Layered Look in U.S. Labor Report Finds Wider Income Span, Decline in Union Organizing
Jon Sawyer Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau Chief, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
The gap in income between the top and the bottom of the American work force is growing, a new government report shows. Union representation is declining, and workplace litigation is escalating.
All this is taking place in an American work force that is now the most stratified work force in the industrial world.
The 163-page report by President Bill Clinton's Commission on the Future of Worker-Management Relations is "fact-finding" only at this point, with recommendations due in November after public hearings.
But Labor Secretary Robert Reich said Thursday that the report really was an urgent call for action: "A society divided between the haves and have-nots, or between the well-educated and the poorly educated, that becomes sharply divided over time, cannot be a prosperous or stable society."
Among the commission's findings:
The top 10 percent of American workers earn salaries that are on average 5.63 times greater than wages paid workers in the bottom 10 percent, a range that is "by far the widest" of all industrialized countries.
The bottom 10 percent of American workers earn "barely half" what their counterparts in Europe get. That doesn't count the health insurance and other fringe benefits routinely provided to low-income workers in Europe, but rare for Americans.
In 1972, the average college-educated male in the U.S. work force earned 1.42 times more than the average high school graduate. By 1990, the gap had grown, to 1.53 times. The gap also grew for women, from 1.6 times in 1972 to 1.66 times in 1990.
Real incomes for American workers have stagnated for the last two decades, the report notes. For male workers real incomes actually fell during that period, by an average of 0.5 percent a year. Both developments, the report says, were "unprecedented in the past 75 years."
The stagnation of real earnings and increased inequality of earnings is splitting the labor force into two parts, the report said, "with an upper tier of high-wage skilled workers and an increasing `underclass' of low-paid labor."
These trends have occurred in the context of a rapid decline in union membership, the report notes, from 33 percent of the work force a generation ago to 16 percent today. Also during this time there has been an increase in government-mandated worker rights - ranging from laws on occupational safety and health to pensions, and family and medical leave.
The 10-member commission is chaired by former Labor Secretary John Dunlop and is known as the Dunlop Commission. It was established last year, charged with improving U.S. productivity and competitiveness through better workplace relations. Collective Barganining
Thomas R. Donahue, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, hailed the report's acknowledgement that traditional collective-bargaining agreements, although declining in number, continue to be the most effective vehicle for the creation of productive worker-management partnerships. …