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News ::
09 Jun 2003

By G. Dunkel
Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the June 23, 2003
issue of Workers World newspaper


By G. Dunkel

Workers in the United States know times are tough. Whether you're
shaping up in a 7-11 parking lot, catching a job every other day, or
using your high-speed Internet connection to surf job banks and mail
hundreds of resumés, you are going to have a hard time finding work.

The figures bear out this feeling. A half-million workers lost their
jobs this year, making a total of 2 million jobs lost since the
beginning of 2001 when Bush took office. It now takes a worker on
average 20 weeks to find a job, the longest since the recession of 1984.
Statistics for undocumented workers are not collected by the Bureau of
Labor Statistics, even though they make up a substantial sector of U.S.
workers. Anecdotes in newspapers from across the country indicate they
are facing the same slowdown.

Wages are also starting to slip as producer prices decline. The BLS in a
report issued the last week of May states that the compensation for
civilian workers increased by only 1.3 percent in the first three months
of this year.

But that's not the whole story. Accord ing to an analysis of government
data by Jared Bernstein and Lawrence Mishel of the Economic Policy
Institute in Washing ton, wages, when adjusted for inflation, are
falling for workers across the board. They found that the median weekly
paycheck fell 1.4 percent over the past year, and that workers in all
pay grades, white-collar and blue-collar, had taken a hit. (Bob Herbert,
"Caught in the Squeeze," New York Times, May 29)

The Commerce Department, one of whose tasks is to prepare reports for
businesses that need to make investments, released a report May 30
showing workers' compensation fell sharply in April for important
sectors of the U.S. working class, even as "personal income increased
$4.0 billion, or less than 0.1 percent."

This decline is not just due to large layoffs and the loss of overtime.
Workers are getting paid less per hour, according to BLS reports.

There are lots of ways to pay someone less without cutting their salary.
Bosses reduce benefits, extend the working day, cut out breaks. They
also hire new workers at a lower pay scale than current workers. They
can claim financial inability to meet their payroll and force the
workers to take less pay or do more.

In Oregon, for example, some school districts fired their janitors and
bus drivers and told their teachers to do that work as well as their
own. Other school districts there shut down weeks early or got their
teachers to work without pay.

The actual decline in the income of working people in the United States
can be seen in what is happening at food pantries throughout the
country. In the recent past, these charities mainly served single men
with substance abuse problems. Now they are serving many working
families who can't make ends meet.

Because workers are earning less, sooner or later they will lose access
to credit to maintain their living standards. When this happens, the
U.S. economy is going to face a major problem. The average household's
credit card debt is up to $8,000, and many people have huge mortgages
and car payments as well.

There's nothing automatic about wage increases or even wage stability
under capitalism. The tendency, in fact, is for the bosses to keep
demanding more work for less pay, citing the pressures of competition--
until the multinational working class puts up such a broad fight that
the bosses have to raise wages. n

- END -

(Copyright Workers World Service: Everyone is permitted to copy and
distribute verbatim copies of this document, but changing it is not
allowed. For more information contact Workers World, 55 W. 17 St., NY,
NY 10011; via e-mail: ww (at) Subscribe wwnews-
on (at) Unsubscribe wwnews-off (at) Support the
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