Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Editorial: Labor Day in the 'On-Demand,' Everyone-for-Himself Economy

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Editorial: Labor Day in the 'On-Demand,' Everyone-for-Himself Economy

Article excerpt

As Labor Day weekend begins, we have it on no less an authority than Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump that 93 million Americans are out of work.

This is only true if you count every American aged 16 and older who's not in the military or behind bars. You have to include high school and college students and everyone between retirement and dead. It includes the disabled and parents who are choosing to stay home to take care of children. It includes criminals, hobos and trust-fund ne'er-do-wells.

The actual number of people officially out of work is 8.3 million. Add 6.4 million more "discouraged workers" who've stopped looking and 6.5 million part-time workers who'd prefer having a full- time job. That gets you to 21.2 million who are involuntarily unemployed or underemployed. Mr. Trump was only off by about 72 million; given his tenuous relationship with facts, that's good for him.

Something the Donald might want to consider: Among those who are employed, too many can't make ends meet. The Federal Reserve reports that 47 percent of Americans say they couldn't afford an unexpected $400 expense.

Despite years of productivity gains during the tech boom of the 1990s, productivity gains now have slowed, wages remain stagnant and workers are still waiting to be rewarded for their hard work. Ninety- five percent of all income gains since 2009 have accrued to the top 1 percent of earners.

And Donald Trump is flying high.

America has now entered what has been variously called the "on- demand economy" or the "Uber economy" or the "Amazon economy." It's also been called the "knowledge economy," which is Darwinian without intending to be. Well-educated workers can get ahead, but getting that good education is more expensive than ever and those without it become chum.

Labor practices in the new economy look quite a bit like those before labor got organized in the early 19th century. In too many places, exploitation is not seen as a bad thing. It takes the form of low wages, ever-shifting schedules, and like-it-or-lump-it work rules. At Amazon, as the New York Times reported last month, even for white-collar workers, labor practices are "soulless and dystopian." That was the description of company founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, who professed to be shocked, shocked that this sort of exploitation was taking place.

Low-wage workers, shown how to organize by the Service Employees International Union, have had some success in a few cities (including St. Louis) getting the minimum wage increased. Stung by publicity over how much their low wages cost American taxpayers in the form of subsidized benefits, Walmart and McDonald's increased wages in a few places. But Walmart has begun cutting hours and McDonald's is still in a kind of slow-growth funk.

The minimum wage was $1.60 in 1971, and had the same buying power that $9.43 has today. Ask somebody at a Chamber of Commerce if he could afford to pay $9.43 minimum wage, you'll get a litany of horrors. The economy has become dependent on exploitation.

Labor has had some successes since Labor Day 2014. President Barack Obama's Labor Department issued new rules in May that will ensure people entitled to overtime actually are paid overtime.

Last month the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Browning- Ferris Industries, a California waste management company, was a "joint employer" of people it hired through a temp agency. …

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