Thursday, December 4, 2014

Workers Get Screwed, Market Rises

Let’s take a little trip through the business section of today’s New York Times and see what we can learn, shall we? (The link is here, but I’m working from the paper copy so the articles are arranged differently).

 On the first page, we are greeted with the following headline: “Regular Bills, Irregular Work: Unsteady Incomes Are Keeping Millions Behind on Bills, And Undermining Savings.”

It tells us that seventy million people are underemployed, and that most of their jobs are part-time or seasonal and only pay shit wages. As a result they are falling behind on their bills and slipping into poverty. Apparently this is some kind of big surprise to the business reporters at the New York Times. To most of us, this story is about as revelatory as a headline that reads: “White Officer Kills Unarmed Black Man And Gets Away With It, Again.”  

Economists call this situation “income volatility,”which is the best euphemism I’ve heard since the invasion of Grenada was referred to as a “pre-dawn vertical insertion.”

Let’s move on to item number two, right next door on page one: “Study Finds Violations Of Wage Law In 2 States.” It turns out that some noble job creators in New York and California are cheating their workers by not paying them the full minimum wage. The study finds that “more than 300,000 workers in each state suffered minimum wage violations,” and “if one assumes a violation rate half that nationwide, that would mean two million workers across the nation were paid less than the federal or state minimum wage.” Brace yourselves for another shock. Most of these workers are in the “restaurant and hotel industries, educational and health services, and retail and wholesale.”

So we’ve got marginalized part-timers living in chronic anxiety and despair, and downtrodden service workers getting ripped off by employers who are too fucking cheap to pay them seven dollars an hour.

Meanwhile, the news on B10 tells us that “Economic Data Lifts Market to New Highs.”
 The Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index rose 7.78 points, or 0.4 percent, to 2,074.33. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 33.07 points, or 0.2 percent, to 17,912.62. Both indexes closed at nominal record highs.
“Things are better than you think,” an economist says. Boy howdy!

The very next article has even more good news. It tells us that the US economy is “resurgent” because 208,000 jobs were created in November. But, it cautiously adds, “wages continue to lag.”

I’m not an economist, but I think this might have something to do with the fact that most of those new jobs were created in the service sector, where, as we were just informed, people are only hired on a part-time basis and many are blatantly being ripped off. But growth trumps income volatility in America, so be happy.

So let’s condense these stories into a single headline: “Workers get criminally screwed, stock indexes rise.”

Next up, David Brooks, Ezra Klein, Matthew Yglesias and the rest of their sheltered and myopic little tribe will wonder why the people are so disgruntled in spite of these hopeful statistics. All the charts and models and graphs say they should be happy, but they aren’t. What gives? David Brooks will call his sociologist friends to get to the bottom of this weird cognitive dissonance. What will he come up with, I wonder. Lack of meritocratic virtue among the working class?No grit? No capacity for delayed gratification? Unrealistic expectations? Your guess is as good as mine, and it won’t matter a bit because it will all be bullshit anyway.

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