A food fight arises out of America’s new “jobette” economy

Establishment economists are asking: Why are so many people so glum? The Great Recession ended in 2009, they note, and job creation is picking up. So come on people – get happy!

Establishment economists are asking: Why are so many people so glum? The Great Recession ended in 2009, they note, and job creation is picking up. So come on people – get happy!

With Labor Day in mind, maybe we should clue these economists into one big reality behind our so-called “recovery”: Most Americans haven’t recovered. In June, median household income was still $3,400 less than when Wall Street’s crashed our economy in 2007.

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Why? Because those new jobs are really “jobettes,” paying poverty wages, with no benefits or upward mobility. In the Great Recession, about 60 percent of the jobs we lost were middle-wage positions, paying approximately $14 to $21 an hour. Most of those jobs have not come back. Instead, of the jobs created since the recovery began, nearly six out of 10 are low-wage, paying less than $14 an hour. A central fact of the new American economy is that all of the wealth gains go to the top, with working-class people falling into poverty, increasingly unable to make a living at their jobs.

To grasp this widening inequity, befuddled economists might bite into a burger or pizza. Seven of the 12 biggest corporations that pay their workers the least are fast food giants. Yum! is one. Workers in this conglomerate (which owns Pizza Hut, KFC, and Taco Bell), average $7.50 an hour. In contrast, the CEO hauls off $20 million every year, even as Yum! lobbies against any hike in our nation’s minimum wage.

This is no way to run a business, an economy, or a society. It’s shameful. And, at last, these ultra-rich exploiters are beginning to be publicly shamed by grassroots coalitions holding one-day strikes with thousands of fast-food workers across the country. As one church leader put it, “It’s a matter of justice.” Yes – and that’s what Labor Day has always been about.

“Median Income Rises, but Is Still 6% Below Level at Start of Recession in ’07,” New York Times, August 22, 2013.

“How the recession turned middle-class jobs into low-wage jobs,” The Washington Post, February 28, 2013

“The Low-Wage Recovery and Growing Inequality,” Data brief from National Employment Law Project, August 2012

“Battling the bastards is about as much fun as you can have with your clothes on.”

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