be, the opportunities for class mobility are shrinking, and the life choices that worked for earlier generations looking to join the middle or upper classes (college and homeownership) have largely become massive rip-offs.
…It is the primary argument of the austerity pushers (and their allies, the deficit hawks) that young people should give in and accept that “we” can’t afford to sustain the fairer society that older Americans enjoyed. That argument would be more convincing if the current Bad Times were affecting everyone equally, instead of simply the already young and poor…
Clark Durant, Republican and businessman, on the wealth gap. He’s running for a U.S. Senate seat in Michigan.
Just what this country needs—one more oblivious, wealthy, white guy in charge.
I recently listened to an interesting segment by On The Media about the etymology of the word, “occupy”. It brought to mind a thought that has been percolating awhile: Public spaces like parks and streets are not really ‘ours’. We, the people, pay for their creation and maintenance, but we don’t actually own these places in the sense that you or I might own a piece of land. Public property is public only in the sense that it’s owned by the state.
On its face, this seems like a total ‘duh’ statement, but it’s actually kind of strange when you consider something like the Occupy Wall Street protests.
What I find endlessly fascinating about the Occupy movement is that its main action so far has been claiming and occupying public sites like parks and municipal buildings. In a way, it might be more accurate to describe the Occupiers’ actions as reclaiming places that are supposedly open to all of us. The Oakland Occupiers were pointing out, by their very presence, that their City Hall wasn’t a place for everyone. Or at least, not for the unemployed, the homeless, the young, the dark, the marginalized, the poorly dressed, and the non-conforming. They were highlighting the fact that very few of us are actually welcome in our seats of government.
That’s why I find the advice that Occupy protesters dress in business casual to be terribly misguided (and fishy, given some of the sources of this kind of advice). Of course well-dressed people with the appropriate licenses and permits, and the funds to buy these things, are welcome in public places. The lesson: you should look and behave exactly like the people who are oppressing you in order to be taken seriously. Of course.
The obsession with the aesthetics of the Occupy protests (in every respect) perhaps makes sense if you compare the (temporary) situation of protesters to homeless people. It’s a matter of course for the police to harass and evict homeless people who sleep or even just sit in parks, bus shelters, and sidewalks. Neither the Occupiers nor the homeless are using these public sites as, according to the law, they ought to be used. They are breaking the law simply by their presence. Parks are for approved recreational activities during sanctioned hours. Bus shelters are for travelers. Standing or sitting aimlessly on a sidewalk can get you a ticket for ‘loitering’. Living in any of these places is illegal.
If one views these facts through a vaguely Marxist filter (as one does), then the pro-capitalist intention behind these ordinances against misappropriating public spaces becomes clearer. Being obviously unemployed in public places is illegal. Being obviously poor in public places is unlawful. One is reminded of the Anatole France quote:
The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.
Tweak this a bit and the absurdity of official and police actions against the Occupy protests is stark:
The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep in parks in wintry conditions to protest pro-corporate government policies, and to be tear gassed and injured by the police while demonstrating against the undemocratic concentration of power in the economic elite.
The Occupy movement chose its name wisely. The protesters are occupying spaces that are public in name only. Living in Zucotti Park and other spaces supposedly intended for the public’s use—when they are actually spaces reserved for the (visibly) employed and non-impoverished—is a means of reclaiming these spaces for all of the people…not just business men on their lunchbreaks. The continuing occupation of these public sites without official permission is a symbolic rebuke of inegalitarian government policies that favor the few at the expense of the many.
Simply by being in places where they’re not supposed to be, the Occupy protesters are saying, “this land is our land”—a message that politicians, pundits, journalists, and the wealthy have forgotten. The United States of America is not their land; it’s our land.