Last Monday I visited the Occupy San Jose site to donate food to the occupiers. I had read in their facebook page that they were looking for donations after the police had taken their food and many of their supplies. When I dropped by, the group was in the middle of a meeting. A few of their members were planning to attend a City Hall meeting to engage in a dialogue about the councilmembers’ concerns and to complain about the police taking their supplies.
It was attended by around forty people. A local restaurant owner donated some of his restaurant food for dinner for the protesters. Several people just wanted to show support for the cause. Individuals were able to express their thoughts and concerns about the Occupy San Jose and everyone else listened and took each person seriously. I thought it was a nice show of democracy.
A day later, police clashed with the participants of Occupy Oakland and a protester, Iraqi war veteran Scott Olsen, was hurt by rubber bullets that were fired by a police officer. This attack has had a galvanizing effect on other Occupy protests throughout the nation. In facebook, several activists have posted on their wall their support of Olsen and Occupy Oakland. Across the Bay, police decided not to raid Occupy SF encampments, and this has reinvigorated the demonstrators. Office workers and tourists have mixed with the SF Occupiers, showing their support of the Occupy SF cause. The SF Occupiers have been conscientious about keeping the area clean, and recently four portable toilets arrived.
I admire the Occupy Wall Street movement. Right now I’m reading Eric Foner’s book Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery about Lincoln in the context of the various anti-slavery movements of his time. Foner makes a point that there was a relationship between the abolitionists and the Radical Republicans. Abolitionists were the most radical of the anti-slavery groups, and they worked outside the political system to create agitation and focus on changing public opinion on slavery and the equality of African Americans. Radical Republicans worked inside the political system to push for legislation to abolish slavery.
I think the Occupy Wall Street movement plays the same role that the Abolitionist movement played in the 1800s. They work outside the political system to creat agitation and focus the public discourse on the inequalities of the current economic system. For the past couple of years, I’ve been learning about the interplay of radicals and reformers in bringing about social change in our country’s history. Katrina Van Den Heuvel wrote in the November 4, 2008 edition of the Nation about the necessity of grassroots movements to pressure Obama and the Democrats for change:
We know the Democratic Party is not the only vehicle for change. Historically, the party’s finest moments have come when it was pushed into action from the outside by popular social movements. That same pressure is needed now. Retreat and timidity are losing strategies for addressing economic crisis, a shredded social compact, two wars which must be ended, and a damaged reputation abroad–especially with stronger majorities in Congress and a new president who has raised expectationsand promised real change.
…History tells us how Franklin Delano Roosevelt was compelled to abandon caution because of the great traumas of his day. The Great Depression gave him little choice but to be bold. But it was popular social movements working outside the administration and empowered unions of that time that put strong pressure on FDR to carry out bolder reforms. That outside force was disciplined, strategic and focused, and it made the FDR years much better than if people had just sat back and let the President fend for himself against special interests. There’s a powerful lesson in there for the movements of our times.
I think the Occupy Wall Street movement has helped focus the media and the nation on the economic inequalities that have existed in this nation for decades. Here are several articles that I have found on economic inequality. This blog is illustrated with photographs I took last Monday night of the Occupy San Jose meeting.
Social and economic inequality is higher than it has been since the 1920s, and is showing no signs of declining.
Sure, multinational corporations have rescued millions from poverty in the developing world in the last decade. But they have also outsourced more and more blue- and white-collar jobs away from the West, pioneered technological innovation that has made entire professions—remember travel agents? librarians? secretaries?—redundant, and rewarded the brilliant and driven at the expense of the middle class and the job security it once enjoyed. Even great Western products like the iPhone now actually employ more Chinese than Americans in their manufacturing. People rightly wonder how they can ever master these powerful forces again. And, yes, the income numbers are staggering by any measure. From the late 1940s to the early 1970s, the median American household saw its income double. Since then: a screeching halt, or barely a 5 percent rise in incomes for the less-affluent 90 percent of Americans. But between 1979 and 2007, the top 1 percent saw their incomes soar by 281 percent. Add to that the collapse in home values, and soaring costs for health insurance and college, and it becomes remarkable that we haven’t seen much more unrest. I believe the man who posted the following statement online: “I work 3 jobs. None which provide health insurance. My son is on Medicaid. We are on W.I.C. We’re 1 paycheck from disaster. I am the 99 percent.” Do we not all know someone like him?
Add to this what can only be called an “accountability deficit.” The financial sector and its deregulated leverage binge in the Clinton and Bush years greatly benefited the top 1 percent. Much of this, we now know, was based on obscure mathematical formulas no one fully understood at best and were direct scams against their own customers at worst. What was Wall Street’s response? A furious attempt to resist any new regulation, a refusal to take full responsibility for the mess, and eager participation in a bailout paid for in part by their victims. Do we really need to understand why some have reached a snapping point—now that Wall Street is lobbying to repeal the one reform that reined it in, Dodd-Frank? In Europe, the same arrogant dynamic prevailed. Government elites merrily agreed to the euro, and then promptly violated all the rules designed to make it work—especially if it meant keeping spending under control. Large pluralities were opposed to this—majorities in some countries—and yet the European project continued its inexorable path to an unsustainable present. And who now pays the price? Not the elites. Largely the young, the poor, and, yes, the increasingly desperate middle class.
Income is shifting to the top tier of households, especially those in the top 5%, Taylor says. The top 5% earn more than $181,000 annually.
In 2010, the top one-fifth of U.S. households collected 50.3% of all the nation’s income, up from 49.9% in 2006. The lowest-earning one-fifth of households collected just 3.3% of the nation’s income, down from 3.4% in 2006.
That leaves the three-fifths of households in between — a common definition of a broad middle class. It collected 46.3% of the income last year, down from 46.7% in 2006.
Analysts call it the middle-class squeeze.
The data are the latest signs of a trend that dates to the 1970s, says Heidi Shierholz, an economist with the Economic Policy Institute. Back then, 53% of the nation’s income went to the middle class.
She says that during the 2000s, households in the middle class began losing ground because their incomes were not growing. The recent recession made it worse as employers cut work hours, furloughed workers, froze salaries or imposed layoffs. At the same time, the value of family assets, such as homes, went down.
“Families are taking substantial losses,” Shierholz says. “The really scary thing is, there’s no relief in sight.”
Arguably, the most important economic trend in the United States over the past couple of generations has been the ever more distinct sorting of Americans into winners and losers, and the slow hollowing-out of the middle class. Median incomes declined outright from 1999 to 2009. For most of the aughts, that trend was masked by the housing bubble, which allowed working-class and middle-class families to raise their standard of living despite income stagnation or downward job mobility. But that fig leaf has since blown away. And the recession has pressed hard on the broad center of American society.
“The Great Recession has quantitatively but not qualitatively changed the trend toward employment polarization” in the United States, wrote the MIT economist David Autor in a 2010 white paper. Job losses have been “far more severe in middle-skilled white- and blue-collar jobs than in either high-skill, white-collar jobs or in low-skill service occupations.” Indeed, from 2007 through 2009, total employment in professional, managerial, and highly skilled technical positions was essentially unchanged. Jobs in low-skill service occupations such as food preparation, personal care, and house cleaning were also fairly stable. Overwhelmingly, the recession has destroyed the jobs in between. Almost one of every 12 white-collar jobs in sales, administrative support, and nonmanagerial office work vanished in the first two years of the recession; one of every six blue-collar jobs in production, craft, repair, and machine operation did the same.
Autor isolates the winnowing of middle-skill, middle-class jobs as one of several labor-market developments that are profoundly reshaping U.S. society. The others are rising pay at the top, falling wages for the less educated, and “lagging labor market gains for males.” “All,” he writes, “predate the Great Recession. But the available data suggest that the Great Recession has reinforced these trends.”
|Jason B. Johnson wrote for the October 16, 2005 San Francisco Chronicle of the struggles of the middle class in the San Francisco Bay Area:
Some middle-income Bay Area residents have seen mishaps like divorce, serious illness or a layoff make the difference between comfort and a financial struggle.
The bigger picture is that the gap between Americans with the highest and lowest incomes is growing. High-wage earners now have so much disposable income that they are pulling up prices for everyone, economists say, and that is stretching middle-income households.
Upper-income families — those earning more than 95 percent of Americans — went from making $95,737 a year in 1970 to $164,104 in 2001, in constant dollars, a 72 percent increase. The very wealthiest Americans’ incomes rose even faster. But the median household income rose only 21 percent in constant dollars between 1970 and 2004. And near-poor families — those with higher incomes than only 20 percent of American families — saw their earnings inch from $20,134 to $24,640, a 22 percent increase between 1970 and 2001.
There is the single mother from Manassas who after losing her job and going on public assistance could no longer afford to pay her mother to watch her children and had to send her mother to child development and CPR classes to qualify for public child-care assistance. There is the laid-off TV repairman who 30 years ago received a degree after studying Greek, Latin and Hebrew and now, facing meager job prospects, regrets having chosen to work with his hands. There is the well-dressed couple who after losing their jobs in the auto industry pulled into a food pantry in Gaithersburg in a gleaming, gas-guzzling four-door truck they had bought for fun a few years ago and now wish they hadn’t.
The recession exposed how precarious a hold many middle-class families had on their status. The housing meltdown and credit crunch wiped out nest eggs and the ability to maintain a credit-fueled lifestyle.
Now, as many Americans see work as the only way to dig out of debt, they’re finding that jobs are scarce. The average duration of unemployment has reached record levels, as has the proportion of jobless people who have been out of work for more than six months. For those who have slipped a couple of income brackets, that means a long road back toward the middle class, said economist Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute.
Soaring costs of essentials such as housing, healthcare, and transportation, in the face of stagnant pay, are squeezing countless middle-class families, many to the brink. More than half have no financial assets, or have debt levels that exceed their assets, according to a recent Brandeis University study called “By a Thread, The New Experience of America’s Middle Class.”
Throughout Boston’s northern suburbs, directors of social service agencies that have long served impoverished families say they are witnessing a rising tide of requests for heating, rental, and mortgage assistance from middle-class households. Many have to be turned away because the families earn slightly more than the limit that would make them eligible.
“If you are in the middle class, there are no safety-net programs for you, and yet you are paying the same as most wealthy people for most of your costs,” said Jack Mogielnicki, executive director of Lynn Economic Opportunity, an antipoverty agency. “Water and sewer bills are going through the roof, and your property taxes have gone up because the cities and towns are in as bad a shape as you are.”
Youtube videos of America’s middle class