Meet the Middle Precariat

By Alissa Quart, author of “The Republic of Outsiders” and “Branded”, is the editor for the nonprofit Economic Hardship Reporting Project. Originally published at Capital and Main and the Guardian

Precariousness is not just a working-class thing. In recent interviews, dozens of academics and schoolteachers, administrators, librarians, journalists and even coders have told me they too are falling prey to an unstable new America. I’ve started to think of this just-scraping-by group as the Middle Precariat.

The word Precariat was popularized five or so years ago to describe a rapidly expanding working class with unstable, low-paid jobs. What I call the Middle Precariat, in contrast, are supposed to be properly, comfortably middle class, but it’s not quite working out this way.

There are people like the Floridian couple who both have law degrees—and should be in the prime of their working lives—but can’t afford a car or an apartment and have moved back in with the woman’s elderly mother. There are schoolteachers around the country that work second jobs after their teaching duties are done: one woman in North Dakota I spoke to was heading off to clean houses after the final bell in order to pay her rent.

Many of the Middle Precariat work jobs that used to be solidly middle class. Yet some earn roughly what they did a decade ago. At the same time, middle-class life is now 30 percent more expensive than it was 20 years ago. The Middle Precariat’s jobs are also increasingly contingent—meaning they are composed of short-term contract or shift work, as well as unpaid overtime. Buffeted by Silicon Valley-like calls to maximize disruption, the Middle Precariat may have positions “reimagined.” That cruel euphemism means they are to be replaced by younger, cheaper workers, or even machines.

This was brought home to me at a legal fair with thousands of attendees this winter. Between the small plastic gavel swag and the former corporate lawyer building a large-scale Lego block version of Van Gogh’s Starry Night, there were booths advertising software that reviews legal documents. That software helps firms get rid of employees, including attorneys, and might soon make some of the lawyers on that trade-show floor extinct.

Other professionals describe how they must endure harsh non-traditional work schedules, much like their retail worker brethren. They work on weekends and late into the day and barely see their children. At the end of the year, they just break even, all the while retaining debt from college and even graduate school that they will never be able to repay.

While households that make anywhere from $48,000 to $250,000 can call themselves middle class, to group such a wide range of incomes under one label, as politicians love to do, is to confuse the term entirely.

A worker at a tech company in California I interviewed has two jobs and commutes at least an hour each way to one of them, much like the working class Precariat does. He can’t afford to live anywhere near his offices—San Francisco is the most expensive housing market in the country, with an average rent at $4,780 for a two-bedroom apartment as of April.

They and other members of the Middle Precariat I have spoken with over the last three years are ostensibly bourgeois, but with few of the advantages we used to associate with that standing. They may not be able to afford their mortgage payments or daycare, health and retirement savings or college educations for their kids. They also usually can’t afford a car for each adult, summer vacations or gym memberships, those status markers of the past. Indeed, some have resorted to SNAP and other federal benefits from time to time.

The Middle Precariat also may be threatened by the rise of the robots, like their working-class peers. Like the lawyers at that trade show. The numbers confirm this: in 2014, only 64 percent of law school graduates had jobs that required bar passage. In 2013, unemployment was at 11.2 percent with underemployment numbers even higher. (By contrast, in 1985, more than 81 percent had full-time legal jobs and only seven percent were not working at all.)

Journalists also have the machines nipping at their heels. Last month, tronc, formerly known as the illustrious Tribune newspaper company, demonstrated the rise of the Middle Precariat: tronc’s inadvertently hilarious branding videos celebrated artificial intelligence over photo editors, reporters and the like, replacing them with optimization and something called content funnels.

Even nurses may soon join the Middle Precariat. The National Science Foundation is spending nearly a million dollars to research a future of robotic nurses who will lift patients and bring them medicine while keeping living nurses “in the decision loop”, even though nursing is one of the few growth industries that allows for upward mobility.

The Middle Precariat, as the 2013 McKinsey Global Institute report on disruptive technologies explained, will only grow, as highly skilled workers are put on the chopping block and the “automation of knowledge work” expands. Soon to come are robot surgeons, robot financial workers, robot teachers and perhaps, robots that can take their mimicry of recent college graduates to the next level and argue that Beyonce’s Lemonade is feminism while drinking a micro brew.

It’s reached a point where this threatened class has begotten a layer of consultants to fix the problem. In San Francisco, Casey Berman counsels economically and professionally desperate people who happen to be lawyers. “There is an easier, less painful, less stressful and lucrative way to make money,” Berman’s site Leave Law Behind reads. When I spoke to him a few months ago, he told me that he sees his mission as “motivating” former lawyers that are now broke and frustrated to do something else with their lives.

But retraining and specialized psychotherapy aren’t the only answers. We need broad-based fixes. Universal subsidized daycare. Changing the tax code so it actually helps the middle class. Real collective bargaining rights for Middle Precariat workers. Paid leave to keep mothers from exiting the workforce against their will. Fair hours, not just for McDonald’s workers, but also for adjunct professors.

We also need to question the pundits and companies that incant “artificial intelligence” as a mantra, even as they are celebrating a future where so many middle-class humans’ jobs may be jettisoned. And we can start to rebuke terms like “machine learning” or “disruption,” unmasking them—along with “the billionaires”—as some of the culprits.

Reporting for this piece was supported by Economic Hardship Reporting Project.

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135 comments

  1. rc

    There needs to be serious consideration of universal basic income, healthcare and advanced education.

    1. oho

      you can’t have a universal income with current immigration policy and citizenship laws.

      one reason why the Swiss reject the idea wholeheartedly

      just being realistic.

      1. Strategist

        Who’s reality might that be?
        How about a worldwide universal income? Seems logical. How much would it be? Could we afford it? (Can we afford not to do it?)
        I would gladly live on one tenth of my existing disposable income if offered security on basics with regard to health & other public services, housing, leisure time etc

      2. zapster

        Oh, I dunno. Considering the number one problem we have now is lack of demand from too little money circulating, we could just reframe it. “Hire the poor to distribute money.” Need all the warm bodies we can get to move enough into circulation to reach anywhere near the productivity levels we once had. And robots don’t buy stuff.

        1. Tony Wikrent

          The number one problem right now is stopping and reversing climate change. Solving that gives us the opportunity to solve lots of other problems, such as the low velocity of money circulation resulting from high income inequality. The Chinese last month proposed a $50 trillion program for a world renewable energy system. That gives us an idea of the scale of new spending required. Add in building seriously dense urban rail transit systems (for example, we need to at least double the density of Chicago’s, and btw, did you know there is no rail transit connection to LaGuardia airport?) and connecting urban centers with high speed rail systems (yes, including in Africa), is probably another $10 to $20 trillion. Then, replacing or refurbishing every house and building on earth for a zero-carbon footprint would make a nice 30-year project, and another $100 trillion in spending. Probably more like $200 trillion. Now, you’re looking at an unprecedented increase in demand for labor – hundreds of millions of construction workers, electricians, plumbers, other tradesmen, then all the manufacturing to do all this, so, more steel workers, machinists, etc. We stand at the verge of a new golden age of capitalism. We just need to replace a financial system that can only engage in masturbatory self-trading with itself, with one that actually finances world economic development. And get rid of usury: Margrit Kennedy and others have estimated that a third of all economic activity is devoted to paying off interest costs alone.

          Around 2050 or so, when we have gotten all this done, we can start worrying about the impact of robots on employment. In the meantime, we need to absolutely annihilate conservative and libertarian thinking that prevents us from thinking of actually sharing prosperity.

          Truly, as the Bible warns: where there is no vision, the people perish.

          1. Russell

            This sort of action puts climate as a priority problem in order of its importance.
            It is dependent on one world government.
            The Empire to survive will do it maybe.
            Of course looks like the plan is war with nukes for cooling.
            Soldiering for employment and in general post WWII Loans to losers for better banking days.
            Little bleak with some limits on bombs or nuclear winter whip saws US off the planet.
            (Writing this with a n Amazon Fire with a A I spellcheck shows Theodore Sturgeon world of stupid.)
            I do say it is smart leaders who call on engineers for solutions in both mechanisms and systems.
            Profoundly depressing article.

  2. oho

    “We need broad-based fixes. ”

    In today’s fractured, identity politics era, you’re not going to get broad fixes. Identity politics (played by both sides) is one of the reasons American politics is so messed up right now.

    Tax reform? ….say by capping mortgage interest deductions. You lose bicoastal upper-income liberals.

    Immigration enforcement? or H-1b visa reform? you lose liberal activists.

    just sayin’.

    1. Pirmann

      Two things that would help the middle class:

      1. Get rid of exempt status.
      2. Reduce the work week to 4 days, 32 hours, with a required true up to current annual earnings.

  3. That Which Sees

    The plague of H-1B visas has much to do with the damage done to middle class college graduates with STEM degrees. Both Sanders and Trump have stated that H-1B = Wage Suppression. Another reason for Sanders supporters to consider biting the bullet and voting for Trump. I know… distasteful doesn’t even begin to cover it……. but Hillary “I serve Goldman Sachs” Clinton is worse than Trump on most issues critical to Sanders supporters.

    Here is a good illustration of how Walt Disney used H-1B to illegally replace US workers earning a decent wage:
    http://cis.org/sites/cis.org/files/Disney-Death-Star-Full-Screen.html

    1. TulsaTime

      Trump would no more impede H-1B visas than he would walk away from the presidency if he won it. In fact, Trump could not be counted on to honor any comment or commitment made in the campaign, because he will always look for the money, regardless of what he might say. Any vote for Trump is wrong.

      1. zapster

        Clinton’s record shows she does the same. And she’s interested in starting WWIII to boot. We’re being tag-teamed.

      2. Jeff

        Not a particularly meaningful claim about Trump’s future actions in my opinion. Is there any evidence to back up your assertion? I can’t think of any.

        We’ve heard Trump talk of taking protectionist measures with international trade, I would think curtailing H-1Bs would go right along with that.

        Compare this to Clinton’s TTP support….

        1. sharonsj

          Trump has surrounded himself with extreme right-wingers whose advice will hardly be beneficial to the middle and lower classes. He may talk about lousy trade deals and foreigners taking our jobs, but he outsources to China himself and his contractors hire Mexicans. And he doesn’t seem to understand that most of what he proposes cannot be accomplished by the president alone.

          On the other hand, I don’t trust Clinton to turn down the TPP. So we are completely screwed.

      3. Norb

        Clinton will talk of helping the working class and then betray that sentiment the moment she is elected president to continue pursuing the neoliberal agenda. She has demonstrated that characteristic repeatedly.

        Who knows for sure what Trump will actually do. He is more of an unknown that Clinton. Trump should concern liberals, because if and when trump betrays the working class when actually in a position of power, and sworn to protect the people of the nation, whomever comes after will be much more damaging to the status quo. Force will be the only remaining option for change. Conflict around the world has neoliberalism for its root cause.

        Another round of Self destruction of the elite.

  4. WJ

    A few addenda on the professorial sub-species of the Middle Precariat:

    A. 75% of all credited courses being taught by adjunct labor ($4,000-$5,000/per class; no stability; no health insurance)

    B. Tenure protections eroded, as increasingly universities make use of the “Change in Scope of Educational Program” proviso to fire tenured faculty.

    C. Administrative class in concert with Board now holds all real power; professional administrators no longer consider themselves faculty, but rather view themselves as (a) managers; (b) social entrepreneurs; (c) “leaders”; (d) other such titular pablum served up by the corporate business class whence they take their direction.

    D. Federal loan program combined with burgeoning administrative class produces short-term, “market-driven” approach to enrollment: get those students; get those dollars. This results in university resources being directed to unnecessary and inefficient but ostensibly attractive building initiatives to win students (and their loan dollars). This process inevitably leverages most private universities to the point where any decrease in future tuition dollars would render the university unable to meet its operating budget–thus providing them with further justification for further retrenchment and realignment of faculty positions.

    E. University education rapidly becoming wholly instrumentalized. Intellectual inquiry and contemplation, discovery, wonder and so forth are no longer seen as the point of advanced study in either the humanities or the sciences. Rather, any field is justified only so long as it leads to student “success”–i.e. stable employment over a certain income threshold immediately subsequent to graduation. (The students, who are forced to take on huge amounts of debt even to receive an education in the first place, understandably fall prey to this ideology; I do not blame them.)

    F. Overall, the work culture at many mid-tier public and private universities has become similar to what you would find at any similarly sized corporation: the administrators represent the executive and upper managerial set, the faculty and physical plant staff represent the labor, and students (federal aid dollars) represent the customer. The customer must be kept happy and returning; labor costs must be continually decreased; and “leadership” (in concert with the boards of universities) must be willing to shake things up to compete on the market.

    G. All that said: still, if you are lucky enough to have a tenure-track job in the humanities or sciences, then you do still have it pretty damn good compared to the rest of the people in this sad excuse for a republic.

    1. Uahsenaa

      Entirely on point, though I would add:

      A. There’s also the matter of how many classes you teach in any given year, which in my case fluctuates between 1 and 6 (grossing, since I get paid more per class, anywhere from a pittance to a modest salary). Adjuncts regularly have to cobble together a living wage with work at several institutions.

      C. They don’t consider themselves faculty, because increasingly they aren’t faculty in any meaningful sense. More and more, corporate executives are airlifted in to run things with no experience at all in academe.

      D. In Iowa, state funding was recently tied explicitly to the number of in state students attending. This meant the UI, with its larger resources, was able to poach in state students from the other two public universities and maintain its funding levels largely to the detriment of both ISU and UNI.

      E. External grant funding plays a large role in this calculus as well. Admin will let you get away with anything if you keep bringing in the government grants.

      F. The stratification isn’t quite right here. Administratively, faculty might be one block, but politically and practically speaking, tenured and tenure track faculty are functionally administrators. They have real administrative responsibilities–the 20% in the infamous 40-40-20 job breakdown–and their class interests clearly align with their “superiors.” Whenever grad students or contingent faculty try to push back against admin., tenure faculty regularly try to cajole and coerce them back into submission, mostly to protect their own privileged status.

      1. NeqNeq

        re: A

        The numbers of courses is really important. Some schools (states? Dont know for sure) are putting limitations on teaching at multiple institutions. Which makes life really difficult for those trying to make a living this way. More and more schools are handing out jobs to the recently retired, but not ready to stop working, crowd.

    2. Left in Wisconsin

      75% of all credited courses being taught by adjunct labor ($4,000-$5,000/per class)

      I think this overstates the average. At my local presigious State U, it’s $7-8K, but most of that teaching is done by graduate students (who also get health care, though it’s contributory) and it’s understood that they are “overpaid” because they need to be able to live on this.

      But at the local CC, which employs many more adjuncts, it’s more like $2K. And at the local for-profits, which are basically all adjuncts, it’s more like $1500.

      1. NeqNeq

        Those numbers sound about right. This is an old link but relevant. Link

        mean wage at 4year university was about 3k per course.
        CC instructors between 1.2k and 2k.

        But there is large variations depending on state, school, and department. Flagship schools pay way better than satellites and smaller schools.
        Harvard pays way better (11k per course!) than flagship state schools.
        Engineering pays better than English.

        Its hard to make meaningful generalizations given the large disparities.

      2. Lune

        Those numbers are insane.

        I have an idea: given that students are paying ~$5k per course (private tuition of $40k for 4-5 classes / semester), why not just hire the same adjunct to be your personal, private teacher for a semester?

        But I forget: the real value of that sheepskin (no longer real either) you get in 4 years is the signalling it provides, not the actual education.

    3. different clue

      Do students really represent the customer? Or do students represent the iron ore deposit being mined or the stand of timber being logged? Or maybe the cod being fished out of the sea?

      1. Carla

        Students were never “customers,” and I’m not sure they should have been. Certainly, education hasn’t been the point for a long time. But yes, I would say students are the cod. And everyone on Facebook is iron ore.

  5. Ranger Rick

    Here’s my definition of middle class: An adult able to afford a home, a car, and recurring monthly expenses (utilities, food, clothing, finance) on less than 50% of their wage income.

    Almost nobody is in the middle class.

    1. WJ

      Ranger Rick,

      My wife and I collectively make around 100K per year; we have four kids; student loans (30k in sum); relatively little consumer debt (5k); and own a modest, 290K house. I cannot remember the last time we have been able to save any money during any month of our expenditures; either we are very bad with our money, or not even 100K/annum really counts as “middle class”. My suspicion, though, is that “middle class” has been redefined in terms of ready access to credit rather than ability to accumulate savings. For while we don’t have any savings to speak of, our credit scores are excellent. (I think I have, ridiculously, something like a 25K limit on one credit card alone.) But the problem we and many others like us face is the fundamental inability to escape debt; any chance event; any emergency; any “extras” in addition to our mortgage, health insurance, gas, groceries, etc. each month–anything like this will need to go on the credit card. And once you put it on the credit card, you have that much less per month to work with, as you’ve just squeezed yourself a little tighter. Perhaps “middle class” should mean something like: ability to use something other than credit to pay for emergencies/vacations/occasional dinners out, etc?

      Cheers
      WJ

      1. Ignacio

        I think yours is a good definition. How many times i’ve read about the mythical resilience of american consumers? Are we witnessing the end of that resilience?

      2. aj

        This made me cry a little inside. I can identify wholly. Except in my case, I can’t even afford a down-payment on a house, so I’m paying a ~20% premium for renting. I don’t have children so maybe that counter-balances a bit. My credit is excellent (almost but not quite 800), but besides my 401(k) I can’t afford to save anything and all unexpected expenses have to go on credit. We never go on vacation because we can’t afford to. I gave up on having a typical “middle class” lifestyle many years ago. Now I just go along, and hope my 401k savings will be adequate enough to live on when I retire, which probably won’t be until 70-75. The really sad thing is that plenty of people I know are worse off. How has it gotten this bad?

        1. Buck Eschaton

          I don’t think people realize just how bad it is. When I grew my parents worked manufacturing jobs. My father only made it through 8th grade and got his GED, but they were able to pay cash for new cars and cash for both the houses we lived in growing up, albeit they were small and in small towns, but still, not something my college educated wife and I could do. We can make all the bill payments, but I can’t imagine what would happen if one of us got sick. It is really bad for a very large percentage of people.

        2. different clue

          Many books have been written on various aspects of how it has gotten this bad. The total overall answer has more facets than a horsefly’s eye. But a couple of good books I can offhand think of are Barlett and Steele’s . . . America: What Went Wrong and America: Who Pays The Taxes. Those titles come from memory so I went googoogling to find a link.
          http://www.barlettandsteele.com/books/am_wwr.php

          The International Free Trade Conspirators also helped a lot of it go wrong. NAFTA and everything forward. And perhaps everything all the way back to GATT Round One of 1948 or whenever, which was the opening act of the International Free Trade Conspiracy’s entrance upon the World Stage.

          And resource depletion coupled with wealth and income redistribution away from the middle-class-and-below up the ladder to the upper-class-and-above.

          And I have seen referrences here and there to part of a speech Paul Volker gave where he said the middle-class-majority would need to have their standard of living shrunken down. And policies were crafted to shrink it down.

          Does anyone else have specific suggestions about particular information-sources about particular things the ruling classes did to make it get this bad? If so, would this be the start of a subthread where lots of people pile in with lots of links and referrences?

          1. east

            A response from Eastern Europe here:
            Because your neoliberal leaders don’t fear anymore the alternative provided by the Eastern Bloc and because your unions are quasi non-existent, they have tightened the screw on you. Simply as that.

            Marx – I think – said that the Revolution will come from the highly developed capitalist countries. Any ideas why it still doesn’t?

          2. Russell

            Actually you could read Killing the Host and Fine Print by Michael Hudson and David C. Johnston.
            Economic History as keys on Amazon throw things up.
            BOAK History of Rome to 565 is as good as anything else.

    2. Carla

      @Ranger Rick: My mother, who lived through the Great Depression, always said, “If I can live on a dollar, I can live on 90 cents” so she saved 10% of everything that came in, and she never had any trouble managing her finances — or her life.

      I know, those were very different times, but even then, “middle class” people could not live on 50% of their income. That was, and remains, only for the rich. Oh, and what lucrative field was my mother in? She was a widowed piano teacher who raised two daughters and paid for 100% of their college educations with savings accounts she had started when they were born.

      1. AnEducatedFool

        lol, are you seriously making this comparison?

        The era that boomers grew up in is dead and they killed it.

        A piano teacher would have to live in a rent controlled apartment or section 8 housing plus have all food costs covered by SNAP to even have a hope of making a payment on a car or repair, cell phone, cable, and utilities.

        This of course all changes if the departed husband left a house and pension that the widow could use.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Generations do not have agency. And did you miss that Ronald Reagan, Alan Greenspan, and Robert Rubin (to name a few of the key actors in the instiutionalization of neoliberalism) were not boomers? Or that the move to the right was engineered and launched in the 1960s by extreme right groups, many of them like the Cohrs brewing family, were also Birchers? And that the document that institutionalized it was the so-called Powell Memo, written by former Supreme Court Justice Louis Powell, on August 23, 1971? Tell me exactly why that should be blamed on boomers. In addition, voting for Reagan correlated most strongly with income. This was class warfare, not generational warfare, and that’s what it remains.

          1. RMO

            Well, my fiancee is a very popular piano teacher – she also teaches music theory and history – she has worked as much as seven days a week (8 full hours most days too) and the most she has made in a year was $47,000. Canadian. She’s been doing this job for just over a decade and in the early years she often had trouble making enough to eat and had to do a lot of mending of clothes so she wouldn’t be naked. Now she does have enough money to have a phone, internet and a laptop but no car. Fortunately she lived close enough to the school she taught at that she could walk. She’s looking forward to moving in together because this will drastically reduce how much of her income goes to rent and because she can start up her own teaching practice in the house we will share.

            No way could she (or her colleagues) make enough doing this to pay outright for a place to live, food, transport, two kids and University costs for them these days.

          2. eleanor rigby

            Wow. Thanks for the tip about the Powell Memo. That fills in a gap for me about what happened to disempower the 1960s movements. I learn so much from this site.

    3. Indrid Cold

      I was part of the middle class back up through the late 80s. I think more and more people keep hearing the political apparatchiks bleating about the ‘middle class’ and are realizing they’re not part of it.

  6. Pirmann

    One reform that would help the middle class would be to get rid of the FLSA Exempt status.

    While I’m sure that was initially meant to be of benefit to both the company and the worker, at this point only the company benefits. I, for one, have never been in an Exempt role where being at work less than 40 hrs/week was acceptable; in fact, most times corporate culture dictates working far more than that. Yet the paycheck reflects only 40 hours. This also has enabled companies to downsize with impunity, as the remaining Exempts can always pick up the additional work, and additional hours, at no additional cost to the company. Get rid of Exempt status, pay by the hour, and maybe companies won’t be able to afford to let so many people go.

    Secondly, we should reduce the standard work week to 4 days and standard hours to 32 per week, while requiring a true up of wages to ensure that workers are not taking a hit in the process. This can be controlled via creation of a third weekend day, as well as modifying labor laws to consider hours in excess of 32/wk to be overtime.

    1. jrs

      I’m with you, eliminate exempt status and enforce the law. Even management should not be exempt (a lot of management positions aren’t even particularly well paid and even reforms only eliminate the most egregious abuses).

  7. afisher

    I will wait for the arguments against this information. What will happen when these people reach retirement age or worse when a major illness or Alzheimer’s appears in that cohort. I am fortunate, I’m retired and with a small pension that pays the bills and had a decent job so that my Social Security check makes life comfortable, although some would probably not judge it as such.

    What I am seeing is that many retirees that I know don’t seem to give a damn about the next generation or anyone other than themselves. Interestingly, they refuse to believe that the GOP want to dismantle their healthcare and retirement program – or maybe they are wealthy. I reside in TX, which may be one of the explanations of the Senior blindness syndrome.

    1. tegnost

      if you are at that age I’m guessing you got out before the tsunami of student loan bondage where individuals are a social security number that can be garnished until death, they really don’t care if no one can pay if they can get their hands on your social security. Me and mine are 100% and completely screwed and have been for many years now and why we voted for hope and change but got bait and switch instead, now we came out of the underbrush to vote for bernie but he was unceremoniously kicked to the curb and we’re subjected to lectures about needing to get in line behind the dismantling of healthcare in favor of health insurance and an absence of jobs that have any form of retirement program. But since garnishing social security is so popular among the goldmans of the world I expect that a least the garnishable portion of my meager social security is safe…and just to be perfectly clear the dems are right there with the gop on razing your future. Do you think hillary will not make the “grand bargain”, and if so, why?

      1. Spring Texan

        I don’t think they can garnish more than 15% of your SS and they can’t let the SS drop below $750 a month.

        Which is still terrible, but you should still get 85% of your meager social security.

        1. Carla

          Congress can — and does– change the rules whenever their funders tell them to. I think the bit about garnishing SS to pay college debt came in during the Bush admin, but I’m not sure.

          And BTW, they garnish not only the student’s eventual SS, but of course the SS accounts of parents and grandparents who were foolish enough help their progeny by co-signing for their college loans. Egregious and disgusting.

        2. mk

          If it costs $600/month to pay for your medicare, that leaves $150/month to live on… forever… which might no be that long at $150/month.

      2. pissed younger baby boomer

        I am disabled on S.S.D.I. I went to a CC in California . I was the class (1984) to have free education .We paid for our text books and parking fees (car decals ) for our cars . I lost faith in the 2 party system of our state and federal government ,both Hillary and Donald would both do the grand bargain against retirees and disabled. Last month my mom broke her hip ,She is now in rehap center . Long term care expenses is the grand rip off. My sister in South Dakoda is moving here to Oregon ,where I live .We are going to be my moms CNA’s .
        WE NEED SINGLE PAYER HEALTH CARE NOW !!!!

    2. different clue

      The Clintonite Obamacrat also wants to dismantle these programs. That’s what the Grand Catfood Bargain is about, after all.

      Has anyone done surveys of millions of retirees to see what percent do and don’t care about coming generations? Are the retirees you know an outlier or are they typical? Without mass data, how can we know?

  8. Auntienene

    If robots are replacing workers, then who will be the customers, patients, clients, tenants? More robots? Are we to be reimagined as the scrap heap?

    1. Lambert Strether

      Simple Answers to Simple Questions: Yes.

      The owners of the robots will do fine, just fine. Meanwhile, the rest of us can squabble about identity politics, without considering who owns what at all (or who buys and sells labor power, and who does not).

      1. rickc

        actually the wealthy can just sell to each other and do very well..
        99% of the population can serve as virtual slaves. It worked pretty well in many latin American countries for decades

  9. PlutoniumKun

    A point worth making of course is that when a job is replaced by a machine, the income that previously went to the worker, now goes to the owner of the machine. So its not a ‘loss’ of income, its a ‘transfer’ of income. Everyone seemed to think this was fine when it was working class people who suffered, but it can become a huge political issue once it bites deep into the professional classes. The problem might be that by the time they collectively realise whats happening and start to organise to make the political changes necessary to stop it, it might be too late – they may well be so weakened that they simply won’t have a say anymore.

    I think the support for Sanders among younger collage students and grads show that they ‘get it’. But sadly this hasn’t filtered upwards. By the time it does, it will be too late, there will have been another half decade of Clinton or a Republican in charge, or their European equivalent.

    1. JacobiteInTraining

      I sure hope the robots eventually seize the means of production.

      We workers sure failed miserably.

    2. Harry

      Not too late. You would be amazed what you can do in a democracy with majorities in both houses. But I guess the idea is to start that drift from as far to the right as possible. This fight is just kicking off but ultimately its going to be about whether we keep democracy. If we remain democratic the trend will eventually reverse. The only question is whether you have any assets left.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        I think the point I was trying to make is that right now, the ‘middle classes’ still have a lot of influence and power – the professional classes too. The problem is that while I think everyone has an awareness of the issue, its not enough for people to realise radical measures are needed. By ‘too late’ I mean that there will come a point where those sectors of society lose their political strength, just as globalisation destroyed working class power too fast for them to react. By the time they realised what had happened, they found themselves politically emasculated, left high and dry by their supposed supporters. The same thing can happen to many elements of the professional classes – its already happened in academia and many parts of the public sector.

    3. a different chris

      > the income that previously went to the worker, now goes to the owner
      Right, and then we “need another job”… the stupid thing, is no we don’t. A robot is a “labor saving device” and they should in toto save labor.

      So how do we (in a non-French revolution manner) change society so that when robots replace 20% of the jobs that we all work 20% less –rather than have 20% more of us unemployed? We might get some traction once doctors and lawyers really start feeling the pinch – heck they are in general easier to replace than say garbage collectors, surprisingly enough. You find, IMHO, that human dexterity and simple situational adaptation (hey the garbage can isn’t there, let me holler up and see if somebody is home) is way farther beyond machines than mostly rote mental tasks.

      1. aj

        Remember when the vision of workers of the future was George Jetson pushing a button? He had had a flying car, a nice house, and even a robot maid. That was the vision 50 years ago.You can also find it in Popular Science magazines from that era. The increase in efficiency was shared between the owners and the workers. This was almost taken as a given. How very wrong we were.

        1. habenicht

          …speaking of George Jetson, I like to explore this idea with people in social settings (after a drink or two):

          What is the end game of technology? Are we all going to be living large someday or will we all be out of work and penniless serving an overlord? I think people can grasp that technology (as it is sold to us by and large) is supposed to make their lives better. In practice technology has given us conveniences, but at a real and perhaps larger cost in terms of lost incomes and jobs.

          I guess time will tell.

      2. Synoia

        I suspect there is a hidden cost of robots.

        Energy requirements, maintenance and working life, and Total Cost of Ownership.

        First, good luck with the robot operating a 3 meals a day – I suspect it will need KW of energy, a large carbon footprint, and possibly a bank of batteries. Second I do suspect the working life of robots in nowhere near 40 years. Finally please show me how the robots can be laid off, and expenses cut, specifically how the robot user escapes creditors who funded the purchase and use of the robots.

        Nowhere in “the rise of the robots” have I read of these issues being fully addressed.

        1. visitor

          Energy requirements, maintenance and working life, and Total Cost of Ownership.

          And another thing: a massive overhaul of their working environment.

          Buildings, roads, storage facilities, networking: everything must be re-designed and re-organized so that robots can actually move around, re-supply themselves with electricity, water, or whatever consumables they require, communicate reliably with each other and with command and control centers (which themselves, cloud or not, will require huge aggregate power, air-conditioning, communication provisioning), etc.

          Think automatic vehicles. What Google & co discovered is that they really need those nice white and yellow lines on roads for robotic vehicle to drive; a simple asphalt road on the country-side at night, and the robotic vehicle cannot figure out what is road and what is a ploughed field.

      3. ChiGal

        Yes, seems to require a paradigm shift.

        Adding, “robotic nurses who will lift patients and bring them medicine”: since the human touch in health care is so overrated – NOT, it’s the opposite

      4. NeqNeq

        Not sure if doctors will feel the ‘pinch’ of robotics. At least not anyone but the GP at doc-in-a-box places.

        In display of quasi-union power, or the power of the well off, a robotic anesthesiologist was discontinued. Link

        My friends doctor repeatedly told her that the robot was dangerous (literally it was going to kill almost everyone) and that he would not do her procedure if she elected to use it.

        No wonder sales of the device were…lackluster.

        On the flipside: She spent close to 25k on the hospital anesthesiologist who was not part of her health plan. So somebody’s mortgage was paid that month.

    4. different clue

      Trump may be a “Republican” . . . but he is not a CLINTonite Republican . . like all the Brand Name Republicans are. And by “Clintonite Republican” . . . I mean a Grand Catfood Bargain Republican against Social Security and Medicare . . . just like the garbage dirt filth sh*t Clintons and their Obama placeholders.

    5. Epistrophy

      A point worth making of course is that when a job is replaced by a machine, the income that previously went to the worker, now goes to the owner of the machine.

      Here we see an interesting problem. How can there be personal income tax in the absence of persons to tax? Technology is going to require a new way of structuring government revenue, away from humans, it would seem.

  10. Arizona Slim

    Not a word about freelancers and other so-called independent workers. What about us? We’ve been getting screwed in the precariat for DECADES.

    1. Harry

      We are all waiting for the precariat to be the majority. And for people to make a leap of the imagination. But dont worry we appear to be heading there.

    2. Arizona Slim

      And did you notice that none of the presidential candidates had anything to say about the 1099-ers?

      Oh, yes, Bernie had quite a bit to say about people working two or three jobs, but those people are employed. And they’re covered by employment laws that do NOT protect freelancers.

      We’ve been screwed for a long time. Welcome to the club, Middle Precariat.

      1. jrs

        I don’t think you know how bad it can be for people who are employed and how little legal protection they have. I would NOT assume that low wage workers are protected by employment laws that don’t protect 1099-ers. Sure technically overtime laws and the like may exist but they kind of depend on the goodwill or at least fear of the law of employers. Many employers DO obey the law. But there is also massive law breaking going on with wage theft of on the clock employees. Labor law is being broken all over.

  11. Philip Martin

    When I was growing up in 1950’s-60’s-early 70’s USA, a middle class income meant:

    1. Mom didn’t have to work.
    2. Regular doctor visits and healthcare, without worry of bills.
    3. Regular dental care, ditto.
    4. Pension plan for dad
    5. A new car every few years
    6. Affordable colleges–a student could “work his way through college,” at most state colleges and universities.
    7. Ability to save money for a rainy day.
    8. Able to buy a new home with affordable payments, not a huge home, but three bedrooms, two bath, two car garage in a nice neighborhood.
    9. Able to afford a vacation for the family every so often.
    10. Able to afford nice clothes and furniture–no need to visit thrift shops or garage sales.
    11. Able to afford some small luxuries: air conditioners, color TV, hi-fi/stereo and records, books, magazines, liquor, good food, the night out.
    12. Able to pay tuition to Catholic grade and high schools on top of weekly donations to church.
    13. Able to afford life insurance for every member of the family.

    This is what my family had and experienced while my mom stayed home and my dad worked as an installation foreman for the telephone company. His earnings topped out at the end of his career at $75,000 in today’s money, not counting benefits. Not a huge life, but not a small life, either. My sister couldn’t have a horse, and I had to work to get enough money to buy my first car, a jalopy, but so what? Life was stable. What happened? I work just as hard as my dad did, and unlike him, I have had second jobs, but I don’t have what he had at my age. I’m not a spendthrift, either.

    I don’t expect either presidential candidate to be able to turn this around, either.

    1. James Levy

      Agreed, to an extent. But the number of black and Hispanic families that enjoyed that lifestyle in those years was, honestly, miniscule, and few gave a shit or even noticed. Ditto rural people. A whole lot of family farms disappeared in those years and rural poverty increased.

      For the white male industrial workforce things have gone way downhill. For many other Americans, they haven’t changed much, got a little better, or got a little worse. What we need are 99% solutions that can’t be used to divide us. These are hard to come by when the Republicans and Democrats are so good at divide and rule. and they are not easy when millions of Americans see themselves as potential “winners” and don’t want to associate with “losers.”

      1. The Heretic

        James Levy,
        I think the black communities in the north and north eastern USA, especially those in michigan, would disagree. Life was much better for them when detroit was in full swing.

        Blacks and were lower on the ‘totem pole’, back then, but being under the umbrella of an industrial union was a much more comfortable scenario than today.

    2. pdxjoan

      And, I would add, if you’ll pardon me, Mr. Martin, that in the 50’s and 60’s the retail bank credit card either didn’t exist or was not widely available (at least, not in the midwest where I grew up). When our family hopped in the station wagon for a vacation, my Dad had a wallet full of cash, not a wallet full of credit cards.

      Today, the banks line up to offer me credit cards. But, if I tried to withdraw enough cash for a family vacation, then apparently I would be interrogated by the bank and turned over to the FBI. What a world.

      1. rufus magister

        Back when we had unions, you got paid enough that you didn’t need to resort to credit cards and home equity for daily expenses.

        The world that PM, myself, and others on thread grew up ran pretty much until “The Reagan Revolution” and was largely eradicated in the 90’s.

        And do not overlook the destruction of the Soviet Union and the “the red menace” in that decade as well. Too egregious violations of civil rights and too crass exploitation of the proles was not on, lest it be grist for the Kremlin’s mill.

        1. zapster

          And the Clinton surplus which sucked all the cash out of the real economy and forced everyone into credit cards instead.

  12. tony

    Blame Rich, Overeducated Elites as Our Society Frays

    So why is it important that we have a multitude of desperate law school graduates and many more politically ambitious rich than 30 years ago?

    Past waves of political instability, such as the civil wars of the late Roman Republic, the French Wars of Religion and the American Civil War, had many interlinking causes and circumstances unique to their age. But a common thread in the eras we studied was elite overproduction. The other two important elements were stagnating and declining living standards of the general population and increasing indebtedness of the state.

    Peter Turchin has written about elite overproduction being one feature of a collapsing society.

    1. FluffytheObeseCat

      A great, pertinent, high quality link:

      “Elite overproduction generally leads to more intra-elite competition that gradually undermines the spirit of cooperation, which is followed by ideological polarization and fragmentation of the political class. This happens because the more contenders there are, the more of them end up on the losing side. A large class of disgruntled elite-wannabes, often well-educated and highly capable, has been denied access to elite positions.

      Sounds quite a bit like where we are today.

      My problem with this framing is that I do not see us as having an ‘over-population’ of elite, but rather an inadequate supply of decent life options. The intra-elite competition he notes is real, but it’s being produced by loss of opportunity, not over-supply of opportunists.

      I think that may be true of his historical examples as well. I don’t think pre-Revolutionary France had excess quantities of elite people. It was a diminution of opportunity — over decades — that made this society angry, ugly and unstable. Too much power had been concentrated aux environ de Versailles in the 18th century. That had occurred as a zero-sum shift, with much loss of power and wealth among those just below the top tier.

      Having said that, if our law schools continue to over-producing trained, debt-ridden young attorneys, the PTB will rue it sooner rather than later.

      1. tony

        Elites are subect to supply and demand. If everyone goes to law school and business school and other places meant to produce the elites of the society, there is nothing to do for them. The excess administrative positions we see might be considered make-work for the elites. But these are not good things. What we need are non-elites, farmers, teachers, cleaners etc. However, these jobs lack money and respect because the elites and wannabe elites have extracted all the income growth and treat those who don’t earn their money via intellect as lesser.

  13. Ignacio

    Reading this, I have to say how similar is the labor market in Spain but with much higher unemployment. If the middle precariat comprises such a large part of the population as I believe why on earth there is no political party in line with their (mine) needs? I think that there is a feeling of shame or guilt in the middle precariat and that’s why nobody cares to care about them (us).

    It would be quite interesting a study linking this class with voting behaviour.

    1. daniel

      While Spain has its problems and unemployment is indeed high (though not nearly as high as the official numbers), the US is a much more precarious place to working or middle class. Or really anything but wealthy.

      Spain has good universal healthcare. Supplemental private insurance is very cheap; it’s practically free by US standards. Dental care is similarly cheap. Public transportation is excellent and cheap. Public schools are crappy, but so are many in the US, so that’s basically a wash. Private schools are much cheaper than the US. All-in, Spain has much more of a safety net than America does. As for political parties, I don’t know. Neither country seems to have a surplus of good ones these days.

  14. Roquentin

    The dynamic is really pretty simple. The pool of what can be considered “middle class” jobs is shrinking, due to automation and the concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands. The number of people who want to get these jobs is increasing (population growth). In a society as unequal as ours, there are only a small number of slots available in what could be considered prestigious occupations. They lied to us and told us we could all be wealthy, successful professionals if we worked hard enough. It’s mathematically impossible for that to be true under the present socioeconomic composition of society.

    Kids are giving up on capitalism because this problem isn’t going away. It’s only getting worse. The best solution would be to organize society so people could live with working a lot less or not at all and still live well. Due to technology, we could provide for everyone and have people work a whole lot less. It’s just a problem because capitalism as it is currently practiced only allows people to earn income based on the amount of time they work. As I see it, that entire structure and the culture that goes with it is either going to have to change drastically or go away completely.

    1. Louis

      I’m in agreement that there aren’t enough “good jobs”, by any definition of the term, to go around.

      The biggest problem is that there is a widespread fear in this country, however irrational it may be, that somebody somewhere is getting something for nothing. I do believe this is why passing meaningful universal healthcare, something every other developed country has done, is like pulling teeth.

      Likewise a guaranteed universal income, while it may be a decent solution to the structural unemployment problem created by widespread automation, isn’t going anywhere. If you think passing universal healthcare is this country is hard, just try passing GUI.

      1. ChiGal

        “that somebody somewhere is getting something for nothing”

        This seems to me to go back to Albion’s Seed and the interplay between the very different cultures of the “whites” who colonized this country.

        We need to acknowledge this imaginary census category as a distinction without a difference. To lump all Anglos together is to lose the nuances of class and history that have divided them for centuries, both in England and America.

        We can only work together when we stop talking past one another.

      2. jrs

        It’s possible that a guaranteed income could vastly lessen the fear of someone getting something for nothing. Most people don’t complain that much about Social Security afterall. It’s a universal program. The fear with the few meager programs in the U.S. is that someone somewhere is say faking disability (for “mental problems” or being fat or who knows what) while one has to go to a job (or two) they hate day after day DESPITE any mental issues they may have etc…

        If everyone got an income that goes away. It’s entirely equal and universal so there is no fear that someone somewhere is unfairly cheating and thus living the life of leisure one so desperately desires even though they could “get a job”.

  15. FluffytheObeseCat

    The potential for automation of professional work is – with the exception of document searches in law – so far from being realized it’s stupid to have mentioned it in this article. The professionals and para-professionals she cites as losing ground are losing to wage suppression. Brought on by foreign competition, H1B visa holders, and lack of workplace protections for exempt or contingent employees.

    Note that the people she lists are those with non”bullshit” professional jobs: they are the ones actually teaching students, actually drafting floor plans, actually writing reports or briefs, actually coding. Like with the working class in the 80s, 90s and 00s, it is the actual producers of services that are getting screwed.

    1. Louis

      How many people 10, perhaps even 5, years ago imagined that the ability of computers to do document searches would reach a point where it impacts the employment prospects of lawyers and paralegals?

      There will always be some professional work that is safe from automation; however, not all of it is–the automation of discovery in legal work is only the beginning.

      1. FluffytheObeseCat

        The “middle precariat” however, exists right now, not 10 years in the future.

        I do database and archive searches as part of my work; I know how the search capabilities have grown in the past 6 years. It is not a net negative, unless you are in a profession like law in which guild-like earnings protections are failing as the old cannibalize the young. I simply am able to do more — to add more data points to a map or more layers, or to cite more papers — when they are all available as PDFs & image files at the stroke of a few keys.

        Outside of the law, it is the real service producers who are getting screwed right now, and they are getting screwed for socio-political reasons. The present impact of automation on intellectual services work is not sufficient to explain the eradication of earning power. Example: if automation were used more effectively in college teaching, the real universities (i.e. not Phoenix) could probably hire half their adjuncts at middle class salaries. They don’t do so because it’s cheaper to use mass numbers of them as contingent labor in ways that mimic the bespoke, personalized teaching practices of the past. Automation is more commonly an excuse to ‘trim’ staff levels and deny raises than it is a valid reason to do so.

    2. H. Alexander Ivey

      “The potential for automation of professional work is – with the exception of document searches in law – so far from being realized it’s stupid to have mentioned it in this article.”

      Ah, but you have overlooked the second prong of this fork. One is the ability of software to do ‘human’ work, but the other prong is degrading the need for high quality work down to the level that software would be ‘good enough’ for the job. Yes, a low quality job is not socially a good thing, but that is a feature of neoliberalism – society does not exist for itself, it exists only to serve the Market,

    1. ChiGal

      Thanks for reminding me to go back and read that post. So to the extent we scrape by with our credentialed wage-slave jobs (hospice sw) I would say yes, we inevitably become if not also “looters” then at least complicit with the system of same.

      There is constant and rampant “managerialism” as per the excellent Health Care Renewal blog. When folks on the front line push back too hard on actually delivering the care the organization claims it provides, well,

      “Up to and including termination…”

      I should know.

  16. Louis

    In addition to the automation, it should be noted the use of just-in time scheduling (i.e. “on call”) is not just the province of retail or restaurant work anymore. I’m informed that it has made its way into the aviation industry and some airlines schedule their pilots to be “on call” some of the time.

    Right now too many people continue to think they’re immune from these trends. A few may well be but many aren’t–you safe from things like automation and “on call” until one day you aren’t. Given this arrogance–if not outright denial–it will likely take a critical mass of people in middle-upper class professions having their jobs gutted by automation or subjected to “on call” scheduling, to force the issue to be addressed in a meaningful way.

    1. Skip Intro

      I just read short story Manna by Marshall Brain which envisioned two opposite socio-economic outcomes of a robotic and ‘cyborg’ revolution. The dystopian one was basically full unemployment with huge warehoused populations, the utopian came about by a giant incorporated cooperative where all the shareholders owned the means of production but were also unemployed, and free from want, enjoying the fruits of their robots’ labor. I have sometimes thought a large multinational made of millions of equal shareholders could make a business model that somehow valued the planet and environment, and could turn the ISDS against the looters and polluters of the commons.

      1. Bubba_Gump

        I think of Manna more and more. Most chain retail employees seem to have earpieces, for example. Some things are a little different from the story — everyone carries a mobile device that they’re on constantly. I’m sure they don’t *think* they’re being told what to do….

  17. Softie

    “As for the disappearance of the proletariat, we should recall to mind the etymology of the word. The proletariat in ancient society were those who were too poor to serve the state by holding property, and who served it instead by producing children (proles, offspring) as labor power. They are those who have nothing to give but their bodies. … The ultimate poverty or loss of being is to be left with nothing but yourself. It is to work directly with your body, like the other animals. And since this is still the condition of millions of men and women on the planet today, it is strange to be told that the proletariat has disappeared.”

    —Terry Eagleton, After Theory, 2014

    1. Synoia

      And since this is still the condition of millions of men and women on the planet today, it is strange to be told that the proletariat has disappeared.

      And we know what that brings, don’t we comrade?

    2. Epistrophy

      The space for proletariate is greatly diminished – to be replaced by the robotariate.

      1. Softie

        Using robots to replace humans is the propaganda that had been hyped to cause uneasiness among the population, so that it can divert people’s attention from the real issues in the election year, and induce a total obedience to neoliberal ideology and its violence.

          1. Softie

            Robots will create a reality that little people will likely have too much time which will likely cause some big problems for the ruling elite, unless the chronicly unemployed can be either locked up like the many blacks are today or physically mass exterminated, or even both.

            1. Skippy

              I think my point went over your head… if the – propriety code – is neoliberal the results are baked in…

              Disheveled Marsupial… elites have more than enough paramilitary to sort the unwashed and the individual responsibility PR thingy always works a treat…

  18. Jim Haygood

    Just for grins, let’s rewrite the concluding sentence of the third paragraph:

    There are stock brokers around the country that work second jobs after their trading duties are done: one woman in North Dakota I spoke to was heading off to clean houses after the final NYSE bell in order to pay her rent.

    With the Labor Dept having posted its final fiduciary rule for retirement accounts on April 8, 2016, brokers can no longer sell overpriced financial products to retirees with impunity.

    Of course, old line “bulge bracket” brokers still manage enormous sums in non-retirement accounts that aren’t subject to the new fiduciary rule — but will be some day. Then instead of heading to the golf course after the NYSE bell, white-shoe brokers may indeed have to put in a second shift cleaning their clients’ houses.

    Where are the customers’ yachts?

    1. Lambert Strether

      Carried to its logical extreme, this translates as: “To no longer be corrupt professionally is to be precarious.”

      Of course, money is speech, so I suppose whatever is monied is true, or possibly not.

  19. Steve in Flyover

    Briefly mentioned is something that isn’t discussed much. Nor have I seen any stats.

    The quality of the jobs; not just the job description, but the fact that almost all of the jobs generated are NOT 8 to 5, Monday thru Friday jobs, but are oddball shifts, working 24/7/365.

    As someone who has been working oddball shifts the majority of my work life, I can assure you that there was a lot less stress in my life on the occasions that I had a “Semi-normal”/8-5 work schedule.

    And these oddball shifts incur significant costs, compared to 8-5 work. Like child-care, assuming you can find it on second or third shift, or on weekends. (which, I might add, also reduces the much ballyhoo’d “mobility” of the US worker……….why relocate for a $5-10/hour raise, when you lose your support network, including cheap/no cost child care from grandma/grandpa/friends/other family?)

    Have been doing the same job description for 16 years. I used to be “Middle Class”. Thanks to two layoffs/department shutdowns and no raises in the same time period, I’m currently “Working Poor”.

      1. tony

        You know, if the insurance companies use historical data to price insurance, and you can overinsure to compensate for ‘reputational damage’ or something, the optimal strategy may often be to overwork airline mechanics and pilots, and to have a high turnover.

        1. Enquiring Mind

          Along the same (flight) path, at some point there will be .01%ers and their entourages bolting the civil disturbances by flying out of Teterboro, Santa Monica, Omaha and numerous other smaller airports. As they flee to safe havens or panic estates elsewhere (Paraguay?), the weak link in their exit strategy may involve flying. Their on-call mechanics and pilots must be very well-paid to buy loyalty, similar to retainers in prior Courts.

      2. Steve in Flyover

        “Our Aircraft”

        If you mean those of the 1% class, yes I do……

        The new employment paradigm in our business seems to be:

        A) – Absolutely minimal staffing, use contractors as much as possible

        B) – Run your full timers (especially if they are billing their hours to customers) into the ground with overtime.

        Seems that businesses compute their labor costs and shop rates based on a 40 hour week. When the 40 hours is up, the bennie package is paid for. But they keep the same flat rate, as if they are still paying for the bennies.

        So the money that supposedly pays for employee bennies over 40 hours goes straight into the pocket of the employer.

        What’s interesting to me is that every aircraft shop in the country is bitching about “no trained/qualified people”. But absolutely no one is offering more money to fill their open slots. (Where is this supposed “free market” of which you speak, Kimo Sabe?)

        As far as mechanics are concerned, the plan seems to be “If we can’t find someone qualified who will take what we offer, then we’ll fill the position with someone undertrained/inexperienced/unqualified who will.”

        For starters, you don’t have to be a licensed mechanic to fix airplanes. And because of bi-lateral treaties, most “heavy” inspections on airliners are done in other countries. And, unlike Europe, there is no requirement in the US to have experience or training in type. A fresh from the diploma mill newbie mechanic can legally fix a bug beater one day, and move on to a state of the art jet the next.

        Contrast this to pilots, who are currently getting huge pay raises, sign on bonuses, etc. Mainly because the FAA (and the insurance companies) have started mandating ATPs and “type-ratings”. If you have a Gulfstream V or 650, or B737 type rating, you currently have a license to print money.

      3. Steve in Flyover

        You see a lot of what I would call “kids joining the family business”

        Cops kids joining the cops. Coaches/athletes kids becoming coaches/athletes. Military officers kids going to the service acadamies. And why not? You already have a foot in the door (“White privlege”?) and it pays pretty well and/or has better job security than being part of the wretched refuse working in the private sector.

        I’d love to see a comparison on how many aircraft mechanics kids join the “family business”. After 30 years of various screw jobs, I’ll bet the number is in the single digits.

        So now (true story), you have a situation where newbie mechanics don’t know what the little lever on the back of the ratchet is for.

        1. Steve in Flyover

          Several of my buddies are supervisors/foremen at one of the Wichita OEMs, or for the big maintenance/inspection/modification shops, all over the midwest.

          The stories they’ve been telling me about the new guys they’ve been hiring will make your hair stand on end.

          1. RMO

            The old “can’t find people” B.S. again. I trained to be an aircraft mechanic (AME-M1/2) at BCIT in Canada. Got the highest marks on my class and had perfect attendance as well. Never got a job. Never even got an interview or even a response to an application. Every now and then I look at job postings and pretty much all I ever find are a tiny number which require both the license (which you don’t get in Canada until you’ve been hired and completed an apprenticeship period and passed a final government exam) and, almost always, a type endorsement too. The moan about not being able to fill positions but aren’t willing to hire recently graduated students who need to go through their apprenticeship period. Where the hell do they think the trained people are going to come from? The maintenance companies/airlines are the only ones who CAN produce the licensed mechanics!
            I do know of one guy who “joined the family business” to become an aircraft mechanic but that was quite literally a case of joining the family business. His dad started a light aircraft maintenance and paint shop back in the early 60’s an his son took it over.
            At least I manage to use some of my education as an aircraft mechanic these days because I’m the (volunteer) director of maintenance for my gliding club! Story of my life, I have valuable but worthless skills in that many of my talents are lavishly praised by my associates but none pf them actually earn me any money. Well, I did make about $200 as a musician one time, which beats out any other field I trained in!

            1. nothing but the truth

              the “cant find people thing” goes like this:

              all my costs are rising alarmingly (“deflation”), esp extortion costs of healthcare and liability insurances.

              my customers cant pay because they are pushed by necessity costs. i can pay only less to employees. I cant find employees at a rate to be profitable.

              a large part of the problem is higher asset prices. These mean higher amortization costs and is basically the cornerstone on which financial capitalism is predicated.

              so the next generation has been sacrificed by the one before for capital gains.

        2. Bubba_Gump

          We tried to hire some guys out of Lincoln Tech a couple of years ago, after they went through a program that supposedly prepared them to be field electronics technicians. To a man, they barely knew which direction to turn a screwdriver. Forget having them terminate a cat5 cable, and don’t even ask them to use the test instruments. It’s a real shame that the past generations of the smart but non-college-educated guys who have kept this world running smoothly behind the scenes with their talented hands are now being beaten and demoralized out of the workforce. Their low-paid replacements are the kids who were so dumb they had no chance for college, and so field jobs are where they end up. We’ve always had the dumb ones, but at least we also used to have enough smart ones mixed in to get the job done.

  20. Mark Dow

    I would expect you are already familiar with the precariat. Marx referred to them as the proletariat. As for me, given a choice, I’m going to go with “the proles” rather than “the precs”. I expect the elites will differ.

    1. Harry

      No but I think the middle precariat differs from the proletariat in being well educated and poor.

      But surely the problem is caused by allowing many rents to be destroyed by permitting others to build rent extraction machines.

      If this process of noncreative destruction continues, we will have many poverty stricken lawyers and a very few Uber rich partners. Many struggling doctors and a few elite consultants.

      And what of the poor suckers who invest in businesses which are having their rents eaten? No retirement for you! One giant redistribution in which the redistribution is big but the destruction of rents is bigger.

      I don’t want to live in a world where I am having rents extracted from me but I can’t extract any from someone else. What happened to my hyper educated privilege ?

  21. ben

    Sad to see so many recommending either benefit increases, wage increases or universal income.

    Double any of these, or double all of them. Rent / land prices will rise as banks adjust available credit upward. Then you pay even more interest vs your wages.

    Land value tax is all that can save you.

    Computing has allowed near 100% economic rent extraction.

  22. Epistrophy

    This is a really depressing topic. Many of the comments here are simply horrifying …

  23. Reality's Stooge

    As the 20% faux middle-class precariat start to be seriously threatened with a permanent transfer to the poorhouse will they have any empathy left for the 75% of the population thrown under the bus before them? Or will they be content with saving their own hides and who cares about the (not) working-class or those outside their family and immediate friends?

    To broaden that a bit…most Americans already passively accept the wars we wage, directly or indirectly, against countries that entertain strange ideas about pursuing interests that don’t involve fealty to American and European banks and corporations. Albright’s comment about 500,000 dead Iraqi children being “worth it” slides off the national conscience like water from a duck’s back. Even during the Vietnam War the slaughter of Vietnamese didn’t cause nearly so much outrage as the deaths of good middle-class American kids. Today is much the same. We don’t *really* care how many civilians are killed by our bombs and remote controlled Hellfire spitting drones. It’s only when Americans start dying in the tens of thousands that suddenly the nation discovers it really doesn’t like war.

    Empathy, even in better times, always comes with limits and conditions attached. In early 21st century America raw avarice and exploitation of others is simply “how things are done in these parts” and for the ever increasing number of people who are locked into a permanent struggle for survival, the fight to stay afloat can seem like a zero-sum game they must play at all cost. In such a desperate environment cultivating empathy for people outside the “tribe” isn’t exactly number one on the list. Add to this foul brew the bitter spice of identity politics (divide and rule by any other name) and the future looks bleak indeed.

    Identity politics über alles is the party line righteously spewed in all directions by liberal hucksters like the odious Clintons and their ilk. Systemic racism and discrimination and its effects are real issues that deeply affect real people and Clinton cynically hitching her decaying wagon to the long struggle for genuine justice strikes me as especially callous and morally reprehensible. The perversion of this struggle into a rabidly anti-free speech us vs. them shit slinging match led by mainly white liberals is profoundly depressing. The backlash from the “alt-right”, with self-interested conservative whack jobs encouraging bellicose outrage and one-upmanship adds more screaming voices to the melee and offers no ideas or solutions (unless race war sounds appealing to you).

    Members of the white working class (many of whom are part of the backlash against hardcoded identity politics) are decimated and reeling after the controlled demolition of the manufacturing sector. But instead of empathy they are routinely ridiculed by white liberal Democrats and denounced as racists, white trash, inbred hillbillies etc. and blamed for the poverty and associated ills afflicting their communities. (See also the media’s “omg are Brexit voters ever STOOPID” schtick the day after the referendum.) Yet when Trump (and UKIP) proved popular with disenfranchised whites the geniuses in the media were floored, absolutely dumbfounded. How did this happen? Why are they so racist and fascistic? The point, of course, was spectacularly missed. The result of this…enforced tribalism is the opening of a massive schism between black, white and Hispanic Americans and the members of the working class pitted against each other in a death match while their legitimate grievances are used and abused by the PTB to further their own interests and keep the proles in their place.

    The sagely nodding leaders, like the sociopathic HRC, who put out PR company designed press releases full of empty but superficially appealing buzzwords about ending racism and championing women’s rights and promising good jobs for all…these are the foxes in the henhouse, the wolves in sheep’s clothing…pick your favorite cliche. The only empathy that matters to these looters is the bogus propagandistic kind.

    Will the 20% of the upper-precariat who, after all, live in the same milieu as the rest of us, feel genuine empathy for all the “other” that the system has chewed up and spit out before them and attempt to form some sort of inclusive resistance, or will they look after their own and fark everyone else? I’m fairly certain it will largely be there latter….at first anyway. I don’t know how things will play out of course but I do think, generally speaking, the PTB will never relinquish or share power voluntarily. History is a pretty good guide here. They may come to their senses when the nightmares of ropes being swung over lampposts, traitorous servants and dirty, howling proles blowing open the gates and storming the mansion become debilitating…or they may be so out of touch that they will keep on going until the bitter end.

    My bold prediction is organized resistance groups and firefights and targeted killings on America’s streets within a decade. (Mortar tubes these days even come in a handy Pringles box size for the bold, yet discreet urban warrior.) No victor but dark death.

    1. S M Tenneshaw

      Your delusions are troubling and potentially dangerous to the financial order.

      A Homeland Security Positivity Squad is on its way to assist you. Shortly a full range of aversive therapy tools will be literally at your fingertips.

      Won’t you please leave the door unlocked? It would be best.

      /futurism off

    2. JCC

      “the geniuses in the media were floored, absolutely dumbfounded. How did this happen? Why are they so racist and fascistic? The point, of course, was spectacularly missed.”

      I’m not so sure that the point has been missed, but instead it is intentionally ignored/not discussed, in order to continue the “divide and rule” class antagonism that has been working so well… so far.

  24. Sluggeaux

    I unfortunately have to agree that armed and militant anarchy is on the immediate horizon. We are already seeing it in headline incidents like the mass murders in Orlando and Dallas, or their flip-side of of trigger-happy police terrified of the people who they were sworn to protect in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis. This sort of chaos is being played-out at the micro-political level from coast to coast on a daily basis.

    Global over-population, now at 7.4 billion and rising exponentially every day, makes our elites ever more fearful of having to share a piece of a pie laid at a table that is ever more crowded. It’s too late to disarm the masses, and they are increasingly nihilistic, narcissistic, and cynical about how they are being exploited.

    As Werner Herzog intoned in his documentary film Grizzly Man:

    “I believe that the common character of the universe is not harmony, but hostility, chaos, and murder.”

    In the coming decade, many of us are going to find out at first hand what anarchy really means. Unfortunately, none of us can choose whether or not to be visited by this dark death. Others will choose for us…

  25. Roland

    Being proletarian is, above all, about your relationship to the control of the means of production.

    Being proletarian is not primarily about your income level. Nor is being proletarian about your educational level.

    The essential question is this: do you need to sell your labour to those who control capital? If the answer to that question is, “Yes,” then you are a prole. And that is that.

    Viewed next to the essential question, all other indicators of status can almost be regarded as small-talk.

    It is long since time to get rid of the misconception that the well-paid proletariat of the developed countries in the mid-late 20th cent. were, “middle class.” They may have had consumption standards traditionally associated with the petty bourgeoisie, but they were always proletarians in terms of their relationship to the control of the means of production.

    The welfare states of the post-WWII Western world, by bolstering living standards, unfortunately set back the political consciousness of the proletariat. The lesson we can learn from this dismal experience is that a high consumption standard is an inadequate substitute for the control of capital by the masses.

    I guess it was worthwhile to see if class peace was possible in a capitalist society. The welfare state was a compromise in which the bourgeoisie remained in control of capital, but the proletariat had a high living standard and was accorded some social dignity. Not a bad idea, but frankly the experiment has failed.

    At least we proles know that it wasn’t us who broke the peace.

    1. ben

      Spot on. And they are making more and more of us proles all the time by ramping land prices. For most there is now no escape, a lifetime of dancing their tune.

    2. JTFaraday

      That wasn’t a “welfare state.” That was a consumption economy– call it Fordist, if you like. There’s no welfare state in the US.

  26. Barry

    These are challenging times. There are many good reads on this like Guy Standing “The Precariat: The new dangerous class, Charles Hugh Smiths ” A radical beneficial world “.There seems to be a great many groups starting and coming together like the Public Banking Istitute, Postal banking, making great strides both locally and nationally. Local investing is getting reinvigorated and Bernie has energised many young people to step up and run for office. Technology is helping to organise and disintermediate once cemented industries. I am hopeful and have changed much myself where we all must start.

  27. Steven Greenberg

    The issue is that automation will eventually make human labor almost completely unnecessary. That could usher in a golden age for the people of the world. All people’s needs met with no need to work. We do not have a social system that knows how to operate under these circumstances. How do you distribute wealth if no work is required to create it?

    This requires thinking so far out of the box, that “little” issues like H1-B visas are only a distraction. The 0.1% don;t want the rest of us to question how society distributes wealth and income now, and how it should be changed in the future.

  28. Barni

    Mussolini, who invented fascism, defined it as the partnership between (financial elites)corporations and governments in such a way that the (financial elites)corporations are the senior and controlling partners. A democracy is when all of citizens votes are counted fairly (not by rigged machinery) and the majority of voters decide how a country will be run. Very sadly my American cousins, America has never been a democracy. It is a country run by and for bankers and other economic elites from the very beginning; and who now have drowned democracy in a bath tub of debt and are about to put it in the ground. Bob Dylan said that money doesn’t talk it swears – and he was more than correct. Several American Presidents who actively opposed the likes of the very fascist and mis-nomered Federal Reserve (created by the arch traitor Woodrow Wilson) and trashed the Constitution (which states that only the U.S. Treasury can create money which the U.S. Government can spend tax and debt free into the economy) were assassinated or survived assassination attempts, starting with Lincoln and ending with Kennedy. The biggest criminals the world has ever known – otherwise known as Wall Street – have plundered literally trillions by corruption, media manipulation and by entering America in endless wars which are the biggest income earners for Wall Street with the possible exception of the last thirty years of unpunished economic (and consequent liberty thievery) thievery by Wall Street bankers and stock brokers – 1929 was just a dress rehearsal for what these fascist kleptocrats had in mind and which we are now seeing played out in our time. (I think it was around 1935 when Hitler was Time-Life ‘Man of The Year’ !!!) Putin and Russia’s big crime? Not allowing Wall Street’s owner’s minions to control Russia and jailing a few billionaires who were, even for kleptocrats, way over the top. And so the kleptocrat owned MSM has completely warped reality with a smoke screen of BS – starting with the end of WW2 and ending with the Ukraine, which now that its last democratically elected government (socialist) has been (violently by paid thugs – paid by guess who?)replaced by a conservative (minor klepto minions) allowing America to do what happened in WW2 when Japan was economically squeezed into attacking American Pacific sea power (which was threatening them) which allowed America to declare war on both Japan and their allies Germany and which enormously enriched the Wall Street Kleptos. Flash forward to present times and Wall Street Kleptos emptying the pockets of and destroying the dreams of an American middle class which has been mesmerized by their created scarecrow Putin and the scary, scary Russia – whose only crime has been resisting and even jailing Russian uber wealthy Kleptocrats and resisting control by Wall Street paid off flunkies the BIS, IMF & WB!! There are flashes of light – now threatened North Dakota which owns its own bank and has no debt no deficit and generous support for social programs, Germany where 70% of all banking is done by now threatened Municipally owned banks, Canada which until 1974 and oppressive pressure from the BIS, IMF & WB used the Bank of Canada to make Canada very prosperous and largely debt free! These last few lights are flickering but not yet drowned in a bath tub and put underground. 1935 to 1974 when Trudeau’s father was pressured by the BIS et al to alter the objective of The Bank of Canada (for which the Canadian Finance Minister holds all the shares on behalf of all Canadians) from an agenda of ‘full employment’ to ‘fighting inflation’ through raising interest rates which transfer enormous funds from working class families to banks and the financial elites who own them. There is a Canadian Supreme Court case now being decided which seeks to revert the BoC to its original mandate full employment – if necessary by spending BoC debt free money into the economy and as in 1935-1937 lifting middle class workers into jobs and recovering the economy. The fascist minions will cry “Inflation, Inflation” we must raise interest rates (rob the middle class by transferring wealth to the banker Klepto class elites) to ‘fight the hoary threat of inflation’; without ever mentioning that if and when inflation ever becomes a problem we need not transfer more and more wealth from the middle class to the klepto class via higher interest rates we can simply tax the extra (if any) out of the economy through government taxation. Reality is only a bitch for the klepto class when we see and react to their massive corruption schemes and do the historically proven methods of economic stabilization and growth that do not allow the Kleptos to escalate their economic attack on nation states and democracy itself!

  29. Jessie G

    What’s interesting about this is that I’ve been noticing how uncharacteristically cold-hearted middle class Democrats have become to the increasing plight of the working class, at the prompting of their beloved politicians and so-called liberal media. The U.S. Democratic reaction to Brexit was a good example- they were perfectly comfortable to write-off half of Britain as being ignorant and/or racist, with little or no sympathy to the economic impact so many people have experienced due to the “free movement of labor”. I think many of them experience the hardships pointed out in this article, but so far are content to blame it solely on Republicans or even just personal bad luck. I suspect there will be a breaking point though when they come around to just how well all of this has been orchestrated, and by whom. “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist.”

    1. waiting for robot

      Thomas Frank describes this quite well in “Listen Liberal” and the earlier “What’s the Matter With Kansas”

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