We have become a highly atomized society—as a result it is difficult to know just how our fellow workers are doing during this recession.
The media reinforces this isolation by promoting the notion that individual actions represent our best survival strategy. Collective actions to transform choices are never discussed, much less encouraged.
So—how are we doing? We hear lots about unemployment, but what is the situation like for those with jobs?
A USA Today report provides some perspective: “People who still have jobs are faring worse than at any time since the Great Depression . . . . Furloughs, pay cuts and reduced hours are taking a toll on workers who so far have escaped job cuts.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average work week fell to 33.1 hours in May, the lowest total since the Bureau began counting in 1964. One reason is that involuntary part-time work is at an all-time high; a record 9 million people want full time but can find only part-time work.
Of course, with fewer people working, and for fewer hours, total wage earnings are also falling fast. Private business spending on wages fell at a 6.2% annual rate in the first quarter of this year. Federal, state and local governments offset this somewhat, increasing their total wage spending by 6.1%. But this won’t last long; state and local governments are under tremendous pressure to slash their spending, which will translate into cuts in employment and wages.
Significantly, similar pressures are also building on the federal government, directed against the few collective programs we do have. As the World Socialist Web Site reports:
Testifying Wednesday [June 3] before the Budget Committee of the House of Representatives, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke demanded that Congress and the Obama administration map out a program of austerity measures to bring down record budget deficits. Bernanke made clear that the heart of this program should be sharp cuts in social spending, including basic entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare.
Without collective action there is no saying how bad things might get.