Martin Wolf on the Low Labor Participation as the Result of the Crapification of Jobs

The Financial Times’ Martin Wolf today pointed to the flagging US labor participation rate as a sign that all is not well with the US economy:

In 2014, 12 per cent — close to one in eight — of US men between the ages of 25 and 54 were neither in work nor looking for it. This was very close to the Italian ratio and far higher than in other members of the group of seven leading high-income countries: in the UK, it was 8 per cent; in Germany and France 7 per cent; and in Japan a mere 4 per cent.

In the same year, the proportion of US prime-age women neither in work nor looking for it was 26 per cent, much the same as in Japan and less only than Italy’s. US labour market performance was strikingly poor for the men and women whose responsibilities should make earning a good income vital…

What might explain the extent to which prime-aged men and women have been withdrawing from the labour market in the US over a long period? The comforts of idleness cannot be a plausible explanation since the US has the least generous welfare state among high-income countries. High minimum wages cannot be blocking job creation and so persuading low-skilled workers to abandon the search for jobs. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, US minimum wages were 20 per cent below UK levels in real terms in 2014 and far further below the generous levels in France. Moreover, the US still has the OECD’s least-regulated labour market…

So what might explain the trends? In the case of prime-aged women, the ab­sence of affordable childcare would seem a plausible explanation. Society has apparently decided it does not want to pay to keep women in the workforce.

Another possible explanation is that labour market flexibility allows emp­loyers to substitute the young and the old for prime-aged workers. The US has relatively high participation rates for people aged 15 to 24. It has also experienced a big rise in the participation rate for people over 65, from 13 per cent in 2000 to 19 per cent in 2014. The latter puts it behind only Japan in the G7. Low minimum wages and high transport costs for workers living in sprawling US conurbations might also make low-wage work unprofitable.

Despite Wolf’s bloodless language, he clearly regards the issue as serious. He describes this withdrawal from work as a “dysfunction” and says it demands not just study but action as well.

The underlying pathology is not hard to describe: employers (enabled by the Fed which has since the 1980s been only too wiling to provide for higher levels of unemployment so as to curb labor bargaining power to keep inflation tame) have succeeded in eliminating labor bargaining power. That program has been aided and abetted by the popularization of libertarian ideologies, which encourage many to see themselves as more in charge of their destiny than they are and thus see success and failure as the result of talent and work, as opposed to circumstance. For instance, one group that could have disproportionate power if they chose to use it, tech workers (particularly systems administrators and key support personnel in large systems deployments) have never seemed inclined to find a way to use it.

And as we saw in the widely reported story yesterday, on rising death and morbidity rates in less-educated white men and women aged 45 to 54, the scarcity of jobs in some parts of the country and the erosion of low-end work conditions and pay is now doing damage on a societal level. And some of this is, as Wolf suggests, not just because candidates can’t find jobs, but in many cases, the jobs just aren’t good enough (or more accurately, the pay is not good enough; the fundamental rule of neoliberalism is that everything can be solved by prices, and higher pay makes a crappy job more bearable).

This is not just armchair theorizing. In 2014, the New York Times reported on the issue of how labor force participation had fallen among prime working age men since the 1960s and have been accompanied by a decline in the participation of women since 2000. The article focused on how some middle aged men were remaining unemployed even though there were jobs they could take because they felt the work didn’t pay enough. From the story:

Frank Walsh still pays dues to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, but more than four years have passed since his name was called at the union hall where the few available jobs are distributed. Mr. Walsh, his wife and two children live on her part-time income and a small inheritance from his mother, which is running out…

“I’d work for them, but they’re only willing to pay $10 an hour,” he said, pointing at a Chick-fil-A that probably pays most of its workers less than that. “I’m 49 with two kids — $10 just isn’t going to cut it.”

The article relied on a poll by the Times, CBS News, and the Kaiser Foundation. From its findings:

Many men, in particular, have decided that low-wage work will not improve their lives, in part because deep changes in American society have made it easier for them to live without working. These changes include the availability of federal disability benefits; the decline of marriage, which means fewer men provide for children; and the rise of the Internet, which has reduced the isolation of unemployment.

At the same time, it has become harder for men to find higher-paying jobs. Foreign competition and technological advances have eliminated many of the jobs in which high school graduates like Mr. Walsh once could earn $40 an hour, or more. The poll found that 85 percent of prime-age men without jobs do not have bachelor’s degrees. And 34 percent said they had criminal records, making it hard to find any work.

This ties into the widely-reported story yesterday, of rising death rates among less-educated whites aged 45 to 54. Recall that the rising mortality and morbidity afflicted both men and women. And remember that work is important not just to provide income, and in the old days, health insurance, but as a way to organize one’s time and to see people during the day, some of whom generally become at least social acquaintances. So the “oh I can busy myself on the Internet” may be true short-term, but over the long haul, it’s not a substitute for seeing real people.

And these men recognize that they are paying a price for not taking work, yet a significant portion could take a job but can’t stomach the pay and other terms of offer:

For most unemployed men, life without work is not easy. In follow-up interviews, about two dozen men described days spent mostly at home, chewing through dwindling resources, relying on friends, strangers and the federal government. The poll found that 30 percent had used food stamps, while 33 percent said they had taken food from a nonprofit or religious group.

They are unhappy to be out of work and eager to find new jobs. They are struggling both with the loss of income and a loss of dignity. Their mental and physical health is suffering.

Yet 44 percent of men in the survey said there were jobs in their area they could get but were not willing to take.

Recall that the study by Anne Case and Angus Deaton found that mortality and morbidity rates had risen among the less-educated middle aged whites all over the country, but the increases were worse in the South and West. Although this chart looks at a different cohort, prime aged men of all races, it could be viewed as a proxy for where the market for lower wage job is particularly unpromising. And it does appear to be generally worse in the South and West:

Screen shot 2015-11-04 at 5.48.19 AM

And with the loss of work deemed adequate comes at a considerable psychic cost:

Along the way, Mr. Walsh said he had drained the $15,000 in his union retirement account and run up about $20,000 in credit card debt. “We were constantly fighting because it’s fear,” he said of the toll on his marriage. “You don’t have the $50 you need for the lights and you don’t have the $300 you need for something else, and it gets kind of personal.”

He keeps paying union dues to preserve his shot at a pension, but that also means he can’t get nonunion work as an electrician. He says he would like a desk job instead. He used email for the first time last month, and he plans to return to community college in the spring to learn computer skills.

He says he is determined that his own children will attend college so their prospects will be better than his own.

“I lost my sense of worth, you know what I mean?” Mr. Walsh said. “Somebody asks you ‘What do you do?’ and I would say, ‘I’m an electrician.’”

“But now I say nothing. I’m not an electrician anymore.”

The refusal to take work that won’t pay a living wage may reflect an unrealistic effort to keep hope alive, in that accepting a job that can’t support his family means having to admit to how desperate his situation is and downsize even further, if that is even possible…to a trailer park? It’s doubtful that Walsh could do much on this front.

And despite having lost his sense of self-worth, Walsh appears unwilling to accept a deal from employers that he regards as unfair. This video is a reminder of how deep the notion of equity runs in social species:

It’s easy to laugh at this clip, but I lived in Australia in the early 2000, where the minimum wage was much higher than here (IIRC A$11.20/hour, and I think it either rose to or was soon scheduled to rise to over A$13.00/hour by the time I left in 2004. And in local purchasing power terms, one US dollar was pretty much equal to one Australian dollar then). Workers in low-wage jobs, like cashiers, seemed far more chipper than people in similar jobs in the US. In keeping, I knew people who had held professional jobs who were between gigs for complicated reasons, and they were willing to take jobs in retail stores at not much above the minimum wage because they could land them quickly and keep income coming in. How often do you see that in the US?

The broader issue seems to go unspoken: what we are willing to pay someone is a reflection of how much we value them, not just their work, but as people. And we are seeing that many are willing to risk a personal catastrophic failure rather than accept the certain subjugation of a badly-paid job.

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  1. ChrisFromGeorgia

    If the cost of everything, from housing to food to prescription meds, hadn’t been ruthlessly inflated by corrupt government in cahoots with private sector cartels, that $10/hour wage might be a better option for Mr. Walsh.

    We’ve gone past the point of no return I think – everything has to be “crapified” so that a smaller and smaller number of oligarchs can continue to profiteer. Or maybe “bezzle-fied” would be an apt description – more and more jobs require that the company you work for is engaged in some form of swindle, grifting or bribery of public officials to obtain sweetheart contracts.

    1. jgordon

      You’re right! Food, tuition, housing, healthcare–all of it is too insanely expensive now, and it’s only getting worse each day. The Fed has created a financial economy that’s untethered from the real economy except in the most awful of ways, and then these idiot savant sit looking at their gauges and dials wondering why everything is going down the drain.

      Well no actually they’re just liars. They know perfectly well that their policies are making their rich buds even richer while screwing everyone else hardcore, and they think that’s just fine and dandy. But they do have to pay lip service to the idea that they’re helping everyone out. Everyone involved in policy making seems to have discounted the possibility of insurrection unfortunately. All it takes is for people to generally realize that we don’t have an economic/monetary problem; we have a political problem.

    2. sgt_doom

      Excellent comments. I think there are the Magnificent Seven, seven books which truly explain our situation today, and would open up the eyes of those still in clueless mode.

      Rockefellerocracy, by Richard James DeSocio (not the most sophisticated of writers, but his facts are all on target)

      The Devil’s Chessboard, by David Talbot

      The Bubble and Beyond, by Michael Hudson

      Killing the Host, by Michael Hudson

      Treasure Islands, by Nicholas Shaxson

      Extreme Money, by Satyajit Das

      Web of Debt, by Ellen Brown

    3. washunate

      Great comment. It’s interesting how much progress we are making in the discourse. Not a single cave-dwelling being has offered even the flimsiest defense of the swindle, while no legitimate MMTer disputed the central problem of inflation unrelated to entry-level wages.

  2. jonboinAR

    It’s just unconscionable to pay people less than it takes to live. I understand that a wage minimum might put some kind of distortion or other on the “labor market” (I don’t know what, but that’s what will be argued by someone of a libertarian bent who chimes in), but so be it!

    1. hemeantwell

      Agreed, but I think that we need to go farther, along the lines of Yves’ observation

      Workers in low-wage jobs, like cashiers, seemed far more chipper than people in similar jobs in the US.

      People need to get a living wage, but also to be able to be “chipper,” confident, rested >>> a citizen or, to use a reviled term, a comrade in some sense of the term. It’s hard to have much of an orientation to community and fellowship if you’re just getting by. I enjoy being out among people who don’t have to fall back on religious fabrications to feel a form of solidarity with those around them.

      1. Chris Williams

        My son (21 now) has been a check out chick at Woolworths since he was about 16. He is paid about $21 per hour. Is permanent/part time. More if he was casual.

        $20 isn’t much here, but Yves is right, it provides a decent base for people.

        1. ambrit

          Heavens man! Where do you live? That wage would put one at near Middle Management status here in ‘Da South.’ The “check out chicks” around here have to get by on $8.00 to $9.00 per hour. I know a few of them. They all are looking constantly for employment elsewhere. A surprising number of them have University degrees. The less educated employed are to be met usually at the “mom and pop” cohort of retail establishments. Two retail owners I have occasion to converse with both say they prefer University students or graduates because of the higher skill levels they bring to the task. Being located in a College Town must facilitate this, but how much it affects non College Towns would make for a dandy Grad study.

          1. Stephen Rhodes

            Woolworths Supermarkets is a supermarket/grocery store chain in Australia, owned by Woolworths Limited. Wikipedia

            Those are Oz dollars then (?)

          2. Liam

            That’s not an unusual wage for unskilled work in Australia.

            You’d get paid a similar amount flipping burgers at McDonalds.

            Admittedly the cost of living here is extremely high, so $20/hr doesn’t go very far.

        2. Jim in SC

          I’m pleased to learn that Woolworth’s is still in business. They were kicked out of the Dow Industrials in 1997, the same year Bethlehem Steel was.

  3. griffen

    Profit margins. And short term obsessed managers or executives ( who can be accused of lacking vision past 12 months ).

  4. jonboinAR

    Note: I know we have wage minimums already. I’m talking about having meaningful ones like $18/hr or something.

    1. Carla

      Good to see you here, Jon! Re: $18 an hour — I concur. How do you feel about a BIG (basic income guarantee)?

      1. Vatch

        I agree that the U.S. minimum wage, which is $7.25/hour in states which don’t have a higher minimum, should be raised. However, I don’t think $18/hour has much chance of being implemented in the near future. One reason is that it is slightly higher than the May, 2014, median hourly wage in the United States, which was $17.09/hour according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Wages in the range of $12/hour to $15/hour are probably more feasible.

        Robert Reich supports a basic minimum income guarantee. I think one of the reasons he supports this is that automation keeps reducing the number of available jobs.

      2. Vatch

        Yesterday I tried to post a message about this, but it was diverted into limbo. Of course I agree that the minimum wage needs to be raised, but the BLS statistics show that as of 2014, the median hourly wage in the U.S. was $17.09 per hour. People will have a hard time establishing a minimum that is greater than the current median. Something in the range of $12/hour to $15/hour is more feasible.

        Regarding BIG, Robert Reich has come out in favor of this. One his motivations is the continuing automation of so many jobs. If the jobs don’t exist, a minimum wage doesn’t help much.

        1. ellie

          That the median wage is a barely livable $17/hour is absolutely shocking, although not surprising. $15 an hour is a place to start. I wonder how that will affect the median.

  5. Eleanor

    When you look at maps like this one, remember the reservations. The dark area in northern Minnesota is a cluster of reservations, but especially Red Lake. I can clearly see Pine Ridge and Standing Rock in South Dakota. I’d be willing to bet that many of the dark areas in the west are reservations. This doesn’t make the problem better, but different.

    1. Sammy Maudlin

      This doesn’t make the problem better, but different.

      Agreed. To the extent that men and women even live to “prime working age” in these areas I’d be willing to bet their “labor participation rate” is negligible. However, in most cases my guess is these people don’t really have a choice.

      Anyone who has not seen in person the conditions under which people live on western and rural “reservations” needs to do so. It is staggering. At least those who live in poor urban or even semi-rural areas have some opportunity to improve their living conditions, even if slim. Because of the physical, social, and economic seclusion extant the people who live in these areas are essentially without any chance at all.

    2. Uahsenaa

      One common denominator seems to be rural poverty. There aren’t a lot of rez’s in NorCal or the Mississippi Delta or Appalachia or eastern Oregon etc., yet all those are pretty dark on this map. In those areas, if an industry leaves town, there isn’t much else on hand to absorb the sudden increase in the unemployed. As a result, the local economy tanks, and the community begins the death spiral so often seen in rural towns and cities.

        1. Jim in SC

          I always think that people who comment ‘Wrong!’ had bad experiences in school. Trauma repetition.

    3. Chauncey Gardiner

      I noticed that too, Eleanor, although I believe some tribes near population centers benefit economically from casinos. Would also be interesting to be able to do some map overlays, including incidence rates of various drug and alcohol dependencies, mortality and morbidity rates, etc.

  6. Tom Ford

    Here’s a thought experiment. What if employers’ wet dream came true — slave labor becomes legal again? That’s right — zero wages paid out. Profits soar, Wall Street goes bananas, etc. But wait. What happened to the tax base? How are we going to pay for our endless wars? Why isn’t anyone actually buying any houses, cars or consumer goods? And who is going to feed, clothe, house and provide some minimum of healthcare to the slaves? Wow, it seems even free labor isn’t free. Amazing!

    1. debitor serf

      even Adam smith opined in the wealth of nations that slaves were more expensive than hires labor …

      1. Jim in SC

        And DeTocqueville said it too. The trouble was that wage labor never worked for growing cotton. Perhaps if the wage had been high enough, but people would not work for wages at a price that the world economy would bear. It was hard to get people to work for wages in factories too, and capitalists required that the state make subsistence farming more difficult in order to coax workers to work by, among other things, enclosing the commons (in England). This is why the first two generations of industrial capitalism employed mainly women and children.

    2. ChrisFromGeorgia

      i think the employers “wet” dream is no employees/slaves whatsoever – just “virtual” ones.

      Robots, small shell scripts and AI to replace us all. How awesome – no pesky unemployment insurance or health care benefits to pay!

      But as you point out, there is a fly in the ointment – who’s left to buy their crapified products?

      1. Tom Ford

        Yes, you’re right of course. Just look at how breathlessly stories about automated semi trucks and taxis are reported. Hell, even doctors, lawyers and tax prep professionals are easily replacable by algorithm. What an exciting, high-tech future we all have to look forward to!

      2. hunkerdown

        Who cares? They have title to the land and the food and you (might) have permission to live in their pasture like a dairy cow. Those who focus too much on the game fail to see that our lifeblood and their bag of game tokens are one and the same.

    3. p fitzsimon

      Tom, Slavery or serfdom actually works out very well for the plantation owner or the landed aristocrat. The few can live extremely well, the rest in misery. Although some may aspire to be “Carson the butler”, or a “Lady’s maid” to improve their lot in life.

    4. sgt_doom

      Believe Jeremy Bentham already beat you to it, but the King would never allow his wet dream.

      (The Invention of Capitalism, by Michael Perelman)

    1. theinhibitor

      Your link has this quote:

      “The familiar notion of planning is that done by experts, with scientific knowledge. We have seen the results of that rational planning: tower blocks, food additives, valium—the list of horrors is endless.”
      — Sheila Rowbotham

      I just couldn’t get past that quote.

      When has a scientist or engineer ever had any managerial power? When? Please fucking tell me, because IMO all this ‘rational planning’ is done by career politicians, lawyers, and rich kids.

      And I hear it on this site all the time: ‘those savants’ ‘those people who hold fancy degrees’ ‘those geniuses’.

      Truth of the matter is that the world is run by lawyers and MBAers and rich kids. None of those people give a fuck about ‘rational’ planning or expert opinions unless they align with their own (and thus a scientist or engineer was paid off).

      I just can’t stand the ignorance of these statements anymore. This is like my friends at McKinsey stating how well they know agricultural engineering since they gave the Nigerian government pointers on how to run their agro-subsidy business. And these friends are all recent econ/business graduates without any experience in agricultural engineering. It’s fucking lunacy.

      Sometimes I think the biggest problem of the 21st century, more than clean water, debt, oil, war, pollution is how damn big people’s egos are and how it warps societal views of everything.

      We are all part of a Gaussian distribution: 99% of us are practically identical in mental capacity, physical ability, etc. The difference is in upbringing. To call politicians experts is laughably insane. They are experts of nothing but a dangerous mix of ambition and over-indulging self-confidence.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        It used to be that a lot of MBAs and executives had been engineers.

        Engineers are trained to understand that some things work and other things don’t work. The idea that you can use PR to solve problems is antithetical to how engineers are trained.

        When engineers (real ones, not software “engineers”) were more influential in management, more companies also had more of a long-term orientation, which meant they were more attuned to the needs of communities and even employees.

        Correlation is not causation, but still…..

        1. Kate

          Dofasco, a 100 year old steel company in Hamilton, Ontario, was run exactly this way. After 7 years employment as an engineer you could apply to what was called Dofasco University and spend the next 2 years moving from department and line to another, all to train you how the company ran as a whole. Mind you during the initial 7 years most of these engineers had taken a Masters in engineering or an MBA in night school. After the 2 years you were steered into management as appropriate with the goal of senior management. The presidents were all engineers. Truly remarkable.

        2. Kate

          And Nortel Networks is a prime example of what happens when the software “engineers” take over from the real engineers. Bell Northern Research was a classic century old company run by engineers before it devolved into Nortel. The stories I could tell.

      2. Jim

        Assuming a normal distribution of IQ with a mean of 100 and standard deviation of 15 the range centered about the mean that would encompass 99% of the population would go from an IQ of 61 to an IQ of 139.

  7. J-Ho

    It’s not just the pay, it’s the way employees in places like fast food are treated by the organization and management. Just the constant dehumanization and disrespect and being treated like an automaton while being pressured over one’s “engagement.”

    And let’s not forget the social stigma surrounding “dead end” jobs. Who wants to be 49 with two kids and deal with the constant looks of pity, confusion and disgust on people’s faces when you tell them you’re a fast food cashier?

    I think I’d have a better chance of not killing myself being unemployed.

    1. cwaltz

      This. It seems to me part of the problem is with the meme that some jobs have no skill sets or that they are “easy.” Something I’ve noticed is that some of these places also seem to think that a good worker translates to a good manager which is NOT always the case.

      In this state they can work you for 10 hours straight with no breaks or lunches. And in some instances they do because “we’re busy” and “short staffed.” Meanwhile the problem perpetuates itself because who wants to work and stay in an environment where you are consistently going to be told to forgo lunch(particularly for $7.25 an hour). It’s a recipe for getting sick. And then let’s talk about the cost of getting sick, there’s a really good chance that when you finally do get sick you’ll be expected to not only miss a day but shell out the money for a doctor’s note(because your job sucks so much that the management team cant tell the difference between who is faking it just to not have to work and who is actually sick from overwork.) So the bottom end of the economic chain hops from bad job to bad job and the piss poor management team seems to be under the impression that it’s the workers fault rather than their own inability to practice good time management and a healthy balance between caring for customers and caring for the people who take care of your customers.

      1. art guerrilla

        @ cwaltz-
        yep, i have to say, i was shocked at both my own ignorance AND the state labor laws themselves when i saw in black and white the work hours they could ‘force’ you to work without breaks, without meals, -basically- without humanity…
        in a ‘real’ society, such laws would be shocking and immediately overturned; now ? just the new normal…
        (the fact is, SO MANY of those labor laws are so egregious, they are not forced upon a lot of us, mostly even more powerless migrant workers, ‘hidden’ agricultural workers, etc… but i have no doubt ALL of us are going to start feeling the lash…)

  8. timbers

    Dems didn’t even pass minimum wage increase – didn’t even try – when they had a historically huge majority and mandate 2008-2010.

    I vote Green (and Liz Warren). To vote for most others in the 2 duopoly parties is throwing your vote away.

  9. M.L. Isaacson

    Is there any data on the number of highly educated people who have applied for the low level jobs,
    only to be rejected because he or she is over-qualified? How does a well-educated person lie about
    their past in order to get one of the low paying jobs? Without a past and without references, it is
    virtually impossible to get any job.

    1. ambrit

      To apply for lower level construction jobs I would maintain a ‘crafted’ resume. Sadly, it was often better to work a lower skilled job, for a wage close to what I would receive for the higher skill position. Less stress and less ‘supervision’ for just a little less pay. This is one way that “crapification” works its’ way into the “skilled trades.”

  10. Ivy

    Job crapification fits into the overall erosion of consumer surplus that has been underway for decades. When consumers have their demand curves probed continuously through targeted pricing (monetary or otherwise), there is a wear-and-tear effect as lives are worsened.

    Extrapolate that probing across all consumers and you see a decline in the societal goodwill that took generations to nurture. The trend is toward an atomization of life, where each interaction (monetary or otherwise) is targeted at extraction of the last ounce of available assets, or of potential for greater debt. Welcome back to the jungle.

    1. Tom Ford

      I’m surprised that somebody hasn’t created a start-up that seeks to monetize the extraction of trace minerals and other valuable substances from people when they die. I mean, it’s not like the stiffs need that stuff anymore, amirite? And talk about your ultimate recycling program! It’s green, baby, green!! Where are the VC’s at?

      1. theinhibitor

        Wouldn’t make as much sense as using human waste (the weight of the waste you produce during your entire lifetime is several magnitudes larger than your corpse).

        Which they are currently trying to use as fertilizer (and actually do in parts of the country). And guess what? Its better than petro-based ferts.

          1. ambrit

            Hah! This is already happening with feedlot cattle and battery raised chickens.
            I’ve spoken to ‘independent’ chicken farmers when I worked at Blue Vest DIY. Here, most are small time farmers lured into onerous contracts by the siren call of the “big bucks.” The feed for the birds is shipped to the “battery houses” by the contracting entity. What’s in that feed is usually a ‘trade secret.’

      2. hunkerdown

        Couldn’t be that it’s not thermodynamically favorable? As that loveable stopped clock Ben Carson and that loveable 70s rock group Kansas both put in their own words, dust. Cremation is about as good as it gets. Wait for Soylent Green®, The People Company™…

  11. DanfromCanada

    Study: Don’t Flip Burgers if You Want a Better Job (In yesterdays NC links)
    According to this article workers who wait for the right opportunity instead of taking a short-term gig could be better off in the long run. They are more likely to get a job in their chosen field, matching their qualifications, if they do not take that crappy job. And if they do take that job flipping burgers, better not to mention it on your resume/job app.

    1. jrs

      That hurts and it could well be true for me, should have waited for a better opportunity. Not that I’m flipping burgers but nontheless. But heavens it’s scary not to have work in a Great Recession, no money coming in, no security, burning through savings day to day. A B.I.G. would help … or even some kind of unemployment system that’s provides a real safety net.

    2. theinhibitor

      If you read about the study in detail, though, you find its not very convincing in its argument.

      First of all, the correlation is suspect in that they were looking a low level jobs anyway (and they only used fake women’s resumes). Second, they expect that the resumes even get looked at with any degree of depth. Third, it was based on call-back, not actually getting the job. Most interviews start with “what have you been doing for the last year?”. I expect saying “well, sitting on my ass waiting for a job” doesn’t go over well.

      However, it does show that no one really gives a shit if you were flipping hamburgers. Also contradicts the stupid CEO stories about how “working at made me the person I am today”.

    3. Anon

      This needs to be emphasized more. If labor negotiations are done at the margin, essentially calibrating a potential employees alternatives, then why wouldn’t employers pass over/lowball applicants in derisory positions?
      And to expand on it, with NDAs and noncompetes proliferating down to minimum wage positions, ANY position potentially forecloses further employment in a field.

    4. Mike G

      At my large public higher-ed institution, HR tells me they won’t even look at people who’ve been continuously out of work for more than six months, and I’m sure they’re not alone in this view since big-organization HR is not exactly a fount of creativity and original thinking.

      So take a temp agency McJob for a week, volunteer somewhere, do some damn thing you can put on a resume to reset the clock so you don’t have a months-long gap of inactivity.

  12. Jetfixr in Flyover

    “Non college educated” includes me, an aircraft mechanic with 30 years plus experience, and a page long list of technical training on airframes, engines, and avionics.

    My discussion with the CFO of the company I work for is illuminating.

    (As the chief mechanic/technician in the flight department, I’m a direct report to the CFO)

    Laid off, out of work for almost a year in 2009 (when the SHTF, the first people thrown under the bus are the company airplanes). Hired in as a contractor, which turned into a full time position, at 40% below what various salary surveys say I should be making. Brought this disparity up at my performance review, provided print copies of the various surveys,etc.

    In the end, I was told “It is what it is, and if you dont like it, feel happy to pursue employment elsewhere”

    The suits screw employees “because they can” and much like the fable about the turtle and the scorpion, its in their nature.

    And this is supposedly a job where there is a “shortage of qualified people”.. Which there is. Mainly due to the fact that they are throwing old, expensive guys under the bus as fast as they can, and replacing them with newbies who are making a lot less money

    In my case, I’ve become a part time contractor that enables me to pull down another $10-20k/ year. But its not lucrative or steady enough work to live on. It did save my azz when I was out of work for almost a year in 2009.

    1. Carla

      @Jetfxr: your experience is a perfect description of job crapification: you actually do work that is ESSENTIAL to the safety and well-being of the public (not only the flying public, BTW, but all of us on the ground whom you and your colleagues save from being crushed by falling airplanes). And the thanks you receive is to be mis-treated and ill-paid so that some suit who never did a lick of essential work in his life can sneer “It is what it is, and if you don’t like it, go elsewhere.”

      Well, I would like to say “Thank you” to you, and to all the millions of Americans who perform the essential tasks everyday that keep so many of us safe and relatively comfortable. I wish you were fairly compensated and decently treated, and I wish my current level of safety and comfort extended to everyone else. And I do not take it for granted for a second.

      1. Uahsenaa

        And not once will it ever occur to the suit that the 100K bonus he receives (or gives himself) for “keeping costs down” is carved directly out of the salaries of people like this gentleman.

        1. Carla

          Maybe someday an airplane mechanic will “fix” his private jet, and he’ll have a few seconds to contemplate it before impact…

      2. Norb

        While the “Thank You” is important, its more important to show some righteous anger at the elite who are perpetuating this sorry state of affairs. Not wanting to speak for Jetfixr, most talented, and hardworking people don’t require thank you’s for doing our work. We do it because we enjoy our work and strive to do the best we can. Also, this is what we get PAID to do. In a fair economy, the amount compensated for your work would be reflected in the social importance of the goods and services rendered. Obviously, the price setting mechanism for commercial aircraft repair is rapidly falling, along with every other occupation in our society.

        As a society, we need to stop saying “Thank You” to our suffering citizens and start demanding that the skimming freeloaders be brought to justice. We need fair and minimum wages paid for the work that is performed. Wages paid that a person can survive and have a life with dignity.

        Crapification indeed. Current business practices are best characterized as criminal. While your heart is in the right place, calling out the evil at the top is more important.

          1. Carla

            I actually agree with you, Norb. It’s too bad to spend your anger being condescending to someone who’s actively fighting on your side of the class war and was only trying to be kind, but unfortunately I’ve probably done the same thing myself, so I understand.

            1. Norb

              Carla- My comment is not directed at you personally, just something you had written. My comment was also not directed in the spirit of condescendence. Far from it. I’m thinking more along the lines of effectively fighting the propaganda machine we live under here in America 24/7. Bought and controlled by the wealthy elite who run this country and beyond.

              Your comment reminded me of the “Thank Our Troops” program that we see all around. The propaganda machine is in overdrive convincing citizens that to not, “Thank the Troops”, is tantamount to supporting terrorists. Its UnAmerican by God. The level of social division condensed in that simple statement is staggering. What are we thanking them for? Keeping us safe?-from what?. Their service. Service to what end? Suicides in the military are at an all time high. Why do you think that is? While the reasons are no doubt complex, many simple answers probably add up to the true cause. All we can do as individuals is help improve their lives where we can. Thanking them seems one of the more cynical ways- both for the soldier and the person doing the thanking.

              As we all know, workers in this country have been besieged for the last 35 years. I personally mark Reagan and the air traffic controllers strike as a turning point. Propaganda was used then to turn worker against worker and destroy a powerful union. These forces are still at work but loosing effectiveness- probably because the destruction is complete. We are entering the phase now on where to go from here. The solution will be building common cause with fellow citizens that has a stronger foundation than some Oprah like individualism empowerment BS.

              I still hold the naive belief that a mass movement of citizens could turn this mess around. This notion has nothing to due with voting in national elections and wishing and hoping for the best, or some political leader will do the right thing. No, it begins by not allowing the falsehoods to persist in everyday life.

              We need to define and fight for ideas- like a just society- and take our allies form whatever walk of life or class they come from.

    2. Norb

      I wonder if the newbies can be brought in because at least one old guy is left to do the training and the quality control. Amazing that this is done for aircraft maintenance! If only more CEOs and CFOs directly experienced the downside of their actions. My experience has been that employers have taken advantage of employee good will. Good, talented employees have taken on more responsibility without added pay and do most of the training for new employees. But, the mood is different now that the abuse has continued for so long. While not directly refusing the employer demands, saying no can cost you your job, the task is just done poorly.

      1. Jetfixr in Flyover

        Chickens are coming home to roost in aviation. Maintenance shops are turning away work, because they can’t find help. The Air Force wants to retire the A-10s, because they are maintenance hogs, and they need those mechs for the F-35s.

        You would think that “supply and demand” in this case would cause higher pay. Wrong. The free market never seems to work for working stiffs. Companies would rather spend the money bribing government to supply ways for them to keep labor costs down. Like letting non-mechanics fix airplanes, as long as they are “supervised” by a licensed mechanic. Or signing bi-lateral treaties forcing the FAA to accept work performed overseas, without any kind of FAA oversight.

        Guys who grew up fixing cars and tractors on the farm are being replaced by newbies whose closest experience to “turning wrenches” is the Playstation controller.

        When I started, there was a training policy. That went away in the 1982-86 recession, when the suits discovered how much money they could save by eliminating it.

        Then, we had twenty years of 2% pay raises, when the defacto inflation rate was around 6%. This was pretty much the standard for everyone involved in any kind of manufacturing or product support.

        The 35-40 year old guy with 15-20 years in is a scarce commodity. You have a situation now where the 50 year old guys still turning wrenches are being shown the door, replaced by 25 year olds with less than 5 years experience. Everthing I’m hearing from my buddies in IT, manufacturing, construction indicates they have the same problems.

        On top of this is the suits attitude that, as far as managing tech help, you don’t need to know the job, you just need to know how to manage people.

        We’d better hope we never get into a war with China. It will be a contest to see whose house of cards collapses first. This edifice of crap that corporate America has built can probably survive two weeks.

        1. Lambert Strether

          Short the aircraft industry. I want my aircraft being maintained by somebody not like you, not a twenty-five-year old who learned how to turn a wrench from a YouTube video.

          This is, I think, what Summers calls “hysteresis.” But who needs aircraft, power plants, sewage treatment centers, the power grid…

          1. flora

            “. I want my aircraft being maintained by somebody not you, ”

            Huh? Is there a word missing here?

        2. Joseph Aguilar

          How about truck drivers? A huge shortage but pay is barely creeping up but still way too low for the sacrifice’s and risks involved. Jet maintenance is clearly another level but it is symptomatic of the crapification of the labor market.

          1. cwaltz

            They’re finding the same problems in the service sector as well. The same story is being said about chefs/cooks. The people doing the cooking are saying why bother if you’re going to just pay me minimum wage when I can make more as a server.

            1. ambrit

              Spot on. I’ll bet this is driving a lot of the “we need more skilled ‘immigrants'” movement. Right to Work (For Less.)

        3. Waking Up


          Your comment reminds me of the documentary “Broken Dreams: The Boeing 787”. Many of the current and retired Boeing employees refuse to fly on the Boeing 787 “Dreamliner” due to worries about quality control.

          1. Jim in SC

            Is that not sour grapes because it is assembled in a non-union plant in SC? There was also a lot of resentment when the South started making automobiles. Now the most efficient automobile manufacturing plant in America is in Tennessee.

        4. participant-observer-observed

          Ditto situation of Obama care, at least in Cali: I never saw the actual doctors w whom I had appointments, only physician’s assistants.

          Economy is a giant ponzi scheme.

        5. cnchal

          You would think that “supply and demand” in this case would cause higher pay. . .
          . . . Or signing bi-lateral treaties forcing the FAA to accept work performed overseas, without any kind of FAA oversight.

          Aren’t jets being flown to China for maintenance these days? What was that about supply and demand?

          I refuse to fly. Crapified maintenance, horrible airport shakedowns and subjecting oneself to the idiocy of the screening process, in effect being treated like cattle being led to slaughter. On top of that, the air in the airport and on the plane is contaminated with viruses and bacteria. Makes me sick thinking about how sick one is going to get.

        6. Norb

          My wife works as a ER nurse. Many of the same issues. Good nurses who entered the field with the desire to help others are driven to the point of quitting because the emotional stress of conforming to the new business model is becoming overwhelming. The tragic part, is people who thrive in these situations are the last people you want taking care of you when your sick. Since we all can’t be experts in every field in the modern world, you have to believe people are competent in what they do- SURPRISE! they are not. Only when you are personally abused by the system does the reality of our current arrangements hit home. This is the problem. We try to believe the fantasy because reality is just too painful.

          After the next crisis, when the excuses of,”how could we have known?” are all trotted out we can lay to rest the question of whom is for a better society for all and those interested only in their private gain.

        7. JerryDenim

          I didn’t want to get all long form here, but since Jetfixr brought up chickens coming home to roost and maintenance shops turning away work for a lack of mechanics I just can’t resist jumping in here with another aviation industry anecdote from the pointy end of the jet. Pilots are drying up as well for the exact same reasons mechanics are, It’s the result of years of the same short-sighted, greedy squeezing of high-skill workers by management. They were too clever by half, they were so good at squeezing pilots at the low end of the scale for so long people are now walking away or refusing to sign up, basically John Galt in reverse.

          I spent ten years being exploited as a “regional” airline pilot and I can tell you that whole industry is a scam and a poster child for what ails the American economy. Regional airlines are fake companies, mere shells that exist for two reasons and two reasons only; 1.) to arbitrage labor and ( 2.) to distance the real owners from their misdeeds and questionable practices . Frequently these supposed independent contractor regionals only have client, giving them zero autonomy and no leverage. In addition to controlling all of the work/flying contracts the parent company or “client” frequently owns significant portions of the regional airline outright. At my old regional the mainline parent airline owned the jets, the training facilities, the corporate offices of the regional management structure, the software we used for scheduling and payroll, basically every single component of the operation that wasn’t the list of employees on payroll was owned and controlled by the mainline parent. That’s the company who sells the tickets, gets the money and whose name is on the tickets, the uniforms, sides of the airplanes etc. The dichotomy between the regional airlines and their mainline partners is a false construct, but a very important one psychologically for the labor force participants and of course for regulatory and business purposes. The legacy carriers after decades of successfully boosting profits/lowering costs by outsourcing flying to the “regionals” have finally pushed the arrangement to the breaking point. A regional airline job is sold to young aspiring airline pilots as the ticket to the big-leagues, the final stepping stone in the painful career ladder to a legacy airline job. Pilots know regional airline jobs pay crap and the job is tough when they interview, but no one tells these pilots that there is no defined path out of the regionals and many pilots get stuck in the regional ghetto, often bouncing around the bottom of a few regional seniority lists as they get furloughed or chasing short upgrade times as the legacy airlines cycle flying contracts through the “whipsaw”. A lifestyle and compensation package that seemed like a bitter but manageable pill at 24, tastes very different at 34 and by 44 it’s an entirely different proposition. Once a pilot is working for cheap on a legacy airline’s plantation system there’s not much incentive to bring that pilot up to the big house, he’s doing a valuable and essential job right where he is. Year after year the coveted mainline jobs all seem to go to more connected, but less experienced sons, daughters, military buddies and interns. Meanwhile the young aspiring regional pilot, becomes older, bitter, and watches his potential seniority and lifetime earning potential dwindle as he watches those younger and less qualified pilots pass him or her by. These are younger subordinates that he or she has oftentimes mentored. American meritocracy right? Meanwhile his quality of life, benefits and income are probably going down. After years and years of this and a few Frontline specials word has finally got out that borrowing two-hundred thousand dollars or more from Sallie-Mae for a university degree and some FAA certificates isn’t worth it for a dead-end job that pays 18k a year, destroys your personal life and can get you locked up for showing up to work with a little hang-over. As my father in-law told my wife when he found out she was dating a airline pilot: “you’re going to end up lonely broke and miserable for the rest of your life” Touché dad.

          Legacy airlines are now scrambling to fill flight schedules that the regional airlines simply can’t fly anymore for a lack of qualified pilots, but none are proposing the obvious solution: in-house the outsourced regional flying and give pilots a decent paycheck, contract and a stable career outlook. Instead they are lobbying Congress for more of the usual neoliberal solutions like raising the retirement age (yet again, they just raised it for pilots by five years in 2007 which was a five-year career shot to pants of regional pilot gen-xers and millennials already struggling with low-pay and crippling debt ) and slashing the credentials required for employment. They also are in favor of what every neoliberal, Ayn Rand loving, libertarian of the capital class favors when the going gets rough: government largess. The airline execs are hoping to get their largess in the form of tax-payer funded pilot training programs and/or student loan forgiveness for pilots (Cha-ching Sallie Mae and Embry Riddle!) It seems that labor supply and demand isn’t such a fun game when big business finds itself on the other side of curve. Even though the outsourced regional airline business model is at the breaking point and delivering an unreliable and unpleasant product, mainline management continues to double down on the old playbook that killed the goose by pitting the various regional workgroups against one another in a vicious race to the bottom for flying contracts. Mainline management is also actively working to union bust at the regional level and subvert collective action by the pilots. They’re willing to offer temporary signing and retention bonuses at their discretion, but management is unwilling to sign any contracts improving working conditions or long term compensation. In a testament to the total victory of capital over labor in this country, even though supply/demand is now clearly on the side of the pilots and being highly unionized compared to other industries in this country, regional pilot pay is still awful and the work rules and quality of life continues to slip ever downward as the various pilot groups continue to race each other to the bottom even though no one wants to do the job anymore. If the lifestyle sucks, the pay sucks, the stress and responsibility is high, the long term career prospects are dismal and the debt burden is onerous then why would anyone in their right mind sign up for such a job?

          Unless the legacy carriers can get Washington and the taxpayers to ride to their rescue their crapification of the airline pilot profession will prove to be too clever by half. I’m betting on a combination of reverse socialism, regulatory forbearance, lowered professional credentials, and relaxed immigration for pilots who want to immigrate to the States from even more depressed economies will save the big three. Anything but a rational and self-preserving shift away from nasty neoliberal squeeze-the-worker policies of the past thirty years.

          1. craazyman

            fuk. I don’t like flying in small planes to begin with, but after reading this I think I’ll walk. I hope at least they’r getting laid alot since it’s a macho job.

            1. JerryDenim

              Not sure what you’re calling small, but I’m not really talking about 19 seat turboprops when I say regional pilot. Pilots are in too high of demand these days to squander them on low capacity aircraft. Those airplanes are being quickly being idled if they aren’t already. Modern 50-76 seat jets are the aircraft primarily operated by “regional pilots” these days. The bigger the better as far as airline management is concerned. More than 50% of all domestic flying is performed by regional pilots these days. In my last “regional” gig I flew at least a third of my flights to Canada, Mexico and the Carribean. Some of my longer “regional” routes would stretch across North America, like Houston to Toronto. The only thing keeping mainline pilots flying the 100 seat and up sized jets is a thing in their contracts called ‘scope’, which is always a major bone of contention with contract negotiations.

              As an aside I don’t think regional pilots are getting laid all that often because most of them are nerds, “aerosexuals” I call them, most of them are broke, and it’s tough to seduce a potential partner when you’re away all of the time. “Lonely, broke and miserable” remember. As a group they’re highly skilled and surprisingly professional and dedicated. Shocking I know, I never could figure it out myself given the way they are treated. Even more surprising their political orientation tends to tilt right. I think it has something to do with the responsibility and the lack of sympathy they receive.

    3. Arizona Slim

      If you want planes to take off, fly, and land safely, you need people who know how to do the maintenance and repair work. And do the job well.

    4. JerryDenim

      “It is what it is, and if you dont like it, feel happy to pursue employment elsewhere”

      Yep, I’ve been in those shoes. I’ve even worn them in the aviation sector. That’s that type of callous, stingy, disregard for fellow workers, citizens and humans is exactly the type of behavior that passes for business acumen these days. Sadly the jerk was probably taught greed and callousness as a virtue if he attended business school. This is exactly why management types love the high unemployment rate and the diminishment of organized labor. “It is what it is, take it or leave it, if you think you’re too good for it there’s a thousand guys in line just waiting to do your job for less, ha ha ha!”

      It’s like the slogan for an executive negotiating seminar you frequently see in airline inflight magazines- “you don’t get what you deserve, you get what you can negotiate” The problem is the working class has zero negotiating leverage these days because the business class has created an employment crisis by the ease of which they can outsource to shell company “contractors” here at home and overseas. They have also destroyed labor’s bargaining power by corrupting the political process. The masses have been painted into a corner and trouble is undoubtedly brewing.

    5. Lambert Strether

      And one of the many tragedies here is that mastering how to repair a complex piece of machinery like an airplane is an interesting, fulfilling job (at least I would think so). I loved being a mechanic in the mills.

    6. theinhibitor

      Nowhere have I seen the level of crapification of wages that the aerospace industry execs have somehow succeeded in attaining.

      Pilots and aviation mechanics are some of the worst paying jobs out there. I was shocked to hear that a pilot makes only around 35k a year. And that’s after having to log hundreds of hours of flight training that usually takes 3 to 4 years.

      According to a documentary I watched, it happened because execs realized that those who want to fly planes do so out of passion rather than money. Queue crapification of wages.

    7. RMO

      I trained as an aircraft mechanic at the most well regarded school in Canada. Had the highest marks in the class. Never even got a response to an application let alone an interview or a job. A job that would have paid minimum wage at first even though a mistake could potentially kill hundreds of people. No one in the classes that graduated before or after me did either. This was 2005 but I did keep on trying for years afterward even though the dean of the school actually advised us that if we don’t find work in a year that we should give up because it’s never going to happen. I’ve kept busy with aircraft maintenance by being the volunteer maintenance director (and flight instructor) with the local gliding club though. I also have university qualifications in music and most of a BBA in accounting (slowly working through that one still and no grade less than an A- so far) but no luck there so far. I’ve never managed to get any response the many times I’ve applied for low level jobs either. My guess is that they see a middle aged guy with some degree of education who has been out of work for quite some time and immediately discard the application. Yes, I have made a point of getting “professional” help in writing a good resume, cover letter and application from a few sources.

  13. Sammy Maudlin

    He keeps paying union dues to preserve his shot at a pension, but that also means he can’t get nonunion work as an electrician. He says he would like a desk job instead. He used email for the first time last month, and he plans to return to community college in the spring to learn computer skills.

    Wait, I thought that people like Frank Walsh were supposed to wake up and realize their reliance on the quasi-nanny state of unions and pensions is what is really holding him back. Isn’t he supposed to become an entrepreneur? It’s almost as if the guy hasn’t read Atlas Shrugged.

    However, that trip back to community college sounds like a great plan. Lifelong skills developed in one area that are no longer “economically viable,” a few classes in computer technology and boom, problem solved! Wonder who gave him such a great idea. Good luck getting rid of that student loan debt!

  14. Jetfixr in Flyover

    The trend seems to be “rewarding” the “creative people” in the “profit centers”, while squeezing the turnips who are considered “overhead”.

    This includes everyone who keeps the house of cards infrastructure in this country running

  15. Norb

    I find it interesting that the monkey in the video who is shortchanged with the cucumber reward throws the cucumber at the researcher on the second go. Also, shakes the cage a bit.

    For some time I’ve been mystified by my fellow citizens reaction to the wealthy elite who have been steeling and lying to them for years. There is a form of respect and reverence that is always extended to them that I just don’t get. At the very least, looting elites should be shunned by working class people. Respect is a two way street, and the wealthy do not respect working class people at all. Why should our limited resources and energy be extended to them- in any form. Being forced into an exploitive situation is one thing, willful participation is another.

    The larger issue is that the current economic system is rewarding corruption at the cost of long term stability of both businesses and society as a whole. Rebuilding that system from the bottom up based on fairness is the only way to go. When more people turn off their TVs, embrace their poverty with dignity, and dedicate themselves to helping and creatively working with others, maybe there is a chance for a future.

    The new frontier is turning ones back, once and for all on the elite worldview of greed and corruption.
    Not taking crappy jobs is good thing if you are doing so to rebuild your life in a more dignified manner. Honest employers can hire workers at living wages. Not buying products or services from corporations working on the model of slave labor would send a strong message. Power of the boycott.

  16. TedWa

    Like banks that are too big to fail, jail or hang, businesses that should have failed for not supplying jobs with a living wage are being supported to viable status by handouts from the government directly to the CEO’s or to their workers so the workers can continue to work at less than livable wages and the CEO’s can claim higher and higher bonuses. This corporate welfare state is crapifying everything and people should be horrified – but they’re not. We’re surrounded by zombies, zombie banks, zombie corporations of nearly every ilk and, like a mad scientist, a government that insists on keeping them alive through direct transfusions from every American citizen – this is the zombie apocalypse.

  17. Barmitt O'Bamney

    “DIE QUICKLY!” The Democratic answer to suppressed wages, industrial decline and a stagnant labor market. Older white working class people offing themselves with pills and alcohol – what’s not to like? That counts as an all-upside no-downside policy for Blue Team.

  18. flora

    Great post. Thank you.
    Reading this and yesterday’s post on declining life expectancy I wonder who in the EU thinks it a good idea to join the TTIP ? Serious question. If EU countries think joining TTIP will be great because they’ll get access to the supposedly rich US consumer market, these to posts ought to wake them up to the fact that the US consumer market has been hollowed out to nothing by neoliberal policies of both parties.
    What is has happened in the US would shock even Dickens.

    1. Phil Farmer

      There will come a day when the US consumer will no longer be able to drive the economies of the world.

      That day is not far off.

    2. Barmitt O'Bamney

      I wonder who in the EU thinks it a good idea to join the TTIP ?

      All the EU’s elites do. Which is why they’re doing it. They think that way because they would dearly love for their own societies to follow the US down into the Dickensian cattle chute. Workers die sooner? Splendid! What can we do to accelerate the death of the welfare state and collapse wages? Oh how about millions of 3rd world immigrants moving in without any consultation of the voters in the countries in question. Also Splendid! Fatally overburden the welfare state, destroy working class solidarity with ethnic/cultural antagonisms which will never heal, and kneecap existing wage structures with an invading “reserve army of the unemployed” that can be expanded at will. In their plans, this rosy prospect will serve to offset any losses they would incur from exposure to competition from US or from diminishing buying power of USian middle classes.

  19. human

    The Greek concept of themis is in play here.

    As social order and fairness falls by the wayside, increasing numbers recognize that playing by the rules is a fools errand. This is what drove Hercules berserk and we see it played out regularly now in mass murder events.

    Classic reaction. Millenia old. Mass media promulgates the oligarchic narrative.

    1. DJG

      That’s insightful. Thanks for the reminder that we are so deeply rooted in the classics. (Now, if we could get more people in the U S of A to engage them.)

  20. Rhysea

    I’m wondering where all the kids just out of college “working” for free at these unpaid internships are counted. That’s the lament amongst the people I talk to; all our kids are working for free.

  21. Jetfixr in Flyover

    I went to the funeral of a 50-ish former co-worker about a year ago. Died of a “accidental drug overdose”.

    Was denoted from his mid-tier management job for cost cutting reasons, then terminated by his new boss, for drinking. Was a licensed mechanic, but that work was demeaning/regressive, eventually fired from several jobs. Last job before he went to the halfway house was wearing a blue vest at Lowe’s.

    He always acted like manual work was below his station, I suspect his ego would not accept the fall from the rarified heights.

    There’s no such thing as “second chances” anymore, if you are among the “wretched refuse”

    1. readerOfTeaLeaves

      Far be it from me to help Chris Christie’s Presidential campaign, but Maddow presented a video that is apparently ‘going viral’ of Chris Christie explaining how our society and government need to take a whole different view of addictions — of how they originate, of how they affect even the most ‘successful’ people.
      (relevant section starts 6 minutes into the video clip)

      OTOH, it could be argued that the monkey on the left in the video on this post, being given cucumbers instead of grapes, is at much higher risk of becoming addicted. Like your friend, he might ‘self medicate’ to avoid dealing with the very real fact that he’s being screwed.

      Our society has elevated capital far above labor, and that is creating endless, complicated, ever-nastier problems from Ferguson to Occupy Wall Street to addictions to a listless economy.

      1. jrs

        Yes because capital over labor is pretty much capital over human lives: ours. Or the lives of a few capitalists over all our lives anyway.

  22. Arizona Slim

    I’d like to see an exploration of the rise of crapified freelancing. I’m a longtime freelancer, and I’ve noticed that the so-called gig economy isn’t doing me (or others) any favors.

    Case in point: Up until this past April, I was doing a lot of work for a company Whose Name I Shall Not Mention. And then came that lovely e-mail, the one that announced that I and other contract workers were about to go on a well-deserved vacation.

    Vacation, my foot!

    It was more like a layoff without the ability to collect unemployment. I’m still getting back on my feet.

    I could go on and on, but I’ll let my fellow freelancers do that.

    1. Jetfixr in Flyover

      The trend is not our friend. In my case, most corporate jets used to have a full time mechanic. No longer. The current trend is to dispose of the full time guy, and then assign a pilot the job of maintenance manager. Then hire the same mechs back as contractors, only when you need them.

      This only works in a zero growth business environment, while the business media continues reporting that employers “can’t find qualified help/a shortage of maintenance techs”

      Around here, everybody and their brother is trying to go to school for healthcare jobs, because of course “cant find help/shortages of skilled labor”.

      Of course, how does this play out with Medicare and insurance cutbacks, and boomers/wretched refuse being bumped off early, not by genocide, but by defacto policy?

      1. Another Anon

        Jetfixr in Flyover,

        A former student of mine is a senior aircraft
        mechanic with QUANTAS in Sydney, Australia.
        They may have work opportunities so if you
        are interested, email me and I can ask Chris.

        Yves (or Lambert), I give permission for you to give
        Jetfixr my email address if he requests it.

        1. Arizona Slim

          @Another Anon: I know the Jetfixr from another online community. He’s the real deal and would be an asset to any airline that hires him.

  23. PQS

    This story has TMI for our bootstrapping billionaires…why, I can hear them now telling the electrician to TAKE that JOB – ANY JOB! Good, honest work at $10/hour is BETTERN WELFARE! (No word, of course, on the welfare of the “corporate tax break” of course.)

    I heard this over and over while I was out of work for six months (25% UI in my industry during that timeframe…..).

    But the bootstrappers seem to think I turned into two people – one who could work FT for not enough money to pay my bills and one who could simultaneously look for a job that WOULD pay my bills.

    1. flora

      “Those who take the most from the table, teach contentment.
      Those for whom the taxes are destined, demand sacrifice. Those
      who eat their fill, speak to the hungry, of wonderful times to
      come. Those who lead the country into the abyss, call ruling
      difficult, for ordinary folk.”

      -Bertolt Brecht

  24. craazyman

    This is a very thoughtful post and I have no time to do it justice. Fortunately because I have a job. Life without a job for a man over 35 is a death sentence. It nearly killed me when I was in the middle of it. I somehow recreated a professional existence after 10 years of “Bohemian” wandering. I had no idea the psychic forces I’d encounter in the challenge of recreating myself as a working professional. They were monstrous. They destroyed a relationship and potential marriage. They destroyed my health. They nearly killed me.

    The people who write about jobs usually have never lost one or struggled to find one. The people who analyze the economy usually do it from a library and that’s all they’ve ever known. The people who give advice usually have never experienced that which they advise about.

    It’s weird how all that works. The more you hear, the less interested you are in listening. At least that’s my situation. After a while it’s just background noise, until you tune it out completely and figure it all out for yourself. I’m not sure, frankly, if it’s worth it. Maybe in the end of time, you’ll know. I don’t know.

    1. Lambert Strether

      Did it once after the dot com bubble burst in 2000. Five years and one failed small business later, in the Bush recovery, I got a second job in the same field (one of 500 created that month, IIRC). Eight years later came the crash. I’d gotten out of the technical field in time, thank heavens. That’s two complete reinventions in a decade, and I’m very lucky to have no hostages to fortune, and lucky to still be able to pass as middle class because of family background. And even more lucky — crossed fingers — not to have carpal. So I didn’t end up at Walmart and I never despaired. Many, many others were not so lucky. I’d like to hear about some “disruption” and “innovation” that made sure 80% of us weren’t living in fear.

    2. Nick

      Yep, I did this too. Until you’ve gone through it, you have no idea what it’s like. I quit a job teaching at a community college to go back to grad school and get a degree in public health; I started in 2007. Before I finished, the financial crisis wiped out the NGOs that I would have worked with while I finished. The only thing that saved me was my wife being Thai — we lived for two years in her rural village, and there were times when I wondered if I had become an Asian peasant, that I would never work again in any manner that I’d previously thought ‘normal’. We wife became pregnant, and I was suddenly hired by the US Army to manage the public health of an Iraqi city — it was that job at 140,000 a year, or grow rice. I accepted it, and my family basically stopped speaking to me. The security check took so long that I was called up right around the time my wife was due to give birth — I resigned the job without ever showing up, and decided to emigrate to Canada. That took a year. I worked for a year in a grocery store, finally got an entry level job, and five years on am a public health manager and living in a nice housing co-op in the Prairies.

      Without being there, it’s impossible to understand what it’s like to be unemployed, or trapped in a crap job, in middle age. It’s as if everything you’ve done has been subtracted from you, and you realize that if you are ever going to do better, it will be because of luck and nothing else. Your value is gone, and even when you are working again, you remember that it could leave in the future.

      Three things saved me:
      1) we had money saved, and a place to go where we didn’t need money.
      2) by chance, I qualified for professional immigration to Canada during the brief interval we applied in
      3) my family didn’t leave me

      Take away any of those, and the best outcome would have been a radical reworking of my idea of myself.

  25. Fool


    Sort of a random question, but you write…

    employers (enabled by the Fed which has since the 1980s been only too wiling to provide for higher levels of unemployment so as to curb labor bargaining power to keep inflation tame) have succeeded in eliminating labor bargaining power.

    Just out of curiosity, how/what did the Fed go about this?

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Started with Volcker. When he was driving interest rates to the moon, he carried a notecard in his pocket with weekly construction wages on them. He was not relenting until he saw them start to decline. And he also is reported to have said that he wanted unions to get the message about wage increases.

      In general, higher overall unemployment levels means less labor bargaining power. In the 1960s, 2% was seen as the limit to how low unemployment could go. Curiously, now economists treat 4% as the low practical limit, even though workers are more mobile now than then.

    2. Oregoncharles

      It’s funny, even hilarious, how the Fed sees rising wages as inflation, but not skyrocketing executive “compensation” (for what? driving their companies and the country into the ground?) But they’re perfectly obvious about it.

  26. kevinearick

    The Achilles Heel of Big Money

    Regardless of ism or ideology, they are all based upon individuals who reject the gender roles assigned by nature on this planet, and so seek to grow scale efficiencies that can only be based upon slavery, as a means of building an artificial world befitting their purpose. From labor’s perspective, they are all communists, competing against each other for supremacy with artificially differentiated ideologies, branches from the same tree of artificial knowledge.

    And this communism breeds fascism, its reaction, those who offer to build the illusion, of something for nothing, who hate the communists, but seek the advantage of profit in providing for them, always with an actuarial ponzi, based upon the idea that knowledge is somehow power and therefore the group with power has the right of divine, pick your divinity, providence to enslave others for the purpose. The problem with hate of course is that those who hate become what they hate, as opportunity after opportunity passes them by and all they have left is hate, for themselves and others. Which brings us to space travel.

    There is no point in space travel unless you are going to habitate other spacetimes, in which gender roles will be different than those on this planet.

    Accordingly, if Hillary wants to be empress of the artificial construct called the United States of America, she is certainly welcome to do so. Labor is not going to stand in her way, in favor of another communist and fascist, which is the only possible outcome – demographic variability, financial implosion and war, when the empire once again fails to leave this planet before reaching the tipping point to planetary response. Likewise, if my daughter chooses communism, she is certainly welcome to do so, knowing that if the empire cycle ends, her DNA is going back to the churn pool.

    I have not brought you to this realization because action is required, but merely to explain the perspective of labor. Nature is going to take its course, with or without you. It’s a big universe out there, and sooner or later, it is going to be explored. It’s not labor that stands in the way of women learning math.

    It is an old, barren woman standing in the way of young women learning math, offering them something for nothing, Planned Parenthood, public education and a police state to back it up. David beats Goliath accordingly. Humans are no exception; only an individual can be exceptional, but that never stops an empire from trying to enslave labor, and prove that an individual cannot outlast an irrational market.

    As a husband and father, my responsibilities are several multiples of those required of single people, pretending or not to be married, so don’t expect me to show up at a trial of fact, which has only one outcome, communism and fascism. If government of, by and for the communists, run by fascists, worked, you would already be traversing the universe, instead of Google telling you where to go. Dad isn’t quite so stupid as your ‘friends’ will tell you, and and he doesn’t marry Pollyanna by accident.

    You might not want to prosecute Pollyanna expecting your world not to collapse, or not. The other failed nation/states are simply betting that America will follow their course, that America is simply the next ‘new meat’ going through the sausage grinder of History. Americans may very well continue further down that path, but they will not be taking labor with them.

    Mom is the bell that tells dad it is time to bring this episode of the sh-show to an end. When the majority of dads decide it’s time to bring the aggregate sh-show to an end, the empire is rebooted. That is democracy on this planet; like it or not is a choice.

    The majority chooses artificial intelligence over life at every node. Labor doesn’t require a calculator as a ventriloquist. If you want an automated car economy, learn how to troubleshoot it, so you are not a prisoner to stupid, always at the intersection of a false choice, caught in the dilemma. Any moron can turn AC into DC, and put on a fireworks show trying to control AC with a DC series circuit.

    Where do you as an individual want to go and where is your compliment? That is the intersection of your future, where you will find others. The rest is an arbitrary sh-show called History. There is no plan; life is what you choose to make of it. If you think you know more about AI, keep pushing that button, expecting a different outcome; impugn the character of faith all you like.

    Big money doesn’t print itself into oblivion every time by accident.

    Labor doesn’t accept money because it needs money.

    1. Brian M

      Mostly utter nonsense. Based on religion. Rigid gender roles are cultural, not given by GAWD or personalized NATURE.

      This is Naked Capitalism, not Christian Patriarchy Today or an MRA site.

      1. jrs

        until his daughter chooses communism (ie when she wants an education and a career … which is pretty much communism really when you think about it … it’s straight Stalin).

        Seriously though, I do thank heavens this is not those sites among other things.

      1. cwaltz

        It sounds like someone should head posthaste to their closest mental health facility. The communists are coming! The communists are coming! They are going to force our daughters to take birth control! The Earth IS flat and those science people saying otherwise are communists. Lalalalalalalalalala I can’t hear you commies!

      2. craazyman

        you guys are making fun but I’m beiing serious. if you read it as a textured series of metaphors it’s quite thoughtful.

        it’s a lot better than a “Go Team yay! ” echo chamber sleeping pill of a comment full of sentimentality and fraudulent emottion (if that’s not repeating myself:

        some people criticize, but the doers do. from hate to space travel, that was striking

        1. cwaltz

          I’m sure it IS thoughtful. It’s also rambling to the point of almost incoherent and paranoid.

          I’m serious too. If you think there is some sort of plot by Big Money to reject gender roles and make everyone a communist you should probably talk to someone who can help you sort out all the changes in the world.

          1. jrs

            or talk to a woman who is darned glad for readily available birth control, but that would be too radical, to ask women what they think of things as if they were as full human beings as much as any man is, father or not. Commies!!!!

  27. Sluggeaux

    Globalization has revived the commodification of human beings. AP reports today that the US Census Bureau has released data showing that 44 percent of California households speak a language other than English in the home (51 percent in Silicon Valley). Yet the Obots continue to certify labor “shortages” in tech while there is ZERO enforcement against employers who exploit immigrant labor.

    Without skilled trades-persons (such as electricians and jet mechanics), we will continue to experience catastrophic infrastructure failures like the Twin Cities I-35W bridge collapse or the PG&E San Bruno gas pipeline explosion. Followed by slave revolts…

  28. Oregoncharles

    When I first raised this question – “What ARE they doing?” – I assumed they were moving into the underground economy, because it’s pretty hard to live without money. I do wonder about Uber drivers and Airbnb hoteliers; are they listed as unemployed?

    Sadly, it appears I was wrong; they really are sitting home. No wonder the death rate went up; sheer discouragement will do that, in a variety of ways.

    1. cwaltz

      When economies move underground you can be prepared for things to implode. Greece and Italy are two examples I can think of off the top of my head that cited robust underground economies that essentially undermined the centralized government and it’s ability to collect the revenue it needed to provide services to its citizens. Of course, I also believe we are headed in this direction. We’re getting to the point where they’ve shrunk regulatory arms to the point where they can’t be effective. We got to see that with BP when essentially one or two people were responsible for keeping an eye on hundreds of oil rigs.

    2. Arizona Slim

      I have regular contact with wannabe Uber drivers. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more down and out and desperate group of people. And, no, I don’t work for Uber. I just work near their local office.

      1. Norb

        A guy I used to work with, his position was turned into a freelance job, is now an Uber driver. The last time he was in the office working a freelance stint, he carried on about the virtues of Uber. While I can easily see his need to make money to support himself, his desperation prevented him from seeing the negative side to the operation- or his own needs outweighed any larger social outlook. He was in survival mode pure and simple.

        My real distain is for the owners of companies and managers in positions of authority who are driving this
        race to the bottom for their own self interest. They use the language of Innovation and Creative Building, but in reality they are only extracting past, present, and future social value from whatever endeavor they are connected with.

        I know a midsize American company that had a long and storied history as a family owned manufacturing company. Strong supporter of the community by default. Provider of good, stable manufacturing jobs and supplier of a product that everyone loved. They went the China rout. Outsourced the manufacturing jobs, and kept the design and marketing local. Its ironic that the marketing they use is solely based on the old manufacturing story- small family business producing a great product with committed local labor. The race to the bottom produces inferior products marketed with lies and deceit.

        The hope I see is that there are talented and creative people who build their businesses on fairness. Who understand and provide a living wage to their employees. The trick is providing the social pressure or maintaining enough connection with the decision makers in these institutions to move down a more equitable path. The local successful businesses seem to be following this strategy.

        The next time I see the owner of the company mentioned above, I could muster the courage to ask him the possibility of moving the manufacturing back to the US, and actually live the life his grandfather started and their marketing campaigns profess.

        I feel we are living one long, “emperor has no clothes” moment.

  29. RBHoughton

    Isn’t the answer for America to finally repudiate employment as the last vestige of serfdom and embrace self-employment.

    Those in jobs should tear up their contracts and write them anew – like a sub-contractor’s agreement.

    Some should assist in the organisation of services in a more humanised union movement. The employer can go play with himself.

    1. JTFaraday

      You’d need a real democratic socialist welfare state for that one, with universal healthcare and old age pensions detached from employment, (and maybe a guaranteed minimum income). Because anglo-americans have been brainwashed out the wazoo, those with the petit bourgeois mindset for what you describe generally don’t go for that.

      There’s something the matter with Kansas, I tell you.

  30. LizinOregon

    The Oregon Shakespeare Festival premiered a new play this year called Sweat by Lynn Nottage. It is about the loss of manufacturing jobs after NAFTA and its impact on families in Reading, PA. The play shows this inability to accept third world wages and benefits and how the unions were broken. It destroys not only the generation that had put in years of hard work only to see their futures in ruin, but also the futures of their children. This destruction of the working class is one thing that actually does ‘trickle down”.

    1. Oregoncharles

      Good. It will be reaching opinion makers, too. Oregon and the West Coast have a reputation for favoring “trade.” Our congressional delegation is full of “trade traitors” – Wyden, Schrader, Bonamici, Blumenauer. Maybe some voters will get the lesson.

  31. Kay

    As an employer w/9 employees both hourly and salary I’m stuck in the middle of the argument of a ‘living wage’. I have long term contracts that cap what I can sell my product for and I can’t move into another market. So I offer what I can, then I have to train them which takes 7-9 months, and sure enough, just as I’m about to give them a raise from their starter hourly/salary they take off for higher rates so I’m constantly rotating them through as if I’m a training school. Now I have to compete with Walmart and McDonalds. Small business is going byebye. Everyone will be a cog in the big business way of group think and middle age men will not sit through HR courses about cisgenders for $10/hour.

  32. Roland

    A few thoughts, in no particular order:

    1. The rise in mortality for middle-aged men, in reversal of modern trend, was also a phenomenon in the old East Bloc.

    2. There are such things as jobs that a worker cannot afford to fill. I see that regularly here in Canada. There are many retail and foodservice positions available, but the combination of housing and transport costs are such that a worker would be committing suicide if they filled the position. At the same time, the employer cannot afford to pay the wage that would fix the problem, and the customers can’t afford the prices that would enable the employer to pay the wage fix the problem. Market failure all round–the curves don’t intersect at any point!

    I think that’s what happens when a combination of monetary policy and urban planning, all biased in favour of investors to the detriment of the rest of the population, combine to distort the hell out of the housing, education and transport markets.

    1. c smith

      “Market failure all round–the curves don’t intersect at any point!”

      Not at all. And the combination of “monetary policy and urban planning” which you later deride is EXACTLY THE REASON for the so-called “market failure”. There is no true market here (with clearing levels of wages and prices) because bankers and bureaucrats have decided that deflation, the very raison-d-etre of economic activity, cannot be permitted to happen. This restriction has the nice side benefit of keeping them in their cushy positions (bankers hate deflation because it put’s their business at risk; bureacrats hate it becaue it reduces tax revenues). All the while, they go on about the “benefits” of some base level of inflation. It is nothing more than theft.

    2. Michael Price

      “At the same time, the employer cannot afford to pay the wage that would fix the problem, and the customers can’t afford the prices that would enable the employer to pay the wage fix the problem. …

      I think that’s what happens when a combination of monetary policy and urban planning, all biased in favour of investors to the detriment of the rest of the population,”
      Ok, reply when you can see the contradiction.

  33. Justicia

    This should be about the time when we start a public conversation about the future of work and incomes.

    The labor force participation rate in the US is about where it was in the late ’60s, before women started joining the workforce in large numbers. This, even though we’ve removed 2 million people (mostly non-white men) from the labor force by locking them up in prisons. We still have an economy that’s not producing enough jobs that pay a living wage for the workers who haven’t given up. And now we’re looking at a robotics revolution that will displace even more humans. (Just how much will the robots spend to keep our “consumer economy” from tanking?)

    Oh, what was I thinking. This is the country where the poor don’t vote and the white working class consistently votes against its own economic interest. (Kentucky voters just elected a governor who’s vowed to kill ‘Obamacare’ coverage for over 400,000 people in that state.) Never mind.

    1. Michael Price

      “This is the country where the poor don’t vote and the white working class consistently votes against its own economic interest. (Kentucky voters just elected a governor who’s vowed to kill ‘Obamacare’ coverage for over 400,000 people in that state.) ”
      And how is that against their economic interest? Why would you think Obamacare would make premiums cheaper? It wasn’t even supposed to (the clue is that the insurance companies’ shares went up on adoption). You can’t just assume that because leftists think that it’s good for the poor the poor are wrong to disagree.

  34. c smith

    “…which encourage many to see themselves as more in charge of their destiny than they are and thus see success and failure as the result of talent and work, as opposed to circumstance.”

    I ask: If you are not “in charge” of your own destiny…who the hell IS? This way of thinking is some of the most self-defeating BS I’ve ever heard. I can just hear it now: “Yea, I haven’t tried looking for a job for 3 years because…blah blah blah…it has NOTHING to do with me…”

    1. Lambert Strether

      “Again I saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift, or the battle to the strong, or bread to the wise, or riches to the discerning, or favor to the skillful; rather, time and chance happen to all of them.” Ecc 9:11

      Just to present a mythology that’s a little wiser, and a lot less vicious, than your personal one.

  35. Michael Price

    “The broader issue seems to go unspoken: what we are willing to pay someone is a reflection of how much we value them, not just their work, but as people.”
    No it isn’t and anyone who thinks it is is a hiding from their own experience. Do you really think that your employer values you “as a person”? He may not even know you as a person. If he did he might think you’re a pseudo-intellectual loser leftist and he might hate pseudo-intellectual loser leftists. Or he might think that you’re a fantastic human being who he’d love to have marry his daughter. Either way your labor is either worth the price or it isn’t. The fact that he pays you means the same it does when you pay your baker, that the goods and services recieved were worth it, not that you deserved the payment. Only “Big Issue” vendors get paid for their labor because people think they deserve the money.

    Let’s be clear though, this is a GOOD thing. I’d hate for people’s wages to depend on their boss actually liking them. It would be kinda hard for the transexuals, homosexuals, gamergate supporters, gun owners, blacks, etc.

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