Labor day 2015
Propaganda is intended to mislead. Often it gives a rosy picture when reality is beset by problems. It deflects our opinions from the real world so that we do not even question the fantasy pictures we are being fed daily. Propaganda is powerful because it makes us gullible.
We are daily being told how the economy is getting stronger, how unemployment is receding and everyone is better off day by day. During the recent upeavals in the stock market, commentators regularly followed their reports of sharp drops in the stock market indices with emphatic claims that the economy itself was in good shape and there was not a thing to worry about.
Labor day with its ritualized celebration of American Labor is such an exercise in propaganda. Working people in America today are mostly suffering. Wages are insufficient for large numbers. Work itself is intermittent and unemployment is at high levels. If official unemployment numbers seem to be going down it is not because more people have full-time work but because more and more people are getting completely discouraged and stop looking for work. Our economy is not capable of providing a good job for everyone. The government is unable or unwilling to become the employer of last resort for those who cannot find work in the private sector.
According to the Guardian "Between 1979 and 2013, the hourly wages of middle-wage workers (those who earned more than half the workforce but less than the other half) rose just 6% – less than 0.2% per year. Low-wage workers fared even worse, with wages falling 5% over the same 34-year period." The wages of many workers have been essentially flat since the early 1970s. Critical sectors of the workforce have lost ground.
These statistics do not adequately represent another important change. The range of jobs available has shifted from well-paying, unionized manufacturing jobs to jobs in hotels and restaurants where pay is notoriously low and the workers’ pay often depends on tips. Not only have wages remain stagnant or gone down but more and more working people have jobs that do not pay enough for them to live without food stamps, subsidized housing, and other government assistance.
In recent years, the majority of food stamp recipients have been people who have jobs. According to Fox News "Food stamp participation since 1980 has grown the fastest among workers with some college training." Many jobs do not pay a living wage. We may hear a great deal about the dignity of the American worker and similar drivel from people whose job it is to spread propaganda – prominent business people, politicians, ministers and college professors. But the decision makers in this society have no respect for their workers but, instead, take advantage of them in any way they can.
According to a recent study, there are 1.5 million households that have less than $2.00 cash income per person per day. They survive with the help of family, soup kitchens, food pantries. They try to raise cash through prostitution, muggings, or donating blood frequently. Many of them survive because they end up in prison.
The 1996 Clinton era "welfare reform" tied welfare support to having a job. The original bill provided for government employment for welfare recipients who could not find work in the private sector. Later Republican revisions of welfare regulations eliminated the government provision of jobs. Welfare reform amounted to insisting that welfare recipients have a job in an economy in which there were not enough jobs for welfare recipients. When college graduates or workers with some college education cannot find work or have to work minimum-wage jobs, the job prospects for people with less education are grim. And just when the outlook is really bad for them because they lost her job or their hours had been cut, they are also no longer entitled to government assistance.
Let's talk some more about the dignity of American labor!
The latest indignity visited on low-wage workers is the employer's insistence that they be on call for cleaning, selling cups of coffee, filling fast food orders. If the local franchise hamburger joint is uncertain whether they will need an extra worker or not, they will tell one of their employees to be on call. If they need the person they will be called in. If they are not needed they don't get paid. But while they are on call they cannot go and work somewhere else and thus make some money. The employer insists that they possibly forgo a day’s wages as a condition of being called in some other time.
In an economy that does not provide jobs for everyone who is looking for one, that does not provide full-time work for everyone who wants to work full-time, and that does not provide jobs that pay enough for people to live comfortably with their families, providing welfare payments only to people who work is a cruel joke.
Estimates of America's expenditure on war vary considerably. The lowest estimate is more than $500 billion. Some estimates are twice that amount. If we spent less money killing people all over the world, we would be able to create jobs at home where a great deal of work is not being done because our military adventures are a bottomless pit. The resources for bridge maitenance or school renovations are, instead, given to the military.
Instead of tired propaganda about the American worker this would be a good time to advocate moving resources from war to providing living wage for working Americans.