What Working-class and Poor White People Need to Understand About Rich White People
Jonna Ivin-Patton

..I’ve been mentioning many of these points for a while now in blogs and social media. Trickle down is the “Big Lie” of the last 35 years. Wages for most workers flatlined in the 80s while costs and productivity demands continued to rise unfettered. Organised labour became the boogeyman of conservative Republicans, and their policies along with anti union sentiment served to keep wages down while profits went up.

In the 1960s a CEO made between 20 – 25 times of what the average company employee earned. Today it’s 200, 300, in some cases even 400 times what that company’s worker makes (and this isn’t adjusted for inflation).

With all the tax breaks to the wealthy and corporations, money flowed to the top rather than “trickling down” to the rest of us causing the gap in wealth to widen at an ever faster pace. Today, that gulf is greater than it was during the robber baron days of over a century ago and looks to only widen further with more tax breaks going to those at the top. Odd that 60 years ago when the wealthy paid a 90% tax rate they were still rich beyond the dreams of everyone else, just not obscenely so as it is today. Same for corporations which paid a higher tax rate as well. They still made profits and actually paid workers a living wage as that made for better employee morale. The only tax breaks they received were for when they invested in their workforce and/or expanded operations here at home thus creating more jobs.

Under Mr. Reagan, that all went out the window with the handing out of deep unconditional tax breaks under the promise (lie) that it would trickle down to all of us. Had that been the case, wages would have continued to rise apace with costs and productivity demand rather than flatline like they did.

As wages for the most part continue to stagnate, the value of one’s work (measured by purchasing power) continues to decline as it has for decades. 46 years ago I made a true living wage for the day: 6.45$ an hour (13,400$ a year). Taking into account just inflation (no promotions or pay raises) in 2013 dollars that had the purchasing power of about 36.50$ an hour, or just under 76,000$ a year. In my last job before being laid off in 2013 (the reason I used that date for the figure above instead of 2018), I made 11.50$ an hour (just under 24,000$ annually) in pretty much the same occupation (warehouse and shipping) but also added to those responsibilities I also had to co manage two departments and the account of the company’s primary client (making for more than a full day as I often ended up working on my own time so I wouldn’t fall behind). Extrapolating that wage back to 1972, my purchasing power then would only have been 2.03$/hr (4,222$ annually), barely above minimum wage for the time and less than 1/3 of what I was earning in that first “real” job I held. The big difference the warehouse job back in the 70s was union scale, whereas the job I last left (after 20 years with the same company) was an “at will” non-union position.

This is where the work world has ended up for most Americans. Regressive policies like At Will employment , Right to Work laws, and Forced Arbitration serve to keep wages low by keeping workers under the thumb of management which has gained immense power in the workplace. Rock the boat a little, like asking for a bit more compensation when the workload is increased, and you are written up or even sacked (at my company the attitude was “if you don’t like it “there’s the door, we’ll get someone else”), just like the “bad old days” of the early 20th century.

The blue collar (non “professional”) sector (which I was born into) used to be the “backbone” of this nation’s middle class. Today it pretty much represents the working poor. What were once seen as “white collar” professions that required a post high school education and degree back then, have today become the “new” middle class (or what is left of it).

One thing not touched on in the article that I often hear is “go get training to get a better job”. Well that’s all nice and such if you have the money and time to take off from working for several years to go to school full time for a “marketable” degree. For most working people this means taking on a mountain of debt in educational loans (which are becoming more restrictive under the current administration) that can take years if not decades to pay back (particularly at the current interest rates). You run into financial difficulty or you lose that job because the economy goes south again (as it most certainly will) you are still required to keep paying off those loans. You can’t file bankruptcy (like Mr. Trump would do when things went bad) to erase the debt, it sticks with you for life (and if DeVos has her way, possibly even beyond).

This is also how the system is rigged to keep people on the low end of the economic food chain by making it seem discouraging (who wants to be in debt a good part of their life?). Meanwhile those at the top continue to make more along with the corporations raking in bigger profits they pay little to no tax on, which they hoard in offshore accounts rather than use to improve the lives for their workers (who are the ones actually keeping the company in business in the first place).

A year or so ago I read an interesting article in the WaPo about what likely could trigger the next deep recession. It wouldn’t be the banks, another housing bubble, a car loan bubble, or anything like that, instead it is the ongoing decline in purchasing power of the working class. True, it would be accelerated by certain policies (like the two tax cuts, the latest increase in military spending, and Mr. Trump’s private little trade war), but the seeds for it have already been sewn and are beginning to sprout. Unfortunately when the bottom does fall out, those at the top will be well insulated while the rest of us (including all those diehard loyal Trump followers) will be the ones who pay for it all with loss of livelihood, homes, cars, and pretty much every thing else we worked for.