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Grace Ross The State of Those of us Who Work for a Living

Tuesday, September 04, 2012


Grace Ross, GoLocalWorcester MINDSETTERâ„¢

On Labor Day, 2012, I was looking for a term for the state of jobs for those of us who have to work for a living in Massachusetts: a state of disarray at best. First, we entered this economic downturn less some 85,000 jobs in comparison to the rest of the country. And that was even with money authorized for jobs in the best paying sectors in our economy; that money has gone unspent even with all of the rhetoric –especially by certain Massachusetts democrats – about jobs.

I’m all for jobs. I’m not interested in rhetoric at all.

Unemployment Rate

This past month saw an uptick in the unemployment rate in Massachusetts; this is in line with an increase in unemployment rates across the country. While folks want to tout that our unemployment rate is low in comparison to the rest of the country, that may just reflect how unemployment is officially counted not how many folks are without jobs.

Here’s the spin-warped reality: The increase in the unemployment rate bizarrely may actually be a sign of increased expectations of jobs. The official decrease in the unemployment rate was close to perfectly tracking the rate of increase in discouraged workers. The official numbers do not measure the number of unemployed working age adults; the Bureau of Labor measures some subset who are by some warped definition “actively searching for work”. So the decrease in “official” unemployment was not measuring the number of folks who were getting jobs, it was measuring the number of folks who were giving up and no longer actively looking for work by their definition.

The recent figures showing a one-third drop in the last six years (since 2006 when our most recent state administration came into office) is only one part of the bad news. Manufacturing jobs have continued to drop off in Massachusetts – we had dramatic drop off since 2002.

Construction Jobs Continue to Fall

The local trades leader that I spoke to this morning at the Worcester Labor Day breakfast said that he thinks the construction jobs are off closer to 40% in our local area. The same report quoting the 1/3 decrease also says that they expect the number of construction jobs in Massachusetts to continue to drop until 2018. That’s a long time. Add to that no turn around in the manufacturing sector – and the best paying job sectors are looking bad.

And since it’s also the 100th year since the Bread and Roses strike, I will remind folks that manufacturing and construction jobs were considered the most dangerous and underpaying jobs until they became the most unionized job sectors – they still are the most dangerous and worst paid in developing countries where they are no safety protections and good wages and benefits hard won by unions.

The flip side of this is that what job growth there has been has not really helped the spending power of those of us who work for a living. On top of real wage cuts for many who still have jobs, the growing job sectors pay the lowest wages – near minimum or minimum wage jobs. Nationally 66% of lowest wage jobs are in the lowest paying sectors of our workforce; the vast majority of them are in major national corporations, not the small businesses that both create the most jobs normally and create jobs that pay better.

We can’t fix the job situation until we can face the reality that minimum wage jobs are not in small businesses – they are in McDonalds and other chain stores and employers of over 100 workers at the smallest. Increasing minimum wage does not hurt small businesses because they’re not the ones who employ at minimum wage – it helps them because either their costumers and costumers in general will have more money to spend.

The minimum wage jobs being added are in the sectors projected for the most new jobs for the foreseeable future! The low pay rate of minimum wage jobs is not helping the profitability of our local businesses because those savings ends up being for the hugest corporations: the ones whose profits turned around at the beginning of 2010.

Now the biggest companies are profiting off of low wage jobs just as they’re the companies that generally pay no taxes and in some cases even get tax dividends from our national government.

Need Small Business Growth 

If we know that jobs and decent paying jobs are usually created by small businesses then one thing government can and must to turn around the job crisis (and actually provide jobs with incomes that people could live on and help rebuild our local economies) is to even out the playing field; stop making big corporations pay less in taxes than our small businesses. They should be paying taxes at least at the rate that our small companies do.

Our small businesses need to stop carrying the tax burden for huge corporations that are not paying a comparable share. And similarly, we need to increase the wage minimum so that big corporations have to start paying their workers what our small businesses pay. It’s called evening out the a wildly out of balance playing field.

It’s not just that we had a bad recession. We’re not pulling out of it and that’s part of what creates a lengthy depression. And when regular people don’t have enough money to spend, that’s not going to change. So long as the biggest corporations pay no taxes and pay their workers terrible wages to squeeze out the largest short-term profits they make it impossible for our local businesses to compete and for the majority of working people to get decent wages to spend a decent enough amount of money and turn our economy around.

I don’t care about political rhetoric. Scott Brown says he is running to create jobs but his economic votes will just feed into this continuing economic stagnation. He can hold as many job fairs as he wants to hold. It’s not that people can’t find the jobs out there. Right now, hundreds of resumes come in for every single opening; it confirms that statistics that there are way too many folks needing jobs and not nearly enough jobs out there.

Hats off to Warren Campaign for trying to put out the well proven reality that infrastructure jobs and matching up the need for pay for the work that needs to be done: everything from hiring the teachers that our kids really need if they’re going to do well in school to rebuilding manufacturing and putting to work all those construction workers out there.

In our state, the money’s already been authorized and just needs to be borrowed (at today’s zero interest rates for governments) and the Governor can do that.

It’s all no brainers. Rebalance the economic playing field, put spending into areas where we know the jobs that will be created will be good paying jobs.

Get off the rhetoric horse and start talking about the proven reality. Those of us who work for a living have to live in reality. It’d be nice if the politicians would join us there.


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